How It’s Done: Work Flow in Indie Book Production

A few days ago I wrote a post assuring writers that book production is hard work, but it’s not unmanageable or even difficult. It just so happens that I am almost finished with a HUGE project and for those writers still on the fence about whether to take the plunge into self-publishing, it might prove educational to see the actual steps I took in producing a title.

(Book production is just one facet of the publishing process. There is writing the book, which I suspect most of you already know how to do. There is selling the book, which is what happens out there in the world. I’m only going to talk about the work flow of actual production.)

Step #1: Editorial

With this project, the writer had access to experienced first readers. Their impressions and comments helped him fix any inconsistencies or problems with plot or characters. Then it was time for copy editing. My turn.

TIP: Every publishing entity has an “in-house style” to cover punctuation, preferred spelling and formatting. I suggest indie writers develop their own in-house style guide. Settle on a style manual and a dictionary. It will help immensely when you deal with copy-editors and proofreaders, plus it will make your entire body of work consistent.

As a freelance copy editor, my client is the writer, not the “house.” That means every change is highlighted (even inserting a missing period) and must be approved or declined by the writer. The writer is The Boss.

TIP: If you are going to turn your manuscript into an ebook, I suggest you find an alternative to Track Changes in Word. Track Changes inserts nasty coding into the file and it’s a bear to remove.

Now the manuscript is ready for production.

Step #2: The Interior

I have a fairly specific work flow I use for any book production project. It looks like a lot of steps, but it’s actually pretty efficient. I’ll break it down for you:

  • Make a copy of the original document and open in Word (for this I use my ancient version, less garbage to deal with)
  • Tag all special formatting, tag the scene breaks (if they aren’t already) and tag any text that require special styling (poetry, letters, section heads, etc.)
  • Copy/Paste the document into a text editor.(I use Notepad++, powerful freeware that is simple to use and makes ebook formatting a breeze.)
  • Prep the text: remove extra spaces and blank lines, turn quote marks and apostrophes the right direction, deal with reserved characters, etc.
  • Make the graphical elements (in this case, chapter heads and a scene break indicator)
  • Style the text for a MOBI format. (Since I have Kindles, I usually do the MOBI format first.)
  • Load the ebook onto a Kindle and proofread.

TIP: Do not ever skip proofreading. 99% of the goofs I see in ebooks could have been caught and fixed if the publisher had proofread the ebook. If you do not own an ereading device, then download the Kindle Previewer or Calibre or Adobe Digital Editions and proofread it on your computer.

  • Compile the proofed text into a new file. (This book will be an Amazon exclusive, but if it weren’t, I would use the proofed text to make the EPUB and Smashwords formats)
  • Use the squeaky clean text to format the trade paperback. This will be printed by Createspace. You can find their requirements for the book interior here.
  • Send the pdf of the print layout to the writer for another proofread. (In this case, the writer wanted another set of eyes, so we brought in another proofreader–it’s what the trad pubs do, or are supposed to do anyway.)
  • Make corrections to the print format AND in the ebook file.

TIP: Get in the habit of making a copy of your file for every step in the process. That way if disaster happens (computer crash, power surge, forget to save, whatever) you only have to take one step back to recover your work.

  • Use the proofed text to format the hardcover version (essentially the same as the trade edition, but with some extra details)

Step #3: The Cover

This project required three versions of the cover because there are three editions: digital, trade paperback, and hardcover. I handled the ebook cover, my partner Jayne did the paperback cover, and the hardcover will be a partnership between me, the writer and the printer (it’s complicated).

TIP: Whether you hire a cover designer or do it yourself, before you make any decisions go to Joel Friedlander’s blog and study the monthly cover awards. Just by looking at the successes and failures you will absorb many of the guiding principles behind making an effective cover.

The writer commissioned the cover art from the artist who had done the cover art for several previous books in the same series. (Emanuel Schongut, he’s incredible). I used a freeware program called Paint.net to make the ebook cover. I went shopping for the perfect font and decided I needed two. One I purchased at fonts.com (very reasonable, less than twenty bucks) and I found one for free at dafont.com.

TIP: If you are doing your cover yourself and need art, Google “stock images” and you’ll come up with hundreds of sites that sell (or give away for free) just about any image you can envision. There are also artists who offer stock covers you can purchase and then you either hire the designer to do the typography or do it yourself.

coverThe trade paperback cover was a little trickier. Paint.net is a powerful program, but Adobe Photoshop is way more powerful and it can do some tricky tricks either I can’t do or haven’t figured out how to do. So the job was passed to Jayne. That edition will be printed through CreateSpace. You can find their cover dimensions requirements here. You’ll need to know how many pages your finished book will be and what size book you want. CreateSpace has templates you can use for the layout.

TIP: When doing an ebook, you’ll need the cover first. If the cover isn’t ready, you can make a placeholder to serve while you convert and proofread the ebook. When the cover is ready, just replace the placeholder with the real cover.

The hardcover edition cover is a little different. It’s a special limited edition and the cover will be really fancy. Essentially I’ll be making plates for the printer. Most indies won’t have to worry about this step. If you do, talk to your printer about what you need to do.

So that’s it. Is it a lot of hard work? Why, yes, indeed it is. But broken down into steps, it is quite manageable. Even with editing, proofreading and waiting for cover art, this project has only taken about a month. Instead of having to wait twelve to fifteen months for a trad publisher to dribble out editions (which I guarantee wouldn’t be better than what our team has produced, and in the case of the ebook would be worse), this book is now available for pre-order on Amazon (ebook and trade paperback) and will be released for Christmas this year.

Whether you are doing a huge production like this one or just making an ebook, the steps are pretty much the same: Editing, Interior Format, Cover. Break the big steps into smaller steps and you have a project that’s manageable.

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If you happen to be curious as to why best-selling, multi-published writer, Lawrence Block decided to self-publish his brand new novel in his most popular series, you can read about here.