I have a number of speculative and science fiction stories that I could bundle with my 20K word novella, Second Life (which is available for free when signing up for my monthly newsletter, by the way). I decided earlier at the beginning of 2014 that the stories I featured monthly on my website would also go towards a collection at the end of the year.
For many years I’ve heard that short story collections traditionally don’t sell as well as novels. That’s okay with me as my goal is to build up a library of my own books. Since I’m writing these stories for my website visitors anyway, it makes sense to include them as a collection. Thanks to print-on-demand companies like Createspace and digital publishing, it costs very little to have a book available to the public, if you can do all the work yourself.
Since most of the stories intended for this collection are science fiction or speculative in nature, I wanted a ‘science-y’ title, something that was a phrase in scientific terms: think ‘Event Horizon’ or ‘Absolute Zero’ or ‘Dark Matter’. I didn’t want anything overly used, however. ‘Blue Shift’ is a term that describes any decrease in the wavelength of light, it’s also known as the ‘Doppler Effect’. (Apparently ‘Red Shift’ also means the same thing, so no surprises for what I’ll be calling my next collection). I made this choice because I had a personal preference for it and I thought it was a phrase that would attract interest. It was also meaningful to the main story inside, Second Life, where light plays a big part.
Now that I had my title, I needed a cover to match. With a name like ‘Blue Shift’, I thought it best to be predictable and look for pictures that were prominently blue in colour. I’d already purchased a deal of 100 pictures from 123rf.com a few months ago and pre-selected pictures that I either found inspiring or would feature in future projects. When searching through pictures that I already had rights to use, I found this image. (I’ve included the brand markings here for ethical reasons).
I initially chose it because I liked the colours, I liked the premise and it amused me. I only got it because I thought one day I might write a story about alien contact and this picture would be my inspiration. When it came to ‘Blue Shift’, I found the bottom half of the picture with the fellow standing there was interesting enough without the spaceship being there.
After cropping it, I found my instincts were correct but it looked a little flat. I headed over to picmonkey.com and dropped in my picture, then played around with various special effects. I added clouds for texture and was pleased to find it also gave a fog effect. I boosted the greens, darkened the overall picture and added another light source coming from the trees. Voila, I had a new picture that was different enough from the original that if somebody else used that stock photo for a book cover, it wouldn’t be devastating.
Because I purchased 100 pictures in bulk at 123rf.com for $159 (which allowed me access to high definition), this picture cost me $1.59. For that price to be applicable, I am gambling that I’ll be able to use all 100 of my chosen pictures. Some were chosen for specific projects while others were chosen on instinct, like this one. I’m not worried, because even if I only end up using half of them, the cost of the image would double to $3.18 which is still a good price.
The choice of font and placement of the title was relatively easy. I have a few favourite fonts that I tend to go to. “Blue Shift” sits neatly in the downcast light and I was lucky the words fit together atop each other neatly. I deliberated on the flash at the bottom of the cover though–I struggled with how to phrase it. Should I call it “A Collection of Speculative and Science Fiction” or “A Speculative & Science Fiction Collection”? I still waver between the two. I used the same turquoise on the flash that appears in the image for symmetry, and broke the rules by mixing fonts. It was a calculated decision: the “Blue Shift” font is too narrow at that size and I don’t want a script font at the bottom. If the icon is any smaller than 200 x 300, it is difficult (read: near impossible) to read the flash line, but it isn’t necessary.
The presentation of my name is debatable too. I used it to underline the title rather than to draw attention. I used an overlay specifically for it to blend in and not stand out. (For those who don’t know, an overlay can create a ‘transparent’ effect depending on the filter used. I used white, which gave me a light blue effect because of the background). My name is ‘hidden’, I do know that, and I don’t know if that’s a good idea or not. I do know at this point in time, my name’s not as important as the title so I’m going to run with it. I looked at a black version but I feel it makes the cover look messy and that it takes away from the image. There’s a technique used–I don’t know what it’s called–that advertisers use, kind of like a reversal. When you have to listen to TV ads that shout at you and then one comes on with the volume way down or is really quiet… it stands out because it’s different, because it’s harder to hear so people look twice. In magazines, they do that trick too, with images and colour. I have no idea if it works or not or even how to measure it. How the fonts look are certainly personal preference.
Image rights to print 100,000 copies: $1.59
Annual Subscription to picmonkey.com: $3.67*
*(Subscription of $33 split between 9 income producing books, Femme, Blue Shift & seven Wanderer of Worlds covers)
TOTAL COST: $5.26
PLUS a dedicated couple of hours fiddling with the finished format.