Saturday, May 05, 2007

Tricks of the Trade

As an author of four iUniverse books, I have learned a few things that you may be interested in knowing if you plan to release an iU book in the future. Some of these hints may also be useful with other POD publishers, but my direct experience is only with iUniverse. I cannot say with certainty that any of these issues exist in the case of other publishers, but I can tell you that the acquisition of this knowledge has allowed me to produce a more professional product. These little ideas that may or may not apply to your book project are presented here in no particular order of significance.

(1) I design my own book covers. They may not look like much to you, but they satisfy my creative juices and personify (at least to me) what my books are all about. If you do not design your own cover, the cover iU designs for you will be composed of elements; i.e., photographs, that are also used on other authors' books. Design your own cover or expect to one day see your cover picture on someone else's book.

(2) You know that you have a zillion font styles and sizes built into your computer, but did you know that iU has purchased the rights to only a comparative handful of fonts? This fact is of little consequence within the book, but the cover is another story altogether. You can request a list of the fonts iU has permission to use on your cover before you get too involved in its design. Then the cover they present to you is likely to be a lot closer to what you designed, assuming you don't try to utilize a font they don't have, anyway.

(3) Take your own cover photos. If the photo is to fit the front cover, as on my books, be sure to take vertical, not horizontal shots. Believe it or not, I use a conventional 35mm camera and send the film to York Photo Labs, who sends me back a set of 4" x 6" prints and a CD-ROM. York has been getting high ratings as a cheap mail-order lab for decades. A couple of 36-exposure rolls and the CD cost only about $14, and together they give you a lot of control for a book cover. The CD version will be 100 resolution, not the 300 iU requests for a cover. The 100 resolution CD photos can be copied into a folder and worked with infinitely until you have selected the shot you want, done any cropping or other quick modifications through a software program of your choice, and decided exactly what the cover photo is to look like. You will also note that the prints you received from York will look more accurately like the book cover than will the CD-ROM versions, so you can refer to the prints as you move through the decision process. If you want the cover photo to fit the 6" x 9" cover, as on all my books, and you want the most perfect picture, you will have to select your prize negative (or more than one if you still want further choices) and send it (or these) off to York or someone else for 8" x 10" print(s). When you get the 8x10's back, you want to scan them into your computer using 300 resolution, and cropping them if desired. You can actually follow the iU instructions to the letter and make your scan the exactly correct size (just over 6" x 9"). Of course you can lighten, darken, or anything else you might have in mind, using your scanner. You can also obviously use far more exotic graphics programs to make a montage or other special effect, but that is beyond the scope of this article. I'm just telling you here what I have learned about producing my own cover designs, which do not involve any program such as PhotoShop.

(4) Did you know that you can add a color photo to the back cover or a black-and-white one in the back matter? You can also pay an optional price for more photos. Personally, I tend to spend my money here instead of on some of the company's bull-hockey, over-priced options. The photos may have cost me cash, but at least I know what I really got for my money.

(5) Use underlining in an iU book as sparingly as possible. Something about the iU or Lightning sytem cannot handle underlining very well. It comes out looking way too heavy, a distraction to the eyes. Yes, I know we all have links we want to use, but you can delete the underlining before you send in the final proof. What are the readers going to do; click the book page?

(6) Watch out for the deadly, high retail price structure! You can make yourself a copy of the iU chart and click the word-count button on your Word document occasionally to track where you are as you compose the book. I watched that chart like the Tazmanian Devil watches Bugs Bunny when I was writing Timeline of America. That book could have easily hit a $35 price point!

(7) In the same vein as #6 above, you can use a smaller font in the book's text, too. After your manuscript is complete, you can play with this feature in Word to get a feel for the price points. For a more professional look, consider different sizes of font for certain elements outside the main book body. (See #9 below.)

(8) I hope you know that iU offers special price deals almost continuously. Be sure to put your name on the company's e-mailed newsletter list long in advance of the release of your book so you can track exactly what deals they are offering. Any monkey can figure out that if your book is a big boy, free copies are a lot better deal than dollars off, but the reverse is true if you are composing a quick read.

(9) Don't just breeze through all that malarky about front matter and back matter in the instruction document. Look at the traditionally published books on your own bookshelf. Do you want your book to hide in the forest with them or look like self-published junk? I thought your middle name was Robin Hood, so give all that matter some thought, and put in whatever might be appropriate for your book.

(10) If you don't do anything else on this list, read the earlier post on this blog entitled The Proof is in the Nitpick. If the methodology described there does not suit your personal situation, please, for the sake of your readers, find an equivalent method that works for you! It's the error count, Josephine, the error count! That's the best way there is, Josephine, to spot one a them Prnt Own Dumand books!

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