Creating Book Covers Workshop: 4 Loading Fonts and Using Text Effects


4 Loading Fonts and Using Text Effects

In this lesson, we will:

  • Learn about selecting fonts and using multiple text layers
  • Learn to align and center text
  • Load new fonts off the internet
  • Manipulate fonts with effects
  • View book covers as thumbnails

4.1 Choosing Fonts

When choosing fonts for your cover, you should opt for thick fonts that will show up well when the cover is displayed as a thumbnail image. Yes, those willowy fonts are pretty, but their thin lines tend to disappear when the cover is displayed as a small image. So, go with the more substantial fonts.

Choose a font style that matches the style of your book. Whether the font is pretty, grungy, cartoony, or professional should be determined by whether the book is pretty, grungy, cartoony, or professional. Use your fonts to tell your story.

Times New Roman in plain and italic is a good choice for subtitles and “New your Times Bestseller” above your author name (should you be so luck).

4.2 Fonts and Branding

We haven’t discussed branding yet, but this is an important issue. Branding involves using common graphic elements on all your book covers to unite them. Whether uniting all the books in a series or all your books, using common fonts on each book cover can help to establish your brand.

For example, you may want to use the same font for the titles of all your books in a series and share the same author name style and location on every book. It’s easy to copy common elements from one book cover image to another or use an existing cover as a template for the next book.

4.3 Using Multiple Text Layers

Each time you add text to an image it produces a new text layer. Each text layer can use a different font, different size, and different color. Additionally, each text layer can be moved around the image independently.

I often use different text layers for each line of text when producing multiline text elements (e.g. titles). Rather than accept the interline spacing forced upon me by including a newline in a text block, I position each line myself (often to crown the lines together).

You may also want to use the technique of displaying a text element all in upper case but making the first letter of each word, or the first word, larger. To do this, enter two seperate text layers, the first with a larger font then the rest of the letters. Align the two layers to produce a word and merge the layers together to form a single word when you’re done manipulating the font information for the text layers.

4.4 Aligning Text

To align multiple text layers along a horizontal plane, I simply zoom in on the text to be aligned (e.g. 2:1) and manually align it. There are more sophisticated ways of doing this, but my way is quick and simple.

To zoom in on your text, select View->Zoom->2:1. Scroll the image manipulation window horizontally and vertically until the text you’re trying to align is displayed and move the text to align it. Select View->Zoom->Fit Image to Window when you’re done to display the entire image in the image manipulation window.

I use the same method to align text along a vertical plane.

4.5 Centering Text

The easiest way to center text on a cover is to:

4.5.1 Select the text box to be centered by selecting the Text tool, selecting the correct layer, and clicking on the text.

4.5.2 Stretch the text box so that the left and right edges of the box are aligned with the left and right edges of the cover.

4.5.3 Select “Centered” from the “Justify:” options in the configuration section of the Toolbox.

4.6 Loading Free Fonts Off the Internet

The GIMP uses the fonts that are loaded on your computer. You can augment your existing font library by loading free fonts off the Internet.

My favorite free font download site is Go to this site and browse the font list. When you find a font you like, click the “Download” button. When prompted by your operating system, select “Open”. You’ll be presented with an open Zip file. Double click on the TrueType font within the file and “Open” it. Click the “Install” button at the top of the window to install the font.

Note that you’ll have to restart the GIMP to gain access to newly loaded fonts.

Avoid selecting fonts that are labeled “Free for personal use”.

4.7 Text vs Image Layers

Text layers retain all the information related to the text they contain including the font, size, and color. Some text manipulation operations convert a text layer to a graphic layer and this information is lost. Be sure you’ve set your font, size, and color before performing any of the following manipulations since they will turn your text into a graphic.

Note that merging multiple text layers will also produce a merged graphic layer.

4.8 Scaling Text

Use the Scaling Tool to stretch text either vertically or horizontally. I often use this method to stretch my big fat fonts vertically to make them taller.

To use this technique, select the Scaling Tool which is in the third row and fourth column of the icons displayed in the top of the Toolbox. Select the text layer to stretch then select the text box to stretch. Boxes will appear on all sides and corners of the text box. Grab a side and start pulling. When done, select the “Scale” button in the “Scale” dialog box. Select the “Cancel” button to optionally reject your changes.

4.9 Rotating Text

Use the Rotate Tool to rotate text off the horizontal plane.

To use this technique, select the Rotate Tool which is in the third row and third column of the icons displayed in the top of the Toolbox Select the text layer to stretch then grab a side of the box and move it up or down, left or right. When done, select the “Rotate” button in the “Rotate” dialog box. Select the “Cancel” button to optionally reject your changes.

4.10 Shearing Text

Use the Shear Tool to cant text to the left or right.

To use this technique, select the Shear Tool which is in the third row and fifth column of the icons displayed in the top of the Toolbox Select the text layer to shear then grab a side of the box and move it left or right. When done, select the “Shear” button in the “Shear” dialog box. Select the “Cancel” button to optionally reject your changes.

4.11 Adding Perspective to Text

Use the Perspective Tool to make it look like your text is disappearing into the distance.

To use this technique, select the Perspective Tool which is in the third row and sixth column of the icons in the Toolbox Select the text layer to change then grab the rigth top side of the box and pull it down. When done, select the “Transform” button in the “Perspective” dialog box. Select the “Cancel” button to reject your changes.

Note that you can use this technique in combination with shearing and rotation to make text look like it’s racing into the distance.

4.12 Blurring Text and Creating Drop Shadows

You can add a simple blur to text using Filters->Blur->Gaussian Blur. Experiment to see what this does.

A commonly used blur effect is a drop shadow. It’s so commonly used that the GIMP now offers it as a single step function (you used to have to do it yourself). Select Filters->Light and Shadow->Drop Shadow to produce a blurred black shadow just below the text. This effect helps to make light text stand out against a light background.

4.13 Applying Filters to Text

You can apply a ton of effects to text. I find it easiest to use most of these effects via the File->Create->Logos menu option that you experimented with in lesson 1 of this workshop. To use any of the text effects created, delete the background layer (we want the background to be transparent) then merge all layers and layer masks until you have a single layer. You can then copy this text effect to your book cover image as a new layer.

4.14 Viewing Book Covers as a Thumbnail

Periodically, you should view your cover image as a thumbnail to insure that your text is readable in small versions of the image. To do this, select View->Zoom->1:8. Is your text still readable? When done viewing the thumbnail, select View->Zoom->Fit Image to Window to fill the image maniuplation window with your image.

Project 4.1: Load a Free Font

Visit and load a new font onto your computer.

Project 4.2: Try the Text Effect Tools

Experiement with the Scale, Rotate, Shear, and Perspective Tools to manipulate text layers. Add a drop shadow. Play with the drop shadow parameters to see what they do. Experiment with other Filter effects as time and interest permit.

Project 4.3: View the Sample Cover

Open in your browser. Notice how I used multiple fonts and font sizes to build the text on this cover. I used 12 text layers to produce the text. Notice the different font used to highlight the letter “B” in Believe.

Project 4.4: Update Your Simple Cover

Use the techniques you’ve learned in this lesson on your simple book cover to add multiple text layers and text effects as desired.

Project 4.5: View your book cover as a thumbnail.

### End of Lesson, Copyright (c) 2012, Brian Jackson

Creating Book Covers Workshop: 3 Working with Layers and Selections

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3 Working with Layers and Selections

In the lesson, we will learn:

  • About layers and the Layer Window
  • How to manipulate layers
  • How to select text and graphic regions
  • How to copy and cut text and graphics

3.1 Using the Layer Window

Layers are a fundemental building blocks of an image. They allow you to work on individual components of an image while leaving the rest of the image alone. When stacked on top of one another, layers are combined to produce a finished image. The contents of layers higher in the stack block out the contents of layers beneath them. As a result, transparent layers containing text and graphics are the most popular layers to stack. Typically, the lowest layer contains a solid color or background image that covers the entire book cover.

The Layer Window shows you the layers that have been defined in an image and the order in which they’re stacked. You can use commands in the Layer Window and the buttons at the bottom of the window to manipulate the layers.

Use the File->Open menu item to open the book cover you saved in the previous lesson. It should contain two layers: one layer named “Background” which contains the image and a text layer containing the title of the book and your author name. The name of the text layer will be the text it contains. Since the text layer is above the image layer, its contents block out the contents of the image directly below the text (the contents of the text layer other than the text is transparent).

By the way, transparency is displayed in the GIMP as a checker board of light and dark gray squares.

When adding a new graphical or textual component to a book cover, create it on a new layer so that you can individually manipulate and position it.

3.2 Selecting a Layer

To work with a layer, you must first select it in the Layers Window. The selected layer is displayed as light gray in the window. To select a layer, click on on it’s name. The operation you perform in the image manipulation window will then effect only the contents of the selected layer.

Note that the number one reason that things go wrong when working with the GIMP is that you don’t have the correct layer selected when working on an image. If you want to modify the text of your book cover, first click on the text layer in the Layers window. If you try to select the text box while the image layer is selected, nothing will happen. If you want to work on the image, first click on the “Background” layer.

3.3 Adding and Duplicating a Layer

To add a layer above the current layer, click on the button in the lower left corner of the Layers Window (it looks like a piece of paper with the top right corner folded down). Remember, by placing your mouse pointer above a button without clicking it a tooltip will appear explaining the purpose of the button.

The “Create a New Layer” dialog box will be displayed. In this dialog box you can name the new layer and choose whether it should be filled with the forground color (“Black”), the background color (“White”), White, or it should be transparent. In most cases you will want a transparent layer so that only the things you place on the layer will block the contents of lower layers. Click the “OK” button to create the layer.

Use the “Duplicate Layer” button, the fourth button over at the bottom of the Layers Window, to duplicate the current layer.

3.4 Raising and Lowering a Layer

Because the contents of higher layers block the contents of lower layers, layer order is important. Use the up and down arrows at the bottom of the Layers Window to move the current layer up and down through the layer stack.

3.5 Making a Layer Invisible and Visible

Sometimes it’s handy to temporarily make a layer invisible to see what lies beneath it. Click the eye to the left of a layer to temporarilly hide and then show the contents of the layer. Note that the layer still exists, its contents just can’t be seen.

3.6 Deleting a Layer

Click the garbage can in the lower right corner of the Layers Window to delete the current layer. Note that you can use Edit->Undo to undo this operation.

3.7 Merging Two Layers

Sometimes it’s useful to deal with the contents of two layers as a single element. In this case, the layers should be merged.

First, use the up and down arrows to insure that the two layers to be merged are next to each other. RIGHT click on the layer on top and select “Merge Down” from the popup menu. The two layers will be merged to produce a single layer.

3.8 Image, Text, and Floating Layers

As you work with the GIMP, you’ll come across three types of layers that display themselves differently in the Layers Window.

Image layers are layers that contain graphic elements. They display themselves in the Layers Window as a thumbnail of the image contents in the box to the left of the layer name.

Text layers are layers that contain text that can be modified using the Text Tool. They display themselves with the letter “A” in the box to the left of the layer name.

Floating layers are selections that have not yet been anchored onto a layer. These appear in the middle of a Cut & Paste or Copy & Paste operation. Be sure to anchor your layers before performing further work by clicking on the anchor symbol at the bottom of the Layers window.

3.9 Selecting All and None

In the remainder of this lesson, we’ll learn how to select all or a portion of a layer for Cut & Paste or Copy & Paste operations. In a later lesson, we’ll use selection with the Bucket Tool to create colored boxes.

Before selecting anything, insure that the correct layer is selected in the layers Window.

To select everything on a layer, use the Select->All menu item. A boarder, known as marching ants, will surround your selection.

To turn off a selection (when no longer needed), use the Select->None menu item.

3.10 Using Rectangular Selection

To select a rectangular portion of a layer, use the Rectangle Select Tool located in the upper left corner of the Toolbox Window. After selecting this tool, your mouser cursor will turn to an “+” in the image manipulation window. To use it, position the plus sign to the upper left of the selection, hold down your left mouse button, and drag your mouse to the lower right corner of the selection. A green/purple box will be used to show your selection.

When you release your left mouse button, marching ants will be used to show the boundaries of your selection. You can move your mouse pointer over any side or corner of the selection and click and drag your mouse to increase or decrease the size of the selection. You can click and drag in the center of the selection to move it.

3.11 Using Elliptical Selection

Similar to the rectangular selection tool but creates an eliptical selection. The button to enable this tool is directly to the right of the Rectangle Selection Tool. Use it to produce circular selections.

3.12 Using Free Selection

The Free Select Tool, the lasso to the right of the Elipse Select Tool, can be used in two ways to perform freeform selection.

First, you can hold your left mouse button down while dragging the mouse pointer around the image manipulation window to create your selection. Second, you can repeatedly click your left mouse button to create a series of straight lines to form your selection. You can alternately use both methods to create your selection. To close your selection, move your mouse to the start point of the selection while holding your mouse down or click over your start point.

Use free selection to select complex shapes. In a later lesson, we’ll learn to use the erase tool to clean up our selection.

3.13 Using Color Selection

Color selection allows you to select everything on the layer of a particular color. To use it, select the tool (second from the right on the top row) and click on a color. Marching ants will appear around all occurances of that color on the layer.

Note that you can drag the “Threshold:” slider to the right to select colors that are farther and farther from being close to the color you select. A better way to add close colors to the selection is outlined in the following section.

3.14 Adding and Subtracting Selection

You can use any of the above selection methods to add to an existing selection by holding down the Shift key on your keyboard before performing the selection. You can remove portions of a selection by holding down the Ctrl key and doing the same.

The addition selection technique is most useful when performing color selection. In this case, choose the color selection tool, hold down the Shift key, and continue to add colors to your selection by clicking on colored pixels in the image manipulation window. If you accidently select a color you don’t want, use the Edit->Undo menu item to remove the selection.

If color selection results in selecting a portion of the image you didn’t want to select (e.g. you’re selecting a flower and some words get selected), you can hold down the Cntrl key and select the portions of the selection you want to remove from the current selection (e.g. using rectanbular selection).

Using selection additional and subtraction, you can use all of the techniques outlined in this section to build a complex selection through several operations.

3.15 Inverting Your Selection

Sometimes its easier to select what you don’t want then it is to select what you do want. In these cases, select what you don’t want and invert your selection. For example, if you want to select a complex image on a solid white background, it’s easy to select the solid white background with one Select by Color Tool click and invert the selection to select everything not currently selected.

Use the Select->Invert menu item to unselect everything selected and select everything not selected. Note that you can use invertion in the middle of building a complex selection using multiple selection and deselection steps.

3.16 Moving a Layer

Since we’ll be following the convention of placing a single graphical element on seperate transparent layers, we can move graphical elements around our book cover by moving the layer. Use the Move Tool, second column far right in the Toolbox, to move a graphical element.

To use this tool, select the correct layer, click and hold down your left mouse button over the graphical element, and drag it to its new location. Release your mouse button when you’re done.

Don’t worry if the outline of your layer overlaps the borders of your image, it will be cropped to fit.

3.17 Copy & Paste

Once you’ve selected a portion of an image, you can make a copy of it by selecting the Edit->Copy menu item, moving to a new layer by adding a layer or selecting a layer in the Layer Window, and using Edit->Paste to paste the selection into the new layer.

3.18 Cut & Paste

Cut & Paste is like Copy & Paste above, except that you remove the selected region from the source layer and paste it to its destination. Use this technique to move and image or colored box around the image.

3.19 Copying from One Image to Another

Note that you can select and copy a region of an image or text from one image to another by opening the image you want to copy from using File->Open, creating your selection in the opened image manipulation window, executing Edit->Copy from that window, then selecting a different image manipulation window in which to perform you Edit->Paste.

When you select one of multiple open image manipulation windows by click your left mouse button somewhere in the window, or on its border, the Layers Window changes to show you the layers in the selected image manipulation window. Working with multiple images at a time is key to creating a complex book cover.

Use this techinque to copy images from multiple sources onto a single book cover. Remember to always paste to a new transparent layer.

Project 3.1: Modify Your First Book Cover

Modify your first book cover by removing the author name following the book title and reentering each as a seperate text layer. To add a new text layer, simply select the Text Tool (“A”) in the Toolbox Window and click somewhere on your image outside the existing text box. Being sure to select the correct layer for modification, change your author name to a smaller font. Now move the title and the author name seperately, after changing to the appropriate layers, to place them in the best locations on your cover.

### End of Lesson Copyright (c) 2011, Brian Jackson

Creating Book Covers Workshop: 2 Creating a Simple Book Cover

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2 Creating a Simple Book Cover

In this lesson, we will:

  • Learn the three visual components of a book cover.
  • Learn how to save experimental images off the Internet onto our computer.
  • Bring an image into the GIMP and resize it to exactly fit a book cover.
  • Change your view to fit the image in the image manipulation window.
  • Type text over the image and change the text style.
  • Save the resulting book cover.

2.1 Three Visual Components of a Book Cover

For the most part, book covers are composed of three major visual components.

One or more images are displayed in an attempt to tell the story of the book.

Text is used to show the title, authors name, and a tag line or interesting selling point. The style of the text can also be used to tell something about the book’s contents (e.g. a western style font versus a dripping blood font).

The third visual component is one or more colored boxes used to create geometric patterns or to set a color behind a font to make the print stand out.

In this lesson, we’ll focus on making a simple book cover by using a single image to cover the entire cover and placing stylalized text over the top of the image. We’ll address creating and placing colored boxes in a later lesson.

2.2 Saving Images From the Internet

When creating book covers, we must use images to which we hold the rights, so we’ll be buying images from image vending sites or downloading them off government web sites. In the meantime, when it comes to experimenting, we can use any image we find on the internet.

The easiest way to find images to experiment with is to use your browser to open the Google search engine at and click on the “Images” link in the top left of the screen to force Google to search for images. Enter a search keyword and click the “Google Search” button. Search strings such as “romance”, “science fiction”, and “nature” should produce interesting results.

Browse through the resulting images looking for an image that is books shaped (portrait), or could have a nice book shaped chunk taken out of it, and best tells the story of your book. When you find an image you like, click on it to display the largest available version. When the image is displayed, RIGHT click on the image and select the “Save picture as…” menu item from the popup menu.

In the “Save Picture” window, save your picture in the “Pictures” directory using a descriptive filename such as “jungleWaterfall”. Most pictures will automatically be saved as JPG formatted images.

Again, remember that such images may only be used for experimentation. When creating book covers, you want to use images to which you clearly own the rights.

2.3 Loading an Image Into the GIMP

The simplest way to load an image into the GIMP is by opening it. Use the File->Open menu item to select the name of the file in the “Pictures” directory that you just saved. Double click your left mouse button on the filename to open the associated image.

2.4 Scaling the Image

The next three steps introduce a standard method you should use when scaling an image to fill either an entire book cover, as in our case, or a rectagular region on a book cover.

Select the Image->Scale Image menu item. Within the “Scale Image” dialog box, type 853 in the Width text box for the “Image Size” and press Enter. The image height will change to proportionally match the width of 853. If the new image height is less than 1280, type an image height of 1280 and press Enter again. Click the “Scale” button at the bottom of the window to actually scale the image.

2.5 Zooming to Fit

As a result of increasing or decreasing the size of the image you’re working on, you may want to zoom in or out on your work. Use the View->Zoom->Fit Image in Window menu item to best fit the image to the image manipulation window.

2.6 Cropping the Image

Note that if the width of your image is now 853 and the height 1280 then you don’t need to perform this step. Move on to step 2.7.

One dimension of your image now exactly fits the demensions of a book cover while the other demension is too long. Select the Image->Canvas Size menu item to crop off the unwanted height or width. Within the “Set Image Canvas Size” dialog box, click the chain symbol to the right of the Width and Height text fields to break proportionality. Type either 853 over the incorrect width or 1280 over the incorrect height and press Enter. The demension you did not type over should remain unchanged.

Click on the “Center” button on the middle right side of the dialog box. The picture below shows a white outline around the region of the image that will be retained after the crop is performed. To adjust the crop region, click your mouse in either the X or Y offset text fields (which ever is currently displaying a negative number) and use the up and down arrow keys on your keyboard to adjust the offset. Hold down the up or down arrow key to move the crop region faster.

When you have the white crop region around the portion of the image that you want to retain, click on the arrow to the right of the “Resize layers” option field and select “All Layers”. Finally, click the “Resize” button at the bottom of the window to actually resize the image.

You now have a 1280 x 853 book cover completely covered with an image. Follow this same procedure when ever filling a cover or region with an image to proprotionally resize the image while cropping off as little of the image as possible.

2.7 Typing Text Over the Image

To display text over your image, we’ll use our first tool from the Toolbox window: the Text Tool. The Text Tool button looks like a large letter “A”. Left click on this button in the top portion of the Toolbox window. The lower portion of the window changes to display options for configuring your text.

Note that you can move your mouse pointer over any tool buttons in the top half ot the Toolbox window, without clicking the mouse, and a small tooltip will pop up to tell you what the button does.

Before placing your text, change the size of the text by entering “80″ in the Size text box in the lower portion of the Toolbox window. Now, click anywhere on your image and type the title of your book, press Enter, and then type your name.

Note that when you click on the image to enter your text, the “GIMP Text Editor” window opens. You can close this window by click on the “X” in the upper right hand corner of the window.

2.8 Moving the Text

To move your text, position your mouse pointer anywhere inside the text box, click and hold down your left mouse button, and drag the text to where you want it. Release you left mouse button when you’re done.

Text stands out the best when it isn’t overlaying a complex portion of the image. For example, don’t position the text over the faces of characters in an image. Also, text stands out best when light text is displayed over a dark portion of the image or dark text over light.

2.9 Changing the Text Content

To change the content of your text, double click your left mouse button on the text box. The “GIMP Text Editor” window will open. Edit the text in this window and the changes will appear in the image manipulation window. You can close the “GIMP Text Editor” window when you’re done changing the text.

Note that sometimes when you add text to a selection, the text no longer fits properly within the text box. If this occurs, resize the text box by positioning your mouse pointer over the left or right side of the box until the cursor changes to an arrow pointed to a bar, hold down your left mouse button, and drag the text box outward to resize it.

After changing the text content, you should reposition the text box by repeating step 2.8 above.

2.10 Changing the Text Size, Font, and Justification

Use the lower half ot the Toolbox window to configure the selected text.

Use the “Size” text field to enter the font size for the text. Press enter to cause your selection to take effect.

Click the “Aa” button to the right of the “Font:” label to display a list of fonts to which you can change your text. The resulting popup selector displays a list of the fonts available on your computer with a small example of the font to the left (the letters “Aa” in the font). Scroll through the list and left click your mouse on the font you’d like to use.

In a later lesson, you’ll learn how to install additional free fonts from the Internet onto your computer.

To the right of the “Justify:” label are four options for justifying your text: left, right, centered, and filled. Click on one of these button options to select the justification you’d like. Remember that you can position your mouse pointer over these buttons without clicking your mouse to display a tooltip explaining what each button does.

You may need to stretch the text box to fit your text after changing text’s font or size.

Try to make your font as large as possible, but so the text still fits on the cover, to improve it’s readability. Also, select thick, bold fonts over spindly, willowy fonts so that the text remains readable when the book cover is displayed on the web as a thumbnail.

Select a font that reflects the content of you book. Pretty fonts are best for romance, blocky fonts for horror, and computer looking fonts for science fiction.

2.11 Changing the Font Color

Click your left mouse button on the colored bar to the right of the “Color:” label to change the font’s color. The “Text Color” dialog box will be displayed in response to your mouse click.

There are two common ways to select colors in the “Text Color” dialog box.

The first is to click your left mouse on one of the predefined colors in the lower right corner of the dialog box.

The second is to mix your own color. To do this, left click your mouse on the rainbox colored vertical bar in the center of the screen to choose your color. Then, click and drag your mouse around the color box on the left of the screen to select the brightness of the color. Note that the color displayed to the right of the “Current:” lablel will change to show your current color.

Click the “OK” button in the lower right of your screen to set your text color or “Cancel” to dismiss the dialog box without changing the text color.

Text stands out the best when you use dark colored text over a light image or light colored text over a dark image. As a result, white and black are the two most popular text colors for book covers because they stand out the best.

Avoid garish colors such as bright yellow. Set the text color to reflect the type of book: red is good for horror while pastels are best for romance.

2.12 Zooming Out to View a Thumbnail of Your Cover

To see if your text remains readable when your book cover is displayed on a web site as a thumbnail, use the View->Zoom menu item to zoom out to an aspect ratio of “1:8 (12.5%)”. If you can still read your title in this thumbnail view, your book cover should look good when you load it on Amazon and other online book vendor sites.

Reset your view when your done by selecting the View->Zoom->Fit Image in Window menu item.

2.13 Saving the Result in XCF and JPG Formats

When saving our work, there are two file formats we need to consider: XCF and JPG. XCF is the native GIMP file format. When you save a file in XCF format, you save all the information about the GIMP image. Use this information for work in progress. JPG is the image format you’ll use to display an image on the web or to submit it for publication. When you save a file in JPG format, you save only a rastar image. While working on an image, save it in XCF format. When you want to cut a snapshot to view outside the GIMP, save a JPG formatted image.

When you’re reasonably happy with your book cover (don’t worry, our covers will get better), first save it as a JPG image using the File->Save As menu item. Save your work in the “Pictures” directory and name it using reverse polish notation with the “.jpg” file extension (e.g. theSecretStaircase.jpg). The GIMP will display the “Export File” dialog box. Click “Export”. The GIMP will display the “Save as JPEG” dialog box. Click “Save”.

Now use the File->Save As menu item to save the image in XCF format by following the same process as above but using the “.xcf” filename extension (e.g. theSecretStaircase.xcf). Notice that in this instance you won’t be prompted with the dialog boxes.

You can use the File->Save menu item to save your work in the last file in which you used File->Save As menu item to save. That’s why I save the XCF file last, so you can use the File->Save menu item as a save shortcut to save your continued work in progress in XCF format.

2.14 Learning from Existing Book Covers

The best way to learn what constitutes a cool book cover is to browse Amazon or some other online bookseller for cool book covers. As you do so, make note of the elements of the covers that you’d like to use on your own cover. By the time you finish this workshop, you should possess the knowledge required to replicate most book covers.

Project 2.1: Review the Book of Dreams Covers

The book covers that I created for Melanie and my Book of Dreams Series are basically text over full cover image covers. Check out the following web site to see how effective this simple technique can be:

Click on a book cover to display a larger image.

Notice that I used different sized fonts for different text elements (you’ll learn how to do this in the next lesson) and made the mistake of using a willowy font for some of the writing (it doesn’t show up well in thumbnail).

Project 2.2: Create Your First Book Cover

Follow the instructions in this lesson to create and save your own simple book cover in both XCF and JPG formats.

### End of Lesson, Copyright (c) 2012, Brian Jackson

Creating Book Covers Workshop: 1 Installing and Running the GIMP

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1 Installing and Running the GIMP

In this lesson, we will:

  • Learn a little about the Gnu Image Manipulation Program (GIMP).
  • Install the GIMP on our computer.
  • Learn to start and stop the GIMP and review its major components.
  • Create a blank white image and save it.
  • Use the GIMP “Create”feature to create some cool Web graphics and logos.

1.1 Overview of the GIMP

The Gnu Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is an Adobe Photoshop like graphics tool that allows you to manipulate text and images to create and modify graphics files. The program is very powerful and, best of all, it’s free. We’ll be using the GIMP throughout this workshop specifically to create book covers. As a result, we won’t explore many of its more powerful features. Instead, we’ll stick to its basics which is all you’ll need to know to create professional looking book covers and cool Web graphics.

1.2 GIMP Online Documentation

The GIMP User’s Guide is available online at the web site This document provides detailed usage information and examples for every feature of the GIMP.

The GIMP User’s Guide can also be accessed by clicking on the “Help” buttons located on the various GIMP screens. When accessing help through the GIMP program, a browser window will be opened displaying information for the specific GIMP screen on which help was requested.

In addition to the User’s Guide, people have published many GIMP tutorials on the Internet. Search for “gimp tutorial” at to find the available tutorials or enter “gimp” followed by a description of what you’re trying to do.

1.3 Installing the GIMP

1.3.1 In your Web browser, open the URL Half way down the web page is a section titled “GIMP for Windows (Version 2.6.11)”. Left click your mouse on the orange “Download” link below this title. An advertisement will be displayed while SourceForge gets ready to download the GIMP Windows setup file.

*** For Mac Users ***

If you’re a Mac user, open the URL Click on the appropriate version of the installation for your OS. I don’t have a Mac, so you’re on your own as far as instructions. The following is a note from author Susan Squires who used these instructions to install the GIMP on her Mac:

It works a little differently than your instructions for Windows, but most Mac users should be able to figure it out, if I can. When you click on the URL, it takes you to the Sourceforge screen. You choose the version of Gimp that’s right for your operating system, and that page even tells you how to look in your Apple menu, select About this Mac, to find out which version you have. I have Snow Leopard 10.6, and anything over 10.4 uses the latest version of GIMP. One caution might be that it doesn’t have an indicator for Lion, which is the latest Mac Operating system. I have not downloaded Lion, because people say it takes some getting used to. But real Mac aficionados would have Lion already loaded. GIMP may work with Lion, but that isn’t explicit.

When the program has finished loading, a window pops up with several icons in it. You move the dog picture into the App folder picture (there’s an arrow there to illustrate what you’re supposed to do.). That brings GIMP into your applications folder, where it is ready to open. Voila. I think it has fewer steps even than the directions you gave for windows.

You might want to say that they need to wait for about 86 MB to download. If you try to work with the file before it’s completely downloaded, you get some crazy messages.


1.3.2 In Windows 7, a small window will pop open at the bottom of the screen asking “Do you want to run or save gimp-2.6.11-i686-setup-1.exe?” In Windows XP a simpler window will appear in the middle of the screen. Left click your mouse on the “Run” button. Downloading will begin immediately taking at least a couple of minutes to complete.

1.3.3 In Windows 7, you’ll be asked “Do you want the following program to make changes to this computer?” If you see this message, click the “Yes” button.

1.3.4 The GIMP installer “Welcome screen” will be displayed. Click the “Next >” button. The GNU “GNU General Public License” screen will be displayed. Again, click the “Next >” button. The “Ready to Install” screen will appear. Click the “Install now” button.

1.3.5 The GIMP will now install itself. When its done, the “Completing the GIMP Setup Wizard” screen will appear. Uncheck the “Launch GIMP” checkbox and click the “Finish” button.

1.3.6 The “GIMP 2″ icon should now appear on your Windows Desktop. Note that this icon will not appear if you’ve instructed Windows to not install icons on your desktop. In this case, access the GIMP through the Start Menu.

1.4 Starting the GIMP

To start the GIMP, simply position your mouse pointer over the “GIMP 2″ icon on your Windows Desktop and double click it with your left mouse button. The GIMP will display a startup screen that shows you it’s progress. The GIMP is ready to use when the image manipulation window appears.

Note: The GIMP will be slow to start the first time as it gathers information about the installation.

1.5 The GIMP Menu

The GIMP Menu provides access to all of the GIMP functionality. It runs across the top of the image manipulation window, beginning with “File” on the left and ending with “Help” on the right. To access a menu item, click and release your left mouse button while the mouse pointer is over the desired menu name, move your mouse down the menu, and left click on the desired menu item.

Some menu items cascade. These items are displayed with a triangle to the right of the menu item name. To access a cascading menu, move your mouse pointer over the item and when the cascading menu pops up, move your mouse to the side to make your selection by left clicking on a menu item.

To close a menu without selecting an item, simply left click your mouse on the menu name or anywhere outside the menu.

This workshop will use the convention of identifying menu items by the menu (and optional cascading menu) on which they appear. For example, File->New refers to the “New” item on the “File” menu.

1.6 Displaying the Layers Window

Note that this step is only required if the Layers Window is not already displayed.

I display a standard window configuration while using the GIMP which requires that you open the Layers Window. To do this, select the Windows->Dockable Dialogs->Layers cascading menu item by clicking on the Windows menu and releasing your mouse button, moving your mouse down over the “Dockable Dialogs” item, moving your mouse to the side into the popup cascading menu to the “Layers” item, and clicking your left mouse button on the “Layers” item. When you perform this operation correctly, the Layers Window will appear on your screen.

1.7 The GIMP Windows

Three windows should now be displayed by the GIMP.

The image manipulation window (the one with the menu on top) is where the image being worked on is displayed. It currently displays a cartoon character because you’re not working on an image.

The Toolbox displays shortcuts to commonly used image manipulation tools on top, and configuration options for the selected tool on the bottom.

The Layers menu displays the layers of graphics that will be combined to produce the finished image. Use layers to work on discrete pieces of a complete image. We’ll have more to say about layers in a later lesson of the workshop.

1.8 The File->New Menu Item

To create a new image, select the File->New menu item. This displays the “Create a New Image” dialog box. Book covers should be 853 pixels in width by 1280 pixels in height. When creating a new book cover, enter these dimensions into the appropriate dialog box text fields and click the “OK” button to create the image.

1.9 The File->Save As and File->Save Menu Items

The File->Save As menu item allows you to save the image you’re working on in a specific named file. This operation displays the “Save Image” dialog box. In the dialog box you can specify a directory to save your image in and a file name. I save all my images in the default “Pictures” directory.

You can name your book cover image file anything you want, but I like to name my files after the book they represent using Reverse Polish Notation. This involves removing the spaces and capitalizing all but the first word in the name. For example, the book cover for the book “Moving Violation” would be stored in a file named “movingViolation.xcf” in my “Pictures” directory.

Notice that the filename in the above example ends with the filename extension “.xcf”. This signals to the GIMP that the file should be saved in the GIMP’s native format so that it can be edited again later. Always save your work in progress in files named with the “.xcf” extension on the end. Save your work again in a file with the “.jpg” filename extension when you’re ready to create a version of the image that you can use for publishing or on the web.

Once you’ve performed a File->Save As operation to establish the name and type of your file, you can use the File->Save menu item to save your latest work in the file you’re currently working on.

1.10 The File->Open Menu Item

When you start the GIMP to work on an existing project, use the File->Open menu item to open an image that you previously saved. Selecting this menu item will display the “Open Image” dialog box where you can select the image you want to work on by double clicking your left mouse button on the image’s filename.

Note that you can work with more than one image at a time by opening multiple image files in a single GIMP session. Each image will be displayed in a separate image manipulation window.

1.11 Closing Images and Quiting the GIMP

Close an image without exiting the GIMP by left clicking with your mouse on the “X” in the upper right corner of the image manipulation window containing the image. Alternately, you can use the File->Close menu item to perform the same operation. If you haven’t saved the image displayed in the window, you will be prompted to do so. You then have the choice of saving or discarding your changes.

To close the GIMP application, left click your mouse on the “X” in the upper right corner of the Toolbox Window. Alternately, you can use the File->Quit menu item to perform the same operation. Again, you’ll be prompted to save unsaved images if you have unsaved work in progress.

1.12 The Edit->Undo Menu Item

The most important operation in the GIMP is accessed through the Edit->Undo menu item. The associated operation undoes the last modification that you made to an image. To experiment with the GIMP, try an operation on an image. If you don’t like the result, simply undo it. You can undo multiple operations by selecting Edit->Undo multiple times.

Note that some operations, such a saving a file, can not be undone.

Project 1.1: Install the GIMP on Your Computer

Follow the instructions provided in section 1.3 of this lesson to install the GIMP on your computer.

Project 1.2: Create and Save a White Book Cover Image

Follow the instructions provided in sections 1.4 through 1.11 to start the GIMP, create a solid white 853 x 1280 image, save the image in your “Pictures” directory as the name “workshopLesson1.xcf”, and quit the GIMP.

Project 1.3: Find a Book Cover to Emulate

Review the book covers I created at See anything you’d like to use for your own cover. If not, browse Amazon or B&N looking for a cover you’d like to emulate.

Project 1.4: Simple Fun with the GIMP

Experiment with the File->Create->Logos menu items to create interesting logos using various GIMP effects. Close each image created without saving the result and try the next effect. When you’re done, experiment with File->Create->Web Page Themes as well.

### End of Lesson, Copyright (c) 2012, Brian Jackson

The Story of “First Son”: A M/M Romance

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Toward the middle of 2010, I wrote a Male/Male Romance, or M/M Romance, or Gay Male Romance, named “First Son”. This post tells the story of how I came to write M/M Romance, the journey the book took through publication, and how I went from fame to shame in the M/M Romance field.

I Take Up The Writing Mantle

There I sat, reading my latest rejection email from my wife Melanie’s editor at Dorchester Press. I was sure that my romance novel, “Travel Logged”, would be a hit, but apparently it was not to be. Not even having a foot in the door had helped. Looking back, “Travel Logged” is probably not a very strong romance novel (for one thing, it’s told from the male point of view), but at the time I was shocked and deflated.

In the hope of getting me out of my subsequent writing slump, Melanie suggested that I browse her Romantic Times magazine looking for another publisher. So, I did.

The first publisher that caught my eye was Loose-Id, a publisher of eBook based erotica. They seemed solid and interested in developing new talent. The thought of writing erotica intrigued me. When I noticed that they published gay erotica too, I was even more intrigued. After all, if I was going to go out on a limb, why not go way out?

Rather than reading anything published by Loose-Id, I asked Melanie what erotica was all about. She explained that it should have a limited plot and wall-to-wall sex. I decided that I could do that (I actually liked writing sex scenes) but that I would have to insist on having a plot.

So the story begins…

I Write “First Son”

The first idea that came to mind regarding a plot for my first M/M erotica novel involved a White House secret service agent who is repressing the fact that he’s gay but gets assigned to protecting the President’s gay son. Romance ensues. This indeed is the plot to “First Son”. I thought it was an intriging idea and began writing immediately. Along the way, I stuffed in an inordinate amount of sex and several comic scenes (I couldn’t help myself). I knew nothing about the secret service and the only thing I knew about the White House was what I could find via Google. But the book was fun and who was going to be concerned about the plot anyway.

I took three months to write “First Son”. I still hadn’t read a M/M romance or gay erotica by the time I’d finished. But I liked the finished product and boldly/naively submitted the book to Loose-Id for consideration.

Loose-Id Shows Interest

I’ll always remember the thrill of the day that I received email notification that Loose-Id was interested in “First Son”. The first line editor had loved the story and forwarded it to upper management for final approval.

I was about to be published for the first time. I was on cloud ten.

Rejected and Dejected

Several weeks later I heard from upper management at Loose-Id. “First Son” was the stupidest novel they’d ever read. It was totally unrealistic and didn’t address gay issues. It was rejected.

I was crushed.

I Self-publish

Frustrated with my rejection by various publishers, I decided to self-publish my work. Gathering my previously rejected romances and horror novels, a collection of short stories I wrote in my junior college creative writing class, and “First Son”, I opened the required accounts and began self-publishing my work.

Next, I visited the Amazon Forums (which were much more open to self-promotion in those days), Facebook, and Goodreads to promote my work.

Finally, I crossed my fingers and waited.

My 15 Minutes of Fame: “First Son” Takes Off

To my surprise, “First Son” sold like hot cakes right off the bat. Eventually, it rose to #7 on the Gay best sellers list and #2600 in paid Kindle books selling 653 copies and grossing $1712 in it’s first three months. And early reviews were good.

Suddenly I felt like the king of M/M Romance. I felt vindicated and that Loose-Id had been hasty in rejecting my book. Sure I had to put up with razzing from my brother regarding my chosen genre, but I was a small-time smash success.

I was basking in my glory. Then November rolled around…

The Readers Rebel

I’m not entirely sure what went wrong, but really nasty reviews started to come in basically reasserting Loose-Id’s position that “First Son” was the stupidest book ever written. Sales dropped like a rock. I changed the Product Description for the book to point out that it was a silly romp and not a serious piece, but it was too late. I’d been an overnight success, now I was an overnight failure.

“First Son” ultimately became a failed/successful M/M Romance. It continues to sell a handful of copies per month to this day.

Back to the Drawing Board

I responded to my most recent failure by writing a second M/M Romance. By now I’d browsed several books in the genre and had a better idea of what to write. I wrote “Blood Lust”, a modern retelling of “Dracula” with gay characters and far less rampant sex. The book has not done well selling only a handful of copies per month but has at least managed to void nasty reviews.

What Now?

Most M/M Romance readers will most likely be happy to read that I’ve stopped writing M/M Romances, at least for now. “First Son” is still available at all major online eBook dealers. For just $0.99 you can find out for yourself just how bad this book is (be forwarned that there is a lot of explicit M/M sex in the book).

Did I learn any lessons along the way (like do a little research up front)? Not really. I continue to fly by the seat of my pants writing what pleases me. As a result, I’ll probably always be failure as a published writer, but I’ll continue to have fun along the way.

I would like to thank the early supporters of “First Son”, especially those in the M/M Romance group on Goodreads, and say that I’m sorry for ultimately failing to satisfy expectations.

My latest book, “Sanderson House”, is a cozy mystery written under a pseudonym.

I still like the book “First Son” and am glad I wrote it.

by Brian Jackson

Home Page:
Amazon Author Page:
Amazon Book Store:
Barnes & Noble Book Store:
Smashwords Book Store:
GoodReads Author Page:
IAN Author Page:
Blog (Odd As It May Seem):
Facebook Page:!/profile.php?id=1401730651
Twitter Page:

Ten Pieces of Advice to the Fledgling Writer/Publisher


I was recently asked to provide advice to the fledgling writer/publisher, so I put this blog entry together as a response.  Hope it helps.

1 Read.

2 Take a Creative Writing Course.  When I was ready to start writing fiction, I took a creative writing course at my junior college to get the juices flowing.  It taught me little about writing but did provide a class full of readers who had to provide critiques (nicely) as part of their grade.  It also set a schedule I had to write to that forced me to start writing.

3 Grow a Thick Hide.  Get ready for the real word because it’s nasty out there.  It sometimes seems that many readers hate nothing more than a writer.  You’re going to encounter a lot of jerks out there, and thanks to the internet all of these jerks have a say and many are going to take pot-shots at you.  Whatever you do, don’t respond and get into a public pissing match.  Simply turn the other cheek and prepare to get hit with the other fist.  This is the downside of publishing and it’s a big one.

4 Write.  The only way to learn how to write is by writing.  I’ve been at it for thirty years or so and I’m still learning how to write.  If you want to write, write.  I go ballistic when I read posts from people who want to write but don’t.  It’s simple.  Writer’s write.  Dreamers don’t.  If you’re a writer, write.

5 Self-publish.  While you’re writing, you may as well publish what you’ve written and get some feedback.  Who knows, you may even strike a chord and become an overnight sensation.  The odds are, if you have any talent at all, that eventually you’ll become successful.  By that time you may have gone through several pseudonyms, leaving your bad reviews behind, as you march ever onward toward publishing fame.  Don’t even bother trying to get published by New York, they’re a thing of the past.

See my blog post “Why I Self-publish” (

6 Return to Step #4 and Repeat.

7 Join a Critique Group and Professional Organizations Instead of Writing. Not!!!  Hopefully you’ve noticed that by performing Step #6, there’s no way to make it to this step.  And for good reason.  If it takes you away from writing and publishing, don’t do it.  You left the critique group behind in your creative writing class.  Now is the time to write and publish.

8 Network Instead of Writing.  Not!!!

9 Publish a Blog Instead of Writing.  Not!!!

10 ‘Plotter’ vs ‘Pantser’.  Who cares?  I write based on prepared plot outlines.  My wife, a much more successful writer than me, writes by the seat of her pants.  This is a point of personal preference.  Don’t get hung up on the details, just write!

Hopefully I’ve made myself clear.  Obviously writing isn’t so black and white.  You’ll need to take time to promote if you want to be successful.  But if you’re a true ‘newbie’, it’s way too early to get bogged down in anything that distracts you from writing and publishing.  So, take a few breaths and preliminary steps to get ready, then write and publish until there are blisters on your fingers!

How the Heck Did We Get Ourselves Into This Racket?

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It all began at the end of July, 2010, when I got bored. I already had three
books selfpublished on Amazon. They sold the selfpublished author average of
four copies a month. I had recently received my latest rejection letter from
a small publishing house and was fed-up with trying to get myself published.
I decided to use my copious free time (I’m retired) selfpublishing the huge
pile of rejected material that was cluttering my PC.

My latest novel, First Son, a M/M Romance (or Gay Erotica), went on to sell
quite well. I self-published the remainder of my material and experienced
limited success.

Meanwhile, in another part of the house…

My wife, Melanie Jackson, is also an author. At the time I began seriously
selfpublishing, she was being published in paperback by Dorchester Publishing
in New York. She had been with Dorchester for 10 years, never made much
money, but was a moderately successful midlist author. However, just as I
started to experience some success, Dorchester Publishing came upon hard
times and termianted Melanie’s contract. She was a writer without a publisher.
She considered giving up writing, a career that she loved.

But then Melanie took note of what I was doing in selfpublishing and decided
to join me. During our first year together (which concludes at the end of
this month) we published 37 pieces (novels, novellas, stories, backlist books,
and trunk books).

Sales steadily increased through 2010, and then the week before Christmas our
sales started to go through the roof. Melanie’s Chloe Boston Mystery series
has been hugely successful. We have since added several books to this series,
created the successful Butterscotch Jones series, and are preparing the first
book in a third cozy mystery series.

Along the way we learned some painful lessons. For example, we never had our
earlier books edited. Not at all. I gathered them up and put them out there
to see what they would do. After all, this was all just an experiment and a
way to entertain myself. They weren’t meant to sell, and anyway hiring an
editor was too expensive for a book that only sold a couple of copies a month.
As a result, we’ve received several one star reviews citing copy editing
errors. Ouch.

So, what does the coming year hold. Books, lots more books. Melanie doesn’t
seem to be able to write fast enough to satisfy the craving for cozy mysteries.
Oh, and editing. Lots more editing ;-).

Feel free to leave questions regarding our first year selfpublishing and we’ll
try to answer them.

by Brian Jackson

Home Page:
Amazon Author Page:
Amazon Book Store:
Barnes & Noble Book Store:
Smashwords Book Store:
GoodReads Author Page:
IAN Author Page:
Blog (Odd As It May Seem):
Facebook Page:!/profile.php?id=1401730651
Twitter Page:

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