Don’t judge a book by its JPEG

A post for e-production geeks. The rest of you are excused.

The Ambitious Stepmother, by Fidelis Morgan

One of my recent covers. I mean web images. I mean…

At yesterday’s #eprdctn roundtable, it turns out that you and I aren’t the only ones who can’t keep straight what anyone means by “cover” anymore.

Ebooks don’t have covers.


And yet—Amazon wants you to upload a cover. Oh, but they also want your ebook to contain a cover. Oh, and iBooks wants a cover for their library. And then there’s the cover of the printed book. These aren’t even the same graphics files—and may not even be the same designs, since resizing a print cover that contains fine detail, several blurbs, title, series name, author name(s), and an award mention gets you a small rectangle of colored granola. So obviously, there are different names for these different images, right?

HAHAHAHAHAHA! Are you new here?

Answer: Oh, wait. The answer is yes. Everyone is new here. This is new.

Here’s the draft of eproduction terminology that I volunteered to write. Help out here, trend setters and production hounds. This isn’t for me to feel smart; it’s for all of us to be less confused—and to try to set some intelligent standards before Ed in marketing says the same stupid thing over and over long enough that it ends up sticking.

If some of this is reinventing the wheel, that’s because I wasn’t in the wheel meeting.

Comments, please. The next hundred years of book production is depending on you.


The cover of the printed book. There may further be paperback p-covers, hardback p-covers, trade paper p-covers, etc.
“Anybody can do p-covers. They’re not even interactive. BTW, what’s “ink coverage” mean?”

The big splashy first page of an ebook; its primary visual identity.
“I accidentally applied the “cover” semantic to the acknowledgments page instead of the e-cover page in Sigil, so now I get to learn TextWrangler! Yay!”

The graphic displayed on the e-cover. (eg, e-cover_graphic.jpg is displayed on e-cover.xhtml.)
“Wow, lots of colors in your e-cover graphic! Yeah! That’s really…oo…Hey, I meant to ask. How long have you owned Photoshop?”

The primary graphic displayed on various store webpages. (eg, when Amazon asks you to upload a cover image and turns it into an Amazon-branded graphic).
“I’m done with his e-cover graphic, but I still have to make twelve webstore covers and change my fee from flat to hourly.”

The graphic displayed on on the device itself, used to select which book will be read.
“I side-loaded this damn thing so many times, trying to work around WebKit, that now my whole library is nothing but twenty-three instances of the same library image.”

Resized e-cover graphics used by the author or publisher in online publicity.
“I already made her three different sizes of publicity covers, and now she says she needs one that’s smaller than 4K. Considering sending her a pixel and telling her to run it really big.”


A page containing the name and title, possibly some graphic elements or other variations. Generally much less flashy than the cover and occurring soon after it. “E-title page” and “P-title page” are self-explanatory.

The graphic displayed on the title page. (eg, title_graphic.jpg is displayed on title.xhtml.)
“I did the title graphic, but then they changed the cover, so first I have to do it all over, and then I have to change my fee from flat to hourly.”

Too many definitions?

Too few definitions?

Just right?

Who cares?



Filed under Books, Design and production, ebook production, Heresy

16 responses to “Don’t judge a book by its JPEG

  1. Is your “e-cover” the same as a title page? If not, do you still have a title page?

  2. I actually had a separate title page section that I cut, thinking it needed its own blog entry.

    But since that’s the first comment—I’ll put it back in right now…

  3. “I did the title graphic, but then they changed the cover, so first I have to do it all over, and then I have to change my fee from flat to hourly.”

    Oh boy, do I know what you mean. But back to e-covers, I have an author who wants his “cover” (created for the ebook; there’s no p-book) to appear inside the ebook as well. So I’m grappling with this very issue today. If I do this, I probably will not include a title page.

  4. Ha! We did have discussions about this (and fm/bm in general) on Twitter last year. For academic books, and some others, there can be a lot of information on the title page: title, author, co-author, editor, prologue by ____, translated by ____, publisher name/logo/cities, etc. Put all that on an ebook cover along with a graphic and you end up with that colored granola. So for some ebooks, I can see how a title page is essential. (Or…where would you put all that info? Copyright page?)

  5. Ah–my basic point of reference is fiction, so the title page is more an anticipatory pleasure.

    In nonfiction, yeah, why not on the title page? I mean, books have evolved this way over centuries for reasons that haven’t changed; it’s not as though the logical groupings of information on front matter pages are some haphazard thing that needs to be shaken up just because we’re distributing photons differently now. Why not use the same groupings in ebooks?

  6. Gar Haywood

    I would have loved to have seen thumbnails included in this blog post so as to better understand the differences (even if it’s only size) between them all.

    And though I know there is no such thing as a dumb question, here’s a dumb question (coming as it is from someone who neither owns an e-book reader nor has formatted a book for one):

    Why don’t e-books just follow the hardcopy (print) model and start with a full-size cover graphic, with Title Page to follow?

    • Thumbnails…what a concept. I’ll see if I have time to make some.

      The quick answer to “Why don’t e-books start with a full-size cover graphic, with title page to follow,” is “They can. Should they?”

      There’s no such thing as a page, so how should this all be organized, and what really needs to exist? We’ve already dispensed with the back cover and the spine. So now we’ve got a full-size graphic, a bunch of stuff (copyright, etc.) that needs to go someplace (where?) and the ability to tell the book what the “start” location is.

      The “start” location is almost never the cover. The Kindle, in fact, defaults to whatever .xhtml file is AFTER the cover. That means when you open the book, you’re looking at a copyright page, or TOC, or epigraph, or title page, or sometimes Chapter 1, depending on a decision somebody made at some point. I don’t know what all the other devices do–and they’re constantly changing, even faster than the web did at the beginning. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the “Wild West period” of a new medium change this fast, and I’ve been through the dawn of word processing, the early days of the web, MIDI, digital audio, and digital video. Nothing’s gone through this phase as quickly as ebooks.

      What should an ebook be?

  7. Awesome post, it would be great to nail down the vocabulary for the parts of an ebook. I hope it catches on!

  8. The Ebook Ninjas podcast discusses this blog post, starting about a second before minute 40:

  9. Pingback: Natasha Fondren » Ebook Cover Design and Optimum Size Specifications for Amazon, Kindle, B&N, Nook, iBookstore, and iPad Formats

  10. And just as a 2 center (I have a lot of cents worth on this subject in general, although I’m not (yet) doing e-book layouts). I DO NOT understand why the Kindle defaults to an interior page when you start a book. Why not just the cover, like, you know, you would with a p-book? I don’t get it.

    But then again, I’m reading “Dick Francis’s Gamble” by Felix Francis on the Kindle right now and I’m about ready to kill the e-book layout person, because it just will NOT save a bookmark anywhere, even when it says it does, it always goes back to chapter beginnings or … well, wherever the hell it seems to want to go back to. Grrrrr….

    • I don’t know either–but that’s just a default. The designer can set it wherever. I leave it alone because experience teaches us not to mess with defaults in inferior products.

      Amazon really does make it difficult to make anything work. If they’d just stop with the awful .mobi format and adopt .epub, the world would be a much better place. Assuming they supported it competently. Which they wouldn’t. Never mind.

  11. It all sort of makes me want to go back to cave painting. Thanks for your efforts to clarify.

  12. Mike Sullivan

    So does anybody know the dimensions of the thumbnail “Cover” that ends up on Amazon or B & N? I’ve been asked to supply a paper cover, an e-book cover, and a thumbnail. I’ve got the first two, but can’t find the thumbnail details. I’m assuming it’s 72dpi, but what about the actual width/height?

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