Monthly Archives: November 2012

Come Together

So I was ready to re-create my book cover.  I downloaded a template from CreateSpace and prepared to edit it in GIMP.

This is what I got:

Book cover Template from CreateSpace

What was I supposed to do with this?!

Reading further on the CreateSpace Website, I discovered that this was to be the first layer of my new image.  I was to place my book cover elements over it in new layers, turn off this layer, and then export the my elements as a print-ready PDF document with embedded fonts.


I had little to no problem putting my own book cover elements over it.  It seemed that GIMP wanted to add a new layer for anything I added by default, so that was no problem.  Turning off the original layer?  Not that big a deal, either.

I started by adding a solid background the same size as the final book cover.  That way I could lay my cover and back cover elements over it and any uncovered areas would be the same color.  I just had to mentally remember not to put any elements in the lower right-hand corner of the back cover.  I still wanted to be able to see my guidelines, so once I had the background lined up, I turned it off until I was almost finished.

Although CreateSpace told me I wouldn’t need a spine for a book fewer than 100 pages or so, I created one anyway since there was a place for it on the template.  At the end of my editing, I eventually exported two versions — one with the spine and one without.  I submitted the one with the spine first, and figured if they rejected it, all I had to do was submit the other one.

For the back cover, I cropped my solid background to create an image the same size as my front cover art.  I saved this under a different name and used PhotoScape to create text blocks in the same way I added my author and title to the cover.  Then I layered the final result onto this image.   Then I saved the whole thing as a GIMP project file so I could edit it later if I needed to without having to create all of the layers again.

I was ready to export it as a PDF with embedded fonts.  Not as easy as I thought.

First of all, GIMP doesn’t have a function to export as a PDF.  I had a PDF printer installed on my computer already (CutePDF).  I used this on a regular basis to print online payment receipts and other things to PDF.   But I didn’t think it embedded the fonts.  (At least, there was no option to do so.  If it does, it does it without asking.)

I needed to be sure the fonts were embedded.  Once again, I’m cheap. (Do I really need to keep saying that?)  Free is best for me.

After a little research, I came up with another option. doPDF.  It does everything CutePDF does, but it also offers the option of embedding fonts. And (say it with me now): it’s free!

The only lingering question in my mind was this: is printing to PDF and exporting as a PDF the same thing?  Logic tells me “yes”, since you end up with a PDF file either way.  But we’re talking about computers here: logic doesn’t necessarily mean what I think it means.  All I could do was try.  My final book cover looked like this:

Final cover image - CreateSpace

The good news?  My cover was accepted, somewhat.  They recognized the PDF format and the embedded fonts.  CreateSpace removed the spine because my book was so short. But my first submission didn’t look right in the digital proof.  My cover art was too far to the right and was cut off.

I opened the GIMP project file and moved the cover layer over to the left a bit.  I printed a new PDF and uploaded it.  This time it was accepted.

The digital proof looked great.  I was ready to order a print copy of the proof for final review.

Next: Adventures in Kindle publishing, and a hiccup…


Filed under Notes from the Author, Welcome to Newtonberg

Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey

This is a public service announcement…. with guitar!

(Really, David?  Mixing The Beatles and The Clash?  Really?!)

Okay.  Maybe not “with guitar.”  But this is something I felt I should share, since this entire blog is about my experience with self-publishing.  This is about being taken advantage of — both you and and your readers.

There is a company called Stork Media that offers Welcome to Newtonberg through Barnes & Noble for (get this) $21.26 plus shipping. Not a bad little deal for them when it sells new for $9.99 from Amazon and CreateSpace.

At the moment, I don’t have a distribution agreement with B&N. While what Stork Media is doing is not illegal (after all, they’re just selling a used copy like plenty of other people do), I think the markup on it is unethical. Also, it seems like a waste of time: I mean, who’s going to pay $21 for a book that’s just shy of 100 pages, and can be had for half the price by clicking a different link? So if you’re interested in my book, please order it from Amazon or CreateSpace. While I happen to think it’s pretty good, it’s not worth $21.

Again: Stork Media is not doing anything illegal, and there’s nothing I can do to stop them from making a profit.  All I can do is put the word out there to my readers and hope that they will order the book from a more reputable source.  It’s not right that the seller should make more from the book than the author and publisher combined.

Next: Creating the book cover, part deux… (Take two)


Filed under Notes from the Author, Welcome to Newtonberg

Paperback Writer

Once the eBook was officially available, I took a week or so to let my friends and family know about it.  I was proud of the book and I was glad it was out there.  But as a life-long book lover and a library employee, I longed to hold the book in my hand.  A real, physical book that could sit on a shelf, gather dust, and live on long after I was gone.  A book that might somehow find its way into a used book store one day, where other people who never even met me might stumble across it.

I knew I couldn’t afford the actual self-publishing route, where you have to buy a certain number of copies.  For another thing, even if I could afford to do that, I have nowhere to store 100 or more copies of my book and no idea of how to distribute them.  But I could offer publish-on-demand.  Since the main purpose was to get the book out there, royalties weren’t a concern for me.

For various reasons (not the least of which was a built-in distribution through Amazon), I settled on CreateSpace. Since I already had the book formatted, all I would have to do would be to upload that and expand the cover a bit, right?  I mean, I had the front cover all ready to go.  I just needed to add a spine and the information for the back.




In a word — no.

First of all, CreateSpace has its own specifications for text formatting.  First you have to decide on which size you want for your final book. I decided on 5.5″ x 8.5″ (this is a standard trade paperback size).  Then you have to use one of their templates to format/re-format your book to that size.

This actually didn’t turn out to be that bad.  In fact, I think the formatting that I ended up with at the end of it was laid out much better than my original eBook.  I was able to add special dividing pages for each story and section.  I was able to utilize an actual Table of Contents. The pages had actual page numbers.  My title page looked like a real title page. My copyright page looked like a real copyright page.  Instead of just a Word document, it started to look like a real book to me.

But as for the cover? Well, they have an online cover creator, but it did not lend itself well to the way I wanted my cover to look.  I liked my cover.  Their online cover creator insists on adding the text for you; since the title and author were already part of my artwork, I couldn’t use it.

Luckily, they did offer templates for book covers, as well. You could download the template, layer your cover elements over it, and then save the whole thing as a PDF. The only thing was, I’d have to take the time to actually learn to use GIMP.

This wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought…

Next: Creating the book cover, part deux…


Filed under Notes from the Author, Welcome to Newtonberg

The Word

When I decided that I was going to publish Welcome to Newtonberg as an eBook, the first thing I did was go through all of my stories to choose which ones I would include. I’ve been saving these stories, written and edited in a number of different word processing programs, for almost twenty years. Notepad gave way to Wordpad, Wordpad gave way to Word in several different versions.  Occasionally I used OpenOffice or some other free program that I could install on my USB drive.

During this period, the files have also been saved on a variety of different media. Floppy disks got copied to other floppy disks, which got copied to hard drives, which got posted online, which got backed up to USB drives…

In short? In terms of formatting, my stories were a mess. And apparently it didn’t help matters that I had copied and pasted those stories into Word 2010 to create my final document.

Each word processing program adds its own coding behind the document you see. Sometimes, italics and bold print are done with style sheets, sometimes it’s specific to the particular word or phrase, similar to HTML code. The only way to get rid of it is to take it back down to base level (something SmashWords refers to as the “nuclear method”) by copying and pasting the whole thing into Notepad or another text-only editor to remove all of the formatting. Because I tend to hit the space bar twice when beginning a new sentence, I also had to do a find-and-replace to reduce all of those to one space.

Then you have to set up your new document in Word, define the styles (normal, heading, paragraph indents, etc.), copy and paste your document from Notepad back into Word, then go through your document again, assigning the styles as needed.

Because I knew I was going to have to do all of this, I printed out a copy of the complete book, italics and all before I “nuked” it.  Then I went through the manuscript with a highlighter, marking any italicized or bold-faced words. I marked any places where the text was indented or centered. I needed to add a few things to the book.  A title page, copyright page, and an “About the Author” section finished out the book. I also took this opportunity to do a final proofread, making a very small number of changes to the text. I incorporated all of these changes as I went through the document to re-format.

I am a creature of habit. As I went through the document, I will admit that it was very hard for me to not simply use CTRL-I to italicize and CTRL-B to boldface. It was also difficult for me to manually assign page breaks and not simply press ENTER until I reached a new blank page. And it was nearly impossible for me to assign titles to the sections of my book using pre-defined header formats than to simply highlight it, center it, and hit CTRL-B.

One of the things that I had to wrap my head around was how different an eBook really is from the printed version. Pages as we know them don’t exist. An eBook is much closer to a Webpage than a printed page. My background in Web design helped immensely.  When I started to think of the Table of Contents as hyperlinks rather than an index, it started to make sense to me.

From start to finish, re-formatting the book only took me a few hours, since I had my printed manuscript as a guide.  Of course, my manuscript was significantly shorter than most.  Single-spaced on normal 8-1/2″ x 11″ paper, it takes up only about 60 pages or so.  My printed book, on 5-1/2″ x 8-1/2″ paper, is just shy of 100 pages.  Your formatting time will vary based on the length of your manuscript and how much re-formatting is needed.  If your book involves pictures, that will add to the time.

Still, the process itself is relatively painless if you follow the instructions in the Smashwords Style Guide. I cannot stress enough how important this guide is if you want your book to be accepted the first time and be included in their premium catalog.

So, now the book was ready to submit. I logged onto SmashWords and simply filled out the form that was there.  I decided to price the eBook at $2.99 since it was just a book of short stories, barely 100 pages in all.  If it had been a novel-length work, I’d have priced it higher; but as an eBook reader myself, I know there is no way I personally would pay more than that for such a short book.  I attached the cover art and the DOC file containing the actual book and clicked “Submit.”

I breathed a sigh of relief and waited to hear back from SmashWords. I’d never have to re-format this book again, right?



Next: I have an idea — let’s print this thing!

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Filed under Notes from the Author, Welcome to Newtonberg

I Me Mine

After I exported the resulting image from FotoSketcher as a PNG file, it was time to add the title and author information to the cover.

My first thought was to simply put a bordered box on the cover with the information.  However, that would cover up too much of the image.  I liked the whole street scene and wanted readers to be able to see as much of it as possible.

Simply putting the text over the image was out, as well.  Aesthetically, it just didn’t look good.  The background was busy; text would be hard to read.

The solution presented itself: PhotoScape had the function to create a semi-transparent box (semi-opaque box?  Six of one, you know the rest…) on an image.  I could create one, then put my text in that.  The words would be legible, but it wouldn’t mess up the image too much.

Opening the image in PhotoScape, I chose the “Editor” function.  From there, I chose the “Objects” tab at the bottom of the screen and clicked on the “Rounded Box Mode” button.

Before drawing the box, I chose a white background color, since I thought that would look best for the semi-transparent box.  I set the opacity level somewhere around 20% (it’s not an exact science, since there aren’t any indicators), and drew my box.

A couple of warnings about PhotoScape — first of all, CTRL-Z is your best friend.  You can’t move the box after it has been drawn, so if you put it in the wrong place, you have to undo it and do it again.  Secondly, if the opacity level is off, you also have to undo.  My suggestion is to draw boxes until you get the opacity level right, and then focus on getting it in the right location.

Cover with title box

Once the box was drawn, I was ready to add the text.  Again, this was pretty simple — I just chose the “Text” button (also in the”Object” tab).  This brought up a text window where I could enter my text and play with font faces, size, opacity, shadow, etc.  Since I wanted the title and author to be two different sizes, I did this step twice.  The first time I took care of the title and got it the way I wanted in a larger font size. (Note that the font size in the text window only goes up to 100-point.  Once you have the text box on the screen, you can drag the text box to make it even larger.) 

Once I got that, I created another text box, added the author information, and set the font size smaller.  I moved the individual text boxes around on the screen until they were right where I wanted them.

Cover with author and title

The cover still looked a little plain to me, though; almost as if someone had just plastered a sticker over it with the title and author information.  What to do?

I decided to dress it up a little bit with a couple of flourishes above and below the text.  Back to the Google/Bing search.  I searched for “flourishes”, “curlicues”, “text art”, and anything else I could think of.

One of the challenges was size.  Remember, this book cover was 1600 x 2560 pixels, so the flourishes would have to be large, too.  It’s easy to find flourishes/curlicues that are about 150-200 pixels wide, but they look horrible once you blow them up.  You have to find one that’s about 500-750 and shrink it down.

The other challenge was opacity.  I either had to find GIFs or PNGs, or I had to find JPGs with a solid background color that I could convert.

After a while of searching I found one that would work.  I also created a copy that was mirror image so the flourishes would be symmetrical.

Once I had my flourishes, I used the “Photo” button on the “Objects” tab to insert them into the image.  Since my originals were GIFs, there were some areas right around the flourish that weren’t transparent and caused a bright white edge to appear around the flourish. I played with the opacity a bit to remove these harsher edges.

PhotoScape - almost finished
I had my cover image.  Almost.

All I had to do was to take it back into FotoSketcher and add a canvas texture to it.  Even though I was happy with the semi-transparent box, it still looked pasted on.  I wanted the whole thing to look like a work of art.

I exported the whole thing as a PNG file from PhotoScape and opened the image up in FotoSketcher. I chose “Frame, Texture, and Text Only” from the “Drawing Style” menu.  Because I had originally used the “Oil Pastel Sketch (color)” option, I chose “Strong Texture” to make the final image look more like a painting.

FInal book cover

(To fully appreciate the difference the canvas texture makes, be sure to click on the two previous images and compare them.  And yes, I am aware that the flourishes are different on this image than on the previous image. Laziness has its drawbacks.)

And that was it.  I had my final cover.  I was ready to upload my eBook to SmashWords.

Wasn’t I?

Next: Formatting, formatting, and (wait for it)… MORE formatting!

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Filed under Notes from the Author, Welcome to Newtonberg