Paperback Writer

In one way at least I’m like most modern authors, in that I longed for the day when I’d be able to hold a paperback of my own work. I’m pleased to report that I’ve now taken things much further than I would have dreamt in the early stages of my writing life.

There are those who would say that creating a paperback is just as easy as producing a digital version—an eBook. I agree up to a point, but there are so many examples of poor quality, and it shows up in different ways in the finished product. Quality control is the responsibility of the author and he or she owes it to the end user—the reader, to offer value. I don’t mean only in terms of the story, because apart from the creativity, we must consider the standard of writing, and the formatting. Presentation is appreciated consciously from first viewing the book cover.

All of my stories are put through the wringer with multiple drafts, each separated by a ‘resting period’ of a couple of weeks at least. In the final drafts I read the work aloud from printed copy. When satisfied, I send it to be critiqued by a number of beta readers. This is, of course, followed by any amendments. I’m confident that it will have improved immeasurably from when I first typed ‘The End’.

The Red Pen is mightier …

It takes resilience to rework a story that we felt was good enough, but achieving our best effort is a key aspect of our craft. Not every indie author wishes to, or can afford to pay a ‘professional’ editor. Since investigating ‘editorial services’ more than once, I’ve shied away from the option.

Professional/qualified editors are expensive. Many of the others, I’ve discovered, are simply writers who are no more ‘qualified’ than I am to do the task. I’ve found that a grammar and punctuation programme supported by honest and capable beta readers, combined with personal effort, is a trusted and cost-effective route.

Patience, not eagerness, will always pay dividends. It would be heartbreaking to have a book reviewed and be told something within the author’s control was not up to standard. We must always remember, we are expecting payment for our work.

Covers of any description are a huge outlay, whether it be for a digital book or the paperback version. Not surprisingly, the paperback covers take more time and effort. They are, therefore, expensive. In the past I’ve paid for both digital and paperback covers to be designed, but to my way of thinking, although costly, the service gave me peace of mind because I was involved in the design process. At the same time, I was free to continue writing.

Only a few months ago, I redesigned some of the eBook covers I’d created myself, and then with confidence I replaced the covers I’d paid for a few years ago. More recently, with four Work in Progress lined up, I had a yearning to improve my catalogue in another way—more paperback availability.

The ‘Pro’ designs are along the top … .

I accept that the paperback price is high when produced through Amazon. Fortunately, I’m not aiming to make a profit. I round-off my prices so that my royalties might be a few pennies, but it keeps the sale price down. The cost comes from the volume of the book.

Why did I want paperback versions of my mainstream work?

I support various charities and among the military (charity) groups, signed paperbacks are a popular ‘prize’. Trilogies are apparently a good auction item. A physical book also provides a gift idea for customers. Having access to paperbacks means I can buy author copies for gifting to one or two relatives who actually read.

I treated myself to a Mac a couple of years ago and it has been an incredible experience when compared to using a PC/laptop. I downloaded a desktop publishing programme and I’ve used it to produce greeting cards, postcards and importantly, eBook covers. I’m content to pay for stock images which I can then manipulate to suit my needs before adding fonts and so on.

Apart from the Mac, the best investment I’ve made in support materials was buying Vellum (for Mac). Using this programme, I can format a manuscript in a couple of hours for eBook or paperback, whereas on a PC, the same task would have taken all day.

Czech Mate being processed as a print book.

In December 2020, I experimented (unsuccessfully), with producing paperback covers. The digital system at Amazon KDP is unforgiving … up to three decimal places.

‘January 2021 will be my month for success,’ I said aloud one day with a coffee in my hand. Basically, in my world that means it’s going to happen, even if it means I drink more coffee, and do without sleep. It took a week before I got my head around the basics. Paperback templates are fiercely dependent on accurate page count and therefore spine width.

Shown here, downloaded to my DTP programme.

What does that mean in layman’s terms?

It means that you don’t simply paste an eBook cover on the front. The template must be used as a definitive framework or foundation for front, back and spine, but with only marginal tolerance for measurement error. I experimented with a variety of solutions to avoid ‘stretching’ the chosen artwork, including the use of a single or fading block of base colour, another graphic and so on. I stress, any images must be bespoke designs for the particular cover.

The job wasn’t done at that point, even if it looked good to me.

After waiting (impatiently) for the paperback manuscript to upload, I then tried my first paperback cover … and waited again. There is the option of uploading the cover design while waiting for the manuscript to process but I’ve never trusted the multi-tasking aspect of KDP.

Next, of course, is the ‘Launch Previewer’ which for paperbacks must be done to continue the process. If the cover doesn’t pass the first trial then it doesn’t matter how good the book might be, it’s going no further.

In ‘Launch Previewer’, the screen is filled for the main part by the cover. Within its perimeter are a series of white dotted lines, and a series of red dotted lines. The two sets give you an accurate idea of how well the design solution matches the template parameters.

What I didn’t want to see was the tiny red/white warning triangle in the top left corner, and the word ERROR lower down … ‘son of a b—’

I went back through my ‘design’ process five times until that first one worked. ‘Yes!’  I checked the interior and then selected ‘Approve’.

I had ten more titles to work through. My poetry and erotica are not scheduled for paperback.

The only ‘professional’ covers which I’ve kept are those created for A Life of Choice: The Trilogy’. This isn’t because they were extra expensive or would be impossible to replace—they reflect exactly what I described to the designer, (with supporting photographs). For a couple of years at least I’ll be happy with them.

For me, the job wasn’t finished with successfully uploading my eleven (mainstream) covers. It took an overnight wait each time for the system to tell me my designs had passed muster with the Amazon machine. Two days later I got the opportunity to view ‘both sides’ of my paperbacks on my Amazon pages. At this stage I zoomed in and saw where there were any overlapping issues which meant that I was back to the template—again, for some of them. Only when I was satisfied that it looked good on the Amazon screen would I be moving forward.

What’s next, when the covers look okay on the book’s Amazon page?

Instead of buying a ‘proof’ of each, which effectively has a grey band around the cover announcing ‘proof—not for resale’, I opted to buy ‘Author Copies’. No band around them, but it would let me see what my customers would be paying for, and so it was my final quality control check. I ordered them in batches of two or three during the final phase, extending the process by a couple of weeks.

Only when all eleven conversions met my criteria I went ahead with another new idea. I wanted short stories in paperback format, but not straightforward copies of my seven anthologies.

Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 available now.   Vol. 3 and Vol. 4 available April.

My eBook collections contain at least twelve stories but some are guest submissions from other authors. To avoid legal issues, I only used short stories I have written. I mixed the genres to create a set of four paperback volumes of twenty stories each. The books have a front cover depicting one of the stories and a miniature graphic on the back which depicts another story in the same book.

After all my efforts over the past fourteen years I’ve finally stepped up from simple handwritten stories and poetry to become a self-sufficient and independent paperback writer.

***

Sex … In or Out?

You’ve written a great story. Do you need sex amidst the guns, fighting and mayhem, the psychological trauma and mystery, or the tenderness and promises?

When I say ‘do you need sex’ I’m obviously referring to the requirements of the story—not your personal urges. I digress … .

This blog post was born from the need to offer my opinion on a regular comment I see on social media, and if we’re all honest, it’s getting a bit tedious. The comment usually follows similar lines to: ‘… and when I reach a sex scene I move on …’

There is usually a bit more to it, but in essence, we have two main areas to address.

Question 1 – Is the reader a prude, or simply someone who knows when a sex scene could have been done more tastefully—if it were needed at all?

Question 2 – Did the author make a mistake by getting carried away, drifting from the primary genre, thus adversely affecting the plot of the story?

The answer to Question 1 is not as simple as it sounds. For some readers, if an author goes beyond: ‘… she stood with her back to the door and raised an eyebrow …’ it’s too much. For others, it’s frustratingly brief, and they want to at least know if one person is wearing matching underwear and if the other person is wearing underwear at all.

Now, Question 2 throws up a whole new dilemma. As authors, it is not simply a personal choice, but in my (humble) opinion, it is our duty to remain true to our craft. No, I’m not getting high and mighty because I’ve written more than two books—I’m simply telling it like it is. The reputation of indie authors is being destroyed from within by some people with low standards. Those of us who work long hard hours and go beyond the first draft must persevere to produce the best we can.

You cannot refer to yourself in your branding or promotional material (of whatever level) as a thriller writer if you have the main character kill someone and then for the rest of the book he/she beds every other person in the ‘adventure’. You can dress it up, or undress it if you wish, but one of the aims of any author should be to focus on the job—in this case, a good story based on the primary genre.

I write a wide variety of genre and among them is erotica. I may allow a kiss or a caress—even partial undressing in some stories but graphic, no-holds-barred sexual activity is kept for my erotica.

If an author writes thrillers, westerns, sci-fi or other genres there ought to be sufficient time invested in character development, dialogue, imagery, pace and the accurate choreography of action. Any mention of sex will usually be incidental, except, of course, for romance, some paranormal and fantasy where it may go further.

An author who writes erotica is not out to shock—they are aiming to indulge their readers in the type of material they sought. This is not to say that character development and those other ingredients I mentioned earlier are not required in erotica—they are just as important. The erotica author must avoid sex becoming the ‘story’; an opportunity to be self-indulgent with repetitive and meaningless scenes of gratuitous carnal jiggery-pokery (mainly pokery).

In my ‘mainstream’ genres, there may be terms of endearment, a kiss or an embrace but they are strategically placed. Occasionally, in my erotica, there is less need for such romantic overtures, activity or subtlety. The characters might be more interested in mutual physical gratification than an emotional rollercoaster ride but there will still be character development and the activities are created with a purpose. It depends on the story.

I believe the author should strive to be faithful to the principle genre and whatever extended subjects it entails whether it be an action-packed or psychological plot, and plot or character-driven.

If you’d like to see ‘erotica’ as it once was, read ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. Like most other genres, erotica has moved on and readers are no longer satisfied with what was once considered shocking—people want to envisage themselves in scenes which will (in most cases) forever be a fantasy. With the greatest respect D.H.Lawrence, move over my friend.

I’m a great believer in the use of metaphor if it spells something out clearly. I’ll summarise with two questions to authors who are trying to work out if sex ought to be highlighted in a story?

Would you wear flip-flops and boxing gloves to run a marathon, or perhaps mask, snorkel and flippers to ride a bicycle?

Let’s be honest—if it doesn’t look right, it doesn’t belong.

Thank you for reading, and any comments.