#IndieAuthorDay: From manuscript to book

Every writer waits with great anticipation for their book to appear. Turning those pages of words into a real book is not a majorly difficult operation. Getting from manuscript to book, though, does include some elements (keep this as a checklist) that you must do correctly in order for people to want to read your book and for sales to be recorded.

If you are among the lucky ones who have had a book published, this post may be useful as a refresher course. Or you may really not know what those stages of production and preparation entailed. I will keep this as simple as possible, because the process is simple and all writers should know about them. (There will not be a quiz.) The best thing a writer can do for their book is to think like a publisher. Here’s an outline of part of that work.

Every Book Needs a Cover

Yes, we do judge books both by cover and title. All book buyers are enticed by the beauty of covers as well as the typographic display of the title. The words themselves then have some meaning but it is the use of images, colors and typography that make a cover.

I like to use this example of cover production because it struck me how cover art can drive sales . Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance became a cult classic when it came out in paperback. The publisher used typography and color for a book cover that did not automatically suggest an image. But the study of which color (orange) sold best helped them to increase sales for what we might call today a hybrid story, which is still in print and still sells.

Manuscripts Always Need Work

No matter who you are, your pages need several sets of preparation before they can be made into a book. There is the need for design, the font size and type, to fit within the trim size of your book. How the page looks to readers is very important. And how well it reads. The process of the eye moving across the page is a skill we learned as children. We develop methods for reading that are standard for most of us. So, we don’t expect to read errors in spelling or grammar or punctuation or placement of words. In other words, we want that part of the reading process to be simple. Editors and proofreaders are in charge of that process for writers. They have the right and duty to question everything we have put on the page.

Front Matter

Among the more boring parts of book production is the writing of front matter. All well produced books have it. We were taught, when I entered publishing 40 years ago, that Front Matter included the Title Page, preceded by a blank page, followed by a half-title page (both recto pages, meaning on the right) with a verso page called the copyright page where all that wording, ISBN, basic book cataloguing data and date of publication were included. Generally an Acknowledgements Page followed that and a Foreword might be included. Then a Table of Contents. These are the bare bones of Front Matter and must be included in the page count for a printer or for the converter of e-books. This may be the last part a publisher does when assembling the pages of your manuscript but it too is looked at by editors and proofreaders.

Barcodes and ISBNs

We need these two. We need the barcodes on print books and an ISBN. We only need the ISBN for e-books. What are they and what do they do? First, they are a money-maker for an outfit called Bowker that sells them to publishers. Every publisher buys them and they use them to track the sales of books and to record them in Bowker’s Books in Print. Before Amazon and their book site, this tome was what libraries and bookstores used to make sure a book was available. In those days, Bowker offered a very different set of services than they do now. The bottom line now as then though is that without an ISBN, you cannot get your book distributed.

Author Photos, Author Bios and Back Cover Copy

Print books require a back cover which also needs to be designed. On the back cover, generally, we find these main elements. The bar code (which has the ISBN and price encoded in it), author photo, author bio and description of the book. I’d say the back cover gives an author the opportunity to present herself to potential readers in ways that will help to sell the book. On a different basis than what the front cover does, the back cover’s use of a photo, an author bio and description of the book can be a time to create the story of your book. How you will sell it and sell it to everyone you meet. This is a skill all authors should learn.

The Spine

No one talks about the spine of your book. But it is a good thing to know about. The spine obviously shows how thick your book is when it is displayed on a bookshelf spine out. That is how most of us display our books at home. And how most booksellers display books in their stores and libraries on their shelves too. That makes the spine an important, if often overlooked, topic to consider when designing our books. Usually, it displays 3 things: author name, book title and publisher colophon. While the first 2 seem self-evident and what our eyes recall, that colophon, the branding logo for a publisher, is usually found at the bottom of the spine. Publisher information is included in the Front Matter and on the Back Cover of your book, but the logo/colophon on the spine identifies the author with a specific publishing company and whatever mission that publisher has.

Page Counts Matter

My final comments about the manuscript to book process is this: the number of pages in your book matters. First, it matters for cost calculations. Whether printed or converted, costs are based on the page count. E-books are not as costly to convert as bound books are to print. But all those up front costs as are incurred based on the work I outlined above, are a fixed part of every book’s production process. Obviously, the longer the book, the more illustrations, photos or drawings, graphs included also increase costs, as well as paper weight.

Bound books can be printed on demand which is a more expensive and more environmentally conscious way to produce printed books. Large print runs, done on offset presses, require a different set of calculations because the unit cost of a book printed that way is much smaller. E-books are not printed but converted. The same PDF files sent to printers for bound books are sent to conversion houses for translation into MOBI files for Amazon and a variety, now, of ePub files for all other distributors of e-books for both individual and library sales.

I will say again to Indie Authors: The best thing you can do for your book is to think like a publisher.

Remember this: #GoVegan #ReadBooks

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#IndieAuthorDay—The Manuscript

So much of your life as a writer depends on where and when you write. Obviously, nothing happens until you finish your manuscript. That is every writer’s first goal. What I’m suggesting in this post is a more radical approach to writing. My mantra is, if you want to change the world by what you write, change how you write.

Put Away the Computer, Walk Away from the Desk

Let me set this new writing scene for you: You leave the house. You tap your pockets for wallet, keys, phone. These are the essentials of your life. Soon, you’ll be on a train or bus heading to work and will pull out your phone to check for texts or email or to log into social media while despairing that you could not stay home to write. But, you could be writing right then, at that moment and at every moment of your life as you are thinking about your story.

From Finished Manuscript to Published Book

The phone can become your main writing tool for you as it has become for many writers. Why? Because, as I am sure you are now realizing while reading this post, you already use it for everything else in your life.

Speaking from my from my experience, I have written multiple drafts of my novels on my phone. I don’t need Wi-Fi to work. I only require silence and a comfortable spot to sit. I can edit on my phone and send out portions of it to friends for critiquing. I can do a good deal of my research as well as read other writers to study how they solved problems I am having.

Note taking, lists of things to add or remove, or places I need to look at more closely. All of that can be kept on my phone. No matter where I go, the phone is with me and I can write.

Having freed myself from the tyranny of sitting in one dedicated place has allowed for more creative ideas to flow. In effect, I am always at my desk whether on the subway, waiting for a movie to begin, standing in those endless grocery store lines or on a bench in Washington Square Park.

The phone is also my library. Dictionaries, encyclopedias, source material, favorite books to give me support as I write, all of that is right on my phone.

When I need a break, I can put my phone away and watch the world around me. I’m secure because the phone is within reach. My chapters, the outlines, the character sketches, any random notes I have taken are not in a clutter on a desk but filed on my phone in my notes.

Given this new flexibility in my writing life and how I organize my life as a writer, I feel that I have been handed the keys to a magical new world of storytelling. While I imagine many may still be adjusting to e-books as they are sold now, I envision an even more creative future when e-books will create interactive relationships between writers and readers. With the speed with which technology develops now, I am certain this day will be sooner than we may think.

Learning to house my writing and reading life on my phone may seem radical to some, but for me, it is the dream I have been dreaming for many years.

All of us writers want to be telling new stories, inventing for readers experiences they have never had. How can we do that if we are reading and writing in the same ways every year?

Try it now. See what I and other writers have discovered from this new mobile writing life. It will spur ideas in you too about a new future of storytelling unlike anything we have been able to do up to today.

Remember this too: #GoVegan #ReadBooks

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The “We’re Back” Announcements

We were on the road for 10 weeks. It was one of the most magical tours we have ever taken. It was magical not because we did things different but because we were different.

We’ve become a new kind of traveler. We understand the need for connection, for stillness and for sharing. Here are some of the new ways we will be doing business as a publisher due to these new insights.

Connection is everything

Meeting people and learning about how they live rather than racing around trying to see everything all at once has become important to us. For this reason, there will be more blogging about what I do as a writer but also much more about what other writers do to make their writing the center of their lives.

Being still

Every place we visited was more beautiful than the last place we saw. But for me, northern Wyoming was particularly beautiful due to its quiet, the lack of people and the geography which was stunning. The open, big sky, the low density population led to a quiet that few of us get to experience if we live in major metropolitan areas.

Walking in the woods, the hikes we took, also contributed to that stillness which can only be there for all of us if we have woods and clean air and water to experience. We will be extending the commitment to the environment by sharing more information about what is happening to our planet and by writing and speaking more about what I call “Green Publishing.”

Sharing is caring

This publishing company cannot afford to publish all the books it finds of interest and there are so many. Yet, we can help those who come to the website discover the books we have found to be important now whether published this year or 50 or 100 years ago. As long as a book can be bought as an e-book, we will be glad to write about it and help you to order it.

The commitment is to the tag lines we now use every day: #GoVegan #ReadBooks because that is how I have come to understand the world as I do.

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We Need You!

Calling all book lovers, please lend a hand. Sullivan Street Press needs your help to get all our books into all 16,000 public libraries and especially our e-books. We need to change the conversation about e-books. We aren’t paying close enough attention to those who benefit the most from e-books.

A very good reason to support e-book purchases at your library

Not every person who loves to read has easy access to a library or a bookstore. Whether because of age, income level, disability or non-existence, many fellow citizens cannot get to a library or a bookstore or bookstores do not exist. The push for this love of bound books is understandable but not always equitable.

E-books can be downloaded from libraries by anyone with access to a computer. They need not get to the library to check out or return a borrowed e-book. This convenience is a remarkable contribution that libraries make to the communities they serve. Your help will mean a great deal to those not as mobile as you or with easy access to libraries by car or public transportation.

The global village is connected by Smartphones

The same restrictions can apply to even more isolated and distant locales where book lovers live and work but again may have no access to a bookstore or a library. Smartphones have become the means by which these people stay connected to the world. In these ways, they have Facebook accounts and can see what their global friends are reading and recommending.

Helping Sullivan Street Press to push its rankings higher by writing reviews, by discussing our books on your Facebook pages and by reaching out to friends with recommendations of our books, will be a great service to this small press.

Small presses must compete with the large ones without the same resources

Having to compete for everything with the much larger publishing companies for the limited and shrinking attention that books receive almost everywhere is a constant battle for Sullivan Street Press. It is our intention to stay in business but we can’t do that without the help of those who read our books. Word-of-mouth sales are actually among the most effective there are. So, please speak up and show your support for the books we publish. You can download these fliers and take them to your library, share them on your FB pages or you can go to our FB page and download them from there. And we thank you immensely for this support.

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Libraries and Bookstores: Helpful Friends

When I wrote the article about integrating libraries and bookstores in 2014, I realized that what we needed were places where both print and digital and archives and rooms for community could co-exist. The best ways of seeing this integration, in my mind, was to allow the public and the private to blend into one. And while I am not portraying the roles that publishers can play in this new mashup, trust me, I will be writing about that as well.

Mutual Assured Cooperation

Public libraries have their own structures for ordering, processing, shelving, cataloging books. Bookstores too have their own systems for ordering books, displaying them and payment methods for books that also allow bookstores to return unsold books. It is easy for any bureaucrat on either side of this seeming divide to say that for these reasons alone, there can be no integration of bookstores and libraries. Yet, there are ways all of this could be managed in order for us to move ahead.

So Digital

Libraries have an outstanding edge over bookstores. First is they usually have a much larger understanding of and access to e-books. It may come as a surprise to many that you can download an e-book from your library from your home and when it is due back at the library, it will just be deleted from your device. Another thing that may surprise many, is there are currently libraries getting rid of their bookshelves entirely. Seeing the future a bit more clearly than lots of publishers, they know that those who use their libraries are there with a laptop or to use their laptops. Having access to a free wifi site is essential in communities where the cost of such a service is prohibitive and the added benefit is you have trained researchers close to hand.

Libraries now offer classes on how to create e-books, how to code, how to tell stories with digital tools. They provide all these tools for working in the digital world and usually for free and with good teachers who want to share their experience. Having clean, well lit spaces for such work is important and libraries can do this better than anyone else in our communities.

Let There Be Print

That then is not a dismissal of print. Print is still needed in many ways and for many people. It is mostly in this domain where the two, bookstores and libraries, overlap and support one another. Selling books fills a need. Having authors come into our communities to read from and discuss their new books is a pleasure. Book clubs and writing groups like to use bookstores for the ambience as well as the availability of all the newest titles. Print is preserved in many ways by how bookstores function in their communities. I would also suggest that new ways can also be found such as having the sales reps from the distributors come to bookstores prepared to present the books to the community rather than to just the buyer, allowing those interested in what is new to hear the sales speech and to learn more about how books are sold.

We Can Change Everything

Yes, that can all happen and parts of it are happening now. If we integrate the systems and make them work both collaboratively and independently, where they must, we will be saving the book business, expanding the reach of our libraries, giving authors many more venues to speak in and bringing a vibrant book culture into every community. These benefits are not out of reach; they require all of us to advocate for them.

Fresh from The Farm–2015 Summer Road Trip

It took us almost a full day to set up our campsite at a KOA near Cooperstown, NY, the first stop on our road trip. Six nights of sleeping in our new tent at a campsite set in the midst of vast farmland has meant relaxing into a more quiet environment except for the cows and birds and the coyotes howling and screaming at night. Tranquility is not an overrated state of being.

A lot like heaven, I can say. This kind of quiet is essential for any type of creative work, whether like me you are writing a novel, or you just need to re-calibrate how you live your life. Resetting time’s hold can be an awakening to the greater necessities of one’s soul.

I don’t think everyone must sleep in a tent and walk blocks each day to go to the bathroom, but there is something altered in the day’s rhythm when most of “where” I am has no equivalence to the “normal” life I lead in my urban spaces. We arrive, unpack and set up our tent and gazebo, organize our food, cook our meals surrounded by trees, wildlife (and some not so wild as in the cows grazing around here), a plethora of bugs and all manner of wild flowers. We live within what weather and our energy allows for. So windy nights are fine but not great for putting up our tent, which can become a large kite. Cool is fine to sleep in, but not too cool for those long walks to the bathroom late at night.

At first, my body resists and resents this arduous life. While I’m singing here the praises of an outdoor life, it will be weeks into this trip until my whole being can sing in unison about the benefits of living outdoors. When I uproot myself from the ordinary, from an office space, a routine, friends, adjustments need to be made and over a 2-month period, those adjustments and the work are ongoing as we move from place to place.

The physical and mental aspects of our nomadic life are thrilling. Yet, or more precisely, more consequentially, the creative adjustments are even more thrilling and challenging. Writing Scags at 30 while on the road is a first-time experience for me and this has become the most difficult adjustment for me. Please stay tuned for the things I learn to do and not to do while writing at picnic tables in campsites and while sitting in the car. Being several places at once, real and imaginary, is quite a trip, pun intended.

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We’re Leaving in the Morning, Join Us

Getting on the road, is for us, one of the best reasons to be alive. It connects us to the world, to new people, we see things we won’t see or experience sitting at home and just imagining it. We must be there, right there, wherever “there” is.

What makes getting on the road for us two old ladies one of the most thrilling parts of our lives is that it grounds us, it gives us a place inside ourselves that is almost immutable. The spiritual and emotional healing that occurs when we sleep on the ground, wake up to see the sunrise over a forest or a lake, when we fall almost on our asses looking at the stars at night, each one of those traditional and expected elements of camping are true and truer because they ring that way for everyone who loves to spend time outdoors.

Our car is almost packed. For the first time, we are ready to go before we need to pull out of the driveway. This forward momentum is about being in tune with a need. We discovered it almost from the start of our love affair with camping. My wife and I were in an awful part of the country where lots of road work was making the air sooty and the noise of it was disturbing. We weren’t in some beautiful spot but in some out of the way town in Indiana. We were driving out west for the first time with all our camping gear.

The day was hot, lit by that white light of Midwestern summer sun blasting around us as loudly as the noise of the construction. It is a wonder we felt as we did. Yet, we both looked at each other and realized we were nomads. Constitutionally, we were meant to travel and to be places like that, along with all the beautiful places too. We are meant to be on the road, to be not some beat poets looking for our manhood, but as women who need to be in touch with the entire, or as much of the entire world, as our car can take us to.

Our trips have taken us to so many places. We have made 9500 mile round trips to the west. We have circled the southern United States. We have visited the homes of many American writers, Welty, Faulkner, O’Connor, Sandburg, Wolfe, Cather. Visiting their homes gives us a deeper connection to their work. We enter into places needing to hear what each one has to say. That is one of the keys as to why our trips are so successful. We can never hear enough of the stories that strangers tell us. At night, while we watch the fire or lie in our sleeping bags, we recount these stories to each other. They are the treasures we bring back to share with others.

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