March 22, 2012

Getting into Shape

Getting into Shape

Now things were getting serious. I had a large word processing file full of words that somewhat resembled a dictionary. My goal was to produce a presentable book. So how do I get from here to there? Fortunately, I spent some time doing desktop publishing in previous jobs and had a recent copy of PageMaker on my computer, so I figured I could do the layup myself and save a lot of money. But what should a book actually look like?

I pulled a few handfuls of wine books off my shelves and looked at how they were set up. Not terribly complicated: cover, title page, ‘front matter’, introduction, and then straight into it. Seemed easy enough. And my handy self-publishing reference came to the rescue once again, giving me detailed instructions on how to set up the front matter. One piece of advice it gave -- which I think may not be relevant today -- was to create an ‘imprint’. That would be the name of your publishing company (we chose “Chester Press”; it’s a long story). The idea is to throw people off the scent and make them think you aren’t self published. Today it doesn’t seem to be such a big deal, as self publishing is coming on strong.

So with a few simple guidelines, I put together the first few pages and was ready to tackle the content. I threw together an introduction (which I still think is a bit lame) and added it to my lay-up. I then came up with something in the way of a layout style for the content: a term on one line with its definition below and indented. I did something radical here; I didn’t put periods at the end of the definitions. I have no idea why, and I still like the look of it. I imported it all into PageMaker and I was, essentially, done. There was only one more very important step before heading off to my printer.

Through another writers group I belonged to at the time, I’d met a proof-reader who was as ruthless at proofing as I was at editing. We negotiated a ‘good friend’ price and I handed her my manuscript. I’m pleased to say it came back with only a modicum of criticism. Now, despite the fact that I have a lot of training in English, grammar, writing, etc., and years of experience as an editor, I still gave my manuscript to a professional for one final check. And I paid for the privilege. It was money well spent. Although we didn’t find any major errors (mind you, there were errors), I had the peace of mind knowing that the manuscript had passed the acid test, that I wouldn’t be alienating any readers who were touchy about grammar and typos or embarrassing myself.

Next step: a cover design
- rb

March 7, 2012

Price Conscience

I've always been intrigued by those little books that they display at the checkout at grocery stores: “How To Train Your Pug”, “101 Things To Do With A Shoelace”. They fill a very special niche and they do it beautifully. They typically cover a single, well-focussed topic and they cover it well enough to give you what you need without any extra baggage. They're priced ridiculously low, and they fit in your pocket. So what about a wine book that fit this model?

Now, I knew I wouldn't be able to produce a book that sold for $3.99, but perhaps $10 was possible. So that became my target. It didn’t take many phone calls to find out that this was going to be a challenge. To have a book printed economically by off-set printing required a run of 3000 to 5000 copies. “Print On Demand” was just beginning to appear then, and prices hovered around the $15 mark. Ouch. So what other options were available?

Here’s my analysis: When I was in retail, our selling price was roughly twice the wholesale price. We needed to double our money to make a living. So if I were to sell at wholesale, I also should expect to double my money. Pricing the book at $10 meant I’d have to be able to print it for no more than $2.50. I could print it myself on my laser printer, maybe have the cover done a Staples. But what about folding and stapling. Not very elegant and quite a bit of fussy handling. But the idea had some merit. After few more phone calls, I discovered a local graphic designer who frequently did just the type of job I needed. Moreover, she had partnered with a printer and could do the entire job for me. And the price would come in under my $2.50 ceiling. Nor would I have to order a ton of books to get that price. Good news. It seemed like the best way to get my project off the ground at a price I could afford, which at the time was pretty close to nothing.

So now I was ready to get my manuscript polished and ready for printing.
- rb