Programs for Indie Publishers

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Creativity is messy

One of the best aspects of indie publishing is that Do-It-Yourself is feasible. All you need is a computer and some decent programs–many of them free–and you can put together a professionally packaged book.

 

Many indie publishers start and end with MS Word. I suspect this has to do with comfort. They use Word, they know it (or think they do), and Amazon, Smashwords and Draft2Digital accept Word files. I also suspect fear plays a part. No matter how easy or intuitive a program is, there is still a learning curve. Easier to stay with the devil you know than to leap into the unknown. My hope is that the list of programs I use will encourage DIY indie publishers to wander into deeper waters and increase the quality of their book production.

This following programs and tools are what I use on an almost daily basis. It’s by no means a complete list of all the programs and apps that are available. A Google search for “programs for publishing” will turn up hundreds–thousands!–of programs an indie might find useful.

A word about computers. Currently I use two. A Lenovo Z70 laptop and a Mac. (I’m in the process of finding a new desktop PC, too.) I use the laptop for ebook production and the Mac for print and covers. The reason is: Adobe. I will not allow any Adobe products on my laptop. They are big and grabby and eat RAM like peanuts, especially InDesign. Adobe CC seems to behave better on the Mac, crashing less often. Plus, I have a 29″ screen that makes using Photoshop a real pleasure.

On to the list.

DROPBOX. Dropbox is a cloud storage service. You can sign up for the basic service and it’s free. If you need more storage space, you can go with a business plan that starts at $9.99 a month. Most indies don’t need the extra space. It’s a great way to back up your files. You can synch between devices. There are apps available so you can access Dropbox from your tablet or phone. You can share files and folders. It’s an easy way to share files that are too big for email attachments. I’ve been using Dropbox for years. It’s had a few hiccups, but very few. The only ongoing problem I’ve experienced is that the Kindle Previewer doesn’t like it. So to load a file into the Previewer I have to remember to drag it out of Dropbox and onto my desktop first.


MS WORD.  Used to be just about every PC came pre-loaded with MS Word. Everybody used it. Those days are over. Now you have to purchase it.

WHAT I USE IT FOR

  • Personal correspondence and writing
  • Initial file clean-up
  • Basic ebook formats for Smashwords (fiction only)

PROS

  • Everybody uses it (for now)
  • It’ll open a huge number of file types and it will generate a large number of file types.
  • Word docs are accepted by Amazon, Smashwords and Draft2Digital

CONS

  • Most people have no idea how to use Word properly
  • Clunky, bloated and overly-complicated
  • Makes awful ebooks

NOTEPAD (PC) and NOTES (Mac). These text programs come pre-loaded on most PCs or Macs. When I’m working on a book I keep a file open where I can make notes to myself. Nothing special, but very very handy.


NOTEPAD++. This is my text editor of choice. (In the Mac I use Text Wrangler)

WHAT I USE IT FOR

  • Create ebooks in html with cascading style sheets
  • Text restoration
  • File cleanup

PROS

  • Free
  • Easy to use
  • No bloat since there is nothing running in the background to add a bunch of junk to a file
  • Powerful search function with multiple levels
  • Can encode files for different purposes, including UTF-8 for ebooks

CONS

  • Learning curve (moderate)
  • Must get used to the display which is nothing like a word processor

SIGIL. EPUB editor. I have it on both computers. If you want to step up your ebook quality, Sigil is an excellent tool for creating ebooks. And yes, with some modifications to your file, you can create ebooks for Amazon Kindle, too. Paul Salvette of bbebooks offers a very good tutorial.

WHAT I USE IT FOR

  • Troubleshooting epub files

PROS

  • Free
  • Mostly stable
  • Offers inline epub validation
  • Can be used in WYSIWYG mode or in html mode

CONS

  • Learning curve (moderate)

KINDLE PREVIEWER. Quick and easy way to preview your ebook files before you upload them to Amazon. If you want to see how your ebooks look with Amazon’s enhanced typesetting features you can download the Kindle Previewer 3.


CALIBRE. Quick and easy way to preview an epub file. Has an epub editor (which I don’t use and haven’t looked at it in over a year, so cannot say how good it is). Despite its many fans, Calibre is NOT the tool to use to create commercial ebooks. It causes disabled user preference controls on Kindle devices and apparently there are conflicts with Kindle enhanced typesetting.


MOBIPOCKET CREATOR. Will convert a Word or html file into a prc file that can be converted into a mobi file in the Kindle Previewer or loaded directly onto a Kindle device. Quick and simple. Good way to check how the formatting on a Word file will perform on a Kindle. I use it to do a quick and dirty conversion of Word files I want to read on my e-ink Kindle.


EPUB VALIDATOR. The idpf validator is the standard for making sure your epub files are free of errors and up to snuff. I use this tool in conjunction with Sigil. If I get an error message, I can find and fix it quickly in Sigil, then transfer the fix back to my html files.


UNMANIFESTED EPUB FILE CHECK. Apple iBooks is picky about unmanifested files within an epub package. Running your epub file through this checker will help ensure your ebook will make it onto the Apple site.


IRIS OCR. I do a lot of text restoration, recovering the text from printed books and turning it into a workable document. I have used and researched a lot of OCR programs. Quality ranges from “oh my god you have to be kidding” to excellent. IRIS is excellent. If you have an HP scanner, you can download IRIS OCR software along with the HP drivers. You can also purchase software that allows for side-by-side document editing (necessary if you’re scanning and restoring graphic/image heavy or complicated layouts in non-fiction books).


INDESIGN. For print on demand layouts. (Despite what many of its fans say, it’s NOT a good program for making ebooks. I can usually tell an ID generated ebook because it looks gorgeous and the user preference controls are disabled. There are apparently conflicts with Kindle enhanced typesetting, too.)

PROS

  • For POD it’s easier to use than Word.
  • Print is what it was made for and print is what it does best. Makes beautiful books.
  • Adobe help sucks, but google “how do I…InDesign” and you’ll find answers all over the place.
  • Trouble-free export into POD ready pdf files.

CONS

  • Expensive! I don’t think you can buy the program new from Adobe. Instead, you have to set up a subscription. If you cancel your subscription, your .indd files are rendered useless.
  • Steep learning curve.
  • RAM grabby and has a tendency to crash.

PAINT.NET. A powerful paint program that is easy to use. Fun, too. And free! Good for resizing images and creating simple graphics. Offers many plug-ins that make it possible to create ebook covers. It does a good job of modifying and manipulating photos.


PHOTOSHOP. The more I use Photoshop, the more I learn about it, the more I like it. I use it to make covers and to clean up damaged images. Unlike ID, I’ve had no problems with it either slowing my computer to a sluggish crawl or crashing. Like ID, it’s not being offered for sale by Adobe, but is on a subscription plan.

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There you go. My favorite book production programs. What about yours?

 

 

 

 

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To Print (on demand) or Not Print (on demand); That is the Question

quinnzoo4I’ve been doing a lot of print-on-demand editions here of late. The majority of my clients are using CreateSpace, and a few use Lightning Source/Ingrams. I haven’t had anybody reporting huge print sales or widespread placement in bookstores (yet). I think bottom line for most (right now) is they like having the option, but moreso, there is immense satisfaction in having a tangible copy of their creation. Quite a few, I think, are looking toward the future. As indie publishers increase both their physical and financial presence, brick-and-mortar bookstores and libraries will have no choice except to look to indie publishers to find the stock their customers demand. As demand increases, the technology is going to get better and it will get cheaper. (On a personal note, I’d love a future where EVERY book is print-on-demand, because I hate waste and I hate the idea of books being pulped.)

On the practical side, is it a good idea for YOU to issue a print-on-demand version of YOUR book?

  1. Is it difficult?
    Not at all. You give two pdf files to your printer. (Two most popular right now: CreateSpace, an Amazon company; and Lightning Source/Ingrams.). One pdf is for the interior; the other is for the cover flat. Spend an hour reading the FAQs and specs at your printer’s website, and you’ll have all the information you need for your project. Both CS and LS offer templates for cover creation. They’re easy to use. Once you have your files, you upload them, go through the review process, take care of any little issues that might arise, order a proof copy, make sure it’s just right, then publish. It takes a little longer than does digital publishing, but it’s no more difficult.
  2. Is it expensive?
    It can be. You could spend thousands if you choose. You can also do it yourself and spend nothing at all, except time. If you use CreateSpace, you can layout your interior file in Word and generate your pdf from that. (Lightning Source will not accept those). There are book design templates available. Joel Friedlander (thebookdesigner.com) offers a wide range of templates specifically for Word. They are inexpensive yet beautiful. If you don’t have the time or inclination to do it yourself, you can hire a professional. For most fiction projects the price will range from around $.25 to $1.00 per finished page.
  3. Do I need an ISBN?
    If you use CreateSpace they will give you an ISBN at no cost or low cost (but it’s not free, so read the terms and conditions). Lightning Source requires you purchase your own. In the US ISBNs are provided by Bowkers. They are expensive. (My biggest gripe with Bowkers is that they’ve recognized that the more clueless an author is, the bigger a cash cow he/she becomes–DO YOUR RESEARCH!)
  4. Can I use my ebook cover?
    A well-done ebook cover can be modified for a print cover. Your cover designer is probably adept at that type of work. If you did your own cover or want to do it yourself, as I mentioned above, both CS and LS offer templates.

    Ebook Cover

    Ebook Cover

    Same cover modified for print.

    Same cover modified for print.

  5. What about distribution?
    This ranges from no muss/no fuss to pounding the pavement one bookstore at a time. Being an Amazon company, Createspace will automatically list your POD edition on Amazon. They also have expanded distribution. Lightning Source uses Ingrams and there are some costs involved. You are free to order copies in any quantity you desire and sell direct. Unlike vanity presses, the books belong to you. You set the price, you control the distribution channels.

The thing to remember is that print-on-demand is in its infancy–in technology, in acceptance, and in price. Even if it’s not a huge revenue stream for most writers right now, that could easily change in the very near future. With production costs as low as they are–especially if you are a Do-It-Yourselfer–there is no real reason to NOT create print-on-demand editions of your books.

What about you, readers? Do you have POD editions? Do you think the effort and added expense is worth it?

POD Books. Is Everybody Doing It? Why Not?

LB collectionIt’s no secret that I love books. I’ve been a voracious reader since age 4, when I discovered there were worlds within covers and I could visit whenever I liked. Since acquiring my Kindle, my book hoarding tendencies are firmly under control. (At least on the surface)

Here is what I dislike about books–the waste. Do you know what happens to mass market paperbacks nobody buys? The covers are ripped off the spines and returned to the publisher for credit while the books themselves are discarded. Remainders are stacked on the “nobody loves me” tables, with ugly stickers marring their jackets, or gathered up by remainder companies that push them cheap in warehouse-like environments. Publishers guess at how many books will sell, and if they guess wrong (which is most of the time) a lot of books go to waste. Not to mention what all that overage, warehousing, shipping and stocking and unstocking does to book prices.

Enter Print-on-Demand, which I happen to think is the best invention since the printing press. Granted, I wasn’t impressed when POD books started showing up in my local library. Many looked little better than bound manuscripts and they had a cheesiness about them that offended my bibliophilic sensibilities.

That’s changed. A lot. On the outside, POD trade paperbacks are indistinguishable from trad pubbed books. In the hands of a skilled designer, the interiors are just as good, too. The technology has caught up to the medium and it’s getting better all the time. Even better, no waste. No warehousing. No printing a thousand to sell a hundred. No stripping. No endless cycles of overbuying and returns.

For indie writers, offering POD editions is becoming less a “perhaps” and more a sound business strategy. Amazon will be launching a bundling program called Matchbook. Buy the print book, get the digital edition for cheap or free. It’s a way to get your books into libraries. As B&N declines as a major brick-and-mortar presence, indie bookstores are regaining market share. They need stock. Sure, they’re (in general) hostile to indie books, but reality has a way of intruding into even the most deeply held prejudices. Plus, current distribution models are not sustainable. It didn’t work all so good when it was a closed system and it works even worse now that it’s opening up. POD could prove to be a boon to smaller bookstores.

In light of all that, that is where my newest obsessions are leading me. I’ve been up past midnight for days now, figuring out print book layout. I’ve been sorely tempted to use one of Joel Friedlander’s templates. He has decades of experience in book design and I’d trust anything he produces. But I can’t learn by filling in the blanks. I have, however, been devouring the articles on his website. If you’re interested in learning how to design and layout print books, that is where you can start.

Ebooks are so simple by comparison.

In any case, if I’m quiet for a while, it’s because I’m immersed. I have a grasp on the basics, and I certainly have enough good role models on my bookshelves. I have hope that I can someday produce beautiful print books, too.