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

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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!

Designing a cover for The Obald.

The Obald is available for Kindle (and in paperback form from CreateSpace – although that’s an expensive option, because the CreateSpace costs balloon as page counts increase). By the way, it’s not that I’ve written two novels in a couple of months, but that I wrote this one four years ago and inexplicably forgot about it. Over the Easter holiday, I fired it up and polished it off. If it has a genre (and it’s hard to say that I can properly write genre – much as I’d love to), it’s slightly more science fictiony and espionagy than French Blood, which is a bit more murdery and mystery.

The cover of The Obald can be seen on the right:

The Obald 2014 cover
The Obald 2014 cover

I designed it relatively quickly, using Pixelmator, which is all I have now that I no longer work in an environment where Photoshop is freely available (I do have Photoshop at work, but I obviously do this kind of personal stuff at home). I was just messing around with ideas, trying to come up with something abstract and simple, and I hit upon the idea of cogs (as in ‘the works’ or clockwork, or time) and an eye (as in surveillance). It came together very serendipitously, and although I could have worked longer on it and tweaked it some more, I kind of like the way it turned out as an original concept, and decided to go with it. The original, by the way, was on a white background. As I do so often, I just inverted the image to get the final design. I usually find that the inverted version works better! (See left for original design.)

the obald try 3

It’s very hard to say something meaningful about a book with a cover, and in this case, I think it works. The book involves a bit of time travel, a bit of spying/surveillance, and a bit of dystopian lid-lifting. It’s also something of a romance, though of course men aren’t supposed to admit to writing romance.

It was originally written four years ago, at which time I also experimented with some cover designs. Here are some of the others I came up with.

The first is a stark white background with a London Underground-style original obald covernameplate and the words “a novel”. The author’s name was originally done, like the title, in Johnston Underground, but here it’s in the similar Gill Sans. I then developed this idea further into the eventual proof paperback copy I had printed at CreateSpace, which I did in Illustrator, with a more complex scribbly background, using some of the ornament glyphs from the Johnston Underground family.

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I quite like it, still, but grew concerned I’d get hassled by London Transport for taking their corporate identity in vain. If you read the book (and why not, at £1.02?), you’ll get the Underground connection, but it’s less significant in the 2014 version of this novel than it was in the original 1983 version. In the end, I think my final design (the one at the top) works better.

But wait! There are still more designs that I tried and rejected.

obald_coverThe worst of them uses a photo with some terribly amateur perspective applied to the text, and a font called Sinzano, which I purchased, but decided not to use. At the time, I was trying for something simple and effective. This is simple, but not effective. I then tried to do something using the Scrivener software I used to write the book.

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I still quite like this one (left). I like the idea of a cork board and various graphics which bear some relation to the plot.

Finally (!), there’s one more design which didn’t make the cut. This last one was me trying to do something “classic”. The font you need for this kind of thing is Univers, which I don’t currently have installed, so (because I didn’t keep a JPEG of the original), it has been re-rendered today using a different font. If you know your book design, you’ll know what I was trying to do with this.obald cover 2

I still quite like it. You’ll note that it evokes the idea of surveillance quite successfully, but says nothing else about the story. And anyway, it’s masquerading as non-fiction by ripping off the Pelican design.

So, I’m happy with the one I went with, but have a fondness for a couple of the others. I won’t ask you to vote on these, because the decision has already been made.

(If you do read the book, I’d appreciate a review posted to Amazon. I think books with reviews stand more of a chance.)