Tag Archives: GIMP

The Best of You

…Or, “Self-publishing, Mariachi-style”

I’ve been (re-)reading Robert Rodriguez’s books Rebel Without a Crew and RoadRacers: the Making of a Degenerate Hot Rod Flick. This must be my third or fourth time through Rebel and my second through RoadRacers, and it finally struck me: self-publishing is actually doing what Robert Rodriguez did, but with the printed format instead of films.

Let me explain: Robert Rodriguez made his first movie, El Mariachi, for $7,000. He was the entire crew. He conceived it, wrote it, shot it, edited it, and managed to get one of the most powerful agents in Hollywood to sell it to Columbia Pictures — even though that was not his original plan.

Well, the concept, writing, shooting and editing were, but he never planned on the movie being released theatrically. His original plan was to shoot three movies directly for the Mexican home video market, make all his mistakes there, and then show up in Hollywood ready to take on a “real” movie.

Self-publishing is doing the same thing. We are conceiving, writing, editing, formatting, and submitting our works to be published; either in eBook or print form, or possibly both. We ARE the crew. We’re learning as we go, and we’re saving a ton of money. And then, maybe… MAYBE… an agent or publisher will notice us and give us our big break.

Or not. Either way, the stories get out there for people to read, right?

In his books, Rodriguez talks about shooting “Mariachi-style.” This means taking inventory of your assets and working from there. When he wrote El Mariachi, he knew he had access to certain places for filming, specific guns, which type of camera. He knew his limitations and worked within them. Anything else would have cost more money.

With self-publishing, you do the same thing. If you have access to a computer with Microsoft Word, that’s great. You don’t have to pay extra. If not, use one of the free programs that are compatible with Word.

Need help formatting? Decide on your book’s size before you start, then download the free template for it from CreateSpace or Lulu or wherever you choose to publish.

If you’re designing your own cover, this means either utilizing your own artistic talent or that of someone you know who will work with you at a substantial discount — or better yet, free. In my case, it means going out with my sister and nephew to take pictures, then deciding which one fits my idea for the book cover.

One of the things I’ve talked about on this blog is free software, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. My first two books were written using Microsoft Office. For my third, I’ve swapped over to Atlantis, which is portable and free so I can use it on any Windows-based computer with a USB port that I have access to. I will still do my final layout in Word — but that will also be free, because I already have it. If my computer isn’t working, I can do it at the public library.

The photo editing software I use is free (and a lot of it is also portable). Between FotoSketcher, PhotoScape, and GIMP, I’ve got it covered. I use doPDF to create the final cover art and book file for CreateSpace.

The one place I fall down in Mariachi-style publishing is in self-publicity. While Robert Rodriguez is a master of putting himself out there, I’m still not at that point. I know that if I want to be more successful I’ll have to get over it. Or get over myself. Whichever it takes.

All I know is that I’m having fun. And if writing isn’t fun, you’re not doing it for the right reasons.

(Oh, by the way — that’s a Foo Fighters reference in the title.)

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What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round?

(Blog entry title courtesy of The Monkees.)

I know that this entry was supposed to be about designing the book covers; but quite frankly, the process was exactly the same as last time. The only noteworthy change is that the new version of GIMP allows export to PDF, so I didn’t have to use a different program for that. So I decided not to write about that.

So onto something new.

Patience is something that I do not have in great abundance. I’ve been on pins and needles, waiting to announce that the book is available, but that announcement depends on one thing: the lyric rights to “All That Remains” by the Lost Dogs.

I submitted my request two weeks ago. According to the website of the music licensing company, the whole process could take as little “as a few days” if done electronically instead of by snail mail. Even by mail, it should only take four or five weeks. I e-mailed them after ten days, just a gentle little nudge asking if I’d done everything correctly and if I provided enough information.

So far, I’ve heard nothing.

Zero.

Zilch.

Radio silence.

So now, I’m at an impasse. I can continue to wait to hear from them, or I can give up and move on. I’ve considered re-instituting the poem I wrote originally, just in case I couldn’t get the rights to the lyrics. Now, however, I’m leaning toward just putting a couple of quotes at the beginning, like I did with Welcome to Newtonberg.

I know that this digital culture has spoiled me. We’ve all gotten so used to instant gratification that we turn into little Veruca Salts when we don’t get an immediate response (“I WANT IT NOW!”).

So I’ll give it another week. According to their own FAQ, three weeks should be more than sufficient for a response. If I haven’t heard anything by next Wednesday, I’ll go another route. No bad feelings, no regrets. It’s still a good song, it’s still out there, and my measly $20 contribution for the lyric rights is probably won’t be missed.

Next time: Hopefully, the BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!

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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.

R-riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigggggggggghhhhhhht.

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…

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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.

Right?

Right??

Right???

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…

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Here, There, and Everywhere

So, I needed a cover for my eBook.

SmashWords specified that in order to be listed in their Premium catalog, and to be listed in iTunes, the cover had to be at least 1400 pixels wide.  Amazon recommended at least 2500 pixels tall.  I set the goal for my beginning image to be at least 1600 x 2560, to maintain a pleasing image that wasn’t too narrow.  But where to begin?

Well, I knew I couldn’t afford to commission a cover image from anyone I knew.  I had no money, and I wasn’t about to ask my friends to do it for free.

I could, however, find a photo online.  I knew that I needed to find a picture that was either copyright free or royalty free.  Or, I could simply ask.  No harm in asking, and after I finished converting the image into the way I thought my cover should look, it wouldn’t be the original photo anymore.  It would be derivative art; so all I really needed was the photographer’s permission.

If I could find the appropriate image to start with, I had access to several free image editing programs that I knew I could use to create what I wanted. (Yes, I did say “free.”  I told you I was cheap.)

These programs are:

  1. FotoSketcher (http://www.fotosketcher.com): To allow me to convert the original photograph to a sketch, a painting, a drawing, or any number of other artistic styles.  It would also allow me to add a “canvas overlay” effect at the end to really make the whole thing look like a real painting.
  2. PhotoScape (http://www.photoscape.org): For adding text, shadows, etc.
  3. GIMP (http://www.gimp.org): For everything else, including the final cover layout for the print book (but more on that later).

(I could probably have done all of the image manipulation in GIMP if I had taken the time to learn the program better, but I was already comfortable with FotoSketcher and PhotoScape, so things went quicker for me, even though I used several programs.  To keep the image quality from downgrading too badly, I saved each stage as either a PNG or TIFF file [depending on which format the program supported] until the final step, when I exported the completed cover as an uncompressed JPEG.)

I had the software, I just needed the image.  Like almost everyone else, my first thought was to try Google.  Google Images, however, doesn’t allow you to search by a specific size.  Limiting results to “Large” says that the width has to be at least 1776 pixels, which is good, but that the height can be as little as 810 pixels. It doesn’t allow you to specify the orientation of the picture; in this case, I absolutely wanted a portrait orientation.

Bing Image search allows you to limit the results more, including the orientation, size, and result type.  So I started there.

This part took the longest, just scrolling through the results, trying to find what I wanted.  I tried dozens of search terms in various combinations.  I even switched back to Google Images anyway, regardless of their search engines limitations. Finally tried searching Flickr as well, using their search engine to limit the results by Creative Commons license terms.  If I could find a picture where the photographer has already spelled out that derivative works could be made from it, then I was a step closer to finishing my book cover.

After all of that, I ended up with three possibilities.  I e-mailed the Websites where all three photos appeared, asking permission to use the photo and explaining what I wanted to do with it.

Finally, I got a response.  The response came from a different e-mail address than where I’d mailed the request.  Apparently the Website I’d e-mailed forwarded my request to the original photographer. (This was one of the reasons for the permissions issue I mentioned in my last blog entry.)

At any rate, the photographer gave me his blessing, and it was time to begin.

Next: Converting the original photo using FotoSketcher…

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Filed under Notes from the Author, Welcome to Newtonberg