Back in, um, 2011, I wrote about using Scrivener to publish an ebook. And then in 2014, I wrote about the process of producing a paperback book with Createspace.
Well. Since then, software has been updated, Amazon have absorbed Createspace into their Kindle self-publishing platform, and I’ve written another book. So I thought it would be worth revisiting the process, and thinking about costs and compromises.
My previous entry on paperback book publishing is quite long and detailed, so if you want the full blow-by-blow, go there. Here, I just want to talk about some changes to the software, and some other aspects.
Scrivener (£47 for a standard Mac licence)
This writing software has now been updated to version 3 (3.1.5 is my current version), with some improvement and streamlining. Meanwhile, Amazon now supports enhanced typography (including ragged right margins and even user-installed fonts). On the other hand, a lot of the software I used to create a Kindle book before has been obsoleted, and different tools are available.
Scrivener is a great piece of software for a certain type of writer. If you like to plan things out, keep your research in one place, create character notes, and generally do more than just type, it might be for you. Of course, you can just type, and Scrivener also supports a variety of different formats, from screenplays to academic essays in particular house styles. I generally work with the novel format. One of the things you can do is kind of plan out the whole thing using a virtual corkboard, which helps you keep track of the structure.
In truth, I don’t know whether I’m really a planner. I mean, I’ve done it, but this particular project took a really long time, and I think part of that was the sinking feeling that accompanied having it all mapped out. On the other hand, it was all there for me to come back to, and I could remind myself of where I thought I was going each time I abandoned it.
The other key advantage of Scrivener is the ability to compile your file in a variety of ways; it’s very flexible.
The best output for ebooks these days is to .epub format. Forget the Kindle option. Instead, download Amazon’s Kindle Previewer 3 software, which will open your epub file, convert it cleanly to Kindle, and allow you to export both as .kpf (for modern enhanced typesetting) and .mobi (for sideloading and older devices).
Be prepared for how many times you might need to do this. Quite apart from writing and editing, the real challenge of self-publishing is copy editing. I output numerous drafts, got volunteers to read them (it’s what .mobi is for) and read it through several times myself, noting and correcting the mistakes as I went. You’ll spot mistakes on the Kindle that you wouldn’t spot in the Scrivener window.
You then go to Amazon and publish the book through their Direct Publishing platform. You will of course need a cover, of which more below.
Outputting to paperback is fairly similar to how it was in 2014. You can spend hours in Scrivener tweaking styles and margins. What you need to end up with is a print-ready PDF in the size you want Amazon to print-on-demand. And you’ll need to know how many pages it is before you can design a cover.
This time around, I was a lot less fussy about typography. I still have high standards about the design, but I forewent the use of old-style figures and real small caps because I wanted to use a font I had that didn’t support them. I also spent less time in Scrivener dealing with type, and output to Apple Pages, where I manually changed everything and tweaked the pagination.
For example, I wanted a title page, a copyright page, a half-title, a dedication, etc., and I wanted full control over which side of the page these things appeared on. I preferred working in Pages for this, although this process is not for everyone. It’s hours of fairly mindless tinkering.
The typeface I used this time is Stone Serif, with the headers and page numbers in Stone Sans. This is a solid, unfussy and unpretentious type face which has a certain understated elegance and a very nice italic (such an important consideration). The type was set at 9pt (it has a large x-height and can stand being that size, looking more like 10pt), with 14 points of linespacing. I also had different headers and footers on facing pages, with a rule underneath, and the margins mirroring each other – all of which is set up in Scrivener. I made the first paragraph not indented, and used software small caps.
My slightly less than perfectionist approach this time means there are a few mistakes – but if I don’t point them out, most people won’t spot them. I wish I had InDesign, but then I’d have spent many more hours tweaking things like hanging punctuation, and might never have finished. Never let perfect get in the way of good enough.
Pixelmator ($30 for a standard Mac licence)
By the same token, you don’t need Photoshop or Illustrator to design your cover. You can use something like Pixelmator – and not even the Pro version.
Pixelmator supports layers, including type layers. So you can put in a background image, then add layers of other elements and the title/author etc. I tend to use a layer for each word, so I can tweak everything. I did two different covers. One for the ebook, based on a photo I took in my novel’s location in 2007, and one for the paperback, with an illustration based on the same photo by my daughter Elodie. Back cover features the blurb and – for the first time – an author photo.
One of the tweaks, for example, was between the W and the A in Wake Knot. W is a funny old letter, and you can often end up with an unsightly gap between it and the next letter, unless you manually tighten it. I used the typeface Veneer (which I have used before on a cover) and Post Mediaeval for the blurb and shout line.
I tried almost an alphabet’s worth of cover designs before zeroing in on my final choice. It’s worth experimenting. Having downloaded the Amazon template based on my 440 page PDF, I put it all together and then output to PDF.
One odd wrinkle: although my file always started out the right size, Amazon kept rejecting it based on tiny margins of error (as small as 0.003 of an inch). I think this was to do with 300 pixels per inch on different systems. I mean, how big is a pixel, anyway? But I finally got it right, and the resulting book looks great. Unfortunately printing costs and Amazon’s own cut means that a paperback will cost you £9.99: but it is a very nice looking book.