Thursday, July 14, 2011

Book production and the 'indie' author

Well, I guess I owe you an apology of sorts, dear readers. I rarely if ever check the blog archives and when I do I realize I repeat myself in small ways at times. I don't post that often and when I do, I tend to forget what I've posted before. So, if you'd read any previous entries you already knew prior to my last post that in the case of my 'dragon book' I wasn't using the illustrations from the artist who, like Harry's 'he who must not be named', shall not be named here. Not because she's an evil wizard of course, I just don't want to give her any publicity. I will repeat myself on purpose this time by reiterating that from lemons come lemonade and as a result of my sour experience with the aforementioned artist I am having a very sweet experience with designing my book.

Thanks to the fact of having to pay way too much for her unusable stuff and being loath to fork out any more $$ for further layout, design services etc we (spouse and I) are boldly going way beyond anything we've done before. Its so exciting to literally be designing the pages of my written work from A to Z and know that what we learn now will be usable in all future projects.

We are the designers, producers, and publishers. We rock!

We know how it works in traditional publishing. You (the hopeful author) write the book proposal and/or the book, shop for an agent, maybe land an agent who in a small number of cases actually sells your book to a publishing house. You have a contract and may or may not have control of the rights to the material but you lose control of the cover design and some of the content which will be reedited. They may give you, as the author, an advance payment prior to publication and you get some royalties from the book sales post publication. Your agent takes a significant cut. The process from beginning to that point can take a decade before you get to see your book in a bookstore for the several months it has to hit it big before it is shelved and discounted. Maybe you get a deal for another book. Maybe you can quit your day job. Maybe.

But that's not where I choose to go. I am happy to be one of those folks who elicit a contemptuous sneer from some editors and agents and well established writers from the old school years: an 'indie' author. The purpose of this post is not to tell you why I choose this route. The purpose is to tell you what goes into producing and independent book.

So, what actually goes into book designing an 'indie' book like mine? I hope you are wondering that by now as you read this.

Here's a few important things for the inside of the book itself. Every word, every line, every paragraph, page and picture has to be correctly formatted. I don't mean put into a Microsoft word file on your computer, spell checked, paginated, and paragraphed with page breaks inserted with Author's biography, book synopsis, and key words list. That's what I always did before and sent to the book designers. And yeah I had to do that with my current book. But since this time, I am also helping to design the book I had to go further.

The person doing layout and formatting (which in this instance is primarily my spouse with me assisting where I am able) has to remove the layers of 'stuff' or code that lie underneath all those things you see on the page on your computer. The corrections, p symbol for paragraphing, line and page breaks and tabs all have underlaying well, I'll call them symbols and marks, in the text and they have to vanish before the finished product goes to the printer. Just because you don't see them in your manuscript doesn't mean they are not there. They are still there, sort of literary dust mites that must be swept away for good.

The book designer has to remove these cussed things and do many other tasks such as: convert the eight and a half by eleven computer screen page to the size template of the actual book ( in our case the popular trade paperback size of 6X9. The actual size is 6.25 by 9.25 or something very close to that.) The book designer has to check each line of the entire text, look for spaces between words that shouldn't be there, properly format the scene and point of view breaks within each chapter, set the margins so that when the print book is bound each verso page has plenty of left margin for line readability, deal with those single lines at the bottom of the verso page and the top of the recto page that are called 'widows and orphans', make sure the text is justified on every page and each line has the proper number of words for readability, set the space between each line of the text (generally 1.5 rather than single or double space), paginate the text but not the title page, table of contents, copyright page, dedication and any blank pages. Whew, is your head spinning yet?

The designer also needs to make sure the title page appears as a recto (right) page with the copyright page on the back of it. He has to label the verso (left) pages at the top of the text with the book title and the recto pages with the chapter headings, decide what font to use on the text for readability (Garramond recomended by most folks), whether each chapter will be a recto chapter with blank verso page opposite or randomly follow the text, the use of chapter headings and negative space in beginning each chapter, set controls so that the table of contents appears correctly referring to each chapter and page number. Pictures and titles must be embedded in the text at the proper places and sized and formatted to match the text.

There are lots of other tasks to add to the list but it is long enough already to give you an idea of just how much work is involved. And that's just the inside of the book. The book designer also has the cover to do. He has to know about 'full bleed' so that the color on the cover goes all the way to the end of the front and back without a telltale white line on the edges. He has to select a different font that that used in the text. He has to know how to physically put the various elements to be used on the cover together. Cover art is a subject in and of itself. Adobe Creative Suite Design Standard and Photoshop are essentials to have as software on your computer. (cost approximately $1200.)

The designer and author need to select images and color, how the title and author's name should read and where both should appear. What goes on the back: plot synopsis, testimonials, author information, etc. Generally in fiction, if the author is famous her or his name are in bigger font than the title. Unknown authors names are less boldly displayed than the title. The title and authors name need to be viewable on the spine when the book is shelved. Since people do indeed judge a book by its cover the cover should catch the eye with the colors used which should also give a clue to its genre and mood. Covers should not be too busy or too simple. Go to a bookstore and look at the covers and you will see definite trends in each genre.

Because many books are now sold through Amazon online and in Kindle format, a cover designer need to consider how the book will appear online to the browsing consumer. Amazon uses a white screen so the book cover should not be predominately white, for example. The image will be small so it need to be eye catching with a clear subject.

The author and the designer must decide what sort of copyright the book will have and secure it, decide and insert other attributions that will appear with the copyright, and the author as publisher must buy the ISBN number. They need to list the book with the 'books in print' folks and make sure it can be sold on Amazon and through major booksellers such as Borders and Barnes and Noble. They need to determine the length of the book, what the printing costs will be, and what the author will charge per copy for the printed book.

There are many other things that have to be done post publication which fall under marketing and will not be addressed here. But I think you get the idea of what we are doing. I used to think book designers read a few instructions, hit a few keys and voila, eet wuz done! Color me clueless before. Now, I know why it took so long. And that's when you don't have to do it in snips and snatches after work. After many hours of tutorials, Adobe training programs, weblogs, and Joel Friedlander's online advice for self publishers I am beginning to understand the process.

If you are an author and don't want to do any of this of course, you can pay a book designer and subsidy publisher to do it for you. You will pay a minimum of seven hundred dollars up to thousands of dollars for the service depending on what you choose. If you choose to publish in hard cover with color illustrations and dust jacket it will cost much more and if you self publish in volume rather than using the POD (print on demand) method it can run you an easy ten thousand dollars and you need a climate controlled warehouse for your unsold books. If you want to make any significant money at this you must promote your book shamelessly and constantly and you must get it on Amazon. But, your books will cost you about four fifty to ten dollars a paper back trade copy to print depending on pages if you use a service like LULU or Create Space and you can sell the book for sixteen to twenty dollars per copy. The printer gets a small cut and you keep the rest. So you get a bigger payoff per book than you would from a traditional publisher. The downside is you have to find ways to sell your book without the big publisher corporations' networks helping.

Your book is not printed until it is pre sold if it is POD, so you have no inventory to store. Some people really do make a lot of money this way.

And the 'indie' stigma is fading with the recent successes of some indie authors who sell large quantities through Amazon and the Kindle delivery format. Print bookstores are going into bankruptcy and so are big name publishers. If the content of your book is good and people know about it and it is priced right it can sell. You don't always need agents and traditional publishers any more. The times, they are a changing. Your options and opportunities are broadening.

So, that was a quick general overview of what I did on my summer vacation. Or part of it, anyway.

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