Adventures in self-publishing: using Scrivener and CreateSpace to publish a paperback


The Obald, as well as being available for Kindle at a ridonculously low price, is available in a paperback version via Amazon and/or CreateSpace.

This is a more expensive option. I think CreateSpace has a dumb algorithm that charges by the page, so the more pages in your novel, the more expensive it gets. Well, duh. Problem for me with that is, if I made an ugly book with tiny print and tiny margins, I could do it a lot cheaper – but that would defeat the object. If you’re buying a physical copy these days, I think you want something good to look at and something to keep.

So £8.99 on Amazon UK, which gives me a “royalty” of no more than 90 pence. In this rather lengthy blog, I’ll talk about the experience of producing the paperback version.

(I’ve blogged about using Scrivener to publish an eBook before. It’s a process that’s just about tolerable, if you’re willing to live with the many quirks of the software. For example, creating a useful table of contents can be really awkward, and you can end up with duplicate titles/pages and so on, with no real way to avoid them. I dislike not being able to embed a font. As a type fiend, I would happily pay a small royalty to embed a font, if Amazon were to support such a thing on the Kindle or in the app. I’m also still bugged by the Kindle’s refusal to support ragged right margins, which is preferable to the rivers of white space that often appear in fully justified text.)

When it comes to a paperback book, Scrivener has some useful pre-sets, which you can tweak and save as your own custom preset. If you continue to tweak it, you need to remember to keep saving your preferences, to save time the next time. Knowing I wanted an 8″ x 5″ paperback (the smallest that CreateSpace supports by default), I set up the page like this.

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Knowing a little about book design, I also wanted to create a nice ratio between text and white margin, so I set up quite generous margins, without quite reaching the Golden Ratio point. They’re still a bit skimpy for my taste, but I think there’s enough room to hold the book comfortably without having to move thumb/fingers out of the way of text. Note that I tweaked them by 0.1 of a millimetre at a time, in order keep the number of pages to the right length for the cover template.

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Because you’re outputting to a PDF, you can embed a typeface with the paperback version, though of course it needs to be a readable book font that does’t get in the way. I went for a modern take on Garamond, and set up the text with only the common ligatures (fi, fl, and so on). I also set it up with old style figures (OSF, with some of the numbers dipping below the baseline for a more natural look). Because I wanted to take advantage of OpenType, I made sure to use a font that supported such advanced typographical features. So while my favourite book face of all time is Bembo, I didn’t use that as the version I have is just a basic font. I also used small caps for the opening few words of each chapter – proper small caps, that it, not computer-generated ones, which never look right.

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You then compile the paperback and take a look at the resulting PDF to see if it works. The nice thing about Scrivener is that it allows you to include different front matter, depending on the format you’re outputting. So there may be a cover for the ebook and an ISBN number for the paperback (CreateSpace supply one free of charge).

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If you think it does work, you upload it to CreateSpace. Within 24 hours, they email back to inform you whether your file has passed their automatic tests. You can then preview the finished book online (see more on the cover below), and if you notice any glaring errors, you can try to fix them, recompile, and re-upload. You then have the option of ordering a printed proof of your book. If you’re unwilling to pay the extortionate price for expedited delivery, you will wait a long time for your proof to arrive. You don’t have to do the printed proof, but you will always spot more errors in print than on screen. An alternative is to download the PDF and print it yourself, if you have access to a suitable printer. It’s quicker, but not necessarily cheaper. Inkjet ink, for example, is the most expensive substance on the planet.

Once you’re happy with the book, you just approve the proof and it goes to the markets you’ve selected at the prices you’ve set.

Let’s talk about some issues.

Being fussy, I want control over some of the format that Scrivener doesn’t (currently) offer. My top three wishes are as follows:

  • Drop caps. I like a drop cap to open a chapter. I’d like to be able to set a number of lines (3-5, say, or more!) and the tightness of the space around the drop cap. Failing this, I’d like to be able to create a graphical small initial cap.
  • Widow and orphan control. You do not want chapters ending with a single line of type (or a word or two) on an otherwise blank page. Professional DTP gives you control over stuff like this, and…
  • Hyphenation options. At the moment, Scrivener just allows you to turn it on or off. Well, I’d like to be able to specify a maximum number of hyphens in a row and to tell it words not to hyphenate.

Obviously, Scrivener is for writing and composing, not publishing, but it does offer the compile option, so if it’s going to do it, I’d like these improvements.

Now, the other major issue concerns pagination. Like me, you probably want your title page and opening page on the right hand side. You might want different section titles and section openings to also be on the right. You see the problem: it’s devilishly difficult to get the compile to work perfectly first time. You can edit your PDF afterwards, but it’s hard to add blank pages in the right spaces. With both of my recent books, I’ve ended up with the unhappy compromise of the book starting on the right side, but with the even numbers also on the right, and the odds on the left.

I could have outputted the file as a text file and used Pages to create the final PDF, but Pages itself has a number of limitations, which would be just as awkward in their own way.

As to the cover, I’ve already blogged about the front of it. On CreateSpace, you can download a ready-made template, based on the number of pages your interior file will be. Then, using something like Photoshop or Pixelmator, you finish your design, hide the template layer, and output to a PDF for upload to CreateSpace. Because I’d specified a particular number of pages, I then had to make sure that each iteration of my interior file was the right length, otherwise I’d have to re-do the cover.

With the niggles above aside, this is a fairly painless process, as long as you are the patient type. When doing your own design and copyediting, you’ve got to put on a different hat and work methodically. This is not so bad for me, because I love book design and typography, and I have fun getting things the way I want them. I would say I output about 15 versions of the interior file before I was content. I won’t say happy because I would really like to be able to deal with drop caps, widows and orphans, and dumb hyphenation. That said, this is a fairly budget way to publish. I could do everything in InDesign to a much higher standard, but InDesign is over £300, whereas Scrivener is just $45 (£27). Some difference!

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