Many thanks to E. A. Bucchianeri for raising these important questions which no doubt will concern others contemplating using Lightning Source. I'll do my best to answer them but I should point out that I have no connection to Lightning Source other than as a customer so I'm not representing them and any details should be checked with them for currency.
Not wanting to spend a great deal of money on computing resources, I prefer to work with open source software and my experience has been that it is more than adequate for everything I have needed to do. But more on that later.
Q: LS recommends using Adobe Distiller for producing the PDF files because it works best with printers. Do the free PDF programs you suggest really produce good quality text and covers?
A: Adobe Distiller is the professional way of creating and editing PDF files and as a commercial product, it is highly compatible with commercial printing standards, offering a full range of facilities required of complex printing operations. You have to decide just how complex a printing job your cover and text really are.
Your LS submission is most likely to consist of two files, one for the text and one for the cover. You can submit these files in many different formats but you would then need to check with LS about the specifications. If you are not comfortable working with different file formats and the software that produces them, then a simpler approach is probably more sensible. I used the PDF format files and they were fairly simple to produce. Given that PDF is very common, there is free software available that produces them.
For the text, I used OpenOffice, a free download which runs on Windows and Linux. This has a button to save the file as PDF. It automatically includes all the fonts as well so you literally only need to press the button and everything is taken care of for you.
Of course, you need to have set up the page size and everything else about the formatting according to the paper size you've chosen - you are responsible for the format of the pages, etc. But producing the PDF is a button click.
Adobe Distiller is the very expensive option and you don't need it.
Q: Does GIMP offer online tutorials on how to design the cover using the LS template?
Q: Just how do you use the LS cover template properly?
I'll try and answer these two together though I'm not offering a GIMP tutorial some excellent examples of which are available here.
The tutorials won't tell you step by step how to work with the template provided by LS because the GIMP folks won't know anything about it.
Essentially the process of producing the cover is as follows. LS supply you with a template file based on the paper size chosen, the dimensions of your book and the page extent. It will be an eps file (which stands for Encapsulated PostScript). It is a graphics file which will contain a layout containing the guides and crop marks.
GIMP can open it and you will need to open it in 300dpi (dots per inch) - GIMP lets you choose when you open the file. It is important to get this right because otherwise you will end up with a file that doesn't have a good resolution meaning that your cover graphics could end up blurred.
GIMP works very much like Photoshop in that images are made up of layers. Your template consists of only one layer, the one containing the crop marks and guides so your first step is to add an additional layer in GIMP (it's a menu option). You'll be able to see the crop marks and guides through your layer but your graphics will go onto your own layer. You can add as many layers as you like and position the cover text and graphics as you like.
Finally you will remove the original layer provided by LS which contains the crop marks and guides because you don't want those printing out on your cover. Then you flatten the layers into a single image and save the file.
[NB: The template file will also contain your barcode which you need to remove from the layer with the guides and paste onto one of your own layers. That's a cut and paste operation which is fairly straightforward.]
Q: How do I remove the template guidelines and croplines?
The eps file provided by LS contains a single layer which contains the guides and crop marks. After you have added your own layers and positioned your graphics correctly, you no longer need the original layer and need to remove it. You simply select the layer in GIMP and delete it. The other layers, those you've added to the file, are then compressed into a single layer and the file is saved. If you are not clear about how the layers work (and it's not too difficult), you'll need to work through a GIMP tutorial on layers then all will be clear.
Converting the eps to a PDF file
This is an important step because I believe you cannot simply resubmit the eps file back again. It might be worth checking this with LS but I recall having to convert it. This is where LS recommends using the Adobe Distiller program because it guarantees to produce a high quality PDF file. Adobe, after all, designed the PDF standard.
A PDF file contains a complete description of how the document is constructed together with all the components that make it up, text, images, fonts, etc. Your cover is a very simple PDF document and so it almost certainly doesn't require the advanced manipulation facilities provided by Distiller.
Unfortunately, whereas the free operating system Ubuntu, a version of Linux, contains a utility for converting file formats, Windows does not. On Ubuntu, there is a utility called eps3pdf which effortlessly does the conversion for you, in a matter of seconds, for free. On Windows, you can use a shareware program called PStill which may do the conversion for you without you having to purchase a licence key. The key currently costs around $30 I think. That is an easy way of getting your file converted to PDF without the business of installing Ubuntu on your computer. There may be other shareware or freeware options for doing the file conversion but essentially if the conversion takes place, you should be OK with the quality.
In my case, I long ago became fed up paying the Microsoft tax and switched completely to a non-MS environment and I've never regretted it. But that's another story.
Q: Will downloading Ubuntu mess up MSWindows that I already have downloaded on my computer?
A: There are now a number of options for trying out Ubuntu including running it from a CD (yes it is that small and will run perfectly well), or installing it alongside Windows, or even running it inside Windows as a Windows program itself. So there are several ways of running Ubuntu without affecting your Windows installation and one of the best is Wubi. The download details are available here.
One small disclaimer: I do not provide computing support . You remain responsible for your system and data and you have my best wishes for success. I hope these notes enable you to get your project organised and submitted to LS. It can be a bit worrying having to deal with these details and technical issues but it saves a lot of money and enables you to publish with minimal financial outlay and risk. Good luck!