eBook Cover design: The Ninth Order

Here it is. The cover for my next novel, The Ninth Order. Look for it on Amazon and Smashwords in August 2011.

Click to see full sized version
The Ninth Order - book cover for fantasy novel by Ramsey Isler

This cover (which I designed myself) is the result of a week’s worth of Photoshopping and playing around with book cover concepts. I eventually settled on this idea because it fit the theme of the book: a mix of traditional fantasy and sci-fi elements. It features a leather book cover, adorned with aged metal corner ornaments. The center of the book features the symbol of The Ninth Order of Rezernaan stamped in bright, untarnished metal; immune to the effects of time.

Right now I’m only releasing my novels as eBooks, and cover design for eBooks is hard. It’s much different than designing for print. The biggest challenge is that eBook covers are most often seen as teeny tiny thumbnails, and rarely at their full resolution. That means what you design has to look good at 300 pixels wide, and oftentimes even smaller than that (Amazon’s thumbnails are often 100px wide, or smaller!). The only time readers will see the cover in all its glory is when they buy the book and see it on their PC, tablet, or eReader. And even then, you never know exactly what the reader will see (Kindles don’t even have color, so much of the design is lost). Plus, digital book readers have a handy feature that allows you to pick up reading right where you left off, so readers might only see your precious full-size cover once, and never again.

This is dramatically different than print books, where the cover/book jacket is a constant part of the reading experience. Every time you go to pick up that book, you see the cover. You feel the stamping and embossing. The cover is designed primarily as a marketing tool to entice you to pick it up, but it’s also an integrated part of the book and the act of reading it. Not so with eBooks. Once the marketing purpose is fulfilled, the cover takes a backseat.

So for eBooks, the cover design is most important for marketing. It’s the first and only image associated with your book, and as I mentioned earlier, it’s often seen in small scale (a scale which the author has no control of). Joel Friedlander at the Book Designer blog has a wonderful post on ebook successes and failures in the Kindle store that describes the issues designers and publishers face when trying to make covers for the digital platforms. Great print covers often make for horrible eBook covers because text and subtlety are lost in those tiny thumbnails, and it takes a lot of consideration to make a cover work at a variety of scales. Smart publishers are starting to design covers specifically for the eBook platforms; another sign that the eBook revolution is getting bigger.

Weird Book Title

Yes, “Eeeee Eee Eeee” is really the title of this book. And yes, it’s an appropriate title. The book is about odd young people living odd lives and thinking odd things, so why shouldn’t have one of the oddest titles in the history of the literary industry?

The story is essentially about a screwed up Domino’s Pizza delivery guy who ends up in an underground world suicidal dolphins and depressed bears.

If that weren’t enough to get you itchin’ to read this book, here’s a snippet from the Publisher’s Weekly review for this crazy tale:

“Poet and blogger Lin’s debut novel uneasily documents the life of Andrew, a recent college graduate working at Domino’s Pizza while over-analyzing every aspect of his life: past, present and futureless. He drives through the suburbs reminiscing about college life in New York and his ex-girlfriend, stopping occasionally to express his boredom to his best friend Steve. When at one point, Andrew states that he wants to “wreak complex and profound havoc” upon capitalist establishments such as McDonald’s, it feels like Lin is attempting the same kind of attack on organized art. The novel, while short on plot, makes abrupt shifts in setting and point of view, and is pierced throughout by celebrity cameos and surreal touches: bears, dolphins (who say “Eeeee Eee Eeee” to express emotion, in spite of their ability to speak like humans), Salman Rushdie, and the president make grandiose declarations that are heavily saturated with the same sardonic wit displayed by Andrew and his friends. The novel dips dangerously into metafiction, with Andrew in the middle of ‘writing a book of stories about people who are doomed.’ The characters’ repetitive thoughts and conversations become strangely hypnotic, however, and Lin’s sympathetic fascination with the meaning of life is full of profound and often hilarious insights. ”

Imagine the book-buying scenario as an eager reader looking for this book saunters into a Barnes & Noble.

B&N salesperson: “Hello, welcome to Barnes and Noble. Can I help you?”
Buyer: “Yeah, i’m looking for EEEEE EEE EEEE!”
B&N salesperson: “Uh…security!”

It’s quite possible this kind of warped purchase scenario occurred to the author, Tao Lin, a strange little Asian man whose personal website is http://heheheheheheheeheheheehehe.com

I do suggest you read this book. It’s a real mind-bender. It reminds me a lot of the days when I tried to wrap my head around the non-linear and often nonsensical prose of William S. Burroughs. If you want to sample Tao Lin’s work, take a peek at the “Look Inside Link” on the book’s Amazon page. Let me know if you have a craving for pizza afterwards.

Book cover for

Ads: The Future of ebooks?

I’m going to propose something controversial, perhaps even blasphemous. My fellow authors may spurn me and say my dangerous ideas will ruin the industry. But here it is anyway: I think eBooks should have ads in them.

Now before you write me a nastygram, hear me out.

Today Amazon announced that AT&T has joined the ranks of advertisers on the Kindle. As odd as this may sound, it isn’t really new. Amazon first debuted the Wi-Fi Kindle with Special Offers in April and the 3G version in May, which gave marketers new ways to ply their wares to consumers on one of the most popular gadgets out there. General Motors, Olay, and Chase already sponsor ads on the Kindle. If you agree to buy a “special offers” Kindle and see all these sweet ads, you shave some money off the purchase price of the Kindle. The AT&T deal is notable because it gives an even bigger discount for the 3G “special offers” model (15% drop to $139). Ads on Kindle offer nice discounts on products from Amazon and other companies, and they appear on the Kindle’s screensaver when the device is turned off and also appear on the Kindle’s home screen. Amazon’s “special offer” Kindles don’t show ads within the actual content of the books, yet.

Most of the industry pundits are looking at this news from a competition perspective, especially as Amazon continues to fight off the iPad and other e-readers. But there’s another angle here that a lot of people are overlooking.

We’re seeing ads on a book platform.

Think about that for a second. The ad-supported model that has worked on just about every form of modern media is finally encroaching upon the book market. It’s a sign of the times, but we need to go a step further.

Ads in readable material are nothing new. Magazines have had them for ages. So have comic books. But booky books (the kind without many pictures and lots of pages) have never really been a good platform for advertising, besides the occasional 1 page ad at the end of the book, which sells other titles by the same publisher. But as digital books on eReaders, smartphones, tablets, and even PCs become more common, the opportunities for advertising get better and better. Although the purists are all filled with book nerd rage about this possibility, I think it might actually help the book industry in the long run.

Just about every other form of entertainment is ad-supported these days. TV? Ads. Radio? Ads. Mobile apps? Ads. Web? Ads everywhere you look. Even the movies you see at the theater are doing product placement more than ever. Hell, some movies are just 2-hour advertisements (Transformers, for instance, is really just a big toy commercial). Books, especially novels, may need to get with the program, especially since the novel is already the least-favored form of fiction now.

So what would an ad-sponsored book world look like? Well, imagine that all the books you could ever want were available to you for free, legally. You would simply go find it, download it, and start reading. Authors would make money on the same model most of the web works on: the content’s free, and the ads bring in the money. The ultimate goal of the author is to get people to read their work, after all, and when it comes to exposure, nothing beats the free price point (as the app markets on iOS and Android have shown us). Many indie eBook authors are already doing well with content that is already almost free (99 cent eBooks on Amazon are becoming increasingly common), so free is just the next logical step.

Here’s the thing: through ads, authors may make even more money than before. Instead of a one time payment, authors will get a cut of recurring ad revenue that accumulates as users read their digital books (and for series like A Song of Ice and Fire with books that have over a thousand pages, that’s a lot of opportunities to show ads). Maybe this would work on a commission basis, or pay-per-click, or pay-per-view. But whatever it is, it’s a continuous form of revenue for the writer. For example, if a writer has a chapter that takes place in Monaco, and at the end of the chapter the reader is presented with an ad for a heavily discounted trip to Monte Carlo, the commission from that sale could be orders of magnitude greater than the sale price for the book. eBooks could even be used to serve up video ads and trailers for movies in that book’s genre. Your epic fantasy book could be used to show trailers for The Hobbit movie, and its assorted merchandise. And of course, if you prefer to not deal with ads and pay your one-time fee, you’ll have that option (once again taking a page from the mobile app industry).

Google showed us that context-sensitive, relevant ads can be a big winner for blogs and online magazines. There’s no reason it can’t work for books too.

Free, ad-supported books on digital platforms with good ad-serving capabilities could be just the boost the book market needs. The Kindle with Special Offers has a prominent position on Amazon’s bestseller list, proving that readers are willing to deal with ads in exchange for a lower price. We just need the literary industry to be proactive for once, and take the lead in using technology to its advantage.