Category Archives: publications

In Our Own Words: Stories by Australia’s international students

A little book that’s come from a project with my PhD supervisor Donna Lee Brien and her CQUniversity colleague Alison Owens has just been released on Amazon . Edited by the three of us and published by my own Tablelands Press. Here’s the KINDLE  version and here’s the  PRINT  one and here’s an article about the project.


How to make your book’s print cover using Microsoft Publisher

In this post, I walk you through how to make a print cover for a self-published book, using readily available software that’s either free or low-cost and doesn’t require a graphic designer’s licence to drive. I’ve included tips and hints from my own experience that I hope will make the process easier for you, but I don’t claim to be an expert, so do feel free to contribute in the comments below.


The interior of the book was created with, which has a WordPress style interface, a wide range of gorgeous themes to choose from, and multiple output formats: a PDF file for the printed book, Mobi for Kindle and EPUB for iBooks and Kobo. You can build your book for free but they charge $US99 to remove the watermarks from the PDF and ebook versions. Keep an eye out for one of their 35% off promotions. I chose the US trade paperback size of 6×9 inches, or 15.24×22.86cm.

Step 1: Get a good-looking front cover

I customised a professionally-designed front cover on and bought it for $US69. You choose your image online then add text and styling to the title and author fields. The image you chose is then removed from their website, so you won’t find yourself in the embarrassing position of seeing your book dressed in the same cover as someone else’s.

Of course, you could use a photo you’d taken yourself and design the whole front cover from scratch, but as you will see by looking at there are many ways you can get this wrong, and the result might be merely sub-standard or at worst aesthetically ghastly.

Here’s my front cover:

You can download a small, low-resolution JPG version of the cover (72 dpi) that’s suitable for screens and a high resolution (300 dpi) JPG that’s for printing. You can keep making changes and downloading covers until you are happy with it. If you only want an ebook, you’re finished! If you want a cover for a printed book, you need a back cover and spine as well.

Selfpubbookcovers will arrange a designer to add the back and spine to your front cover for another $US125. If you’re not a geeky type, paying up is probably your best option. But if you have an eye for detail and are comfortable experimenting with unfamiliar software until it does what you want, it’s not difficult to do it yourself.

One glitch you might strike is that if you intend to print your book using a commercial short-run digital printing service instead of Amazon’s Createspace, you might be asked to make sure any colour images are in CMYK format instead of RGB. (This is all about how colour is represented. Computer screens use a combination of Red Green Blue to make all the colours you need, while printers use Cyan Magenta Yellow Black). Translating between RGB and CYMK can be complex and generally you need some high-end image processing software like PhotoShop to do it.

I simply emailed selfpubbookcovers and asked if they could send me my cover in CMYK format and was delighted when they promptly did. Their creative director even improved it by adding a drop shadow to my subtitle!

Note that it’s normal for the CMYK image to look duller than the RGB version. When it’s printed it will look a bit better than it does on screen, but it still won’t be identical.

Step 2: Design your full print cover

Work out how big your whole cover needs to be. This depends on the number of pages in your book, the type of paper you intend to use, and the trim size (this is your chosen page size). Createspace has a template generator at and has a slightly different one, and they also offer an ISBN barcode generator.

I wanted the option of printing the book in Australia, because postage is a killer when you print author copies via Createspace, not to mention the Aussie dollar being so low against the greenback. I used information provided by SOS Print+Media to work out how much to allow for my spine, then calculated the other dimensions by adding the standard bleed of 0.125 inches (0.3175cm) to top, bottom and sides. The bleed is the ‘safety margin’ you allow on your cover to accommodate the fact that it will be printed on larger stock and then trimmed to size.

The book(let) I was publishing was only 40 pages, so it didn’t have a proper spine, but the calculator said I should allow 0.13 inches, or 0.33cm for it. I chose creamy coloured paper for the interior of the book, which is the standard for paperbacks, rather than white.

So remembering that I chose to have a 6×9 inch (15.24 x 22.86cm) book, here are my calculations:

Cover width = bleed + page width + spine width + page width + bleed, or 0.3175cm + 15.24cm + 0.33cm + 15.24cm + 0.3175 = 31.5cm

Cover height = bleed + page height + bleed, or 0.3175cm + 15.24cm + 0.3175 = 23.5cm

Individually, the front and back with a bleed on three sides measured width 15.24+0.3175 = 15.5575cm and height 22.86+0.3175 = 23.5cm, while the spine itself was width 0.33cm and height 23.5cm.

It’s important to be clear and precise in your measurements, to avoid grief later on.

Step 3: Edit your image

Edit your front cover image to make it the correct size and colour format. There are some traps here. I’ve already explained that you might need a friend with PhotoShop to convert the colours to CMYK; the other difficulty is making sure your image stays at 300 dpi. JPG is notorious for being a ‘lossy’ format. Every time you edit and save a JPG file to disk, it throws away a little of its resolution in order to save space. So keep a copy of your original, in case you need to start from fresh, and save your edited file as TIFF instead of JPG. And watch out for editing programs that helpfully save in a lower resolution, like MS Paint.

The high-res JPG I got from selfpubbookcovers was 3125 x 4167 pixels in size, or 10.42 x 13.89 inches at 300 dpi. To do the translation from pixels to inches, I used the simple calculator at But my front cover, including top, bottom and bleed on the right-hand side, needed to be 6.125 x 9.25 inches, or 1837 x 2775 pixels.

So I downloaded IrfanView  (freeware) from  and used it to resize and crop. Keeping the same aspect ratio, so the width and height stayed in proportion, the closest I could get was 2081 x 2775, which was still 2cm too wide. Cropping a little more on the left than on the right allowed me to centre the text to the trim size, rather than having it centred to trim size+bleed. My bleed was 3mm, so I cropped 1.3cm from the left and 0.7cm from the right.

Step 4: Make the cover in Microsoft Publisher

Fire up Publisher, which comes with the Microsoft Office suite. The procedure for getting the correctly sized cover with a bleed is a little fiddly but not hard. You need to think in terms of three sizes. There’s the printer page, which you need to set big, like A3. Then there’s the size of your cover including bleeds. And there’s the actual size of your trimmed cover.

You design your cover in Publisher after setting a page size for your document that includes the bleeds, then just before you ‘print’ (export your PDF) you reset the document page size to the actual cover size. By ‘printing’ to A3, you will get cover plus bleeds, and optionally, crop and bleed marks. If the printer connected to your computer won’t let you have A3 paper size, select Microsoft XPS Document Writer instead (A3 landscape, one page per sheet, save settings with publication). Then click the down arrow next to the printer name and go to the Advanced Output Settings. Tick ‘Allow bleeds’. Here you can also indicate whether you’d like bleed marks and crop marks included. Createspace doesn’t want them, other commercial printers probably will.

So, to make my book cover, I set my printer settings to MS XPS Document Writer A3 Landscape (29.7 x 42 cm, 11.69 x 16.53 inches) with crop and trim marks, and my publication page size to have no margins and to be 31.5 x 23.5, which is my cover including spine plus bleeds of 0.125 inches or 0.3175cm on all four sides.

You can insert the PNG template file that Createspace will generate for you (see and use it as a guide, laying objects on top of it and removing it later. My measurements were slightly different, so I didn’t do this.

I drew a text box the size of the cover+bleeds page and coloured it textured yellow. On top of that on the left-hand side I placed a text box for the blurb, and another for the spine. Using ‘sample fill colour’ I made the spine be one of the colours from the front cover image. Towards the bottom on the left-hand side I inserted two PNG images -– my Tablelands Press logo and the book’s ISBN barcode image, which I’d made using

I put my CMYK image on the right-hand side of the page, zooming in to make sure it was properly aligned with the spine.

Note that when you are adding text and extra images to your cover, you should keep them at least 3mm from the actual edge of the page (or 6mm from the page on the screen that includes bleed).

If your book has enough pages to warrant a proper spine, you’ll want to add a couple of text boxes containing the book’s title and your name. Publisher will let you orient these sideways.

When I was happy with the layout, I reset my document’s page size back to the book’s actual trim size, which was width 30.48+0.33 = 30.81cm x height 22.86cm. The margin rulers indicated that the page started at -0.3cm, which is what I wanted. Then I used the commercial printing wizard to make the PDF and save it compressed with the PUB file in a folder.

Step 5: Check it worked

Just to be sure, put your cover PDF on a USB stick and take it somewhere that can print an A3 colour page. At my local public library it cost only $4 to do a test print.

Here’s the finished product:

  • Note, I amended this cover slightly to widen the purple divider down the centre from 3.3mm to 6mm, after the printers told me they couldn’t guarantee such a narrow strip would be placed accurately enough on the spine of every book. Making the purple section wider meant at least some would wrap to the front and back, which was fine, and the spine would be covered.

Great Australians profile story

I recently wrote a profile on Isobel Knight, a woman who was the NSW/ACT 2013 Rural Woman of the Year for her innovative approach to family farm succession planning. Who will get the farm, and when, is often an emotionally fraught topic, and Isobel tackles it with counselling and negotiation skills and a concern for relationships, not just financial analysis.

The story is being published in Great Australians: 20 Living Legends of the Bush next week alongside some beautiful photography.

The publicity about the one-off magazine says:
“They are pastoralists, scientists, artists and adventurers. There’s a milliner, a social worker and a campdrafter, plus many more.
These notable outback Australians are a diverse mob from all over the country. What they have in common is a certain spirit that you find in the bush: a spirit of innovation, hard work and humanity. These are the people who make us proud to be Australian.
Great Australians: 20 Living Legends of the Bush will provide an insight into these inspirational people, with in-depth journalism and beautiful portraiture. OUTBACK readers love stories of true bush characters so they will be delighted by this unique collection.”

Great Australians: 20 Living Legends of the Bush
ISBN: 9780980397024
On sale April 16, 2015
RRP $11.95

Let’s chip in to save Dumaresq Dam

Dumaresq Dam. Photo by Iain Davidson on Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Dumaresq Dam. Photo by Iain Davidson on Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


I want to persuade you of three things. One, that Dumaresq Dam is in peril and doing nothing is not an option. Two, that Armidale needs Dumaresq Dam. Three, that the cost of reforming the dam wall is one that we can and should be willing to pay.

Now, I must confess that I was a bit lukewarm on points one and three before I attended the meeting organised by the Dumaresq Progress Association. I thought it was ridiculous that we should be forced to spend millions of dollars to comply with some bureaucratic requirement that the dam wall meet modern safety standards and be able to withstand a 1 in a 100,000 year flood. Dumaresq Dam has served our community well for more than a century and no one is suggesting it’s going to collapse due to normal wear and tear. But if this freak storm hits, the dam wall breaks and the water comes rushing towards town, the engineering consultants have estimated that 1.8 people could die. I don’t want to trivialise anyone’s death, but consider this: on average, 350 people die on NSW roads every year, but we still get in our cars and drive.

So, what was said at the meeting that changed my mind? Well, Luke Finnegan, the manager of water services at the council, gave a very clear presentation on what is wrong with the dam. Basically, what we have is a gravity dam, with the wall made up of concrete and large granite boulders. It was well built according to the standards of 1896, but if it was being done today the base of the wall would be three metres wider. As well as the pressure exerted on the dam wall by the weight of the water, fissures at the bottom of the dam create uplift pressures – but this additional stress wasn’t understood till the 1920s. The other problem is that the spillway is too small to deal with the volume of water that a huge storm would generate. Basically, the wall and the spillway aren’t big enough, and during a major flood the chance of the dam breaking may be 1 in 2000. That might seem low, but it can happen. The extreme rainfall that provoked Queensland’s deadly floods in January 2011 had a probability of 1 in 2000.

There have been multiple reports into the possibility of Dumaresq Dam breaking over the last twenty years, and lots of options have been considered, including early warning systems. But it has come down to this: the state government regulator, the Dam Safety Committee, says the solution must be a structural one, and if something isn’t done soon, they’ll demolish the dam and send us the bill. The cost to demolish the dam is $1.2 million, plus another $300,000 to remediate the site so it doesn’t look hideous. Council has $1.5 million in their water fund that could cover this cost.

Demolishing the dam is one of the options described in the latest report by Arup Engineering. Another is cutting a big slice off the top of the wall to lower the water level by 2.5 metres. This would reduce the dam’s total area by half, and the shoreline would shrink inwards by 25 metres from the boat ramp, and 160 metres at the northern end. The maximum depth would drop from 11 metres to 8.5 metres, and there would be large sections of water shallow enough for reeds to colonise. We would end up with a swampy, reed-infested puddle. This would cost us $1 million plus another $200,000 in rehabilitation. Again, this could be covered by the water fund.

The third option is to keep the water level as it is currently, and reform and strengthen the dam wall. This would cost $3.4 million – so taking the water fund money into account, there’d still be a shortfall of $1.9 million. If every man, woman and child in Armidale was prepared to chip in $76, we’d have that much. But unless the community indicates very clearly that it values Dumaresq Dam, Council is likely to take the easiest, cheapest option of lowering the dam wall.

You may ask: why do we need the dam anyway, given that Malpas supplies our drinking water? This was a topic explored in depth at the October 28 meeting. The primary reason is its value as a recreational facility. It’s the only large, accessible body of water close to town. People use the Dumaresq Dam Reserve for a whole host of land and water-based activities – barbecues, bushwalks, picnics, parties, orienteering, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and swimming. Until recently, it was also a very popular camping spot for grey nomads. It’s been an important part of many local people’s childhoods. One woman at the meeting said four generations of her family had grown up in Armidale and taken their children to Dumaresq Dam for their first picnic, and she wanted her daughter to do this too.

Another reason we need to keep Dumaresq Dam is its value as water storage. When we are struck by major bushfires or severe drought, we’ll be glad to have it there as backup. We know climate change is bringing us more extreme weather events. If Mt Duval goes up in flames and the fire-fighting helicopters are hauling water out of Dumaresq Dam, it could be what stops an inferno from raging through the university and on to the town. And when we have long dry patches, there are landowners downstream who rely on water being released from the dam into the creek to save their stock.

Finally, there’s the intrinsic environmental value of Dumaresq Dam Reserve and the flora and fauna it supports. Students at the university and the local schools go there for educational field trips. It’s a beautiful place. Many of us have a strong emotional attachment to Dumaresq Dam as a favourite place to relax and socialise with our family, friends and visitors.

So, are we willing to put our hands in our pockets and preserve Dumaresq Dam as we know and love it? There are 10,000 ratepayers in Armidale, so we could raise $1.9 million by chipping in $200 each. You could think of that as $2 a week for two years, or $25 extra on each quarterly bill.

Surely, it is worth it.

This speech won first place in the Armidale Communicators Speech Contest on 6 November 2014.
A version was published in The Armidale Express, 31 October 2014.

How’s your death literacy?

My article about the discrepancy between where we say we’d like to die and where we actually do it – and how it’s a social justice issue requiring the whole community to become more ‘death literate’

Story about my book in Australian Ageing Agenda

Linda Belardi, editor of Australian Ageing Agenda, interviewed me about A Hospital Bed at Home. See the story online here:

Stories of love, life and death

Fellow writer, Lynette Aspey, has written a lovely, appreciative post about A Hospital Bed at Home on her blog – click here to read it.