How to self-publish a book (part 3)

Last time we looked at how to create the interior file for your self-published book – the file that contains the body copy, including the front matter. This month we look at creating the cover file, which includes the back cover, spine, and front cover artwork. We also look at uploading these and supplying the necessary details in order to get the book into print and on-sale, such as setting the wholesale price.

Once again, the instructions below are a one-size-fits-all guide and some common-sense adjustment might be needed. Creating a cover file is a relatively complex task to undertake and, unfortunately, simply isn’t for those in whom computers induce anxiety.


Go grab a hardback book with a dust jacket. Remove the jacket and ignore the folded inserts. Examine just the back cover, spine, and front cover. This is exactly what you now have to create – a single image containing the back cover, spine, and front cover, arranged in that order from left to right.

This is trickier than it sounds because spine size varies depending on the number of pages, and paper stock is also a factor. Luckily, both IngramSpark ( and CreateSpace ( offer online cover template generators. Simply type in information about your book and you’ll be supplied with a file you can open in an image editing or page layout application and overwrite with your own design. The template tells you where things can and can’t be placed.

CreateSpace supplies a PDF and a PNG file. The PNG will open in any image editing application and the PDF in a page layout application. IngramSpark offers a choice of files: Adobe In Design, EPS, and PDF. If you know your way around the In Design page layout app then that’s certainly the best option, although you can also open the EPS or PDF files in an image editing application.


A few words are necessary with regard to colour accuracy. Put simply, your computer monitor simply won’t reflect colours accurately. Whatever the case professional printing is inconsistent, and POD especially so. An additional layer of inaccuracy comes about because professional printers use the CMYK colour system and your computer uses RGB (as does your digital camera, for what it’s worth). In other words, the design you create is an approximation when it comes to colours.

If you use Adobe In Design or Photoshop to create the cover then you can set CMYK mode, which lessens the inaccuracies, but no few other image editors support CMYK – or at least not without complex hacks. Note that outputting to PDF/X-1a using Adobe Acrobat, as discussed last month, will convert the cover file to CMYK automatically at the outputting stage, even if your image editor doesn’t support it.


When opening the IngramSpark or CreateSpace template for the creation of your design be sure to set a DPI of 300 and, if using Adobe Photoshop, choose CMYK mode. Both these can be done in Photoshop by clicking Image -> Image Size (remove the tick alongside Constrain Proportions), then typing 300 into the Resolution field (ensure pixels/inch is selected alongside), and selecting the CMYK option on the Image -> Mode menu.

An understanding of bleed is required to use the templates correctly. Take a look at a magazine. See how many pages contain coloured boxes that continues right to the edges? The designer of the magazine drew the box beyond the page borders. When the magazine was printed the excess was cut away, leaving the coloured box with no margin. This is an example of bleed.

The template will include a bleed zone indicated in pink with CreateSpace and blue with IngramSpark. Your background image or colour(s) should run into this, but not beyond it. However, nothing important should go in the bleed zone because it’s where the cutting of the page (trim) will take place. A trim edge will be indicated as a dotted line but this is only for reference and the actual trim could be up to a few millimetres below or above this. The moral of the story: never put anything important, such as text even near the trim zone.

With IngramSpark templates the barcode on the back cover is created and added to the template based on the ISBN you enter on the template creation site. This is a standard barcode as required by shops the world over, so don’t cover it, or move/shrink it. With CreateSpace the barcode is applied later and it’s fine to put imagery or colours over the indicated barcode area, but don’t put anything important there, like text, because it’ll simply get covered-up.


A good tip when editing is to move the layer with the template to the top of the layer list, and alter its transparency so it’s just about visible. Don’t forget to delete the template layer before outputting the file for final uploading.

As for what to put on your cover, in issue 141 of Writers’ Forum I discussed creating the cover for an eBook and the advice is good here too: Use stock imagery from sites like, and ensure the author name is nice and big. The best piece of advice is to take a cover design you like from an existing book and aim to reproduce it. Do frequent test prints at 100% to ensure everything looks correct (an printer that can take A3 paper is handy in this regard).

Once you’ve finished your design, ensure nothing from the original template is visible. As with the interior file, output the file in PDF/X-1a format using Adobe Acrobat. If you’re using Photoshop, choose PDF from the Save As dialog box, choosing PDF/X-1a:2001 in the dialog box that subsequently appears.


You should now have a completed interior and cover file, and all that remains is to upload them to either CreateSpace or IngramSpark. While doing so you’ll also need to add description details, and set the cover price. Most details you’ll need to add are self-explanatory, with the following exceptions.

Contributors: It’s necessary to set the author of the book. You might see options for setting the editor, designer, or others, but it’s not necessary to list these unless they’re a selling point for your book.

BISAC category (also known as classification): You’ll need to select the category that best suits the book, which is important because it can affect where the book is shelved in bookshops, and also whether it appears in searches on sites like Amazon.

Description: The book description is essentially its jacket blurb, and you may already have written something suitable on the back of the book’s cover. This blurb will appear in wholesale catalogues and on sites like Amazon. You can add author biographies here, if you think it’ll help, and positive reviewer comments.

Returns: Bookshops historically work on a sale-or-return basis and you have to decide what happens to unsold copies of your book. You may be able to choose to have them returned to the publisher, in theory allowing them to be resold, or have them destroyed. Believe it or not, choosing to let booksellers destroy books makes them a more attractive proposition. By its very nature print on demand suffers significantly less from this kind of wastage, however.


Setting the book’s price means understanding another arcane aspect of publishing: discounting. As a publisher you must choose a retail price for your book. A typical example for a novel might be £6.99. You then choose a discount, typically something like 55%, and this decides the wholesale price. A book with a set retail price of £10 means £4.50 will received as profit with a 55% discount. However, from that £4.50 the cost of printing must be deducted. No VAT is charged on print books, by the way (although it is on eBooks, but that’s a different matter).

In theory, bookshops prefer bigger (“long”) discounts because of higher potential for profit even if they put the book on sale for less than the recommended retail price – which customers expect. Books with smaller (“short”) discounts are theoretically unattractive to retailers.

Confused? Alas, things don’t get clearer when you consider the distribution chain, which means that bookshops see a much smaller discount than what you set. Every piece of the supply chain between you and the bookshop takes a cut, and with POD that chain has more links that traditional publishing. The result is that it’s estimated bookshops only receive a 25% discount with some POD books. A £10 book will cost them £7.50, even with the aforementioned 55% discount set by you. From that £7.50, £3.00 goes to distributors and £4.50 is your share – although don’t forget that printing costs need to be deducted.

To make life easier both CreateSpace ( and IngramSpark ( offer royalty calculators, where you can simply type in your recommended retail price and see how much you’ll actually make in profit after distribution and printing costs.

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