Wednesday, 28 September 2016

DRAGONS and FINAL DRAFT

Playing with images, I found this Chinese dragon, one of the many freebies we looked at (and rejected) as a base for a possible cover illustration for a story about a flying (well not flying exactly, more like gliding) kitten. This is the final cover of DRAGONCAT, designed by my techie expert David who'd never done such a thing before, but who was a very quick learner (unlike me). It was the only book I published without a previous publisher's blessing (the story was deemed 'too gentle', in spite of the fact it feaured a couple of knife-wielding thugs) - in other words, a selfie - and it felt like an achievement for both of us.

Publishers' blessings still mean a lot, and mine have not been exactly plentiful in the last few years. Being published is always exciting, even when it's happening on a regular basis - seeing what began as a few ideas dancing a jig inside your head turn into a physical book comes close to giving birth. But being published (by someone else) has a downside, too, because if it happens a lot, you come to expect it, so rejections, when they happen, hit a lot harder, and writing, once your lifeblood, begins turning into something like a mundane job situation - who's looking for this kind of thing? Does it work? - at which you're constantly failing, while younger, cleverer, more imaginative people are queuing up to take your place.

That's how it's been for me recently until something quite amazing happened - serious film interest in a book first published in the Nineties. The screenplay I'd been persuaded to write about five years ago - an interesting exercise, I thought at the time, but nothing more - now has to be expanded and translated into film format, so I've been told to download a screenwriting tool called Final Draft, on a one month's trial, and can't get my head around it. During my career, I've gone from scribbling on paper to typing, then writing, first on an Amstrad, then a Mac, and finally (and very comfortably) in Word, but Final Draft, so far, has defeated me. I tell myself that once I really get the hang of it, it might work for me in the way it apparently does for all those brilliant screen-writers out there who can't manage without it (it's supposed to be good for novel-writing as well) but it hasn't happened yet, and I feel like a not very bright eight year old presented with one of those mind-boggling long division problems that used to reduce me to tears (anyone remember them?) and then being asked to be creative. Comments more than welcome, but most especially from any Final Draft users.

Autumn - Keats's 'season of mists and mellow fruitfulness' is with us at last, and such a show it's put on so far, even without the leaf change which hasn't happened here yet. The colours in my local woods, due to the angle of the sun, are astonishing, and sometimes I have to walk right up and into them to prove to myself that they're real - silver, hot turquoise, gold. Inside my head is an Impressionist painter - well, several, actually. Oh, and that sky - all yellow-gold and burning orange at the end of the afternoon, with my street trees like silhouettes against the colour show. The last of my homegrown tomatoes are ripening on the windowsill - a perfect still life, and putting on a colour show of their own as they slowly transform from green through to amber, pink and finally, red. How I love this season.

There's a post that keeps popping up on Facebook, about what elderly people facing death most regret about their lives - things not done, challenges not met etc etc. I think my main regret would be my total inability to take myself seriously when I was in my late teens and had so many opportunities - all I thought about then was boys. 

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

“You May Just Have to Get a Job…” - Andrew Crofts

“So, young man, what do you plan to do with your life?”

It’s one of the most annoying questions that well-meaning people ask of the young as soon as they leave school or university, and at most points before and in between.

It may be annoying, but even the most innocent, or rebellious, of young people know that finding the answer is the key to everything. When you get to the other end of your working life and look back, these people are asking, what sort of path do you want to see stretching out behind you?



In some ways I was one of the fortunate ones. From the age of sixteen I had an almost clear idea of what I wanted that path to look like, but when I described it out loud it sounded pretty naïve, not to mention vain, so I tended to respond to interrogation by looking down and mumbling something non-committal like everyone else.

What I knew I wanted was to be free to follow anything that caught my interest. I wanted to attack life like an overexcited dog hurtling back and forth along a ripe hedgerow, chasing every tempting scent and every promising rustle of leaves. I wanted to have learned as much as possible about as wide a variety of subjects as possible. I wanted to be in a position to take advantage of any unexpected opportunities that might be offered to me. I wanted to be able to make my own decisions as to how I planned my life and spent my days. I wanted to surrender my fate to serendipity while at the same time being able to make enough of a living to support myself and whatever family might come along, (something else that would be in the hands of the God of Serendipity). I wanted to get to the end of the path with as many good and varied memories and stories as possible – and of course I wanted to meet girls, as many as possible.

The thing I was most frightened of, along with possible starvation, was boredom. If I couldn’t continually distract and stimulate myself with thoughts and adventures that interested me I knew I would be in danger of sliding into the shadows of despondency, and hurtling on down from there into the pit of despair.

There appeared to be a few options that fitted these criteria; the three front runners were writing, art or acting, all of which seemed to provide the necessary highs needed to stay ahead of the black cloud of depression, but at the same time they offered the constant threat of rejection. It required a fair degree of blind, and naïve, optimism to commit to any of these paths. If I voiced my ambitions out loud I ran the risk of hearing other people’s opinions on just how likely it was that I would starve to death if I tried to make any of them my life, so on most occasions I would decide it was better to keep my own council.

My first year in London after leaving school at seventeen had not gone that brilliantly financially. As well as writing anything and everything I could think of, and selling none of it, I had also dipped my toe into the acting world, which basically meant being a background extra for the odd day’s filming, (including an appearance as a footman in a powdered wig in a filmed history of prostitution, my task being to literally “serve up” Cora Pearl, a famous nineteenth century courtesan, on a platter to George V while he was the Prince of Wales), and getting the occasional photographic modelling job.

These scraps of employment had paid the £7.50 a week rent on my room in the shared flat in Earls Court and not much else. It was fun but it was increasingly difficult to fool anyone that I was ever going to be able to support myself on this path.

“You may just have to get a job.”

My father’s perfectly sensible words sent a chill of horror rippling through me. The words he didn’t say, but which seemed to hang in the air between us were, “like everyone else.”

We were meeting for supper in London, as we sometimes did when he thought I needed feeding, and were having a drink in the bar at the top of the Park Lane Hilton, which was then the highest building in the area, so that we could both gaze out over the city lights during any lulls that might fall in the conversation. He liked taking me to places like that and mostly I enjoyed these peeks into the life he led on his company expense account when he wasn’t at home with my mother. Even going with him for a drink at the Playboy Club was an interesting, if somewhat disquieting, experience. I knew several girls who worked as bunnies and was all too familiar with what their real views were of the club members they were trained to serve with such bright smiles.

Taking horrified offence at his suggestion that I should get a job like everyone else, but making a huge effort to hide it, I vowed to myself that I would demonstrate my disdain by getting the most obviously boring job going, the sort of thing that George Orwell, Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene and my other influences would have held up as an example of the sort of living death that any young creative soul should avoid at all costs. Then, I told myself, my father would see the error of his thinking and would be sorry he had crushed my great creative potential.

My father, probably assuming that he had just given me a sound piece of paternal advice, was by then studying the menu, apparently unaware of the turmoil his words had caused inside his son’s head.

The following day I resigned myself to the fact that I was now officially a failed actor/writer/artist and set about job-hunting with a heavy, angry heart. I bought an Evening Standard and secured some interviews. It seemed a good idea to exaggerate a little to these potential employers as to the A level results I had achieved. My former Head Master gave me a generous reference, accompanied by a kind letter assuring me that this change in direction might prove more rewarding than I was fearing. I was grateful for this attempt at consolation, but remained convinced he was mistaken.

I was offered three different jobs, but only one of my interviewers failed to ask to see any evidence of the exam results I was claiming. That was the job I therefore had to accept. Thus, within a frighteningly short time, I found myself a shipping clerk for the United Africa Company in an office in Blackfriars, spending my days filing bills of lading and my evenings in the company’s amateur dramatics club. I was eighteen years old and it felt in the darkest hours of the night as if my life was at an end already. There seemed nothing to do but hope for some sort of miracle.

Within a few months I realised that no miracle was coming and no-one was ever going to notice that this was a gesture of defiance and not simply a sensible career move. I had backed myself into a corner and was now lost in an office which held little potential for anyone wanting eventually to earn a living as a writer. Rather than realising that they had caused me to ruin my life, my parents actually seemed fairly relieved that I was now earning a steady salary. It dawned on me that if I didn’t want to spend my life filing bills of lading I was going to have to do something about it myself.

To quote the blurb on the back cover of my battered Penguin edition of “Keep the Aspidistra Flying”, the story of Gordon Comstock who saw the aspidistra as the symbol of the artist selling-out to the comforts and security of dull, middle-class respectability; … “in his mulish determination to embrace the full agony of poverty, he walked out of one “good” job after another, to the despair of his friends. For him the Embankment was nobler than the aspidistra, symbol of spiritual death.” I think that was pretty much what was going on in my head, although I lacked even Comstock’s courage because I intended to do all I could to avoid ending up sleeping on the Embankment.

In my desperation to escape this self-triggered trap, I contacted everyone I had met in my first year in London, begging for any possible ways out and, to my amazement an agent who had got me a couple of modelling jobs the previous year, asked if I would like to be his assistant since he had to be out of the office a lot producing fashion shows during “the season”.

Run a modelling agency? Did I have to think for even a second before accepting?

The money was about half whatever I was earning as a shipping clerk, but the decision still seemed like an absolute no-brainer as one of my most urgent priorities since leaving my single-sex school was to meet as many young women as possible in as short a time as possible. Had there ever been a place more tailor-made for providing such opportunities in abundance?

Soon after I took up the new job, based in a room off a photographer’s studio in Charlotte Street, my boss was invited to merge his agency with a large modelling school in the middle of Bond Street, providing me with still more opportunities to meet young women and at the same time opening up any number of opportunities for finding material to write about.

Within a year I was back on course towards being a full-time freelance writer, mainly selling my services for public relations purposes, with the modelling school as one of my clients. Public Relations was still a fledgling industry, which is the only explanation I can give as to how a twenty year-old with virtually no experience was able to make a living from it. I even used to lecture on the subject for the modelling school’s rivals, Lucie Clayton, a secretarial and finishing school that had become famous in the sixties for producing the most glamorous models of the day, although I can’t for a moment imagine that I had any wisdom worth listening to.

By this stage I had decided that being a writer really was the only way I could see that I could ensure a satisfactory level of personal freedom and variety, and hopefully earn a living. But what should I write about? There were plenty of interesting stories and people to choose from but I couldn’t see how to turn them into a living wage.

I tried every possible road that a writer can take and there were many times when it seemed impossible that I would ever be able to earn a steady living from such a precarious profession. To public relations I added business writing and then travel writing, and in every spare moment I was trying to write books. I only ever took two full-time jobs after that, one in a public relations consultancy and the other on a media trade magazine. Neither job lasted more than a few months and I eventually had to admit that I was probably never going to be capable of holding down any permanent position. I was now set irrevocably on a course where self-employment was the only option. Had I realised quite how choppy the waters I was sailing into would turn out to be I don’t know if I would have had the courage to do it ….who am I kidding? I had no option.    

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Publishing a Picture Book as a Kindle - by Susan Price

Three Billy Goats Gruff, £2-31
Last month I blogged about how to publish a picture book with Createspace.
     This month, I'll tell you how we also published the book as a Kindle ebook.

Once again, we found How To Format Your Picturebook For Createspace Without The Frustration by A. Olsen extremely useful.

Illustrator Andrew Price had already used a graphics programme to produce all the pages, with the text embedded in the images. He had saved all these pages several times over, in different folders. Once as huge graphics programmes, with all their layers, at four times the size they needed to be. Secondly, as equally huge jpegs, and finally as jpegs resized to fit our Createspace paperback. You can read about this here.

To turn these pictures into an e-book, we had to decide between two programmes:


Download here



Kindle Kids' Book Creator...









Download here


Or Kindle's Comic Creator.







They are both free programmes which you download to your computer. They make it easy to turn a book full of illustrations into an e-book.
      We tried both and, in the end, used Comic Creator, both because Olsen recommended it and because it seemed easier.
      When you open Comic Creator, you see this screen:


If you're creating a new book, you click on the 'Start A New Book' icon to the right. Then you see this:-



You have to click on the features that you want in your Kindle ebook. 'Kindle panel view' is a feature built into the programme which allows you to tap your screen and zoom in to a particular frame or speech bubble, making it easier to read. It isn't supported on all models of Kindle but you might want to add it. There's a similar feature in Kids' Book Creator.

The other boxes are fairly self-explanatory, though 'unlocked' refers to the abilty to read your Kindle in landscape or portrait format. Comic Creator assumes that you want your comic locked into whichever format you choose - unless you click this dot.

Down at the bottom, it gives the Kindle dimensions for your chosen format. Olsen gives them in her book too. They are:

Portrait     800 pixels wide       1280 pixels high          96 dpi

Landscape   1280 pixels wide     800 pixels high         96 dpi

This means, of course, that you are going to have to resize your images again.

Also, Andrew is not 'aving that 96 dpi (dots per inch). It's 300 dpi at least, for him. Because your image will shed pixels as you shrink it. The higher the resolution - the more dots per inch there are to begin with - the less difference this shrinkage will make to the final image.

So Andrew sprang once more to the graphics programme of his choice and created a blank background or canvas, to Kindle's dimensions, and 300 dpi.

He then used the programme to open the huge jpegs, the ones four times the size needed. They were all saved as separate, left and right pages, because we'd used Microsoft Word to make the paperback. Word wants the images inserted as separate pages, even when they are double-page spreads.

But the Kindle cares nothing for that, nor for bleeds or gutters. Each page has to fit within that 1280 x 800 pixels rectangle.

So Andrew resized the pages and sat them side by side on his template. The single pages sat side by side as single pages. The spreads required a little more work as the gap between them (where the paperback's central gutter had been) had to be joined together.

Tip: design your spreads so there are no hard lines to be connected across the gap. Suggest the line on the left and right hand pages and fill the gutter section with colour. Let the eye connect the lines.

As you complete each Kindle page, save it as a picture file in yet another clearly marked folder. It will make your job much easier if you name each file alphabetically. They will then arrange themselves neatly in alphabetical order. This makes it easier to find them, and easier to load them into Comic Creator.

Next, get your cover image ready, because Comic Creator will demand that you insert a cover image before you can move beyond the first step. If you've already made a paperback of your book, take the cover you designed and resize it to Kindle dimensions. Crop it to get rid of the back cover.

When you have all your pages saved, open Comic Creator again. Once you've filled in all the initial stuff about language choice and orientation, you come to this screen.
Use the browse button to find your cover image and upload it.

Once the programme has found your cover image, its name and location appears in the Browse box, and the greyed-out button at the bottom becomes active.

So you can start adding pages. The Browse box opens again and you navigate to the folder where you've stored your Kindle-sized jpegs. Here's where all the alphabetical labelling pays off.

Click on the first one, labelled 'a'. Hold down Control and continue to click through all your images/pages in alphabetical order. They will all become highlighted. When you've highlighted them all, click Upload, and Comic Creator will upload them all, in order, at once. It might take a few minutes.
       When they're loaded into the programme, it looks like this: 



 The big screen is the previewer. To the left are the individual pages. Click on any page and it appears in the big central screen.

If the pages have somehow got out of order (maybe, like me, you still aren't too certain of the alphabet), you can drag them into the right position. If one didn't get properly clicked and hasn't uploaded, you can upload it separately and put it into the right place.

Once all the pages are in, you click 'Build' in the tool panel at the top left corner.


You then have to wait a few minutes - or go and have a bun - while KCC converts your book into a mobi file.

Then you go to KDP, and upload the mobi-file as your new picture book.




And there you have it. Not half as much trouble as the paperback book.

I can see how you might use this method to produce a beautiful illustrated story book, with pictures scattered through the text and decorated margins. It would have to be short, though. Setting the text in a graphics programme would be too tedious for anything longer.  

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Let's Try Something Old by Lev Butts

The fight over the supremacy of ebooks or "real" books roars on. Everywhere I look (on my Facebook feed), people are arguing back forth with the same venom and aggression as mildly inconvenienced English professors in a faculty meeting discussing the proper placement of desks and lecterns.

In a straight damned line, Barry! I'm tired of your hippie circle crap! 
It's getting pretty nasty out there for real. Clearly, people have not caught on that I settled this question years ago.

Spoiler Alert: They're both equally good but for different reasons.
Despite that, recently I found yet another tiresome list of why "real" books are superior. I thought about countering each of the reasons with an equally good reason for ebooks, but that would pretty much involve copying and pasting the blog I've already hyperlinked. Instead, I want to make the case for a third format by countering most of the points listed in the article.

5 Reasons Stone Tablets Are Better than Books

1. Stone Tablets Are Durable 

Lets face it: Neither ebooks nor traditional books have the staying power of a good stone tablet. Ebook batteries die eventually, necessitating replacement of the entire device since most ereaders do not have replaceable batteries. Many ebooks require replacement even before the battery life expires: they are not water resistant worth a damn, and their screens can break sometimes if you just stare at them too long.

I knew I took too long reading Chapter Eight of Fifty Shades.
Books either moulder in damp or dry up into brittle tissue in the dry air. Their pages tear if you're not careful or if you just put them in your satchel or if you turn them too quickly. Spines break if you read the book too much.

Take a moment to appreciate the irony.
Not so with stone tablets. Stone lasts centuries. It requires no batteries. It requires no ideal climate (I mean sure it does, but it's only a problem for your million-greatgrandchildren, and we'll have long destroyed ourselves before then).

2. Stone Tablets Are Multifunctional

Ebook readers are ebook readers. Yes you can do other things with them: Check your email, read comics, look at Facebook, maybe even read this blog, but it's all essentially the same thing. You're still holding and reading them.

Books are even less versatile. You just read the one thing that's printed on them and that's it. And yes, I know there's this whole "Let's decorate our living spaces with pages from books" fad going on, But you're still not using books: you're destroying books to use the bits for something else.

And let's, face it: the only folks that really go out for this sort of thing are hipsters doing it ironically, and don't we have enough irony in the world without creating more of it?

And besides, what the hell even is that thing anyway?
Stone tablets are way more versatile: In addition to books, stone tablets can double as doorstops, paving stones, wall hangings, Fred Flintstone's wheels, stairs, benches, desks, bookends. Even weapons!

After you have beaten the blasphemers and infidels to bloody pulps,
you can sit down with a nice cup of tea and read the Good Lord's Rule Book.
3. A Shelf of Stone Tablets Is WAY More Impressive Than a Shelf of Books

I don't even have to explain. You know in your heart of hearts, that this is awesome.

Seriously, which looks more impressive:

This:


Or this:


4. No One Is Damn Sure Going to Steal a Stone Tablet

The author of the linked article above, implies that no one cares enough about books to steal them because they are not as expensive as ereaders. Well, this is patently false. I am no angel. I have done my fair share of unethical things. I have stolen things, and the most common thing for me to steal has always been books. The first thing I ever stole was a Star Wars novel, The Splinter of the Mind's Eye. I have stolen from libraries, bookstores, even Goodwill stores. I'm not proud of it, but there it is.

No one, though, is going to steal a stone tablet. Not even if they wanted to. Assuming they can lift it, they probably are not going to be able to slip it nonchalantly in their pocket as they leave.

What? I had these when I came in.
5. We Need to Support Stonemasons

The final reason the article gives for books being better than ebooks is that we need to support bookstores. I could point out that this is not really a point of superiority of traditional books as much as it is a separate reason to buy them. Booksellers don't make books inherently better. Twilight, for example, is just as horrid a book regardless of where I buy it or how I read it.

However, I'd like to make the point that if booksellers are a breed on life support, stonemasons are actively circling the drain. Imagine the boon to this ancient industry we could provide if we simply decided to bring back the stone tablet. This would serve double duty as the same booksellers could make money by simply switching their wares from paper to rock.  It would also cut down on inventory loss. Win-Win-Win.

And you can use your purchase in the coffee shop
as a coaster or table depending on the size.
Ebooks are too expensive and fragile. Traditional books are also too fragile and easily stolen. Clearly, then, we need to look to the past to preserve our future. Stone tablets are the only sustainable way to go.

I have already reserved my new copy of Star Wars.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Planning, for travelling and for writing - Jo Carroll

It's that time of year again. The nights are drawing in and our thoughts are turning towards the winter.

Which means my thoughts are turning towards a winter trip. Where shall I go this year? I've long since abandoned any soul-searching about why I go away in the winter, leaving the rest of you in the dark and the cold. Just as I've long since stopped trying to work out why I write. I just do.

And researching the trip has writing parallels as well. Firstly, to choose a continent: I want to go to Africa as it's the only continent apart from Antarctica that I've not visited on my own. (Would I explore a new genre for the same reason? Possibly.)

Africa is huge. So I need to narrow things down a bit. Firstly: I'll stick to sub-Saharan Africa. That's still huge. So the next exclusion is anywhere obviously unsafe. In spite of all the hoo-ha, a trawl through the Foreign Office website and a couple of travel forums show that that most of Africa is fairly safe. Though I think I'll give the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia a miss.

Next, how easy is it to get about? Things begin to get tricky here, as some countries are fine in the dry season but have impassable roads in the wet.

Then, is there enough to of a tourist industry for me to be able to find agents and hotels? Will there be stuff to do? I don't need to be entertained every day, but I do want to get out and about and meet people and see the countryside.

Then - and this is often my final question and often a deal-breaker - are there elections when I want to visit? I choose not to visit any country when there are elections (I'm glad I'm not in America at the moment!).

The result: I'm off to Malawi after Christmas, for six weeks. I've a hotel in Lilongwe for three nights, and then ... who knows?

I approach each new writing project like that. I love every minute of the research, the planning, the what if ... then ...

And you? Even those of you who hate planning, surely you have a process of preliminary thinking that sets you off? Or do you really just start with a blank page and go for it?

(Maybe one day I'll try I turning up at an airport and seeing where the next flight goes?)

If you want to read more about my previous trips, follow the links on my website: jocarroll.co.uk

Thursday, 22 September 2016

How to launch your book, by Ali Bacon (with help from Wendy Jones!)

Ali Bacon at the St Andrews Photography Festival 
We Authors Electric are a far-flung bunch, but this month, through a happy coincidence, Wendy Jones and I found ourselves in roughly the same place at the same time. 

On Friday September 9th I was reading a programme of short stories in St Andrews in Fife as part of the town’s first Festival of Photography. Wendy, who lives just over the Tay Bridge in Dundee – said she could make it to St Andrews – and by the way, she had a book launch in Waterstones in Dundee the following day. 
Some mutual writerly support was on the cards!

I won’t elaborate on my own event right now (more coming soon on my own blog) except to say that I had an appreciative audience (including Wendy!) most of whom were fellow photography fans and some of whom were movers and shakers of the early photography world. As well as getting some great comments from the audience it was a fantastic networking opportunity for me. 

Wendy Jones - yes, really!
Then next day it was over to Dundee. Wendy has already built up a following for her Dundee police procedurals, but this was the start of a new series with Young Adult sleuths Flora and Freddie ready for an audience of ten years and upwards in The Dagger’s Curse.

I arrived a bit hot and bothered after a dash to and from the bus station, and as I dragged my overloaded flight-bag into Waterstones, for a minute I failed to recognise Wendy, already holding court to an audience of families and young folk and more than suitably dressed for the occasion! 

She was also accompanied by an impressively brawny assistant bearing a silver case which was grudgingly (racking up the tension!) opened to reveal a dagger resting on a purple cushion and pulsating with violet light. Wendy – dead pan – uttered many warnings about the dangers of the dagger for anyone who got too near it, which of course made the audience pay even more attention. What a great opener that was to Wendy reading from her book.

Is this a dagger I see before me?

Throughout the event Wendy was engaged with the children all the time and introduced one who had been written into the book – cue envious looks from the others and requests for future roles!

After two readings there were plenty of questions – some of them from Wendy’s adult crime fans which I’m sure were spontaneous but of course could have been stage managed if need be. The whole event was rounded off with a serving of that irresistible confectionery, Scottish tablet!

This book launch may have been aimed at children, but it was an object lesson for me in how to do it.
  • Plan ahead .Wendy had lots of helpers, including children, the dagger-bearer ...
  • ... and the maker of tablet - refreshments never go wrong
  • Think of it as theatre - get as much drama in as possible
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously (Wendy was happy to abandon her Egyptian outfit and hold court in t-short and shorts  as time went on!)
  • Be flexible – the shop was busy involving adhoc arrangements for those needing seats etc

So all I can say to Wendy is well done and good luck with The Dagger’s Curse. 

If the launch is anything to go by, it will be huge. I only hope she found something useful or entertaining in my own small piece of theatre. 







Then it was time to go home!

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Createspace and my Spelfall sequel - Katherine Roberts

It's taken me rather a long time compared to other authors here, but I've finally tackled Createspace and created a print-on-demand paperback version of my Spellfall sequel, Spell Spring... yes, look, it's a REAL book!

Reasons I am so late to the print-on-demand party:

1. Nearly all the books I've published indie so far have been reverted rights backlist titles, which have already sold x thousands of paperback copies while they were with their traditional publishers. I didn't see the point of producing a new print edition, while secondhand and 'new' copies of my backlist titles are still available on Amazon Marketplace and elsewhere for as little as 1p (plus postage). No way can a print-on-demand edition compete with that on price!

2. The cover looked tricky. Not only would I need to come up with a front cover design (a whole trick in itself), I'd need a spine of exactly the right width and a back cover with an ISBN barcode thingy and a print-quality file... ebook covers, in comparison, are easy-peasy.

3. Even after I had written my new book that did not have a previous print edition anywhere in the world, as a children's author with 16 traditionally published books so far, I still vaguely held on to the hope of selling it to my original publisher... and they did take a look at it... but in the end decided time (and my readers) had moved on... which is perfectly understandable after 15 years!

Anyway by early 2016, I had no contract for the Spellfall sequel that had taken me (slightly embarrassed cough, blame the fickle muse) 15 years to produce, yet I did not feel comfortable submitting the project to a rival publisher when Chicken House had put so much work into the original edition of Spellfall. My reasons to publish with Createspace suddenly started to look more attractive.

The first thing to get your head around after publishing ebooks is that pretty much everything is your decision, and if the book looks wrong then it's pretty much certain to be your fault - there's no clever e-device between you and your readers to sort out your formatting mistakes for you. When you set up a title, Createspace gives you a wide choice of trim sizes (size of the actual book), and on top of that you need to decide on your margins for the interior pages. I spent ages with a ruler and a stack of random books from my shelf, measuring things...

Random stack of books, all different sizes!

I soon realized that the standard UK size of a children's book is not the standard US size, and Createspace's suggested 6x9 inches is too big for both. After a bit of digging around on the forums, I discovered that 5.25x8 inches is the standard YA trim size in the US... that's the size of Amy Butler Greenfield's book "Chantress" in my pile, and since your book's official country of publication is apparently the country that provides your ISBN (in my case Createspace in the US), I decided to go with that. Also, at the set-up stage, you get to choose the colour of your interior paper. Novels I've seen printed on white paper always look rather strange to me, so I chose cream.

Interior formatting was a case of taking my original Word file and changing the page size to match my chosen trim size... at which point I noticed my word processing program works in centimetres, whereas CS works in inches, so that 5.25 is a challenging conversion (can we go back to inches and miles when we Brexit, do you think?)... then setting the margins according to my sample book measurements and remembering a gutter to account for the number of pages (Createspace will suggest a minimum gutter). Then you simply divide your book into sections - one for the front matter, one for the back matter, and one per chapter. Lay out your chapter headings to look like those in the published books you love the most, and add illustrations if you are using them... simples!

Well, not quite so simple maybe, but certainly possible even if you have an ancient Word program like mine that does not play nice with Createspace's interior template. Once my sections were set up properly, I found it easy enough to add my title, author name and page numbers to the various headers and footers. Then it was a case of going through the text and fixing any details that looked wrong, particularly paying attention to widows at the bottom of pages and orphans at the top (I think that's the right way around?) and the odd speech mark that can get separated across lines if your punctuation is strange. Close examination of my stack of published books showed that most of them don't bother too much about widows but you'll hardly ever find orphans at the top of pages. Unfortunately, there seems no way to do this properly except by going through every page by hand, since if you turn on Word's helpful widows/orphan control, you'll get decidedly unhelpful blank lines at the bottom of your pages where you don't want them.

At the end of the formatting process, you'll need to go through the book again and make a note of the page numbers for each chapter so you can add these to your contents page. Then simply upload your perfectly-formatted Word file to Createspace and they'll convert it to a pdf, which you can check using the interior reviewer where Createspace will helpfully flag any major formatting errors such as going outside the print margins, pictures that won't print well, missing fonts, etc. You can repeat this process as many times as you need to get the interior looking right, and believe me I needed to go round in several circles at this stage. You don't send the files in for official review until you're happy with this "soft" proof. (Note: you can only preview your interior file this way - there is no similar auto-generated preview for the cover, which might have saved the reviewers a few extra rounds in my case.)

Now for the fun part - the cover and interior illustrations.


Lord Hawk's familiar

Children's books for this age group often have small black-and-white pictures at the start of each chapter, so I drew some simple silhouettes, which I cut out of black paper and photographed on a plain background before transforming them into transparent backgrounds using online picture editor pixlr.com. I decided on a hawk (for my evil villain), a squirrel (for my young hero) and a unicorn (for the magic).


A squirrel called Chatterbox gets into the proof copy...

Then I got more ambitious and did the front cover art using pastels (because I wanted a dark background and they give a richer colour than watercolours). By pleasing accident, once this was reduced to book cover size, the purple background had a magical starry effect close up that fits the theme of my book. I then began a new project on canva.com (see Mari Biella's blog post about this brilliant online design tool) the exact size of the Createspace cover template for my book's number of pages, uploaded my artwork, added a dark purple background for the back cover and some star vectors from canva's free elements. I uploaded the Createspace cover template to canva and turned it slightly transparent as described in this helpful blog post from the YA-NA sisterhood so I could see what I was doing and get all the text and vectors etc. in the right place, before deleting the template, downloading a print quality cover and uploading that to Createspace. If all this sounds a bit long-winded, you can upload artwork straight to Createspace and design the whole cover there, but having already done the ebook cover at canva I wanted to use the same title font.

After ordering a proof copy from the US (Note: this took three weeks to arrive in the UK and you need to pay the postage), and getting someone else to read the book as well as reading it myself again, I made a few last-minute tweaks, corrected one or two typos I'd missed, and sent my updated files back in for review. I did the second proofing stage online, working with the original proof on my lap as a comparison and carefully checking all the pages I'd changed. I had not changed the page count so could use the same cover design... if you do change your page count at proof stage, watch that spine! As a final check, I plan to order a copy from amazon uk once this is available, mostly to compare this against the original US proof, since they'll have been printed on different machines in different countries. I hope that my book is perfect by now, of course, but the beauty of print on demand is that any boo-boos you've somehow overlooked can be sorted out quite quickly without going to the embarrassingly expensive lengths of having to pulp a whole print run. Also, no remainders... why not save trees if you can?

And that was it. I approved the proof and pressed publish earlier this month, which means you should now be able to order a paperback copy from amazon (still at cost price if you're quick!), and Spell Spring is on its way into expanded distribution for US libraries and possibly bookstores, though I took a free Createspace ISBN so don't be surprised if you don't see it in the shops.


A unicorn for the magic...

Conclusion? Publishing a paperback edition of a book, even as print on demand, feels much more real than publishing an ebook original. I was just as excited when I received the proof copy through the post as I am when a publisher sends me their first hot-off-the press copy of a book with a proper print run. This surprised me rather, since I'd paid for the proof copy myself, whereas when a traditional publisher sends you a proof they send it free and have also (hopefully) by then paid you a nice advance against your future royalties.

But, as ever with a creative project, it's not always about the money is it? I enjoyed learning some new skills to produce this book that should enable me to make print-on-demand editions of all my backlist titles available, such as "I am the Great Horse" where secondhand copies of the paperback will currently cost you about £150, and "The Great Pyramid Robbery" that brings in as much from photocopying fees each year via ALCS (Authors' Licencing and Collecting Society) than all of my ebooks combined. In the meantime, I hope that at least some of my Spellfall readers who wanted a sequel will get their hands on Spell Spring and enjoy returning to the enchanted land of Earthaven.

Buying it as a gift for a young reader? Look out for the matching print-on-demand edition of Book 1 Spellfall, coming soon...

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Katherine's first print-on-demand project is Spell Spring, the long-awaited sequel to her popular novel Spellfall:


(don't worry, there is an ISBN barcode thingy on the real book!)
Paperback

Also available as an ebook for:
Kindle
Nook
Apple
Kobo


Find out more about Katherine's books at www.katherineroberts.co.uk