What gunpowder did for war the printing press has done for the mind.

–Wendell Phillips

Prepping The Fifth Vertex for Paperback

Independent authors have to do and learn and worry about things that authors with publisher backing can safely let slide. This isn’t an insult or a slight against traditionally published authors. Believe me, if I could go it the “easy route” and have a publisher worry about all these things, I would have. But part of me, even knowing how much harder it is, wants control over the process and the property.

Compared to the paperback, preparing the eBook for Amazon was a piece of cake. That process was grueling as well, but there are just so many more details to worry about when preparing a book to be printed that writers who would rather worry about characters and plot and pacing just never think about.

The first thing I had to deal with was the cover. Everyone knows the saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Unfortunately, most people do. We judge people by their appearance, and we judge books by their covers. So no matter how much we’d like to believe that people will judge our book solely based on the contents within, we all know that readers won’t even look inside and get that far if the cover is ugly or looks unprofessional.

Thankfully, I was able to get the talented illustrator Eli Neugeboren to do my cover art and my maps. The cover for an eBook just involves a single image and most of the time whatever reader you’re using can do a good job of scaling it to fit whatever form factor your device has. It’s software, and software can compensate.

Paper has no such compensation. When building a cover for a printed book, you need to know how thick the spine of the book is, and you need to make an image that starts on the back cover (far left of the image), goes across the spine, and then finishes on the front. You need to know exactly how many pages you have and how thick those pages are to determine how thick your spine will be. Thankfully, if you’re going the indie route, services like CreateSpace will help you figure this out and give you templates, but it is definitely not work for the feint of heart. If I didn’t have an IT background and the help of an artist, I would’ve thrown my hands up in the air and run screaming for the hills.

Now comes the truly insanity-inspiring process: the inside of the book. When you’re building an eBook you don’t have to worry (much) about things like font family and size because eBook readers let the reader choose those things. In a printed book, everything has to be perfect up front. So I had to make sure all the fonts in all the chapters were perfect. Then, I noticed that in some of my chapters, the tab stops were .025″ off from the other chapters. I don’t know if anyone else would have noticed, but I noticed it, so I spent hours manually correcting all the tab stops because the software I was using didn’t seem to want to automate that process.

Next, there’s a detail that we all notice unconsciously when reading printed books but we probably don’t spend much time thinking about it. This detail is that when you’re looking at a book, the printing on the left side page and the right side page is subtly different. In fact, there are even names for the left and right side pages: recto and verso. On the verso side, out of convention, I have the title of the book at the top and the page number at the bottom. On the recto side, I have the author name at the top and the page number at the bottom. However, if the page is a chapter starting page, I can’t have anything on the top. Further, I can’t have anything on the top or bottom in the front matter like the maps, dedication, etc.

The important thing about details like this is that readers don’t notice them or really care much about them when they are done properly, but they will notice when it’s wrong. They might not be able to articulate the reason why, but screwing up a detail like this will pull readers away from your pages just as easily as would a gaping hole in the plot.

Then, after all that effort and submitting the material to get it reviewed and proofed, one of my readers pointed out the only error he could find in the book: an incorrect word in one of the final chapters of the book. I could have just said “screw it” and published anyway. Hardly anyone would have noticed… except me. Knowing that word was wrong would have kept me awake at night, so I pulled the material back down, made that one word change, and resubmitted, knowing it could cost me another 24-48 hours before the paperback would be in the pipeline.

So now I sit and wait for the proofs to come back and hopefully this time I won’t find any details that need fixing. As I’ve said a million times before – if it would bother me as a reader then it’s unacceptable as a writer. I refuse to publish something knowing I could have fixed a problem.

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