Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My self-publishing process: 2. The back-cover text

For the next episode of the adventure, we explore typesetting the text that goes on the back cover of the paperback. This text will also be the main text that appears on the sales web sites, i.e., Amazon, B&N, etc.

I constructed the cover in The Gimp. Gimp uses layers, masks and transparency to organize your project in a manner similar (I’m told) to Photoshop. The overall cover design was complete some time ago, though I made one slight adjustment in how the photograph is masked.

The back-cover text, however, I just finished writing a few days ago, so I felt it was time to get it incorporated.

Seriously geeky stuff ahead. You’ve been warned.

The cover is made up of more than a dozen different pieces, each in its own graphical layer: the radial gradient background; each part of the text in a slightly peculiar handwriting font; the photograph, masked to an oval shape so only the model’s eyes are showing, but blurred at the edges into the background. All this is laid out on a template CreateSpace provides. CreateSpace will add the bar code after I have submitted the artwork. (I’m using the wrong template right now; more on that below.)

I had choices for how the back cover would be typeset:

  • I could pull the (almost) completed project into some Adobe something (likely Photoshop).
  • I could type the text into a text box in The Gimp.
  • I could properly typeset the text and drop in the typeset copy. This gives proper kerning, hyphenation (needed for short lines).

In the end, I chose the last option because it would get me there the fastest with the bestest result.

I put the text into a LaTeX article document and began experimenting with typesetting options: Font family, font size, text width. Eventually I settled on

  • The cmss font (Computer Modern Sans Serif), the font in which the chapter headings will be set in the book’s interior; it is a TeX staple. I got this by putting a command \sffamily around each paragraph.
  • Font size: 14-15 points. For this, I used the [12pt] article option, then put a \large command inside each parpagraph. (Note to whining purists: This was six short paragraphs — not enough in my mind to trouble about doing it the “right” way.)
  • I set the text width to 25em (based on the 12pt document option) by experimenting with it and pasting it (as outlined below) into the cover file until it looked “about right” to me.

I typeset the copy by running it through pdflatex, which embeds scalable fonts in the PDF, then opened it in The Gimp. When importing a Postscript or PDF document, Gimp gives you a choice in the resolution of the import. Through experimentation I selected 300 DPI, the same as the resolution of the CreateSpace cover template.

Once the file was imported (in a separate graphics file), I cropped it to just the text I wanted, i.e., disposing of the excess margins, page number, etc. (See comments above about doing it the right way.)

But the PDF import assumes the ink color is black and the paper color is white and both are opaque. That would be great if the back cover (at least) were going to be solid white, but in this case it was a recipe for ugly. So I took the cropped graphic of the text and inverted the colors, i.e., white became black and vice versa, and the brightness of grayscales was inverted, e.g., 25% white became 75% white.

Back in the book cover file, I created a new layer and added a layer mask that would give me full transparency. I pasted the “text graphic” not into the visible layer, but into the layer mask. See, a layer mask in the Gimp uses black for the transparent part of the layer, white for the opaque part of the layer, and partial transparency is done with shades of gray. So with the background of the text being black in the layer mask only the lettering would show, and that in whatever color I painted the foreground of the layer.

I did it this way for two reasons: to overcome the PDF black/white problem noted above, and to experiment with the color of the text. My brilliant idea was to have the text set in a gradient with enough contrast to the cover background to make it easily readable. But as with so much in life, the proof is in the pudding (in this case readability), not in the recipe. In the end, the back cover has solid white text over the gradient background.

One final note: I’m using the wrong CreateSpace template at this time because I don’t know how many pages will be in the final paperback. The only difference will be in the spine width, so when I know the actual page count, and thus can obtain the correct template, I will just need to rearrange the cover parts slightly to get the layout correct.

No comments:

Post a Comment