Saturday, December 22, 2012

Physicality - Print on Demand

I dipped my toe into the self-publishing world by putting out a few novellas as electronic books. It seemed like a good format for the stories, and it was pretty easy to get things ready for electronic publication. It was also free, which is nice when you're starting out and trying to learn as you go. Smashwords made everything quite easy - their formatting guide is very well done and works to get a document ready for conversion to any ebook format.

But having an electronic book out there is not quite the same as having a physical book. Let's face it, even as the world is embracing ebook readers, we all want to see our name on an actual book that sits on a real bookshelf.

Self-printing, however, used to be an expensive proposition. Printing up a few copies was inordinately costly, and if you printed in quantities large enough to get the cost of a single book down to reasonable levels then you were stuck with thousands of books that you might never sell. It was a risky endeavor.

But Print-On-Demand (POD) has changed that. Printing has become inexpensive enough to do in small quantities. Several different companies exist that allow you to create a book but each copy is printed only when it's ordered. And the costs are comparable to books published by the rest of the industry.

I've been looking at the POD options for a while and decided to give it a test run. I chose Amazon's CreateSpace because I already have my ebooks on Amazon and because it's cheap and easy. Lulu is another very popular service and there are more.

I plan to eventually publish the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo, but it still has lots of editing to do before it's ready. So I decided to compile the three novellas I already have out there into a single book. The main purpose was to go through the whole process to see what it's like. Here's how it went.

I started with Word documents that were formatted cleanly for ebook conversion. I downloaded the template from CreateSpace for the size book I wanted (I went with 5x8 since it's a relatively short book). Then I just copied and pasted from my document into the template. It was easy enough to create the document, but the little details proved trickier.

One of the first things that's necessary is to eliminate widows and orphans. These are single lines that get separated from a paragraph by a page break - ending up alone at the top or bottom. They just don't look right and they interrupt the flow of reading. Luckily Word has a feature that eliminates them for you by adjusting the line count on the page. You have to go into the settings to change it, but easy enough.

click picture for larger version
Another thing that proved tricky was getting the headers and footers to work. You want your name at the top of the page with the title on the facing page. You need page numbers as well. The tricky part is that you don't want them on the first page of a chapter. Ultimately I had to go into the document and make each chapter a new section so you could control the headers and footers within the section and keep the first page clean.

And it's nice to have something a little special at the start of a chapter. A common way to do that is with Drop Caps - an extra large first letter, maybe even in a different font. It took a little playing around to figure out what I wanted and then a little work to get them at the start of every single chapter.

In all it took a good day of working and playing to get the text to look like I wanted it. The cover design is a whole other beast, but it's pretty straight forward graphic design. In the end, I think I ended up with a book that looks like a book. CreateSpace has a great preview online that really lets you see what the printed edition will look like, but I wanted to hold the thing in my hands and really see it up close so I ordered some proof copies (around $3.50/each).

The proofs arrived in three days. I now have a my first book - ever! The cover printed a little dark, they're a couple pages that I need to adjust slightly, but overall it would look perfectly at home in the local bookstore. Ultimately that's the plan, but for now it will be holding a special place on my bookshelf and those lucky enough to receive a copy for Christmas. I'm confident that when I'm ready to publish my next novel, I'll be doing it with POD in addition to ebook. The physical world and the electronic.


  1. That's awesome, Blair! And thanks for sharing all the how-to details of the process. About how long did it take you, starting with what you'd had before, to get things formatted and otherwise finished for Amazon's PoD?

  2. It probably took a solid day (8-10 hours) of formatting the text. It only took a couple hours to transfer the contents from three separate files (separate novellas) into the single document and set it up for printing. But after checking the preview, I needed to adjust the header/footer and put in the dropcaps. All that should go quick, but every time you make a change in one place you've gotta check it all again and make more adjustments.

    In the end it came out well, but before I'd put something out for sale I'd spend more time checking it and get some more eyes viewing it. I did this quick and dirty since I only wanted some proof copies to share with friends.