June 23, 2011

Print is Not Dead. It's Killing Me

After publishing "Enchantment" as an e-book on Amazon last week, I received multiple requests for a "real" (print) book. So, I thought, "okay, how hard can that be?" Answer: Very. Very hard indeed.

It was so easy to publish the .mobi file to Amazon. Barnes and Noble's pubit site was a breeze to use as well, although I'm still waiting for it to go live since I just uploaded it this morning. (If you want to know how to convert the Kindle file for your Nook reader, check out Steve Umstead's how-to article on his blog.)

Smashwords ... not so much. Their meatgrinder app they force you to use is aptly named. The e-pub files  I exported from Scrivener look great and work perfectly. The Smashwords converted file is okay, but the table of contents doesn't work. Not a big deal, since "Enchantment" is a novel, not a text book. Still, I like for things to function.

Okay, back to my ordeal with print. I spent several days googling and reading conflicting advice and instructions for the do-it-yourselfer. My brain still hurts. But I learned a lot. Not nearly enough to format a book from scratch, but fortunately for me, I found a downloadable template at CreateSpace. It still required hours of fiddling and tweaking and I have no idea how well it turned out since I have to wait for Amazon to approve it and then I need to order a proof and then I'll have to tweak it some more and do it all over again. I expect it will take several attempts to get it right (I'll let you know). And that was just the interior of the book.

I had to redo the cover art since I'd created it specifically for digital devices at 72 dpi. Print needs to be 300 dpi. Resizing is a one-way street, folks. Downsizing is fine, but don't try to increase the resolution using the image size function, it will look like crap. At least the image of the couple was a solid black silhouette. All I had to do was zoom in and trace the outline with a small-pixled brush. I have a Wacom tablet or I wouldn't have even tried to salvage the file. But the rest of the art ... well ... we shall see. I may still need to start over from scratch. Ugh.

Even then, I'm worried about how the glow effects will print. I know the CMYK colors will be dull compared to RGB which is like painting with light. Gradients can be tricky too. Again, I'll just have to wait and see ...

I am not a patient person.  All this waiting is killing me!


Update July 17, 2011: 
The first proof had pagination problems, an inaccurate table of contents and a couple of typos. The cover turned out much better than I expected. The colors are rich and vibrant and the glow effects translated into print beautifully. 

I fixed the problems, uploaded the new file, ordered another proof and waited impatiently for it to arrive. This one has chapter heading problems, a different font and about ten extra pages. My first response was "What the hell?" My second response was to throw the book across the room. (Not really, but I wanted to. I still do. Hopefully by the time I finish this rant, I will have calmed down enough to keep from pitching a fit like a toddler.)

I have no idea when Enchantment will be available in print, but you can get a digital copy right now with the click of a button at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. (It's temporarily on sale for $.99)


  1. Charlotte, I'm so sorry to hear about your travails with printing. I've done it before, so I know exactly what you're dealing with, even though my specific experience was no doubt different than yours. The good news: after you've done it once, at least you'll know what you're up against for your next book.

    I've also had similar feelings about the Smashwords meatgrinder. No matter how hard I try, I despise the meatgrinder. And coming from a software-development background doesn't help. Reminds me of some of the hack software products I've cursed over my life. I've tried to develop a process that allows me to create a print layout and ebook source, both from the same original document. I've basically succeeded, except for Smashwords. However, I'm glad you Enchanted up on Smashwords, because it's one of the few indie-friendly, DRM-free ebook distributors.

    BTW, you can also sell ebooks on GoodReads.com. I've never sold a copy there, and they don't seem to push their ebook sales system... so I don't know how well it works. But they are also indie-friendly.


  2. Gack... (Just saw this in my RSS reader.) I'm glad you got Enchantment up on Smashwords.


  3. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for commiserating with me. It's nice to know I'm not the only one that's struggled with the ordeal of formatting for print. It shouldn't be this hard, right?

    Quote: "...I've tried to develop a process that allows me to create a print layout and ebook source, both from the same original document...."

    Is this a software product you're considering selling? I'll bet there are a couple thousand or so writers that would LOVE something like that!

    Scrivener does a wonderful job of outputting .epub and .mobi files, but it would be so nice to have everything instantly formatted correctly for print with page breaks before new chapters, first page on the right side, correct margins and gutters, etc.)

  4. Hi, Charlotte. I don't know that it's "hard"... or at least not harder than anything else. If your experience is anything like mine, you spent innumerable hours studying stories in order to figure out how you wanted to write Enchantment. Compared to that, formatting for print—with modern software—is actually kinda easy. :) But it requires a set of skills, like anything else, that have to be learned.

    The process I've been trying to develop doesn't (yet) rely on any custom software. And I'd be happy to share it, briefly. First of all, this is a low-budget process, using a simple wordprocessor, rather than professional layout software like Adobe InDesign. I start by formatting for print in my word processor (OpenOffice.org Writer—really low budget), and export to PDF for the print book-block. I used to export to XHTML, tweak the XHTML, and use that with MobiPocket Creator to generate a Mobi/Kindle file, then use Calibre to convert that to ePub. Now, I'd like to develop a custom configuration for Calibre that will allow it to take the output directly from OpenOffice.org Writer and convert to ePub and Mobi/Kindle, and any other format. But I think that'll require a little of hard-core Calibre hacking, and maybe a custom script, too. I'm not there yet... almost, but there are a few glitches still. After I figure it out, I'm hoping to blog about it.

    In general, as with cover artwork, it seems easier to start with the print layout, then down-convert (as it were) to ebook.

    I do the same thing with Smashwords, start with my print bookblock, then tweak it until the meatgrinder accepts it without spewing pieces all over creation, a process that can take several days of submitting, tweaking, resubmitting, retweaking, reresubmitting, etc. I despise the meatgrinder.