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 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 (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...

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!)

Also available as an ebook for:

Find out more about Katherine's books at


Dennis Hamley said...

Welcome to Createspace, Katherine! Yes, the process is indeed intensely satisfying. I noted Mari's opinion of and you've convinced me that it might not be beyond my puny capabilities to try myself. But one thing I noticed that I didn't know. Can you really get cost price UK printed copies from Amazon? How long is the grace period? I've been buying author copies from the US, which means a long wait and a hefty bill for carriage. I really think that imposing this burden on UK Createspacers is dreadful and must be so technologically easy to sort out that it seems to border on vindictiveness. We should get a mass national petition going. Might 38 Degrees help? Another gripe - having to reserve six copies for legal deposit and send them at my own expense is monstrous. They're always complaining about lack of storage space and spending billions trying to extend it. So why don't they accept PDFs? By the way, I think it may be a good idea and worth the expense to provide your own ISBNs.

Katherine Roberts said...

Hello Dennis - just checking my post went up and found your comment! I agree about the nuisance of buying author copies from the US, which is why I'm trying it this way... you can set your list price to the minimum allowed for the book (in Spell Spring's case £5.99), and if you order at least two books from amazon uk you get free postage... at the current exchange rate of dollars to the pound, unit costs then work out at less than the CS author price plus postage from the US, and it's much faster, or that's the theory! After you've ordered you can raise your prices again to give you a royalty on future sales. It's a bit of a risk since others can also buy the book at your cost price until you do that, but so far nobody has ordered a copy of SS so I guess I won't be losing millions...:-) If I were planning a big launch, I'd wait until I got the price up again before doing that! I'm still experimenting with costs, but there's a lot of discussion on the CS forum about it.

Oh, and, ISBN's... again, another extra cost if you buy your own, and if you get them from the UK that means doing the library deposit thing over here too. I understand my free one is registered with Books In Print in the US by Createspace, so I won't need to buy and send copies to the UK libraires... though I guess if they made it possible to register digitally, then I might reconsider. But at the moment I really have no money to spare for these things and do not anticipate more than a handful of sales.

Chris Longmuir said...

Katherine, you should be able to change cms to inches in Word. I use an ancient version of Word as well (2003) because I don't like the new interface. If your version is similar to mine you'll find the place to change cms to inches in the Tools drop down menu. Go into Options and click on the General tab, you'll find it there. Good luck with the book.

JO said...

Well done - I agree that producing a print book is a whole new challenge, and hugely satisfying, once you've recovered from the caffeine-overdose needed to manage the technology!

Bill Kirton said...

Congratulations on joining the club, Katherine. My early efforts with CS took hours and many mistakes were still made. It does get easier, though, now that you've been through the learning process. But then I have to confess that I haven't yet had to confront the challenge of in-book illustrations. Bravo.

Katherine Roberts said...

Thanks, Chris, I'll have a look for that option (though my Word is even more ancient than yours so might not even have it).

Hours? More like months in my case, Bill...! But those interior illustrations were a piece of cake compared to the cover and interior formatting. At first I tried some pictures that CS told me wouldn't print very well, so I simply upped the size of my jpg files a bit and they look great in the printed proof. But if you're looking for more expertise on interior pictures, Sue Price is the one who has a colouring book out...