A Beer-Napkin Primer on Country Mardi Gras + A Complicated Story on Blackface – New Bayou Books
“What happened is that the gatekeepers, all at once lost their power. If you want to make a record, make a record. Put it on iTunes; pick yourself. If you want to write, write. Build a blog; pick yourself”– Seth Godin
So, I spent most of Saturday uploading my first book—the first offering from New Bayou Books, called Tattoos and Tans—to Amazon. It was a learning experience, and so I want to pass on some lessons learned and insights to other writers out there.
In addition to some specific insights related to the Amazon platform, I’m going to talk briefly about how I went about producing the cover design and interior formatting for Tattoos and Tans, and what I plan to do differently for future books. Let me warn you now that this entry might drift a little, for the simple fact that there are aspects of this overall process—not to mention nagging questions in my head—that I still don’t have answers for. So, take it easy on me, and take it for what it’s worth.
The cover. Here’s how I approached creating a cover design for the first New Bayou Book. To start with, I knew I wanted an original piece of art to be the centerpiece. And it just so happens I know a badass visual artist, so I asked him to draw something for me. Here’s a picture of it.
Once I had the handmade drawing, I had another guy digitize it. I paid both of these people, by the way. My feeling is that all art is precious, and it should always be paid for in some fashion. So, the digital version ended up looking like this.
Next, I found a moderately priced graphic designer on Fivver.com who specializes in book design for Amazon and other electronic platforms. Since I already had the central piece of art that I wanted, it didn’t take too much back and forth to arrive at a cover I was happy with. Here’s the finished product.
Interior formatting. If you don’t know this already, there are two separate and distinct styles of interior formatting for books. For the digital versions that people read on Kindles, Nooks, and other apps, the pagination is fluid, to account for differences in font size and the surface area of the reading window. And for paperbacks (which is the only hard copy option on Amazon—you can’t use their print on demand service and get a hard cover), the pages are static.
Tattoos and Tans is a fairly hefty book. I think it works out to something like 360 pages in standard 6 x 9 paperback form. Just like with the cover, I found someone on Fivver.com to do the interior formatting for me—which involves stripping out embedded formatting styles that will be incompatible with the Amazon format, setting up the fancy drop caps at the beginning of each episode, and adding other flourishes that give the text a professional look. But these guys generally charge based on the size of the book, so it cost me a bit more than I was expecting.
I have two books to finish and to put up for sale before October, and so I made the decision on the interior formatting to just bite the bullet and pay to have it done, even though I would prefer to do it myself. And—to be clear—it’s entirely possible to do this yourself. Let me quickly outline the reasons why I intend to learn this skill in time for my third book (which I’ll put out in 2022).
- Control. This is at the top of the list. The reason I’m not bothering with agents and rejection and luck is because I just want to get on with the business of creating, and with putting my work out into the world the way I want to see it. So it stings a little bit to have to cede control over the main body of the story in this fashion. What if I want to make changes after the formatting’s been done?
- Don’t Pay for Something You Can Do Yourself. No offense to the wonderful guy who did the work for me, but formatting a book is clearly a very learnable skill. I’m not saying you can just jump in and wing it. If I thought that was the case, I would’ve done it. But neither is this kind of work so highly complex that it can’t be learned, probably, in ten hours or less, I’m guessing.
- The Compatibility factor. I’ll talk more about this at the very end, but for now I’ll just point out that when you outsource these services, you can’t really dictate what software the person will use. And so you might end up with a compatibility problem later on.
Uploading to Amazon. In general, I found the process of uploading my book to Amazon pretty straightforward. Confidence-inspiring, even. Once I actually found the right page (by searching for “Amazon KDP” from their home page), there was a nice little welcome video that put me at ease (simpleton that I am).
The first thing you do is set up a KDP account (KDP stands for Kindle Direct Publishing). You link your bank account info for future royalties to flow automatically, which is an inspiring first step. Then you navigate through a series of steps that involve describing your book, plugging in your ISBN or using one Amazon finds for you (I bought my own from myidentifiers.com . . . part of that whole control thing), and uploading your files.
One thing I hadn’t quite anticipated was the different versions of the cover you need. For the digital version, you need a JPEG. But for the paperback version, it’s a PDF. And furthermore, the PDF has to meet a very specific set of dimensions. I actually had to go back to the designer I’d hired on Fivver.com to have him fix the dimensions of the PDF for me.
Overall the main piece of advice I’d offer other writers is this. Be ready to upload your book to Amazon before you contract your cover design and interior formatting, so that you can immediately try them out as soon as the files are delivered to you. This will save you the somewhat awkward process of going back to the designer a few weeks after you’ve accepted the job and saying “remember me?”
Compatibility. I’m planning to put a nice, e-reader friendly version of the first three episodes of my books, available for free, on NewBayouBooks.com. But actually making that happen is going to be harder than I thought, and the reason it’s complicated is compatibility. I wrote the books in Google Docs (which I think is far better than Word or Scrivener). But my formatted book came back in a Word file, and when I import the file into Google Docs, the formatting of the drop caps changes.
Once I solve that problem, there’s still the matter of marrying the cover art with the words. I have a license for Adobe IN-Design (though I don’t yet know how to use it), which is the industry standard for designing both book covers and interior formatting. Except that the book designer I hired used Photoshop to do the cover. And the guy who did the formatting apparently used Word. So putting it all together is going to be yet another puzzle to figure out.
But all that’s for another day . . . today is about nothing more than celebrating the fact that Tattoos and Tans is available for pre-sale on Amazon. It ships direct to your device on Friday the 13th of August. Check it out!