HOW A BOOK IS BORN

ISSUES TO CONSIDER BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER THE BIRTH OF YOUR BOOK

Obviously, no two books are alike, even within a series; I've been writing and designing books in some capacity or other since the 60s, and I can tell you that modern technology has made it much easier for an author to get his/her work "out there", though the process you'll go through to "get published" by traditional means has gotten quite a bit harder as a result of "book glut". Frankly, most big publishing houses these days are far more concerned with their current stables of money-making authors than they are in discovering new talent, and as I'm also a merchant, I understand this viewpoint though I mourn it. Agents come in all types, but finding one that will take you on, let alone getting your work actually read by an in-house editor, can be both daunting and expensive.

  Because my writing is by today's standards unusual (though as late as the 60s its style would still have been in vogue, a la John Steinbeck and Taylor Caldwell), I knew from the first that in today's market of un-cerebral quick-reads, my books would likely move slowly. Because I am therefore in a sense a "niche" author, and unwilling to make changes that would undermine my writing style, I decided to self-publish since as an illustrator and designer I can carry through the entire process and save myself thousands of dollars. Mind you, the look that I've assigned my books isn't what I'd assign yours; individual "branding" is part of the process of establishing--and marketing--yourself successfully as an author.

  The fact is that if you are writing a series, your "branding" may change; this can be simply because you're trying to reach a different market, or (more complicatedly) because your theme-focus has shifted as your series has progressed. As an example, I'm posting the various covers  D1 (That's The Dogs of Pilothead Sound, or DOPS I) has had below; this isn't a shameless plug but rather because I need examples, and I own all the copyrights (most important!).
These are all the covers D1 has had since being published.

The first (upper left) is the cover still used by the Kindle e-book. This is the entire DOPS I volume, all near-700 pages of it.

The narrower formats at top center and right are the covers for parts 1 and 2 of the mass market paperback edition (also released digitally with the same images); because the book is so long (in part because of added illustrations) I split it into two parts to avoid the "exploding paperback" phenomenon one often encounters with massively thick, mass-market-sized softcovers. This was also a move to make the book less formidably bulky/heavy to seniors and convalescing patients, both of whom are often-overlooked classes of readers. This turned out to be a good business move, and the two parters of all the books have sold well, even though they lack most of the illustrations of the big trade paper edition.

The lower left thumbnail is the cover of the trade paperback, which is illustrated; it's a hefty book, about 7X9 inches, and nearly two inches thick, about the size of what I think of as the "average" hardback. However, it's a good deal wider than trade papers generally are these days; I don't care for the commonly used 6X9 format, because it seems awkward. If you lay my books down flat on the spine, they'll stay put, usually open to the page where you left off; no such doing with the tall and funky sizes. For them, it's bookmarks or nada, and if you turn 'em over, they'll often close themselves. I also find them uncomfortable to hold.

The bottom center pic hasn't been used; if I ever do a study guide of the philosophies (or whatever) of the series I'll probably use it, but its style is too graphic novelistic/minimalist to match the illustrative standard of the series. Also, the black winged Adirondack Dog is a bit ominous, which is in keeping with one of the story-threads from D3-onward, but doesn't accurately reflect the upbeat tone of the first books, which deal with the optimistic issue of new beginnings.

The bottom right cover is the design for the yet-to-be-released hardcover, which has more illustrations than the trade paper. It's in the same style as the cover of D3 (Espiridion), where I began using for the covers the same black and white etched engraved-style of the illustrations. The only thing is, it's a bit grim looking, which again goes against the grain of the storyline, which despite its thrills and chills is essentially upbeat. For this reason I may render it as bi-color, i.e., give it a color wash or alternatively, vivid spot color.

What am I getting at? The fact that your book(s) may very well go through a number of incarnations in the form of formatting, since that usually needs to be tweaked to go from print to digital, or (more rarely) vice-versa. For example, the average dude out there can't trick the Kindle e-book generator into properly translating things like drop caps, those fancy staples of chapter-beginnings everywhere. (More on drop-caps and other e-book no-nos on a separate page which deals with manuscript conversion.)

PRINT VERSUS DIGITAL...AND THE MANUFACTURERS "OUT THERE"

Generally, books with fewer than one hundred fifty pages are considered novellas, though of course this is just a general categorization; fewer than ninety-eight and you've got a short story. Then you go down farther to twenty pages or so, and you get into essay territory. But binding-wise, under a hundred pages is often considered a pamphlet even though it's in the shape of a book. As I've said, this terminology is highly flexible--in fact, you may find it varies from printer to printer, if you deal with a nuts and bolts-type of establishment. For an online publisher like CreateSpace (and perhaps various vanity presses) it may not even be relevant.

There are, as far as I know, two basic types of self-publishing companies; the oldest is the traditional "vanity press", where you pay a printer that specializes in producing sale-ready books to produce your book (you generally have to order in the hundreds of copies; they usually have a minimum). If you have the bucks up front AND a formidable storage space for unsold copies, this approach may work for you; you do have to take into consideration the effect of time and plain sitting around on the books, which may not sell well and cause you to lose money. Curling jackets, peeling laminate, yellowed pages (if the paper is cheap)...these are some of the problems besetting books that languish in storage or even long-term on a store shelf. You may therefore rather wish to consider, as most authors these days do, the POD, or Print On Demand, approach, which is the second self-publishing option. A POD press can print your books singly, which a large-scale printer won't--hence the term "print on demand".

There are many reputable POD printers, of whom a few of the best known are the Amazon-affiliated CreateSpace, Lightning Source (owned by Ingram, an immense worldwide distributor of books), and Lulu (which uses Lightning Source as its printer...odd but true). Lightning Source is the world's largest POD, and as such Amazon has rather messily declared war on it (Amazon of course wanting that "world's largest" designation for itself). I use CreateSpace for DOPS, because of all the PODs I've reviewed, they have the lowest prices; HOWEVER, I'm not terribly pleased with the printed quality of Sally Lightfoot's Journey, a children's picture book, because the illustrations have an over-saturated look which obscures detail. This is acceptable for the black and white plates of DOPS, though again, there's over-saturation which markedly darkens the characters and (I think) gives them a clownish, even sinister appearance, at least in Abel's case on the back cover of Espiridion. This in my opinion is extremely important to note, especially if you're publishing textbooks where carefully-rendered detail is paramount; on a map, e.g., you could well lose a river or two, or have country borders and small print swallowed up by the sea of saturation!

ILLUSTRATORS (ESPECIALLY GRAPHIC NOVELISTS/COMIC BOOK ARTISTS) BEWARE!

Below I'm posting four pics to show you what I mean when I talk about loss of detail as a result of over-saturation:
Above: The cover of Sally Lightfoot's Journey as reproduced on glossy stock by CreateSpace.
Below: The original .jpg of the cover.

Below: Detail of Abel from the back cover of DOPS IV, printed by CreateSpace on glossy stock
 

Bottom: The original .jpg of the same portrait


This is a dramatic difference, at least to my eyes; if you look at the claws on the Sally Lightfoot crab you'll notice a lot more detail in the original. Abel in the CreateSpace repro has suddenly acquired a rather alarming five o'clock shadow, along with a buccaneer mustache and downright scary runny nose. Over-saturation equals darkening in this case, nor is printing on glossy paper the solution even though many cases of over-saturation are the result of too much ink on paper that is overly absorbent, which less glossy paper tends to be. If you've used an inkjet printer without properly adjusting it for the type of paper, you probably know what I mean.

 Anyway, if you're a graphic novelist, or someone specializing in vector-based art that depends on fine lines and fill styles (for example), this sort of detail loss can dramatically affect the quality of your work. On the upside, CreateSpace as far as I know is the cheapest of the POD presses, with the added advantage of your books being immediately available for sale on Amazon.

Lulu, according to reports I've come across, seems to do a better job of reproducing things like picture books; however, the cost is prohibitive, to the point where you'd have to mark up your books excessively in order to make a profit, to the point where they probably wouldn't sell well. Designing a book with Lulu is relatively easy; you can do it right onscreen. However, if you're doing something like a photo book for a family reunion and you don't care about cost or profit, Lulu is probably a good choice.

From what I've heard Lulu uses Lightning Source as its printer, which makes sense since both are Ingram-owned; you can deal with Lightning Source directly, but unless you're very experienced at book layout and can format your manuscript with the very minimal help offered by the LS reps, you're  better off using Lulu, which is considerably more user-friendly for newbies.

In regard to distribution, CS and LS offer international options; however, you need to be aware that if your book is what's called a "non-standard size", you make not be able to get the worldwide distribution package with Amazon. This was the case with Sally Lightfoot for me. Digitally, of course, there are no such restraints--but if you are selling a book in landscape format for Kindle distribution, you do need to include in your description specific instructions for optimal viewing of your e-book, such as zooming in all the way for viewing a picture book in a way that fills your screen.

One of the major issues authors have had with CreateSpace was that until recently, it didn't offer the hardcover option as Lulu and other PODS do; this however has changed, with the rather odd stipulation that when you order your hardbacks, they're shipped straight to you and then you do with them what you will--in other words, there's no listing for them on Amazon or in the CreateSpace store as there is with softcovers and e-books. Now, whether this means you're not allowed to offer them for sale in your Amazon store if you're an Amazon vendor, I have no idea; I suppose I'll look into it eventually. The cost for producing hardback books is naturally higher than it is for softcovers, and the volumes aren't dust-jacketed; it's a case-laminate cover, I'm guessing glossy, similar to that of a school textbook. This may have changed by now to include more options, but when last I spoke to a CtreateSpace service rep about it, that was the scoop. And, you do have to email or call CS in order to get this info; last I knew it wasn't listed on either the CS or Amazon site, as it's almost like a covert service they offer authors.