Don't Confuse an eBook with an Easy, Do-It-Yourself Project

Don't Confuse an eBook with an Easy, Do-It-Yourself Project
text by Steve Meltzer
photos by Paul Harcourt Davies

Courtesy of Handmade Business

In the age of print publications, creating your masterpiece was a long and arduous process. When I wrote my books on the photography of art and crafts, I spent months writing and rewriting. This was followed by more than six months of work with an editor and a designer putting the books together. Now in the digital age, we have the e-book. Suddenly getting published seems to require little more effort than downloading some software and filling in the blank spaces!

While the idea of simple software solutions is appealing, don't confuse ease of publication and low production cost with the editorial decision-making process that informs every step of a good publication. Ignore it at your peril. Keep in mind: Lots of e-books appear every day and most sink out of sight in a few weeks.

For me, the role of photography in selling an e-book is more important than it was in the print world. For a digital book, that cover photo has to stop people in their tracks or they surf right past it on the Web.

A Trio of Traits

Despite the tried-and-true warning, most of us actually do judge a book by its cover. After all, the cover is the face of a book; it greets the potential buyer/reader. If the cover isn't good, it will kill sales.

Above: According to Steve Meltzer, ''For Paul's cover image, the important thing is that the cover is a real grabber--I love the turtle--and all the images are repeated inside.''

Above: Continuity of cover image and interior photographs and text is extremely important. The crocuses from the cover of WAM are replicated inside.

A great book cover has to have three strong qualities: impact, stopping power, and size flexibility. ''Impact'' means the cover will catch the eye of a buyer rapidly skimming Amazon or Google; ''stopping power'' means that it will stop the viewer long enough to arouse his or her curiosity. An e-book cover also has to have high readability at a number of image sizes. Hence, it has to have ''size flexibility.'' It needs to look great whether seen on a large PC screen, tablet, or Smartphone.

It's a challenge to have a cover that reads full screen and as a teensy-weensy thumbnail. However, when your book pops up as one of 10 choices for a reader, your cover had better stand out from the crowd.

In selecting covers for my books, I worked with a designer who took several of my photos and mocked up different cover possibilities with each. We would go back and forth about which worked best and we kept on tweaking until we arrived at a solution. Finding just the right one was tough.

Once you have a cover image, you need to search for a good font style and text size. It has to suit the image and look professional. At this point, you may think that this is perhaps too much work. It is, and it is okay to realize that you could be asking a bit too much of yourself, too.

Ask for Help and Advice

My friend Paul Harcourt Davies is a writer and photographer who recently published an e-book titled Wide-Angle Macro: The Essential Guide, aka WAM. He is an Oxford-trained scientist, an award-winning nature photographer, and the author of numerous hard-copy photography books.

WAM is his first venture into e-books. For this article, I asked him to talk about his experience.

Paul immediately responded, ''It's a good idea to get an editor and maybe some design help.''

For WAM, Paul turned to designer and photographer Clay Bolt for assistance.

According to Paul, ''Clay is a professional designer, and he put together a template so that we could use PDFs, which are readable on computers and pads of all sorts. I think Clay's eye for design made such a difference to the appearance and feel of our first book.''

The result of this collaboration is WAM, a book about wide-angle, close-up photography of insects and animals. At a glance, Paul's eye-catching cover photographs make it obvious what's between the book's virtual covers. The images invite you to ''thumb'' through the ebook. If you like what you see, you just might spend $5 for the sheer pleasure of looking at all the photos.

Mirroring Photos with Words

Inside the book, images and text flow together smoothly. This is an accomplishment that Paul stresses: ''Take the writing seriously. It comes naturally to a select few. Most of us have had to work at it, and it has not been easy taking brutal criticism from editors. If you have the guts, you make sure you do better next time. Too many people are brought up to think they are wonderful. Finding you are not sorts out the wheat from the chaff!''

I have to agree. With my books, many of my favorite photos and bits of copy were not too popular with the editor. I debated him and argued; but in the end, I realized how often he was correct and I was wrong.

The future for e-books is exciting for photographers, writers, and artists. Paul Harcourt Davies has a great grasp on it: ''There is still a lot to learn, but the whole thing is fascinating.''

Essentials for eBooks

1. Keep covers simple. A cover image that is too busy and hard to read can be the kiss of death.

2. Be bold. Use strong colors and graphics. Aviod murky colors or type that blends into the background. PC screen color accuracy is all over the map and you don't want to turn off buyers becuase your e-book images look like mush.

3. Make sure that the cover shot relates strongly to the text and interior photos.

4. All photos have to be very sharp and properly exposed.

5. Layout of pages is critical. Images have to be well laid out for different proportions of screens.

6. Whites have to be consistently white. Images with different color casts wll also kill an e-book.

7. If you are explaining unique or special techniques, illustrate each step in the process.

8. Edit text and photos ruthlessly. Leaving second-best images and garbled text in an e-book is not the sign of professionalism.