Book Design Basics for Self Publishers

Waiting for the Ark - Book cover picture by illustrator Duncan Long

Here are a few articles that may be of help to those wanting to self-publish their books:

Do you want to self-publish or go with a vanity press — and what are the differences? Self-Publishing & Vanity Publishing: Confuse Them and Pay the Price

Type Size and Leading, White Space and Page Color

Book Design Basics Part 1: Margins and Leading

Book Design Basics Part 2: Optical Margins, Indents and Periods

Book Design Basics Part 3: Running The Numbers

Book Design Basics Part 4: Dashes, Hyphens and Dots

Book Design Basics Part 5: Small Capitals – Avoiding Capital Offenses

And perhaps a little inspiration for writers:

Tips On Writing a Trilogy

Duncan Long is a book designer and writer/illustrator whose books (and illustrations) have been published by HarperCollins, Paladin Press, Moonstone Books, Enslow Publishers, and others. You can see more of his work at

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David Gelber’s Novel Minotaur Revisited Now Available

Minotaur front book cover illustration with lettering

A few months ago I had the pleasure of creating the cover illustration as well as the layout for David Gelber’s novel Minotaur Revisited (now available from Ruffian Press).

After David had explained that he wanted a maze and the traditional Minotaur for the cover of his book, I started with some concept drawings/paintings (I’m never sure what these such be called — they’re basically digital artwork) so we’d be on the same page as to what the Minotaur should look like.

Minotaur 2b and 3 concept models for book cover

Once we settled on the look for the creature, I next painted the background maze and a Minotaur to inhabit it, with what I would generously call a “close but no cigar” result that was more cartoonish than menacing:

minotaur close but no cigar

Now in theory, a less symmetrical picture is supposed to be more interesting to the eye: Hence the different hand poses and the leg stepping over one of the short hedges. And obviously this theory is full of holes, at least in this case. So both the stance as well as the cartoonish version of the creature were scrapped and replaced with a more robust and symmetrical version. And I also put him into silhouette (with the theory that sometimes letting a viewer imagine the details producing more tension than painting in all the details).

final minotaur book cover design sans lettering

This version worked well. From there I completed the cover layout to the publisher’s specs… And a new cover — and Minotaur — were born.

Minotaur-full cover art and layout

David Gelber’s novel Minotaur Revisited is available from Ruffian Press).

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J. S. Morin’s Fantasy Novel Firehurler Now Available

Firehurler fantasy book cover art and lettering

J. S. Morin’s fantasy novel Firehurler (with a free sample chapters preview via the “look inside” feature) is now available at Amazon.

Part of the Twinborn Trilogy, the book offers everything fantasy readers might hope for: Knights, magic, goblins, and (one can bet) at least one beautiful damsel in distress. If you like fantasy, check out this book. Here’s the book blurb:

“Kyrus Hinterdale has never dreamed. Neither has Brannis Solaran. What they once thought were dreams were really windows into another world. Linked by fate, and a mystical connection that they do not fully understand, each of them watches the events of the other’s life when they close their eyes to sleep. Kyrus’ world is ruled by reason and bustling trade, while Brannis lives in a world of magic and fabulous creatures.

“When they cross paths with another pair with knowledge from both worlds, it becomes a battle of wits – each must try to outmaneuver the other, with the fate of kingdoms, and their own lives, at stake.”

Yes, I like the sound of that plot, too.

While the book first appears as in the eBook format, I created the cover illustration with a lot of extra detail so the printed version of the book would be a treat; additionally the cover illustration for the print version is a wrap-around picture covering the front, spine, and back. Hopefully a little of that detail can be seen here in this cutout of the character’s face:

Firehurler book cover art detail illustrator by Duncan Long

My advice: If you like fantasy stories, check out Firehurler.

J S Morin - Firehurler book cover art by artist DuncanLong

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The Birthday Telescope

BirthdayTelescope by book artist Duncan Long

Many years ago, I received a beautiful telescope from my parents on my birthday; it brought many wonderful hours of learning as I explored the skies in the weeks and years to come. A few years ago, I penned a poem about this gift, and thought I’d share it (and the artwork I created to go with it) here as I celebrate another birthday and look back to the treasured memories each birthday has brought with family and friends.

The Birthday Telescope

In the frosty winter,
The boy stands alone, watching
Orion’s belt burning brighter
Than it ever will on any summer night yet to come.
Through acclimatized lens
Of a birthday telescope he peers at
Jupiter’s moons, and sees them dance silently
On celestial clockwork.
Soon he spies Saturn’s ethereal rings,
With colors so pale they almost hurt his eye.
Lost in dreams,
Far away, spring slumbers patiently,
Not yet ready to break the bonds of
Winter’s crisp chains.
Soon she’ll emerge, loosing waves of
Lightning bugs
Who’ll twinkle the stars to shame.
She’ll arrive, announced only by chirp and coo.
Dressed in new green,
Offering her solace from the pitiless
Chill of winter.
Spring tenders hope for flowering life,
And the promise of resurrected love.

– Duncan Long

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Cover for Jim Organ’s Clockwork Girl

Clockwork girl book cover artist Duncan Long book by Jim Organ

I completed the cover illustration for Jim Organ’s book Clockwork Girl, a science fiction / fantasy story about a young lady who discovers she isn’t human but rather a mechanism that thinks it’s human.

Beautiful idea for a story.

I’m looking forward to reading this tale.

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Save Money with Ready Made Book Cover Art?

Last Escape - premade ready made book cover art by Duncan Long

Everyone understands that a quality book cover is the new gatekeeper that helps would-be buyers decide whether or not a book is worth spending money on. Put a poor cover illustration on your book and sales will be poor.

But what happens if you’re on a very limited budget and can’t afford to hire an illustrator to create quality cover art for your book? Are you up the creek without a paddle?

Not if you know a few simple tricks. The first secret is in tapping into the premade (or ready made) book cover art market. But it’s a market full of potential traps, pitfalls, and mistakes — any of which can cause your book sales to be poor despite what appears to be a quality cover. So you’d be wise to learn the ins and outs of this marketplace before spending your hard-earned dollars.

Rather than reinvent the wheel here, I’ll simply direct you to my article about premade book cover artwork and illustrations: Buying Quality Book Cover Art for Less.

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January 27th: Holocaust Remembrance Day

Never Again book cover illustration by artist Duncan Long 2013

“On this day, above all others, we must pause to remember the horrors of the Shoah and to honour the memory of both the victims and the survivors who suffered under the brutality of the Nazi regime…. We are further reminded on this day to reject all Holocaust denial and to speak out against totalitarian regimes, such as Iran, that consistently deny the Holocaust ever occurred.” — Hank Rosenbaum, Co-President of Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants

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Book Cover Artwork… and the Kitchen Sink

Lesser Gods final cover for science fiction cyborg adventure novel by Duncan Long

I recently completed the cover and inner illustrations for my novel Lesser Gods (which is a free download from Jan. 23-26, 2013 along with software/apps to read it on about any computer, tablet, or smartphone made — as well as a Kindle at

I’ve been writing, revising, and reworking this science fiction novel on and off for nearly a decade, and as is often the case with authors, I also spent time dreaming about having a cover for it that was to my liking. Possibly the first thing to note is the title change; the book originally sported Wrong Side In which seemed a clever title to me, a notion not shared by any other soul on the planet. Thus, an eventual title change as well.

Here are two of my early (and painfully poor) efforts:

Early Lesser Gods cover - science fiction adventure novel by Duncan Long

Print version of science fiction novel that would eventually become free Kindle ebook

During this time I also created a cyborg cover illustration that I think would have worked well as a book cover. However it didn’t really hint at the humor and moral issues covered in the novel, and so will live to fight another day on some other book cover:

Tentative version of sci-fiction novel with cyborg free Kindle ebook

The years passed and eventually the final draft of the story was ready to go to print. At this point, I created a series of illustrations that held the pearl of the final cover illustration — surrounded by a cloud of distractions. I’m often bothered when working with authors on their book covers by what I’ve come to call KSE (“Kitchen Sink Effect”). Basically the KSE happens when an author tries to tell the whole story of the novel on the cover illustration, throwing in (as the old cliche goes) everything but the kitchen sink. The result of the KSE is a hodgepodge at best, and generally an eyesore. A quality cover can result only after the author is convince to allow me to cut away unneeded elements.

What was alarming to me in working on my own cover was that even being aware of the KSE, as an author I was unable to resist the siren calls and guided my ship toward the rocky shore. Without considering what I did, I added cyborgs, pretty gals, a dragon, court jester dummy, aircraft, spaceships, and other odds and ends. I tried to juggle, move, nudge everything into place as KSE took over.

So here are just a few of perhaps a dozen of the KSE versions of the cover I created:

Kitchen sink version of science fiction cover that would become free Kindle ebook

Another KS version of science fiction cover that would become free Kindle ebook

Toned down science fiction novel cover offered for free Kindle ebook

Almost there - sci-fi free ebook novel for Kindle version of Lesser Gods

Eventually I had an “aha” moment and cut away everything but the hero and his hallo along with his throne and distant planet. No, this scene never actually appears in the book (though there are spots where a reader might imagine it), and, yes, major characters and elements in the book are missing from the illustration. Yet this illustration, free of the KSE, proves the most effective solution for marketing the book.

And in the end, that’s what a good book cover is all about: Capturing a potential reader’s attention and giving him a feel for what the book will be like, and doing that with just his first casual glance at the cover.

I’m offering Lesser Gods as a free ebook from Jan. 23-26, 2013 via You do NOT need a Kindle reader to read this novel; you can download free software and apps to read Kindle books on smartphones, tablets, Macs, PCs, etc., from

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Chapter Icons for Lesser Gods

Lesser Gods science fiction novel chapter icons

I’ve always liked having “extras” in the way of ornamentation, icons, and illustrations in books, so when I did the Kindle layout for my new science fiction novel Lesser Gods, I created a set of icons that would appear at the top of each chapter. (Figuring out how to get Kindle to center and size them probably was a bit of a frustration, but by “hacking” the layout for a day or two, I finally came up with a compromise that worked well.)

The various icons go with the story — though it may not be obvious at first exactly how they fit into the tale.

I should note that readers can download a free Kindle version of Lesser Gods from Jan 22-26, 2013. After that, it will be sold for $2.99 a copy.

The story is a little hard to describe. It takes place in the near future with artificial intelligent machines and genetic engineering become common — and commonly misused and sometimes malfunctioning with disastrous results. An anti-hero with a cynical sense of humor rounds out the story. Oh, and a pretty and possibly virtual gal named Alice. As in Alice In Wonderland. Yes, the plot gets a little strange.

Discover more about Lesser Gods, read sample chapters, etc., at Lesser Gods website.

And, if your calender is reading on or between Jan. 22-26, 2013, hurry on over and download a copy of this sci-fi adventure while it’s still available for free at: Lesser Gods:

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Final Cover for Lesser Gods Sci-Fi Novel

LesserGods book cover by Duncan Long for science fiction novel - free kindle ebook

We finalized the front cover — and name — of my new science fiction novel Lesser Gods. In addition to writing the book, I also was able to illustrate the cover and add several dozen drawings and paintings to the inner text as a special extra for readers.

By way of promotion, I’ll be offering the Kindle version of this book for free from Jan 22-26, 2013; the book offers lots of excitement, laughs, surprises, and perhaps a few profound thoughts. You can read more about the book (and find some sample chapters) at my Lesser Gods webite.

And, if your calender is reading on or between Jan. 22-26, 2013, you can download the science fiction adventure at: Lesser Gods:

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