How to Self-Publish Your Own Book – Lesson 3: Packaging, Producting and Pricing Your Book

While you may think that writing a book is the toughest part, as a self-publisher there are a few other tough tasks that you need to perform diligently in order to produce a book that looks professional on the inside and outside. This means editing, typesetting and proofreading the manuscript thoroughly, including appropriate illustrations and then working on an attractive cover for your book. Here are a few guidelines on these various aspects.

Polishing Your Manuscript

Your job as a self-publisher does not end with the writing. In fact, once the writing is done, the author in you should step aside and the publisher should take over.

You should first begin by looking at the overall structure of the book. How would the novel read if two chapters were swapped around? Is there sufficient introduction of the characters? Is the novel too serious and does it need some comic relief at a few places? Unlike the common perception, looking at the structure of the book does not merely mean altering a word or two. It is about looking at the entire structure of the book, deciding whether the order of the chapters and the way the story is told can be improved upon. For example, the first chapter could be made stronger or more elaborate to better introduce the characters, the last chapter made more intense and the pace of the story improved.

Once you are happy with the overall structure, you can then begin the painstaking work of fine-tuning every single word of the text. This process requires great self-discipline from you since you might be tempted to cut short the process and take to the printers a manuscript not ready for publication. You must remember that if you were to provide a manuscript to a publishing company, you will be spending hours or weeks in trying to get the manuscript content absolutely right. This, as you would have rightly thought, would greatly increase your chance of getting accepted by the publisher. When you would have taken all this trouble to provide a perfect manuscript to another publisher, there is no reason for you not to do so just because you are self-publishing. It is important to set the same standards for yourself that you would have if you were to have submitted it to another publisher and then strive to reach them.

Typically, when a completed manuscript is sent to a publishing house, they would appoint an editor or in some cases, a team of editors to work on the manuscript. This team will carefully scrutinize each and every word carefully and also brainstorm ideas on how to make the whole manuscript better.  Since you are probably the only editor your company can afford, you have to try and match up to the standards of any publishing house.

While such a mammoth task can indeed be challenging, you can find some easy ways out by speaking to friends and family members. Ask them to read your book, point out errors and make suggestions to help improve the book. If you promise them a free copy of the book and an acknowledgment in the preface, that should be reward enough. You should not worry too much about whether they are well-read and what their knowledge of English is. You do not need an English professor to point out your errors. Most of us are able to quickly identify if a word is missing, has been misspelled or is simply typed twice.

Since a lot of time different people notice different things, print at least five to six copies of your manuscript and hand them over to five or six different people willing to spend some time reading the novel. You will be able to get the feedback from all of them and can make the necessary corrections in your book. Some of the mistakes can be quite obvious and you might be surprised that you did not notice them. You may wonder how they escaped your eyes when you went through the book with a fine toothcomb.  The problem is not that you were not smart enough to pick it up. The problem is that an author while writing is usually already thinking of the next line when his fingers have barely finished the current one. As a result, the current sentence may miss a word or two or misspell the word. When the author, in the role of a publisher is reading it, everything may seem perfect, as the author knows what the sentences are supposed to read like. The errors almost seem invisible! This is where the usefulness of another person reading the manuscript comes in handy.  For them, the missing words or misspelled words almost jump out of the manuscript. If you are unable to find anyone else to read your book for you, you should stay away from the book for a few days, perhaps even a few weeks before returning to work on it. This time, the sequence of the words would not be so strong in your memory and you will be more efficient in picking out mistakes.

If your budget allows for it, you should hire a freelance proofreader. Though they could be expensive, you are more certain to get professional results. A qualified proofreader is trained to pick up even the smallest of mistakes in the manuscript. Contact a local society of editors and proofreaders who will be happy to refer a freelance proofreader for your project.

Of course, nothing beats the ideal combination of having both your friends as well as a freelance professional proofreader go through your manuscript. You can be sure that very few mistakes will slip through.

Illustrating Your Manuscript

Any novel or book looks more interesting if there are illustrations or images to accompany the text. However, having a badly drawn or scanned illustration is worse than not having any illustrations at all. Any illustrative material that you have needs to be scanned so that it can be made available in a digital format.

Of course, you may already have some material ready with you in a digital format like photographs taken with a digital camera. Once the illustrations are available in digital format, they can be easily worked on and can also be placed in the exact location you want using special typesetting software.

Note that it is not necessary to look for a fancy high-end scanner to scan your illustrative material. Even the simplest of scanners nowadays are capable of scanning at high resolutions, producing images of excellent quality. As part of your home business, you might have purchased an all-in-one printer, scanner and copier. Or you might have invested in a stand-alone scanner. Either way, you can be certain of getting good quality scanned images from these scanners.  You should, however, be aware of some very basic rules for scanning and then enhancing the images to be placed in the book.

All images should be scanned at whatever their natural size is, unless of course, they are larger than what the intended page size for your book is. If you are trying to scan a small image and hoping to enlarge it, you need to enhance the resolution accordingly. Similarly, you must avoid compressing the image size wherever possible. Compression techniques were developed a few years back to overcome the difficulty of less hard disk space. Not only was there not enough hard disk space but also it was so expensive that many of us would try to compress files so that we could fit as many files as possible within the available space. Of course, smaller file sizes also meant that the computers could process them more quickly. With huge hard disks being easily available now, the size of the file should not matter. If you are saving the scanned file as a JPEG, make sure you choose the maximum image quality but minimum compression. Lower the compression, higher the quality of the image.

If you are using simple black and white illustrations, you can scan them at 600 dpi and save them as bitmaps. If you have illustrations made using a simple black pen or you are only scanning printed text, they can be reproduced easily with very high quality. Ensure that you save them as TIFF images, which are the best to work with in any typesetting software.

If you are using black and white photos as illustrations, you should scan them at 300 dpi and save them in JPG format with, as mentioned above, minimum compression. On the other hand, color photos and images can be scanned initially in RGB color (at 300 dpi) but will need to be converted into CMYK color mode before they can be saved as JPG files. The reason for this conversion is as follows. Most home scanners are not able to scan a colored image directly into the CMYK color mode. The scanned image will need to be converted from the RGB mode to a CMYK mode using photo-editing software such as Fireworks or Photoshop. Now, any color image can be created with the mixture of three main colors – red, green and blue (RGB) or of four main colors – cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK).  While computer screens are better suited to displaying the RGB color images, printing presses used CMYK since it gives them much more flexibility in printing color images. Typically, a printing press will use four sources of ink containing CMYK to print high quality color photos or illustrations. It is therefore essential that if you are inserting images to be printed in a printing press, you include images that are in the CMYK mode.

Typesetting Your Manuscript

You will know that you have reached a significant milestone when you reach the typesetting stage. You have meticulously proofread the book, selected illustrations and are now ready to typeset the book. At this stage, you will start transforming your rough manuscript into a polished product. It is truly an exciting moment and is next only to seeing the actually printed version.

Typesetting is not a difficult task and certainly something that you might be able to handle by yourself. However, if you have never done any typesetting before, chances are you will make some very common, avoidable errors as a novice. You are therefore better off hiring a professional typesetter for a couple of your novels and as you watch, you can learn and when you feel you are comfortable you can take up typesetting yourself. Till then, it is safer to hire a professional. Do not be fooled by the apparent simplicity of the process. You may think that most of the work is being done by the software and wonder what the typesetter himself is doing. You are correct to the extent that most of the work is indeed being done by the software – in fact, we would even agree that about eighty percent of the work is being done by the software. However, it is important to realize that the remaining twenty percent of the work is the truly challenging part and can make all the difference between producing a high quality book and one that looks amateurish at best.

If you are keen on typesetting the book yourself, you have to give yourself enough time to be able to learn and then practice using the typesetting software. An experienced typesetter will take about two days to typeset a book and if it does not require any fancy typesetting, one can do it even in a couple of hours. While novels are fairly straightforward, it could take anywhere from five to seven days for a heavily illustrated book. On the other hand, a book that has complex layouts with many illustrations, where the text and images flow in complex patterns, or where each page is different, it would take an experienced typesetter a few weeks to finish typesetting. If you want to try your hand at typesetting, you should know that it will take you about two or three times more time than an experienced professional to do the same job.

Let us see how typesetting makes creating a book so simple. Before typesetting software became the rage, one would create a table of contents as follows. The entire list of chapters would be printed out, the page numbers identified manually and the entire table of contents would be printed out on the top page. Space bar and tab keys would be used to align the table of contents. Or you could write the titles of the chapters one at a time in the table of contents page and make a print out of this page. Again, you would need to write down the page numbers for each title by searching for them on the screen and then go back to typing them out in the table of contents page. The easiest way today is to just choose which chapter you want included in the table of contents by selecting ‘include in table of contents.’ Then go to the table of contents page and just select ‘generate table of contents’ and hey presto, you have a ready table of contents, with titles and page numbers correctly matched.

If you choose to be prudent and decide to hire a professional typesetter or printer, the messy details of typesetting need not be your concern. You can concentrate on making sure that that the pages look professional, attractive and have style reflective of the content of the book.

Before you go for a meeting with a typesetter, you should do adequate research on the kind of layouts that have impressed you. Just as you would go to a hairdresser and request for a celebrity hairstyle with the picture of the celebrity in hand, you should go with some samples of typesetting that you like for them to see. For many, it simplifies the job since they know where they have to start without having to waste too much time experimenting. For others, you are trying to make sure that they go the extra length in ensuring that everything is as you wanted and where you wanted. Explain every detail that you want like special fonts or colors, text effects, decorative borders or boxes of images.

Once you have the final typeset version in hand, you need to make sure that these commonly found errors are not found in your book.

  • Having text too close to the spine – When you are looking at your manuscript, you should think of what it should be like in the final print version. Equal margins on either side of the text may look neat and clean on the computer screen. But what about when the book has to be printed and bound? How will these margins work then? Part of the margin will go into the spine of the book. If the book is bound tightly or you have left very little margin, part of the text may actually go into the binding of the book, making it very difficult to read. Another reality you should be prepared for is that the printer may cut up to 3 mm less or more than what you had requested. If you have left the margins very narrow, some of the text may get cut off. The solution is to always allow a few extra millimeters for the margins that will go next to the binding. Provide enough room on the top and bottom so that excess cutting may still not affect the text.

  • No text justification – All the text in a book is justified text; left-aligned text certainly looks amateurish in a book unless you are doing it as part of a stylistic decision.

  • Too many split words – By having hyphenations you could save space as well as avoid gaps where long words have to go on to the next line. However, if you use hyphens – you may then have line after line ending in hyphenation, with one half of the word on the top line and the other on the second line. A good solution is to turn off hyphenation while typesetting and then turn it on for paragraphs where you notice large gaps on account of a big word having moved on to the next line.

  • Justification problems – While justification is a must in a professional looking book, it does create is own problems. When a piece of text has long words close together, there appear big gaps in the text. The reason is as follows. Justified text is created by changing the gaps between words. When a line contains four big words, there are only three gaps that have to be stretched to complete the line. The result being huge, ugly gaps. You have to be careful to suitably alter such lines.

  • Paragraph indent at the start of the chapter – It is standard convention that the first paragraph of every chapter is aligned flush with the left-hand margin. If there is text next to a picture, it looks more professional if the paragraph has no indent.

  • Double quotation marks – When in school we were instructed by our grammar teachers to always put speech in double quotation marks! It does not work that way in books and if you use double quotation marks, you will reveal that you are an amateur publisher faster than by any other method. Typically nowadays, the only time double quotation marks are used is when a character quotes somebody else’s words. For example: ‘You should have heard what she said,’ said Mariah. ‘She said, ”She did not care”.’ It is therefore essential that you do a thorough search for double quotation marks and then replace them all with a single quotation mark.

  • Huge paragraph indents – Make sure that your paragraph indents are limited to 4 mm. If you are careless about these, your book will certainly look amateurish.

  • Gap between each paragraph – You can certainly typeset your book so that there is no paragraph indent. However, how will the reader know where the paragraph begins and where it ends? The alternative then is to use gaps between the paragraphs. This will increase the number of pages in the book but that does not fool anybody. This is a very common trick used by those who do not have too much content but instead want to pretend to have written a big book. Provide paragraph indents and watch those gaps between paragraphs.

  • Using badly scanned photos or images – If you plan on using illustrations for your book, do not be in a hurry to just scan some photos or images and then put them in your book. You need to consider their relevance to your text and you also need to pay attention to their quality. Consult some photo-editing software guide to help you improve the quality by cropping images, changing brightness or contrast, or perhaps getting rid of the background entirely. Make the images sharper by scanning at the proper dpi and resolution.

  • Orphans and Widows – No, we are not discussing the plot of any new soap opera. Leaving the final line of a paragraph to the next page creates a widow. A line starting at the end of the page but continuing on the next page is an orphan. By paying careful attention to the top and bottom of each page, we can avoid these classic-typesetting errors.

Proofreading Your Typeset Manuscript

While typesetting decides the way the text and images flow in your book, it is also a stage where inadvertent errors often creep in. For example, words may be lost, letters inserted and images may have the wrong caption. Proofreading is a very important stage where you will need to go through the version again, making sure that all errors are caught and rectified.

You therefore need to set aside sufficient time for proofreading your typeset version. The best method is to do this twice: Look through the book once to make sure the layout meets your requirement and that all styles used are consistent. Next, read the book again, this time focusing on the words so that you can catch the errors and make necessary corrections.

Designing the Cover of Your Book

While the typesetting and proof reading processes are important to give your book the professional look it needs in terms of being able to attract prospective customers, the design of your book is also going to play a major role. You may have written an excellent book and worked on an impressive layout but if the cover is drab and does not mention too much about the content, no one will know what an excellent writer you are. On the other hand, if you spend some time working on the design of the cover, come up with something that is stylish and have a brief but well-written blurb that is bound to raise the reader’s interest, there is a chance that a reader attracted by the design and intrigued by the blurb actually decides to buy your book.

Similar to typesetting, many believe that with graphic designing software, they can design a cover for a book. However, one needs a higher level of design and graphic art skills along with a good knowledge of the software. If you want to be sure that you have a professional looking cover, you are better off hiring a professional graphic designer, especially one who has had previous experience designing book covers.

Just as you had done for the typesetting professional, you need to provide a brief to the graphic designer. Mention to them the following:

  • Title and subtitle of the book.
  • Correct name of author.
  • Other text that you want included on the cover.
  • Size of the book.
  • Genre the book belongs to.
  • Quick summary of the underlying theme or ideas in the book.
  • Images that you think should go into the cover.
  • Any other specific demands you may have, like foiling or embossing.
  • Examples of popular books in the same genre.

Any professional will offer you two or three preliminary designs. Once you indicate your preference for a particular design, you can request the designer to perform two or three iterations using different elements and experimenting with the colors and images a little. You may have to go through a few such iterations before you finally find a design that you think is a perfect fit for your body.

As we mentioned above, while hiring a professional graphic designer, you should attempt to hire one that has some previous experience in designing book covers. The designer should know the conventions of various genres and follow them. For example, you will leave the reader confused if you make a novel look like a children’s book or a cookery book look like a novel. When the design of the cover follows established conventions, readers are more comfortable with the design while they are wary of experimental designs. For example, if you are designing the cover for a thriller, you may want to look at some of Dan Brown or John Grisham’s books. While you may not want your book to appear like a look-alike, you may want to choose some of these author’s books as the base upon which you can improve to create your own book design.

You may want to see what kind of fonts, colors, text and image layout the popular books have so that you can get some ideas from them. Also, you want your design to stay current. There is no point in looking at books that were published almost a decade ago. Further, the design of the cover for your book also depends on what current fashion trends are. Typefaces, sizes, placing of titles and the blurb all keep continually changing. Your graphic designer needs to be aware of how to use new fashion trends well for the cover of your book.

Designing is not all the graphic designer needs to be aware of, book designing involves allowing for bleeds, leaving room for the jacket to wrap correctly and placing a bar code. It is best to choose someone who has experience in book production so that you do not lose too much money or efforts with one who knows nothing about book production.