Monday, May 20, 2013

Busy with Business

Wow, two anthology posts in a row! I've never done that before. I've been kind of busy, doing some cool things.

Early in May I attended a workshop on how to do POD books -- covers, interiors, marketing and selling, with a lot of really shocking info on how the business has changed very recently. I spent the time between my April anthology post and the workshop itself fiddling with Photoshop Elements (which it turned out I didn't need for the class :P ) and InDesign, which is an awesome tool -- once you've learned even the basics of ID, it becomes clear why it's the industry standard. Once you have your art (for about fifteen dollars off a stock art site -- and yes, they have art art as well as photos) you can do the whole cover, beautifully, in InDesign.

Flowing the text in is easy. Front matter goes in first, then your story or novel text; ID will create as many pages as you need, and you use master pages to set the layout. The fiddly part here is making sure the formatting works at the line- and paragraph-level. Hunting for widows (the first line of a paragraph alone at the bottom of a page), orphans (the last line of a paragraph alone at the top of a page, and widowed orphans (the last line of a paragraph, totally alone at the top of a page, with no other text on the page) can make your interior look much better. Most of these can be fixed easily by using the tracking tool on a whole paragraph at once, tightening or loosening it enough to pull a lone word or two up onto the previous line (re-flowing everything up to close the space) or to push a word or two onto the next line (pushing everything down a line) while not changing the spacing so much that someone casually reading will even notice.

InDesign is an incredibly powerful tool, and there are usually multiple ways of doing just about anything, which means it can be overwhelming at first. Having personal classroom instruction, one-to-three instruction with Allyson in small groups, and people coming around to give us one-to-one help during lab periods, was worth the cost of the workshop, and then some. The workshop was taught by Dean Wesley Smith and Allyson Longueira (Allyson is the publisher at WMG), with help during labs by a couple of local writers who are old hands at this and came to help out. Lee Allred was particularly awesome in giving assistance to all of us newbie book designers.

And really, that's what it comes down to: the design. You can achieve the same results with other tools, but what's important is the design. Look at other books in your genre -- professionally published books, not just indie books -- and see what they look like. What elements are on the cover? How are they laid out? What's large or small? What elements are associated together, and placed near one another? Notice those little tags -- "Bestselling author of Popular Book," or "Book 3 of Author's Cool Series" -- that are too small to read in thumbnail? You still need them on your e-books. Even if they're unreadable in an online bookseller's catalog, they're design elements and readers are used to seeing them, even as a little line of unreadable text, on professionally designed covers. The cover will look naked and unfinished without them.

What's included in the front matter, and how is it laid out? What do new chapter pages look like in a novel, or new story pages in a collection or anthology? What does the spacing look like, between the headers and the text, the footers and the text, the text and the margins? If your presentation is amateurish, potential readers (buyers) will notice, even if they can't articulate what bugs them about a particular cover or interior. New York has conditioned us to expect certain things about a professional book, and if an indie book doesn't have all those things, or they're not laid out the way we're used to seeing, that'll ping our "amateur" alarm, even if we can't put our finger on why. Learning how to design the book, and the cover, is more important than learning to use kerning tools or feathered gradients in a particular software package. (Although you really should learn those things in whatever software you're using.)

So before the workshop, I was playing with the software and watching instructional videos online. Then I was in Oregon for a week and a half, and a lot busier than I thought I'd be. The day I flew to Portland, I met a writer friend [waves to PD Singer] at the airport, along with a friend of hers who lives in Portland, and we went and had lunch with a few other writers in our genre who are local to Portland. I love meeting internet people in realspace, so that was very cool. After lunch, Pam and I drove out to the coast, and we roomed together for the workshop itself. We sat next to each other in class, swapping help and opinions and angst. :)

After the workshop, we drove back to Portland and Pam dropped me off at my hotel. When I'm at these workshops, I like staying an extra night in Portland; not having to scramble to catch a plane that day means that I can flex my schedule to match that of whoever's driving me. One of the writers we had lunch with on the way out came to my hotel that evening. [waves to Amelia Gormley.] We chatted, had dinner together, and chatted some more.

The biggest bomb dropped on the workshop, though, was during the evening sessions, which were all business discussions. Remember Ella Distribution? I mentioned them a couple of months ago -- they were set up to distribute indie books by small publishers to bookstores. Well, Ella is gone. It was well organized, with an awesome web site, and had great people working on it, but within less than half a year, the industry changed. Now, not only is Ella no longer necessary, but it can't compete with the big kids on the playground.

Dean and Sheldon McArthur (Shelly's one of the best known booksellers in the country) talked to us about what'd changed recently with the distributors. Basically, 1) Baker and Taylor no longer marks books as POD published, and Ingram and the others followed suit; 2) B&T (and the others) now offer POD books at a good discount to booksellers, about 45%, and more if they keep on top of their bills; and 3) B&T (and the others) now allow returns on POD books.

There are indie-pubbed books in bookstores right now. If you go through Createspace, and pay the extra $25 for extended distribution, your books are available to bookstores through their standard distributors, on terms that make stocking them attractive. The only barrier right now is your book's presentation -- mainly cover and summary blurb. (Again, does your cover look professional, or does it look amateur?)

The playing field between an indie-pubbed book and a midlist New York published book is now level when it comes to getting into bookstores.

Shelly talked about how he finds books to buy for his store, through the distributor, through publisher catalogs and promotional material, and through sites like Goodreads, where he'll go to see what books people might be talking about that he hadn't heard of. He's been buying indie books ever since the distributors changed their policies. He doesn't care where a book comes from so long as it's a good book, professionally presented, and neither do the readers.

Dean and Kristine Kathryn Rusch are talking about this all month on their blogs, in much more detail. As always, there's good stuff in the comments, too. I highly recommend you read their posts on the subject. (Actually, if you're a writer I highly recommend you read their blogs all the time. Lots of great stuff there.)

During all this, I had a deadline on the 15th to get a story turned in for an event running in June on Goodreads, and the story I was writing was getting longer and longer and longer.... [headdesk] When I wasn't futzing with InDesign during the workshop, I was writing, and after I came home I was still writing. I got it done, a 60K word novel that'll be available on Goodreads some time in June, and as an e-book on Goodreads and ARe some time after that, depending on where it is in the very long list of books the group's volunteers have to work on. I'll be doing a paperback version some time after that. (I did a cover for it at the workshop.)

And now I'm back to writing other things.

The business is changing while we sit here. If we stay on top of the changes, and take advantage of them, they'll work for us. This is a great time to be a writer, and a wonderful time to be indie publishing, or getting into it if you're not yet.



Charles Gramlich said...

I need to look into indesign it sounds like. I could use the help.

Angie said...

Charles -- InDesign is awesome, definitely. [nod] Once you're up to speed on it, formatting POD books is great, and it exports exactly the formats you need to upload to CreateSpace.