Non-Traditional Books

I’m breaking traditions left and right in this post. For one thing, it’s a how-to on making a very different kind of book, and it’s also a tutorial on how to offer a free ebook. I hadn’t planned on the second part until yesterday, when something that seemed straightforward took a hard left turn and I was scrambling to keep up and keep people happy. So! Onward into the weeds and off the evenly mowed, smooth paths of Indie Publishing (what? They are so! Maybe not manicured like the golf course of trad-pub, but I’ve always been more a fan of the casual lawn and garden. Why yes, I was planting tomatoes and flowers earlier, why do you ask?)

First off, I had promised  I’d write up the process of publishing Inktail & Friends. Inktail is a huge departure for me. Not only is it not fiction, it’s not even prose. Inktail is a coloring book. I didn’t create it to try and catch the wave of Adult Coloring Books, although that’s the hot new fad. That just happened to be good timing for this book. No, Inktail was born out of having no time and very little brain. You see, writing fiction for me requires enough time to think, and not have to think about math and science at the same time. Given that I’m down to one semester left in a STEM degree, that means I have effectively not written anything in almost a year, with family obligations added to my mental burden. Art, on the other hand… Inktail actually started with doodling. I will doodle in classes during a lecture I don’t need to take notes on (professors who read you their powerpoints and then post the ppt for you to study from) and people (coffMomcoff) started suggesting that my drawings were very cute and had I considered a children’s book?

First of all, I don’t think there’s a market for Indie-pubbed children’s books (I could very well be wrong, but it shaped my decisions) and second, I had very little brain. Children’s books still need a story. So when someone asked me if they could print and color a sketch I’d put on facebook, the lightbulb went off over my head. I think my First Reader could literally see it. A coloring book! They are a hot market, and most of the ones you can buy are created not from original art, but public domain clip art. I could do that, but I want to look myself in the mirror sometimes. So I started doodling with purpose. Several months, much improvement, and a bit of unladylike language (more about that in a bit) later, I had a coloring book. I don’t expect it to sell like hotcakes. In fact, since it’s only in print, I anticipate that I will make the money I have in it back, and not much more.

So why am I telling you about this? Well, it’s different. Someone reading this may be a terrific artist (I’m not, by the way. I doodle really well) and this might be a great way for them to get a product on the market. I figure you can learn along with me, or from my mistakes, so you don’t have to make the ones I did.

Ingredients for a Coloring Book: 

  • Pens, pencils, and paper
  • A thematic idea (mine was adorable dragons and flowers)
  • Line-Art (this from the pen and paper, or you could create it digitally, which would be even better)
  • A good scanner
  • Graphics software: Gimp will work, Photoshop is actually better for this
  • Wordprocessing software: I laid the book out in Microsoft Word. You could use InDesign if you have it and are comfortable with it.
  • Patience

Cost? Well, not counting the cost of pens, ink, paper (I had all of those at the beginning, although I did invest some in upgrades) I spent about $12 on Inktail’s final production stages. That was $10 for a Createspace ISBN and $2 for stock art elements to put on the cover. Time? Well, now, that’s a horse of a different color.

If you are not experienced with a graphics program, you can expect to sink a lot of time into this. I’m hoping my how-to will help speed that up. It’s not the drawings. I usually pencil, ink, and erase for the dragon drawings. There are some sumi-e style ink paintings that were done ‘spontaneous’ which involves a lot of time visualizing the brushstrokes, frenetic painting (no sketching at all) and then you’re done. It’s really fun, my favorite style, but deceptively simple. No, the time is cleaning the drawings up.

Step 1: Scan your art. If you’re generating digital art, you can skip right to step 3. I am using a flatbed scanner set to custom scan, full platen, save to TIFF file at 600 dpi. The scanner I have is less than $80 and will accomodate paper up to 9×12″ on the scan bed. Before you scan, clean your scan bed. I usually give it a swipe with a microfiber cloth, and know that I’m going to miss the dratted dog hair, or something. Eraser bits are probably the most common (a large soft brush, like a kabuki brush, will get most of those off).

Step 2: Clean up your art. Artwork for the coloring book isn’t as simple as scan, crop, insert as photo onto a page. You’ll wind up with dirty images, shadows, and goodness knows what artifacts that way. I open the file to edit in Photoshop, set to ‘smart object’ and then rasterize the smart object. At this point I can make fundamental changes to it. I will either use ‘select by color’ to eliminate all the while, leaving only my lines, or a combination of that and the magic wand tool to eliminate all the background. Then, I create a new layer, fill it with black, and immediately you’ll see all the dog hair, lint, or what-have-you that was on the art. The magic wand tool is good for eliminating this, but I always check. If you have problems, select the eraser tool on soft round and erase on the art layer. When you’re satisfied, eliminate the layer of black, and save the line art file as png or TIFF (there are reasons, I’m told, not to use png but I don’t worry too much). You cannot save it as jpg, you will lose your transparency.

Step 3: Insert your art in the book. I used Word for this, so my instructions will reflect this. I wrote a foreword, decided to put in a color-your-own color wheel at the beginning, along with recommending that people use colored pencils to color (Createspace uses thin paper, unsuitable for watercolors). I laid out the book, based on reviews I’d seen of Indie-pubbed coloring books, with the images only on one side of the paper. This prevents bleed-through if you want to use markers on the book, and if someone wants to take out a page and frame it or hang it on the fridge, you only have one choice. I also chose to add, at a fan’s request, a section at the back with instructions on how to draw a dragon my way (very simply).

Step 4: Format for print. Well, I suppose this should be before step 3. You have some flexibility, but not a lot. I chose to have my coloring book formatted to the 8 1/2″ by 11″ size, which makes it good sized. I included 40 images to color, and with some front and back matter (instructional, notes, so forth) the coloring book was surprisingly hefty when I finally got the proof copies. Keep in mind that you may need to adjust your margins to include a gutter if you are going to have many pages. The Createspace templates are somewhat helpful, but CS doesn’t always adhere to them when approving files, so be prepared to deal with that.

Step 5: Create a cover. I opted not to color a page and use that. Looking at best selling coloring book covers, the line art and suggestion of coloring tools seem to be popular, and that is what I chose to do. I did get playful with my title font – maybe more than I ought, but I couldn’t pass up a DragonCaps font for a dragon book! You will note that I did not put anything on the spine, I felt my spine would be too narrow to support text.

This made a huge file. You may have to use the compressed pdf file to upload successfully.
This made a huge file. You may have to use the compressed pdf file to upload successfully.

Step 6: Upload for publication. As I’ve mentioned, I chose to use Createspace for this. I’m familiar with them (even if they do drive me nuts) and I didn’t have the time (or energy, to be honest) to try and find a different vendor. I saved my interior file as a pdf with all images and fonts embedded. This is important – your images will ‘float’ if you don’t do this, and wind up in weird places. I knew to do it with Inktail because of the experience with my grandmother’s memoirs. When your files go out for review, you may get a warning that some images are less than 200 dpi. Check this – most likely it’s not your art if you did that part right – and if it is your fonts, ignore it. Embedded fonts look like images to CS, but they will print just fine. I highly recommend ordering a proof copy. If your book is near mine in length, it’s not expensive, and it’s really a good idea to see how it came out in person.

Step 7: Sales and Marketing. Um. Well, I have done minor, very minor, promotion on my blog and at ATH in the promo post. Honestly, I’m not sure what to do with it since it’s not a novel. I’m going to see how it does while I’m at the Indiana ComicCon this weekend. I’ll have a bunch of copies with me, and it may sell well out of hand as it’s fairly reasonably priced. In the meantime, it was fun, I have fans who have been very happy I did it, and it was a learning experience. I’ll let you know how it went. I suspect that if I were doing a lot of sales out of hand, it would do well.

I may also decide to offer this as a downloadable file, so folks can print and color as many times as they’d like. See below for the possible snags in that!

Part 2

This is a quick-and-dirty tutorial on selling/giving away an ebook using a wordpress site and woocommerce. Sarah Hoyt has been urging me to offer a collection of my short stories for free, as a thank you gift to my fans, and I have finally gotten around to it. I was delighted to discover that woocommerce makes this relatively easy – you simply select virtual and downloadable when you are setting up the product. You can find the step-by-step here. I opted to do this as a product rather than straight site download to keep the ‘bots at a minimum (you have to enter information to ‘buy’ the ebook rather than simply click) and so I can easily track how many I’ve given away.

Where it started to go awry was when I tried to set up my product as pdf, mobi, and epub files. That didn’t work – WordPress won’t let me upload epub and mobi, only pdf. So a generous friend hosted and gave me links for the epub and mobi files. This time, it looked ok… but the first few ‘customers’ let me know that they weren’t getting download links. Well, crap. Woocommerce doesn’t allow epub and mobi, even hosted offsite. So! Since the billing info through woocommerce allows me to have the customer email, I opted to direct-email the files of choice to the readers. This seems to be working nicely. The pdf file can be downloaded immediately.

Check it out, and let me know if you have feedback… I’m a mere guinea pig for all you Mad Geniuses, you know that, right? I’m a Mad Apprentice.  Lab Rat. Temporal Anomaly. Something! Twisted Mindflow Cover

13 thoughts on “Non-Traditional Books

  1. Interesting. Just skimmed it now and will go back and read it more slowly later.

    Have you tried using a vector art program like Inkscape and letting the program trace the TIFF? My cartooning style is line art, and after inking I scan it, give it a quick clean, and let a vector program trace it. To me the results are crisper than working with bit maps. I add captions, if any, after tracing.

    For inking, I’m just using a broad gel pen, but am thinking about dip nibs and India Ink. Main thing is for the ink not to feather and to stand up to erasing. Have you tried dip pens?

    1. I have not tried a vector art program – I will have to give it a go. I’ve been learning as I go.

      I have used dip pens. I used them for years to create the zen kitties, and I do know calligraphy (I’m not great at it).

  2. All RIGHT!!
    So, I’ve been eye-deep in things Otherthan, and really not paying attention, but TODAY, as in just in the last 20 minutes, I went through the process of getting your collection of short stories, “Twisted Mindflow.”
    The process itself was easy. Although not QUITE as spinal as getting something through KU, which is pretty much a single-click on a single screen, it was no more difficult than posting a comment online and then verifying identity. All I had to do (which I did NOT do, by the way) was to see what options were available as I completed each step. Nothing was lost, but I went looking for the book in my kindle collection before I had downloaded it. So: good deal. Plan on seeing a review in the near future. Although, since I can’t find it on Amazon, I’m guessing that the review will be limited to a blog post.

    Now, with respect to the coloring book, I can only find ONE purchasing option, which is to pay for a physical copy of the book itself. It seems to me that I’ve seen you reference posting about the issues of making the book available as a PDF, but I haven’t followed closely enough to know if that learned tome has yet emerged. Is there a dialogue I can join in, somewhere? I WANT the PDF, I DON’T want to pay for shipping or to have to wait (oh, horrors!) and I can toss in my observations made from my perspective.

    1. Pat, I’m just home from Indiana ComicCon. Give me about a week, and there will be a pdf of the coloring book. If you color anything, I want photos! LOL!

      There will eventually be a print copy of Twisted Mindflow. I would love a review on your blog for cover quote 😉

  3. Is the *Twisted Mindflow* cover your own artwork? It’s beautifully done, and made me a little envious–that’s the sort of design I would like to have had on *Souls in Silicon*

    1. Jeff, it is stock elements that I blended and laid out. That’s how I usually do covers these days – uniquely mine, but professional level art.

  4. All very much appreciated as the husband and I are thinking of turning TiaT into a book.

    And you’re right about new software kicking one’s behind. I’m still not up to snuff with MS, and I know I’m missing work arounds with my scanner that will let me ink my pencils.

    BTW why use Word and not Publisher if you’re going to export to a PDF?

  5. I got a copy of Inktail and gave it to my 10 year-old granddaughter for her birthday, along with a box of colored pencils and a pencil sharpener. I haven’t heard if she has colored any of it yet. I looked through it before I wrapped it up and it looked quite nice. I may get myself a copy one of these days.

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