DIYDay Lesson 19: Excerpt Graphics

Another late post (sorry!!) but I wanted to get this info out there ASAP.

If you’re on any form of social media and following an author, you’ve seen excerpt graphics before. They are basically pictures with text over them, sometimes info about release dates, the book cover, etc. Some are so great you look for the Buy link only to realize it’s still “coming soon!” And some you can barely read. In terms of marketing value, excerpt graphics are right up there with cover images. They make a huge first impression. I’ve done a fair number of these as well, and I’ve learned a trick or two from all the greats, the not so greats, and my own experiences. This is a quick guide on how to catch your audience’s eye.

Step 1: Have the right tools

This should go without saying, but there are a ton of people out there who either don’t know, or don’t want to know how to use anything other than Microsoft Paint. I get it, time is short, money is tight, but you don’t need to spend a lot of either to make beautiful graphics. Check out GIMP. The program is absolutely free, available for PC, MAC, and Linux. It may look intimidating at first, but trust me, it’s so very easy to use, and you don’t need to  know a lot of the tricks to make an excerpt graphic. Read up on layers, transparency, and gradients, and you are good to go!

Step 2: Use the right images

Detail close-up, cropped around the edges, too much contrast. This probably won't work.
Detail close-up, cropped around the edges, too much contrast. This probably won’t work.

Again, this is something that should be self-explanatory, but it’s not. Images are not all created equal. You might find the perfect image to convey your message, but if there’s nowhere to put the text, it will still look bad. Learn to tell the difference between what works and what doesn’t. Some images are meant to be art, as in they are beautiful on their own and that’s how they want to stay. Others give you a little more leeway to add or subtract–those are the ones you want.

Nice, smooth around the edges, plenty of room for text but still "catchy" with the bright streak of blood. This will work!
Nice, smooth around the edges, plenty of room for text but still “catchy” with the bright streak of blood. This will work!

How do you recognize them? First, look at the layout. Is it a close-up of a face? Then you’ll probably end up writing all over that face. Is there a house in the distance and a lot of clear sky above? Bingo! Is it a black-and-white picture of two people kissing? Probably not your best bet (the contrast will make it difficult to read text). Is there some space around them (or can you create some?) Then you’re good to go. Is it a wild mesh of a hundred colors? Tread carefully. You can still use it, but make sure you pair it with a bold, thick font to make it readable, and choose a spot where it’ll draw the eye, be easier to see.

Step 3: Select the right font

Fonts are fun! They are so fun you could spend hours and days looking through free websites for just the right one. Beware the time suck. BUT… the search is worth it. A good font could mean the difference between, “I WANT THIS NOW!” and “…wait, what does that say??” Choose wisely. A general rule of thumb is to use a simple, plain font if the background is busy, but you can go a little more crazy when the image is plainer. Always make sure the font fits not only the image, but the theme you are trying to evoke. If you’re talking about gut spilling and gore fests, you probably won’t want a curly cue font.

Yikes! Imagine reading a paragraph of this!
Yikes! Imagine reading a paragraph of this! I’m dizzy already…
Good for catch phrases too, like "Coming soon" or "Now Available"
Good for catch phrases too, like “Coming soon” or “Now Available”
This is a signature font. It's fancified to make it look like handwriting. But you wouldn't want to be writing an excerpt with it.
This is a signature font. It’s fancified to make it look like handwriting. But you wouldn’t want to be writing an excerpt with it.
For short paragraphs, or informational stuffs like titles, release dates, website URL, etc. Very professional and neat.
For short paragraphs, or informational stuffs like titles, release dates, website URL, etc. Very professional and neat.
If you're writing paragraphs, a serif font will guide the eye across lines, which will make them easier to read.
If you’re writing paragraphs, a serif font will guide the eye across lines, which will make them easier to read.

Step 4: Words matter!

A quote may seem like the bestest awesomest thing ever to you as the writer, because you know your book by heart, but if it doesn’t work out of context, keep looking. How can you tell if it works? Sometimes you can’t. Run it by a friend first, ask them if the citation makes sense as is. If they say yes, go for it! If not, keep looking. Sometimes adding a sentence or two before or after it makes a big difference. Sometimes you just gotta look elsewhere.

Also, quotes can be misleading. Don’t assume people will make the right assumption. They don’t know your characters. If you choose a quote that puts the character in a good (or bad) light because it’s out of character for them, it’ll confuse people. If you jump in in the middle of a scene, without a set-up, it will confuse people. If you use dialogue without tags, it will confuse people. I could go on and on, but you get the picture, right?

Step 5: Don’t forget the message!

And by that, I mean the reason you’re making this graphic to begin with. You’re not just showing off your skills, you want people to do something with it, right? You want them to go to your website, or to an online store to check out your book. So don’t forget to add the most important info: Title, release date, website URL, at the very least. Otherwise, while fun, your excerpt graphic was a wasted effort. Sometimes you can start a conversation about it, but you can’t always count on that. Your graphic needs to stand on its own and speak for you. Just like your book, and your book’s cover.

Conclusion: This is yet another feather in your self-promoting hat. Make good use of it.

You can find tons of free stock images online, as well as fonts. Never, ever take them from Google Image Search, and under no circumstance should you use an image of someone famous. That’s a quick way to get sued for licensing fees or more. For a list of good websites, again, read my Links and Resources page. That information is for you. Don’t be afraid to use it. =)

So what does a decent excerpt graphic look like? Oh, maybe something like this:

Light1

Until next time!

 

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