DIYDay Lesson 17: Swag

Greetings and salutations! I know you’ve all been itching for more of these lessons, so I figured the next step on our DIY journey is author swag. If you are just tuning in, I strongly suggest you check out the previous DIY posts which can be found here. There is a sort of method to my madness and it makes more sense when followed from the beginning. ūüôā

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And now on to swag. What is it? Swag is an industry term for promotional materials and giveaway items related to the author and his/her books. The first thing you need to know about swag is it costs money. Yes. Sadly, the old adage is true. There is no such thing as a free lunch. You gotta spend money to make money. And when you have a brand new baby book on your hands, it’s so very easy to get carried away and go on a shopping spree for swaggage.

Time is moneyBefore you even think about swag, set a budget for it. A reasonable one. Personally, I like to set aside a portion of my royalties for this. That way, I am not spending what I haven’t earned, and I don’t need to worry about not making that money back up in sales. You may have heard it said that expenses like this will help you when it comes time for taxes. Well, yes and no. Some expenses will help, absolutely. But there is no redder flag than trying to write off more than you actually made. That will get you audited faster than you can say, “TYPO!”

So now that you have some money to burn, it’s time to decide on what works best and how much of it you’ll need. Here is where I can shed some insight. Consider the questions below:

  • BooAre you an outgoing person? Do you go to events, parties, clubs, coffee houses, etc.?
  • Do you like to talk to strangers about your books?
  • Do you plan to attend any writers’ conferences or get togethers?
  • Do you plan to hold contests and giveaways?
  • Will you have a signing?

The answers to these will determine the quantity of your swag items. Please note, several of the conferences I have seen do offer goody bags to attendees and welcome author contributions to them. However, they require 400-500 pieces of each item, and several will tell you no paper items (e.g. bookmarks, business cards, etc.). Keep that in mind when shopping around.

So what works best? Whatever it is, it should relate to you or your books in a specific way. Obviously, printed books work best of all, but they are also the most expensive. 500 print copies of your book will run you into the thousands, so tread carefully. If you’re on a budget, these would be specialty giveaway/contest items, not something you order in bulk.

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Click to enlarge

Other printed materials should be carefully considered. While they are the most economical, they are also the easiest to throw away by the people who receive them. Some are staples that, if designed well, work every time. Business cards are one. ¬†Keep it simple, don’t go overboard with contact info, and make sure the color scheme is eye-catching enough that it is artful as well as informative. If your books are digital only, printed book cover postcards are a nice way to hand out autographs. Just be sure to size it properly (borders of any kind end up looking tacky) and order a card stock that will take ink so you can write on them (I’ve been burned by this before). Stickers can be a nice touch. Bookmarks are hit or miss since they are awkwardly sized and the eReader boom has significantly impacted how many paper books people purchase.

If it’s non-paper, swag is usually considered “premium” and depending on what it is, will also fetch a “premium” price. You can go really cheap and order pens with your name on them, or you can go all out and order tote bags, t-shirts, customized jewelry, etc. Whatever you choose, however, always keep in mind that it is a promotional item and should somehow link back to you or your books, otherwise you’re just throwing your money away. This is where having a custom URL will help you a great deal. ūüėČ Something short and sweet that prints nicely and leads to a page with more information.

Swag

Now, I saved the best for last. Where to find affordable, customizable swag:

GotPrint.net (Fantastic for any sort of paper printing in bulk. Great quality prints, very user friendly, and always reliable. You can request a free generic sample package from them that will give you an idea of what the finished products look like.)

Vistaprint.com (Paper printing, and also other photo printing such as coffee mugs, mouse pads, etc.. Somewhat pricier than GotPrint and I am not fond of their templates, but worth a look nonetheless, just for the variety.)

Staples Promotional Products (From the most basic pens to backpacks and USB drives. This site takes only simple designs, so it’s great for logos and catch phrases, not so much for photos and images.)

Zazzle.com (This site is geared toward re-selling your designs so if you are itching to start your own merchandise line, this is your site. They don’t give much of a bulk discount, though so be ready to shell out some serious dough for any promotional giveaways.)

Cafepress.com (Very much like Zazzle. Check them out for a catalog of available items and compare prices with Zazzle to see which is a better fit.)

Happy swagging!

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DIYday Lesson 10: GIMP 103: Patterns

PatternsI reiterate here, if you have not read this post on Stocks and Resources, please read before continuing. This lesson is about patterns. I use them sometimes, but not very often. Patterns are basically tileable brushes you dump onto a layer with Bucket Fill rather than click by click. You can also use them in certain filters/scripts to add texture to your image. More on that later, as I have just recently discovered this.

To install a pattern is not that different from installing a brush. Patterns will be files you move to a specific folder and they will automatically populate in GIMP when you start it or refresh the screen.¬†In Windows 7, this will be in the following directory:¬†(C:)–>Users–>YourUserName–>gimpX.X–>patterns¬†(substitute X.X with the latest version you have installed).

TextureMate Website and its offerings
TextureMate Website and its offerings

Once a pattern is installed, what you do with it is up to you. Each pattern or pattern set will be sized differently. This website offers free brushes and patterns for you to use. There are tileable squares but also high definition images which are basically details of different textures. It is a versatile website for a lot of things and it’s definitely worth checking out.

So what do you do with patterns? One cool thing to do with them is to create a background for a website. Because it’s basically impossible to predict the size of screen someone will be viewing your website on, you can do one of the following:

  1. Use a flat color background
  2. Use a small image positioned in a specific place and hope it shows up correctly
  3. Use a huge image and hope it will scale as big as necessary to cover the whole screen
  4. Use a tiled pattern background
This is a tileable image. Put a bunch of them in rows and columns and you have a lovely textured background.
Tileable image. Put a bunch of them in rows and columns and you have a lovely textured background.

If you’re using WordPress, numbers 1 and 4 are your best bet. Why? because some themes make the background of your posts transparent, which makes the default background for your website show through. In that case, it’s better to use a flat color background because a pattern will make your text difficult to read. There are also themes which give your posts a background of their own (either solid or semi-transparent). You can see that right here. If you’re on a full screen monitor, scroll down to the edge of my widgets on the right. Where they end, the background begins. It’s black, but my posts are on a white-ish background on their own so they are readable. In this case you are safe to use a patterned background.

In order to make a tiled background in WordPress, all you need is one square tile of your chosen pattern. Look closely at the specifications of the patterns you download and install. They should give you the size of the tile. That will be the size of your canvas. You use Bucket Fill on the canvas with your pattern (which should produce exactly one tile) and export it as .JPG or .PNG. In your WordPress Dashboard, upload your image on the background screen and set it to tile vertically and horizontally. The image will be small enough to load quickly, but it will fill the entire screen no matter what size it is. Yey for simple solutions!

DIYday Lesson 9: GIMP 102: Brushes

Hi and welcome! You’re here, which means you haven’t been scared away by my last post. Awesomeness. This one will be solely dedicated to GIMP brushes.

GIMPGIMP comes preloaded with a handful of brushes–essentially the basics to paint with. Yeah, they’re cool and cute and fun, but if you really want to get into it, you will probably need to find some more brushes. If you have read this post on Stocks and Resources, you know how to go about it. If not, read it first before you go communing with the mighty gods of Google.

First thing’s first. How to install a brush (or brush set). It’s actually pretty easy. They’re not mini programs, but files and you just have to save them in the right folder. In Windows 7, this will be in the following directory: (C:)–>Users–>YourUserName–>gimpX.X–>brushes (substitute X.X with the latest version you have installed). Note that you are NOT going into Program Files at all and you never ¬†will with GIMP. You can install brushes or patterns at any time, whether GIMP is running or not. If GIMP is running, however, the new brushes won’t appear until you refresh the brushes window. The same goes for fonts as well.

Brush tool is right under the "A" text tool and right next to the pink eraser tool
Brush tool is right under the “A” text tool and right next to the pink eraser tool

Once you have the brushes installed, you’re ready to go. There are different styles of brushes. Most work more like stamps. To use ¬†a brush, first select the brush tool, and then select the type of brush you want to use. With the stampy brushes, all you have to do is click where you want it and it will appear on your layer. If you click the same place again, the stamp will be thicker. The more you click, the thicker it will be and depending on the brush you may not want to go too crazy with it. There is also a History window where you can undo something if you go overboard.

You can size the brushes but be careful of resolution. Not all brushes are meant to be stretched out to 2000 pixels. Always zoom in to 100% on your image to make sure the resolution is still good. A good thing to do is to put brushes on transparencies over your image. That way you don’t mess up the image if you make a mistake and you can try several different ones to see which is better without having to start all over again if you change your mind. Remember, layers are your friends. Don’t be afraid of them.

Also, if you have different layers, you can manipulate them with special effects. It’s always fun to experiment. =)

If you have Photoshop, note that you cannot use a Photoshop brush in GIMP. The file types are incompatible. I am sure there is a way to convert them, because it is possible to create brushes in GIMP, but I have not done it so I cannot tell you how to go about it. There are, however, tutorials out there and many brush sets come customized from Photoshop to GIMP or vice versa.

DIYday Lesson 8: GIMP 101: Open, Save, Layers and Tools

GIMP image
My best friend in image manipulation

This will be a first in the GIMP series. You’ve seen me write about it before and that is because this is one resource I cannot do without. I have tried Photoshop–a ridiculously expensive piece of you-know-what if I’ve ever seen one. They nickle and dime you for anything you want to add on or update, and it’s so convoluted I couldn’t figure out more than the most basic of things after a year of it sitting on my computer. With GIMP I was up and running in a week.

GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program (and GNU, in case you were interested stands for GNU is Not Unix… don’t ask…). It is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems. It is free and open source, which means you can use it without having to pay anything, and if you’re a programmer, you can also alter the program itself to do something different if you would like. A word of caution, it is a RAM-heavy application, which means if you have less than 1GB RAM you should not run it. Then again, if you have less than 1GB RAM what you need more than a program is a new computer.

Although GIMP performs most (if not all) of the same functions as Photoshop, it looks and works differently. If you’ve used Photoshop before and look at GIMP for the first time, don’t be scared! It really is fun and easy to use. Just take it one step at a time. If you’ve never used a program like this before and the words RAM-heavy freak you out, take a deep breath, it’s going to be okay. =) I’ll walk you through the basics and before you know it you’ll be a GIMPing pro!

For the purposes of these tutorials, all instructions will be for Windows operating systems because that is what I use. If you have a Mac or Linux computer, there are tutorials out there, so don’t be afraid to Google. This being a very basic intro class, it will be a most basic How-To for the simplest tools. I will have more for you next week.

So let’s get started!

Open

The GIMP Home screen
The GIMP Home screen

This is what GIMP looks like when you open it up. In addition you will have two other windows (toolboxes, see below). Do not close those. Take it from someone who’s done it. They’re a pain to get back. ¬†To being, click on File –> New to open a blank canvas. You will get a pop-up asking for specifications. The default measurements in GIMP are in pixels. That is what most sites measure in also. If you’re not comfortable with that, you can change it to inches or centimeters. Enter the size you would like and click OK.

You can also open an image you have saved on your computer. Just click File –> Open and find the file you need in the browse window. Another cool trick is Open As Layers, which opens the image as a new layer in your current file, as opposed to a separate window. Don’t use this if you want to only use parts of the image. It creates an image-on-white layer, which means when you erase part of it, you get only white underneath and can’t see the bottom layers. To get it onto a transparency, open the image on its own, copy it, and then paste in your project on a new transparent layer.

HINT: When you paste something onto a new layer, GIMP allows you to manipulate it before it is “anchored” or attached to the layer. Until it is anchored, you will not be able to manipulate the other layers. When you anchor, the image automatically crops to the size of your canvas. This is not an issue, unless the image is larger and you later decide you like a different part of it more. To preserve the original size of the pasted image, click Layer –> To New Layer.¬†This¬†creates a new layer from your pasted image without cropping it.

Save

Saving in GIMP is a little tricky, but in a good way. By clicking File –> Save you save the project you are working on in separate layers, however many you have in .XCF format, only readable by GIMP. This is a cool new feature in the latest version. So helpful because it preserves everything in case you want to go back and change things. I can’t tell you how many times I accidentally saved something as .JPG and had to redo the entire graphic again from the start.

To save in a format you can post on a website or print, you need to Export or Export to. The most common image formats are .JPG, .PNG, and .GIF. Each is good for something different. For example, I use .JPG for covers because it is high resolution and all detail is preserved–it is optimized for printing which always requires the highest resolution image possible. But this format also creates a large file which is slow to load in a browser, so for website graphics I use .PNG. This compresses the file, makes it easier to load, and also preserves transparencies if you have them. But some of the details might not be precisely print quality perfect so if you want an image for printing, go with .JPG. The last format, .GIF, can be used for regular images. To be honest I am not quite sure what the difference is here. But I do know .GIF allows you to save animated images (ones that move or switch between one picture and the next).

This is an animated .GIF image
This is an animated .GIF image. It took me about 5 seconds to create using Filter –> Animation –> Ripple. I Exported as a .GIF image and saved as animation. You can see around the edges of the glow that the gradient isn’t very smooth. That is because by saving the animation, some other information was lost.

HINT: The more you compress something, the less detail it has. Image resolution tells you how much detail is saved. In simple terms, if you zoom in on a picture, is it still sharp? How about if you zoom in more? Resolution can be measured in pixels per inch and the more you have the better the image will look, but the larger it will be. For print purposes, larger is better, because small images do not stretch well (they blur or pixelate). However, for websites, a large image can make your page slow to load. You don’t need super high resolution images on your site unless you are making an image portfolio. For things like buttons, banners, decorative touches, etc. it’s better to have smaller, more compressed images.

Layers

LayersOne window in one of the toolboxes is Layers. Layers make cool graphics possible. They let you add elements and integrate them together, move them around together or independently. When you create an animation like the one above, you essentially create a bunch of different layers that cycle through and “animate” your image.

As you can see here, you can have many layers. The checkered pattern indicates that layer is transparent. When you paste something onto it and erase a part, the layer beneath it will show through. The Background layer in this example is a white background layer, when I paste something onto it and erase a part, only white will show through regardless of how many layers I put beneath it.

Mode lets you set how the layer behaves with the others. I most often use Normal and Overlay (This superimposes the layer onto what’s under it, with interesting results). Opacity is how transparent you want the layer to be. 100% means all you see is the top layer. 0% means the top layer is invisible.

Speaking of invisible, see that eye symbol? If you click it it disappears and that layer becomes invisible so you can see what’s underneath. See the blank space between the eye and the mini layer? If you click it a chain image will appear. Click it on another layer and it will lock those layers together so when you move one, the other moves also. Great tool when you have the perfect grouping of texts in the wrong location. Move one and they all move. Easy!

HINT: Depending on what you paste onto a layer, it might not be the same size as your image. This is fine while ¬†you’re working with the image, but to export it, it’s best to have all layers the same size. It trims unnecessary information and makes the file a little smaller. One trick is to click Edit –> Copy Visible and then create a new canvas with the same dimensions and paste there. That “flattens” the image (sticks all individual layers together) and makes it one size.

Tools

ToolsThere are many. I use some, but not all. This is the third window you will work with. Select tools are awesome. You have five of them, the first row of icons and the first one in the second row. The cool thing about them is that when you select an area on one layer, unless you click elsewhere to deactivate the blinky dotted outline, the selection carries to every other layer. So let’s say I have a square on my background layer. I select it, then click on the topmost layer. The same area is still selected. But when I use Bucket fill to paint it blue, it’s on the top layer, and my square in the background is still the same.

Move tool (the four-directional arrow) does exactly that. Crop (the one that looks like a knife, 3rd row, 2nd icon from the left) will crop your entire canvas, so don’t use it if you just want to make one layer smaller. For that, use the eraser tool. Rotate, Perspective and Shear are great for manipulating different layers to get just the right look. The Text tool lets you add in text (which creates a new layer so don’t worry if you mess up). GIMP automatically searches your computer on startup and imports all the fonts you have on your computer. Can’t find the right one? You can always find more online.

Bucket fill is a fun one. You can fill in selections or whole sections with flat colors or with patterns. This is one thing that is worlds easier than Photoshop. You just select the bucket tool and then make sure you fill the selection with Pattern, rather than Foreground color. Click where you want to fill and voila! Easy as pie. ¬†Brushes are a topic onto themselves, so they will be elaborated on later. The clone tool lets you copy parts of an image and paste not in chunks, but with a brush. This tool tends to be overused when people don’t know how to use the other tools and filters. I did it in Photoshop a lot. I haven’t done much in GIMP. Blur tool blurs with a brush (there is also a blur filter which applies to the entire layer and can add cool effects). ¬†Smudge does exactly that and a Spot Healing brush does something really cool which I have no idea how to define. It’s like a clone stamp, but not. It integrates one part of the image into another seamlessly.

Wow, that was a lot for an intro. Take a breather. ¬†It may seem impossible at first but, trust me, GIMP is addictively easy. You’re going to love it. If at any point in time you get confused about how a tool is used, don’t despair. The Help button takes you to an easy-to-read online manual where you can find more instructions. If there is a special effect you want to create, type it into Google. Odds are you will get tons of results for manuals and videos on how to create it.

One last hint: If you use images in your creations, always use high resolution images and always make the canvas larger than you think you will need. You can easily make a big thing smaller, but a small thing won’t stretch easily into a bigger frame.

DIYday Lesson 7: Stocks and Resources

StocksThis is a follow-up post for the Author Finance lesson. The aim is to show you where to find resources, how to choose which one is right for you, and how to use them responsibly.

Part 1: Images

Whether you’re designing your own cover, or want to spruce up your website or blog with a few pictures, it’s always good to be responsible when looking for the right ones. Do Not use Google search and take whatever you find there. A search engine is just that, it tells you where to find images. It does not give you permission to use them. Be wary of sites like Photobucket and DeviantArt. Those are meant to display images, not give them out. Although the waters are murky with DeviantArt, since it has a Stock Images category. In that case, always contact the artist for permission before you use their images.

There are a couple of great blog posts I’ve read in the past and unfortunately can’t find them to pass on to you. They talked about an author getting sued for using images under “Fair Use,” citing the creator and giving proper credit on her blog, but without permission. Here is the thing: You can’t freely use everything and anything you come across. And it’s not always easy to suss out what you can use and how you can use it. When in doubt, turn to royalty free stock image websites. Royalty free means you don’t pay beyond the first purchase. Meaning, if you put the image on the cover of your book, you don’t have to pay royalties to the creator for each copy sold. The sites I use most are Stock.Xchng, Fotolia, and iStockPhoto. Stock.Xchng is all royalty free and free images. Meaning, you pay nothing. BUT the permissions vary from image to image. I’ve found that most images of people have a different use requirement than landscapes (they require you to ¬†contact the owner when using it for public works, or contact them for permission). These are always stated on the image page so pay attention. Fotolia is a paid site, but they have daily free images, which you can download at no cost. They also have subscription plans which makes buying images cheaper, but although you can get images for less than $1 that way you might not necessarily need 100 of them. They also make it easy with licenses and have a general rule for all images. Read it to make sure you know what you’re getting into. iStockPhoto is a little pricier. It works the same as Fotolia and I think they have subscription plans as well.

Part 2: Fonts

I could spend days on sites like DaFont. And there are tons more out there. Most of these fonts are “free for personal use” which means you can use them in images, graphics, etc. Some will allow you to redistribute the font, with the condition that it must be in its original format and cannot be sold for money (in other words, you got it free, it needs to stay free). Some will ask for donations, and others require you to pay a small licensing fee to use it. The toughest part about fonts is finding a site that is easily navigable. Not all of them will give you categories or searches. I love DaFont because it gives you both and the fonts I find there are many, varied, and well made.

One thing to keep in mind is be careful when using exotic fonts on your website. Every computer, browser, operating system, and screen translates fonts differently. If the font you use is not supported on someone’s computer, it will default to a generic, sans serif font (most often) and you will lose your creative flourishes. Same goes for eBooks. Don’t use special fonts or characters because they will not always be translatable by eReaders. I found this out the hard way. The best use for custom fonts is in graphics and cover pages. There, they are embedded into the image, so there is no question of how they look.

Part 3: Music and Videos

Looking to create a trailer video for your newest release? Great! But don’t use songs you hear on the radio. That is a copyright infringement and will get you sued faster than you can whistle the first note of the song. Instead, just like with images and fonts, look for sites with royalty free music. There are some sites which offer musical pieces for a price. Some offer them for a voluntary donation or free. Sites with stock images will often have videos as well. I use Incompetech¬†for music. It is free (although donations are welcome and encouraged), as long as you credit the creator. You will notice that at the end of each of my trailer videos I have a slide that says “Music by Kevin MacLeod.” This is why. With so many people spending hours browsing videos these days, making a trailer for your book might turn out to be a good investment. Just be smart about it and give credit (or money) where it’s due.

Part 4: Application Resources

This is confusing for me. I never know what’s going on with what I can use or how. If you have GIMP or Photoshop, you can do Google searches for brushes, patterns and scripts (more on that in later posts). The trouble is, there are many sites which say “Free GIMP and Photoshop Brushes Here”, and link to places like DeviantArt. Always make sure you are clear on what you can use for what purpose before you make it public. There are artists who require you to give them credit for these resources when you use them, and some ask for a licensing fee. If you’re using a brush for a small part of the border of your cover, it might not make much sense to have GIMP brush artists mentioned in the credits, but you never know. When in doubt, ask the creator. And be careful, especially with GIMP brushes because they are often times adapted from Photoshop brushes created by someone else. Always make sure to contact the original creator for permissions of any kind.

Do you have sites or resources you use? Please comment and share.