Thursday, October 1, 2009

Typesetting, Typos & Triptychs

Why is the word 'ectoplasm' in the last post's title? Well, at that stage, all I had done was send my Word document MS through the ether. In my head no transformation of it into a book had taken place. There was as yet nothing to show for it. Now this wasn't a problem for me. This isn't an exercise in vanity publishing. I'm not interested in only selling it to friends and family. It's not that sort of book. If Auntie's easily offended ... So it's not about them doing me a favour, since I have to reach a wider audience. If I can build a fanbase and prove that I can move units under my own steam, then rightly or wrongly I perceive I have a shot of gaining a couple of rungs on the professional ladder.

The calculations involved? Well I'm guessing here, since there are no figures that I know of, but I reckon the odds of going sufficiently viral to attract the attention of the profession, are no better or worse than the odds of your unsolicited MS being accepted through the conventional postal submission to agents and publishers. I'm not changing the odds, I am just taking more responsibility over the process. I am putting my money where my mouth is just as I had when writing plays. Having to stand or fall by your own efforts, concentrates the mind wonderfully.

And returning to 'ectoplasm'? This whole venture has nothing to do with realising any dream about having a hard copy published work of my own. One I can touch and hold and put on my bookshelf with my name on the spine winking out at me. It's about unplugging the logjam and getting a career underway. The book itself will return to dust if it doesn't open up a few new avenues. I won't feel any pride in handling my own copy, but even if I fail in my adventure, I hope to feel pride in the efforts I undertook to try and make things happen. In such a scenario, the book will be a symbol of that effort. But I hope it won't come to that.

So until it hits my target, it's ectoplasm. The secundines of ghostly presence. What is the target? I've heard the average sales figure for self-publishing is 75 copies. (Suggests to me that they weren't able to sell beyond about one and a half degrees of separation). Discussions on forums seem to suggest that if you can secure 2000 sales, it ought to demonstrate to the publishing industry that you are a writer who can sell units of product that they deal in. My target is somewhere between the 2, but closer to the 2000 than the 75 on the assumption that the consensus is likely to be in the right area. Even then will a publishing professional come a calling? Well, let's not toddle before we can crawl...

That first e-mail back from Legends Press. Mid July. Now I read about 50 new books a year. I should be fairly familiar with what a book looks like inside. But I was such a greenhorn that on receipt of a PDF of my typeset MS, it was a shock to see it laid out. In Word, you're concerned with things like line spacing and indents. Now the typeset version looked like, well, a proper book. No spaces between lines. Every new paragraph indented. Every line of dialogue indented at the beginning. Even the speech marks seemed to have a greater solidity than those you get in Word. If I had been 'living the dream' of being first time published, my idiotic shock at the transformation between MS & typeset book would have prevented me basking in the glory of it anyway. Oh and the second pagination cull naturally occurred at this typesetting phase. The whole thing was down to 189 pages, as compared with the 276 of the Word version. Never mind the quantity, feel the width...

Tom Chalmers suggested I read through and check I was happy with it. Another weekend filled with line by line scrutiny, this time of an alien looking version of my own words. I found 15 fairly minor typesetting errors, ranging from a set of speech marks pointing the wrong way and a double indentation of lines within dialogue, to a rather more serious spacing issue; I'd ended each chapter with a page break on which I'd given various recipes for cocktails. The typesetters had run these straight on from the end of the chapter, so they no longer served as a spacer and in some cases went over 2 different pages. I popped all these down in an e-mail in readiness for Legends.

But the bulk of that e-mail was filled with other errors. Typos rather than typesetting. A humiliating list of (count 'em) 87 mispelled words that had evaded all my various line edits. 'Accommodate' and 'miniature' were spelled wrong every time they appeared in the text. 'Philosopher' and 'alcohol' both were missing one of their 'o's'. I spelled 'epiphany' wrong which about sums up my chagrin at confronting this. Virtual tail between my legs, I added them to the body of the e-mail sent back to Legends.

So now it had to go back to the typesetters to put these mistakes right. Meanwhile I was asked for my cover brief. It was only through parleying on forums that it occurred to me that I would have to come up with both a front and back cover design. (Greenhorn goes moo!) The spine too. I had an image for the front cover for well over a year, so putting together the brief for that was fairly simple. The back cover, the one that has to leave space for the blurb, was a more recent revelation. One that arose from serendipity, seeing as most online peer review sites prompt you for some artwork when you upload part or all of your book. I basically found an image on Google Images and used that for the site. Now I could develop it to my desire and offer it as the brief for other to execute to my spec. So I didn't have to spend too much time compiling that particular e-mail to Legends.

I have no art skills whatsoever. Long before I went down the self-pub route, I had dabbled with approaching a couple of online writers with design experience in order to do some artwork, but which came to nothing. I believe some of the Legends packages allow you to provide your own artwork to the published product, but I think you had better contact them and ensure exactly what format they require the artwork to be presented. Each self-publisher seems to have its own approach to cover art and as intimated earlier, the cover art seems to represent the biggest variation between each of the Companies in this field. Presumably if you provide your own art work, there are savings in the cost of the package to be made. But you do need to do your research very carefully.

I was asked for the blurb about a week later. 100 words for the back cover. Or Legends offered to do it for me. Which was interesting as they'd never given me any indication that they'd read my book. Certainly never commented on the MS itself. Now I was in two minds about the blurb. Imagine the scene - I'm sure you have countless times yourselves - potential customer browsing in the book shop. Picks yours from the shelf, intriguing title. Spins to back cover for the blurb - CLOSE THE DEAL, CLOSE THE DEAL! Of course they may dip inside the text to get a squint of your style. But that blurb has to get them there or to the checkout. I had two blurbs in mind. One was fairly straight, about the two characters and the dilemmas they found themselves confronting within the novel. The other was a far more punchy, in your face roster of the cultural points of the novel. Ie a marmite love it or hate it reaching out to clue potential readers, 'if you're into this, you'll love my book' appeal. I sent both options off to Legends and nine days later Tom emailed back saying he favoured the former which I was happy to go with. The blurb would also double up for the listings with Amazon and the like which the POD printers were responsible for lodging. I did have the option of writing an alterantive blurb which Legends would forward to the printers to send out. At present I've desisted from changing, but I might review that decision. I might offer the marmitey one yet.

So text back at the typesetters. Cover brief with the designers. Blurb signed off on. All these processes well underway and Tom informed me he was away for a week on leave. Okay then, in the hiatus, time to turn thoughts towards marketing...

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