I wanted to do it for quite some time, and now I finally sat down to finish preparations and make all my readers compliant in my sweet act of mass murder. And now both How to Sing Butterflies and its expanded edition How to Sing Butterflies DX are available on paper via Amazon.
But or floral enemies shall not have died in vain, for here are five lessons I took away from my first go at print publishing. Among those a solution to get spine text on books of less than 100 pages.
Design Itself is the Easy PartWhen doing a cover for an ebook, the design takes up the whole process. You create an image, and once you’re done you got yourself a cover. You will probably tweak it a few times here and there until you’re satisfied, but it’s as straightforward as that.
Not for paper books. And I’m not talking about the spine or back. You’ll have to also make it work with the print software.
The interior is easy. I imagine it might get a little harder once I add images to the books, but I did not do that for any paperback yet. But even then, the margins are quite well-defined and easy to work with.
That cover check software, though.
On the first try, I had issues with spine elements getting too close to the edge of the spine. This was mainly caused by having put the spine content a little too much to the left. No biggy, I fixed that.
When the error message didn’t disappear I realized the problem was two-fold. I had fixed the positioning of my spine content, but the software still acted up, marking the yellow lines you can see crossing the spine in the preview image as erroneous. That was annoying. I wanted to have those, and I had seen others having graphical elements going all around their cover, spine included.
What was causing the problem was the way I had realized that design. The lines are part of the text element that also forms the title, meaning this was identified as text by the KDP software. Turns out only text elements are restricted like that. I did not know this. I found out by getting bold and upload a version of the cover that had this whole element converted into polygons. The system raised no issues with a polygon going across the spine, so that was fixed.
All problems fixed, I then switched to working on the thinner of the two books, the standard edition. It happened to be exactly 100 pages long. I thought I was in luck by having just made the threshold to put text on my spine.
Yeah, not according to the preview check. It did tell me I had to have at least 100 pages. But what it apparently meant was I had to have more than 100 pages. That rule is stupid and I realize in hindsight, I could have remedied that by converting the spine text into polygons to circumvent Amazon’s restrictions. I ended up adding four empty pages to the end of the book.
By the way, it would have been nice to know beforehand that Amazon would put a barcode on the cover and where they put it. Because my initial upload ended up with two identical barcodes (one included by me, one by Amazon) with Amazon’s copy printed right over my website URL. So, yeah, know beforehand Amazon will put a barcode in the lower right of your back cover. It did play nice with my squiggly lines, though.
There seems to be a problem with the centering on the DX edition’s cover, but I can’t be sure of that without seeing a printed copy. It’s easily possible to change covers after publication, though.
Yes, You Can Have Text on Thin Spines
So here’s something we all can learn from my adventures in getting stuff on the spine: If your book is below 100 pages, just convert your spine text into graphical elements (polygons or curves) to trick the cover previewer into allowing it.
Consider that little hint my revenge against Amazon’s automated complaints about that.
Book Designers Have Weird Conventions
Okay, so English and American books have little headers above their content pages, showing the author on the left pages and the book title on the right. Got it easy enough.
Chapters are supposed to start on the right-hand page. That means there may be blank pages to the left. Makes sense.
But then those blank pages are completely blank. Why? What is the purpose of a header if half of it disappears? Why would you not display a number there when all other pages are numbered? To me, that seems like a pointless exercise to make interior design in books a tad more tedious. I have disliked it for years as a reader, and now I dislike it as a writer as well. But I’m self-publishing, so screw that made-up rule.
Beware of Widows
Print design knows of two sins: Those of the widows and those of the orphans. And I’m really glad I didn’t write this article in German. The German terms translate to whore’s children and shoemaker boys, respectively. The former hide in the attic, the latter bow down to shine your shoes, you see. Needless to say, we started using translations of the English terms in recent years.
In short, a widow is a single line ending a paragraph at the upper end of a page, while an orphan is the first line of a new paragraph ending a page. They look weird and can disrupt reading flow.
Orphans are easy enough to get rid of, you just add an empty line to have it go to the next page. Widows are not only harder to get rid of, they are also considered the worse offender design-wise. An empty line in the middle of the page should only appear when intended to break up the text.
Usually, I would change the text a little bit to be longer or shorter by a few words. But this is a collection of existing stories. I can change them to some degree, but not for something minor like that. It would be worse if I wasn’ the one who wrote them in the first place. So the trickery with breaks, line heights, and paragraph alignment to conceal breaks starts.
It can get complicated, but it needs to be done.
Amazon Can be Weird
Once I got my books done, and they went up, I wanted to order a proof copy. KDP does not send you a proof copy like Createspace and some others do, they have you trust the 3d rendered preview. Like I said before, there appears to be some alignment issue with the DX edition, but I want to check some hardcopies for that first. Not to mention, I want to see what my spine looks like in real life.
In addition to this, as a selfpublisher living in Germany, I am legally required to send two copies to the national library and one to my state’s library for archival purposes.
So I ordered four copies each. Simple. If Amazon wouldn’t have decided to act up by sending me a statement that my account was suspended for unpaid bills. I was like “Wait, what?”
Contacting customer support I was informed the issue was with an apparently unpaid bill from January 2010. Yes, 2010! About €10 plus shipping. I don’t know if I was victim to a glitch or whether that was true. For the record, articles I have ordered in between 2010 and 2017 include a microphone, a tablet computer, my Kindle and a lot of ebooks. Among other things. And now, more than half a decade later, that happened. So yeah, this is weird.
I’m currently sorting that out. Dammit, I want to finally hold my books in my hands!
How to Sing Butterflies (104 pages, US$4.99) and How to Sing Butterflies DX (168 pages, US$6.99) are now available via KDP Paperback in the US, Europe, and Japan.
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