Unexpected Bonuses by Dennis Hamley

All my life I've tried to avoid feeling smug about anything because it's a very dangerous condition to be in. However, just this once I've indulged myself. I've put two books on Createspace, the second much more quickly and easily than the first, so I must have climbed the learning curve with unexpected and unaccustomed despatch. I know the first book and the second proof copy I'm admiring at this very moment are the inevitable result of a well-tried process and really just bog-standard paperbacks but I still haven't quite got over the incredulity of realising that I actually brought them into being. Fellow IT-deficients can take heart.

My reason for trying out Createspace in the first place was to test it out to see if it would be a cheap and immediate way to produce print copies for Blank Page Press, when the last obstacles to making it run the way we'd like it to are surmounted (yes, I know it's been an unconscionably long time). Createspace's main attraction is that it's free at the point of delivery so we don't have to commit money which we haven't got yet on printing contracts. I wanted to know how to do it, how time-consuming it was and whether, because I'd heard criticisms of the quality of the product, using Createspace with our own Neilsen-provided ISBNs might do little for our reputation.

It's next day now: I wrote the first paragraphs last night.  I see that I used the phrase 'bog-standard' and mentioned the quality issues some people report.  But hardly as I sat down at the computer, the entry-phone rang and I let in a man carrying a box. I signed for it, opened it - and found the ten finished copies I'd ordered of Out of the Deep, my ghost story collection, the second book I've subjected to this process. And I gasped. Nothing 'bog-standard' about this and no complaints about quality. It is a very, very handsome book indeed, well-bound, substantial, good to hold because the gutter on the inside of each page is wide enough to mean you don't have to stretch the book open  unduly as you read.  An alarming number of commercially published books are very bad at this. The formatting on the beginner's template really works. My favourite font, Baskerville Old Face, looks lovely. All I want now is for a few people to buy it.  I suppose that's down to me. It won't sell itself.     
         Product Details
Sadly unclear  picture of a great cover - and with extracts from reviews by Mari and Valerie on the back!

By the way, one or two reviewers of the first ebook edition pointed out that there were some unsightly typos in it. And they were right. I was ashamed of them - sheer carelessness and trying to do things too quickly. Well, they are all gone now, both in the paperback and the ebook.

I have one or two observations to make about the Createspace process. These may be obvious to most of you but they sure weren't to me and I'm slightly surprised at what facility outside Createspace they give. One of the things which, early on, I couldn't fathom was this: when I first started I downloaded  a template, inserted the text, put it in Interior Review, noted the issues, tried to sort them out and then closed the file and signed out thinking this was an absolute doddle. When, next day, I returned to it I clicked on the book title to open it - and nothing happened. I single-clicked, double-clicked, left-clicked, right-clicked and the title still stared stonily at me. I left it in disgust and didn't look at it again for weeks, assuming that Fate was against me and I just wasn't meant to do it. When I finally came back to it I was soon just as frustrated and emailed Createspace. I had a  reply, courteous, clear but in a tone which suggested that they knew they were talking to an idiot, telling me to do all the things which I thought I'd already done. I think I put something on AE Private about my difficulties and had replies which suggested that some of you also thought I was an idiot.

But then a great light dawned. I had somehow assumed that the whole process was contained within the programme so nothing could get out to non-users. By this reasoning it followed that when I made alterations in Word I had to download a new template inside Createspace and laboriously transfer everything I had been working on into it. It simply hadn't occurred to me that the process was exactly the same as for Kindle. There were some implications here. Just to experiment, I started to copy a book in Word onto a template already used for another book, deleting the old one as I went. Would this upload onto Createspace or do you have to use new templates for each book? I had a feeling that it would be the second.

But it wasn't. The template uploaded perfectly well, so I decided to let it stay there and be my next book. It looks so good in Createspace, formatted and completely print ready, paginated and with prelims nicely separated from text, that I decided there and then to do everything I would in future submit to any publisher, whoever it was, on an old Createspace template. They would get something far better than the usual Word document double-spaced on A4. The 1.15 spacing looks beautiful, clear, print-ready and  excellent for an editor's pencil. And they'll love you because you've done all the work for them almost without noticing. If any non-Createspacer wants to have a go, I'll send them an old, pre-used, pre-loved template to play with.

Well, what is this next book? I said last time that I was putting old books and new compilations of old stories on Createspace under the imprint JOSLIN BOOKS and leaving any what I call 'major' work to Blank Page Press when it finally lumbers into action. So I'm now putting two 'new' books on the Joslin Books list - the first two in my Bright Sea, Dark Graves series. The first, now complete, is The Guns of St Therese and the second, just being finished, is The Nightmares of Invasion. Nelson's Navy - but for kids, so nowhere near as outspoken as Jan's books. But they have their moments. Guns was actually accepted for publication by Catnip and they promised a contract within a month. A year later my agent finally flushed an excuse out of them: a new editor had decided that 'it isn't now part of our future plans.' Another episode in the process of weary disillusion. The second is nearly finished and I'll probably be sending it out to Julia and Jan for my howlers to do with sailing to be eradicated - if they're willing.

Guns will be published as soon as the cover is done. I'm not going outside for this one. I'll use the cover template and Kay and I will do it together.  A few years ago we were in Skye and Kay painted a marvellous cloudscape at dusk. 

From Trotternish looking over to Dunvegan

It's hanging in our flat and there it stays. But it fits perfectly with a scene in the story where the frigate HMS Fortune limps into the Bay of Melusine, on the coast of Brittany, just five miles west of the harbour at St Therese (don't bother looking on a map!) after a skirmish which has left her with no mizzen mast and wrecked steering, to try to make overnight jury repairs without being detected. 

So, when we've sorted out how to use Microsoft Paint, there will be the dark silhouette superimposed on the sea of the stricken Fortune slipping into the bay and title and author discreetly placed so as to be well visible - but not enough to draw attention from the picture. And I think that will be a great cover for this particular book. It will be a paperback - and this time I'll use their offer of free upload to Kindle, which will save me some work, always a good thing.

If anyone would like a free copy to read - and hopefully review - and also, if non-Createspacers, want to have a go at uploading something onto the same template as a dummy run without actually having to sign up, then let me know and I'll send it to you.

And, to end with, while we're talking about ships on seas, here's another ploy to make me get down to some proper work. I see to my horror that it's two years since I blogged about my in-progress novel about Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Since then it's made perilously little progress, though it's actually quite close to being finished. Well, two months ago the Aidan Meller Gallery in Oxford had an exhibition of work by the Bloomsbury group, which we went to. And there we found some prints by Duncan Grant illustrating a limited edition of The Ancient Mariner. Well, I thought, they're OK, I suppose. But then I saw a print of the 'painted ship upon a painted ocean' and something told me to buy it. 

And here it is, now hanging in a place right over my desk. I'm always aware of it as I work, with a pitiless sun staring down and its reflection staring up at me and saying, 'Get on with it, Hamley, and stop prevaricating or you'll be as bad as the man you're writing about.'

Time alone will show if it will make me.


cally phillips said…
Dennis, I'm so glad to read how you've cracked that steep learning curve and got publishing POD with Createspace. It's very freeing once you get over the 'issues.' And yes, once you get a good CS template, stick with it, that's what I do, some 50 books down the line I'm using such templates even on books I don't put up with CS.

I have had some bad past experiences with CS quality in the past (and the only worry remains that if one's customers get shit quality covers - squint, badly cut on angles, text at sea sick angles inside - will they blame the publisher or CS... but this is a while ago and I was trying to get 32 series volumes to look identical which to be fair was probably not what CS is designed for... so I won't hold it against them.

Although I do now use primarily a dedicated POD book publisher in UK to print books. They have wider choice of paper and I do love that bookwove feel to pages. But you can use both at the same time (if you use your own ISBN) the only perhaps fiddle is that you have to rejig the cover/page/spine size because UK use cm's and US use inches and the books don't ever seem to fall into exactly the same size - not at the size I use anyway which is standard paperback size. If you use slightly bigger - demi royal for example it might not be the case. I know you've used Berforts before and they are great but not set up for true POD whereas the guys I've used since 2006 PrintOnDemandWorldwide.com in Peterborough are really clued up in that respect. As such, you do need to know what you're doing before you use them, but now you've cracked CS that shouldn't be a problem. something to think of for the future. I'm just about to bring out a series of 7 books called THE RAINBOW CROCKETT which I haven't CS'd yet because I've just about hit the tipping point where I'm selling more online through my own online store than on Amazon - not that I'm selling millions anywhere - so it's just a reminder that while Amazon seem to be the only shop in town, there are actually many other ways to sell a book - but of course, as ever, it's horses for courses.

anyway, this is just a shout from beyond AE to warn you that once you get into the whole process of publishing (as you clearly are) you have even less time to write so FINISH COLERIDGE and GET HIM OUT THERE... I want to read the finished book. Best of luck Blank Press and three cheers Dennis for sticking with it through thick and thin!
Jan Needle said…
I wish you two would stop it! I know and love you both personally, and I've even slept in both your dwellings, and I DO NOT BELIEVE IT'S EASY! All right? It's impossible!!!!! Writing the bloody things is the easy bit, and one has a little mairn to do the rest.

So there.

PS Can't wait (as teenagers say) to see the nautical book, Dennis. I hope to have you in tears. Technical ishoos? - You won't know your martingales from your cringles when I've finished with you! Yah boo sucks.
Anonymous said…
This makes me almost feel brave enough to try and do this part myself with the next s-p book, instead of paying a designer to create PDFs. Almost.
Dennis Hamley said…
Have a go, Jen. You won't regret it (although, as I say that, I'm a bit guilt-ridden about taking away someone's livelihood!) Thanks, Cally, as always, for wonderful, experienced advice. I'm going to buy one of my CS books in the usual customer's way because it will be produced in the UK and I'll see any changes and/or deficiencies for myself. It's a pity about Berforts not doing a full PoD service because I think they're terrific. They did a lovely job on the limited edition Spirit of the Place hardback. (NB, THERE ARE STILL COPIES FOR SALE). Sadly, however, when I look at it soberly I realise what a wretched text I sent them, having assured them I would hand over perfect print-ready copy. It's too big on the page, the running titles are out of control because I didn't know you had to do separate headers for each chapter with section breaks so that the titles don't appear over the first page of every chapter and all through the prelims. And also, biggest faux pas of all, all the chapters start at the top of the page and not ten spaces below. What on earth was I thinking of? If I'd had a CS template then, this would never have happened. I use the standard 9 inch by 6 inch book size which CS seem to think is the best. I was slightly surprised to find that no book I possess is exactly the same size, even though they look it at first sight. I wouldn't advocate leaving the EU because of book sizing but I do think Cameron should put it on his list of red line demands.

Jan, you've read the nautical book already and given me marvellous advice about one of the characters which I've taken, though not quite in the way you suggested. Would you look at the second when it's ready? Why do you want me to break down sobbing?

The Duncan Grant print hasn't done the job I bought it for yet, but I can see that it's boiling up for an argument about it.
Lydia Bennet said…
So interesting and encouraging, Dennis, good to see you have so many projects on hand, as ever! I've not tried Createspacing yet myself so all talk of templates is at present a closed book but there are so many learning curves it's hard to get onto them all. How rude of the publishers not to tell you they'd had second thoughts, this kind of thing really rips my knitting.
Dennis Hamley said…
'Rips my knitting.' What a great expression, Valerie. I might use it myself some time.
glitter noir said…
Jeezlaweez, Dennis. You're right up there now, in my mind, with Chris in terms of techno-savvy. Terrific and enlightening post. Still, I'll need to pay someone when it's my time to Createspace.
Chris Longmuir said…
Dennis, congratulations on mastering CreateSpace, but the reason that 9 x 6 is the default size and recommended by Amazon is because this is a US size not a UK one. I make my books 8.5 x 5.5 which is the UK trade paperback size. If you use the 9 x 6 size it will stand out as different on bookshop shelves, and quite frankly when I see this size I immediately think 'self-published', not that there's anything wrong with that but it does put some buyers off.

The other thing I've done is tailored the CreateSpace template to my specific requirements eg font, spacing, chapter headings etc. I've added in extra chapters, but I don't do it from chapter 10 which is the last chapter in the template. I do it from one in the middle like Chapter 5, but any chapter except for the last one. The reason for this is because the formatting is held in the page break at the end of each chapter, and the final chapter is, of course, different formatting. Then I've saved the template as my createspace book template, giving it a different file name to the one Amazon uses. Then each time I format a new book I take a copy of this template and use it, keeping the original for future use. I'm afraid I'd be in the nerves if I was copying and pasting over a previous book. I'd probably land up with a rogue chapter which had nothing to do with the book I was publishing. So being the paranoid personality I am I'd be reading it over and over again, afraid to press the button.
Great post though and I'm glad it worked out all right. We'll make a techie of you yet.
Dennis Hamley said…
Thanks for that advice, Chris. I noticed your Detective Fiction and the Indie contribution was a smaller size that Sue's Ghost Drum, the first two CS books I bought, but I put that down to mere personal preference. I'll use 8.5 X 5.5 in future. I've just put Out of the Mouths of Babes on a recycled template and managed to do Chapter 10 twice! Soon remedied, but hard to spot because the book has 32 chapters!They all went on with no trouble, by the way. But now I'll have to reload it onto another template set at 8.5 X 5.5. No matter. We live and learn and deep down we love it really!

Reb, you mustn't find someone to pay. You can do this thing, you can, you can! And it's fun. It is, it is!
Enid Richemont said…
Dennis - I am breath-whelmed (nice new word). Would you please send me that template if you have a mo? I have only recently managed, via blood, sweat, tears and many verbal obscenities, to re-publish "KACHUNKA!" as an ebook, and to date, I've had only one buyer (thanks Sandra) who gave it a glowing review. Oh, and I bought it myself,of course, to check (which ought to make two) and it hasn't come out perfectly (the toc running into the titles and dedication). I should also have added the guff about other books, which David always did and I didn't - may have to edit and re-publish.

Look forward hopefully to being part of BPP. Oh, and re-Catnip - they seems to have re-moggiefied themselves into something else, and THEY NEVER RESPOND TO EMAILS.

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