You Get What You Pay For

Friday, September 18, 2020

Something I’ve said often about being an indie author is that you can spend time or you can spend money to accomplish all the tasks necessary to write and publish books. I got a vivid reminder of that today.

Because money is not in plentiful supply at the moment, I decided to create my own book cover for the next novel, The Case of the Comely Clairvoyant. After all, the basic look of the covers had been determined by the first one, Mysterious Madam, and the second was similar, as it should be for a series. I paid a designer to do those.

One of the things I discovered in working with this new designer was that we didn’t communicate very well. I thought I gave her enough information so she could come up with ideas that would wow me. Not so much. In particular, she didn’t pick artwork that did much for me, and I wasn’t able to explain the kind of thing I was looking for. That was the primary reason I hired a designer. I’d already spent hours combing Deposit Photos, iStock, Shutterstock, Dreamstime, and more looking for images. I hoped she’d be a better searcher than I was.

But she wasn’t. Although she developed the layout, for both books I had to eventually find the images that appear on the covers myself. I’m still not thrilled with the photo on the Angry Artist cover, but it was the closest I could get.

To add insult to injury, she charges three times the amount that the designer for my African Violet Club Mysteries does. I know she does great covers for other authors, in fact that’s the way I discovered her, but it just wasn’t working for me. So you can’t blame me for deciding to create the cover for the third book in the series.

I knew that would present challenges, but I’ve used Gimp, an open-source, free program with almost the same functionality as PhotoShop. I signed up for a class that I hoped would make me better at using it. And I’ve done okay up until today.

As I was getting down to the end of the project, I exported the Gimp file to a jpeg so I could see what the cover would look like online in various sizes. I did this through Mac Preview, because it’s easy to duplicate and resize images with a click or two. I keep a box that’s called the Inspector open because it tells me information about the file, such as the dimensions and how much storage the image will take.

The Inspector gave me bad news. The book cover image I had so carefully crafted at 300 pixels per inch (PPI) to get the highest quality was now only 72 PPI. That’s acceptable for an ebook cover, but not for a print cover.

To make a long story short, after much experimentation and hunting for parameters that weren’t there, I did a Google search to see if anyone else had had this problem. They had. It’s a known bug that the version of Gimp I have changes the resolution as soon as you save or export an image.

The problem is, I had already loaded an earlier version of the program because of another bug in the latest version available for Macs. (Some fonts—no, make that a lot of fonts—became unusable in Gimp.)

And, as I’d discovered when I came upon the first bug, no fix is coming soon. In fact, the Mac version of Gimp is already behind several levels because there’s only one Mac developer, and he’s had problems (unspecified), so the Mac version hasn’t been updated for a year.

Remember the part about being open-source and free? What that means is that the developers are all volunteers. They don’t get paid for fixing the software and there’s no one to complain to if it’s broken. Oh, you can file a bug report, which is what I found when I searched for my problems, but with no programmers to look at the bug reports, much less fix them, there’s nothing you can do.

I’ve had this happen before.

Years ago, when I decided I didn’t want to pay for Microsoft Office because it was never a premiere product for the Mac, I used another open-source, free program called Open Office. I stopped using it when it stopped working after an upgrade to the Mac operating system. Oh, there was a geeky workaround, but I’m not that geeky on a Mac. So I bought Office. It may not be as spiffy as the Windows version, but at least there was some guarantee it would work and bugs would be fixed. (Since then, I use the Apple programs, and when I need things they don’t support, Google Docs and Google Sheets.)

I swore back then that I would never depend on open source software again. In fact, I bought Affinity Photo a couple of years ago because I was hesitant to rely on Gimp. But Affinity has its own learning curve, and I never put in the time to master it. Guess what I’m going to do next?

Cover for The Case of the Comely Clairvoyant

If you’re a reader, you probably haven’t reached this last paragraph, but I hope you have. Because this long wail of a post is here to explain why the paperback version of The Case of the Comely Clairvoyant will have to wait a while. I have an acceptable version for the Kindle ebook, and I’ll probably tweak that before I publish, but I just can’t manage a paperback cover right now.

I’m sorry.

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