Lightning Source, Inc., the print on demand supplier that’s a division of Ingram Book Company, is arguably the biggest supplier of digital books to the publishing trade. They are used by many traditional publishers, and by competitive self-publishers who want to make use of Ingram’s distribution channels.
One of the really neat features of their otherwise routine and business-oriented web site is their terrific cover template generator. This is an easy to use software application that will produce a detailed and highly accurate template for you to use in assembling the cover of your book.
In fact, Lightning Source (LSI) requires that your cover be assembled on their template. If you send in your cover as a regular PDF, they will place it on the template for you, since this layout is required by their equipment. Do you want them to do that? Well, it might not hurt, but it might also end up in a rasterized cover. Here’s what Aaron Shepard says about how Lightning Source handles files that are not “favored”—prepared exactly to their specifications—in POD for Profit:
Lightining will rasterize the entire cover—turn it into a bitmapped image at a lower resolution. . . That image is then screened when printed, and your type winds up with edges that look either slightly bumpy or slightly fuzzy—at least to someone taking a very close look.
Using the Cover Template Generator
One of the ways to avoid this outcome is to take on the cover template yourself, even if it looks complicated at first. For professional layout artists and book designers, these templates are actually a boon. Exact measurements are worked out by the software—spine widths are calibrated in thousandths of an inch—saving you a lot of time.
Here’s what the software looks like, with all necessary fields filled out:
You can see that this cover is for a 242-page softcover book that’s 5.5″ x 8.5″ printed in black ink only on LSI’s cream paper.
You can choose from several formats to receive your template:
- Adobe InDesign, version 3 and newer
- Quark Xpress, version 7 and newer
These last two formats are useful if you’re producing your cover artwork in Photoshop or Illustrator or a similar program. You can put the template on a layer and add your elements to match the template’s guides.
Putting the Book Cover Template to Work
Pretty soon after you hit the “submit” button on the cover template generator you’ll receive an email with instructions on how to use it. The file itself will arrive as an attachment to the email. Here’s what the template looks like when opened in InDesign:
This represents the 12″ x 15″ sheet your cover will be printed on. You’ll notice a lot of blue guides, a couple of barcodes and a summary of the specs you entered to get the template, along with an internal tracking number. (This is a different template than the one specified in the first screen shot, by the way.)
You can move the barcode that will print on your back cover, you don’t have to leave it in the middle like that. You can’t move the smaller barcode that LSI uses for tracking your print job.
When I first started working with these templates I found them a bit baffling. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of where you are. But each side, I realized, had three guides and each represents the same things:
- The outer guide is the “bleed” and any artwork intended to go off the edge of the cover needs to extend to, but not past, this line.
- The middle guide is the “trim” and shows where the book will be cut after it’s printed and bound.
- The inner guide is the “safety” boundary, as defined by LSI. Keep all type, barcodes, logos or essential graphic elements inside this guide.
This only becomes complicated around the spine, where there are lots of guides and you can get a bit dizzy trying to figure them out. Take a look at this detail:
Here you can see the three types of guides. Although the template tells you the safety area is outlined in red dots, you have to enlarge the image to over 200% before they really become apparent.
Avoid This Cover Layout Mistake
One of the most common errors I’ve seen on self-published books is a gap where the front or back cover meets the spine. This is pretty easy to do, since you may think you’ve butted two frames together, not realizing there may be a tiny gap or an unintended stroke around the frame.
You can solve this with a small overlap, and being very careful about the “stacking order” of your text boxes and graphic elements. You can move each item forward and backward, but make sure you take a close look at an enlargement of your final cover PDF to determine if everything meets up properly.
How It All Comes Together
We usually don’t know how many pages are in the book until it’s completely laid out. That’s why our workflow for cover design often begins with a document just for the front cover. Later we add the back cover and spine, and right at the end, when we have the complete specification for the book, we’ll get the template and assemble the cover from its separate pieces.
The LSI cover template makes this fairly easy if you are proficient with almost any graphic software. It’s a terrific resource for self-publishers that will help ensure your job runs smoothly when it gets “on press.”