Finishing and publishing my first book has been an immensely rewarding experience, and helped me increase my focus on current and future projects.
Of course, I learned much about the process of creating and publishing a book by doing most of the work myself. For both the ebook and paperback of Forgive Us Our Trespasses, I went through a lot of trial and error to make the book as best I could. Here are some of the challenges I faced.
Challenge #1: Kindles are Not Kind to Images
Making an ebook full of images probably sounds like a crazy idea and it is, but I did it anyway. Kindle Comic Creator made it possible, though I went through a learning curve as I got used to the program. I lost track of how many .mobi files I built and how many times I sent those files as personal documents to my own Kindle to test the display, but I knew I had the wherewithal to figure it out. I wasn’t sure how much I could trust the book’s appearance in Kindle Previewer, which is why I wanted to look at the display on an actual Kindle.
Aiming for Consistent (or Near Consistent) Display
Every page in the book is an image and they’re all the exact same size, yet I found that when viewing the .mobi files as personal docs, some poems would fill the whole screen and others wouldn’t. I went through various cleanups in my images to try and correct this. It worked and the personal docs filled the screen.
However, the conversion process a .mobi file undergoes when uploading to KDP must be different from what happens when you email a .mobi directly to your Kindle. The final version of the ebook does create white space around the poems when viewing on a Kindle. Of course, you can get the Kindle reader app for free on your computer and see much larger (and colorful) images.
Contrast and File Size
Kindle e-readers only display in black and white. This didn’t concern me as much because you can still read the poems, just not see the colors. However, I wanted the poems to show some contrast between the background color and the spray paint color, so I went through a revision round where I edited some poems for contrast.
An ebook full of images also results in a “heavy” file, and Amazon will charge you a “delivery fee” against your royalty if you choose the 70% option (which I didn’t for precisely this reason). I ended up with a 50MB file, and this was after using ImageOptim to strip each image of metadata and other junk that I didn’t need for my purposes.
Challenge #2: People Want a Paperback?
You’re going to think me silly, but I initially intended Forgive Us Our Trespasses to just be an ebook release. I thought this for two reasons.
- Blackout and erasure poetry has always been a side project for me, something fun and quick to make. I am primarily a prose writer, and after my next poetry collection publishing later this year, all the projects in my queue are prose.
- Ebooks are everywhere and they’re not going away any time soon. I know people who almost exclusively read ebooks and I now read ebooks, so therefore I thought no one would want a paperback of my collection.
This means that all through my creation process, I really wasn’t thinking about print, even though I mimicked some aspects of print books like including page numbers on each poem and a table of contents.
Yet when the book published, I constantly had people ask for a paperback. At first I said I had no way to do it because I didn’t think Amazon’s KDP paperback process could print a color book or do it well. I thought it was much, much more bare bones than it is. I also didn’t think I’d be able to do it without InDesign, but I managed it in the end.
Manuscript PDF Creation
Once I looked into the paperback process on KDP, I found that it was actually feasible. All I needed to do was upload PDFs of the interior pages and a print-ready cover. I used a combination of Paint and Preview to edit the images as needed and resize them. Using Amazon’s guidelines, I calculated the size for a print-ready cover and asked my cover designer, Corrie Liotta, to work on that.
“Feasible” doesn’t mean I got it all together in one shot. Oh no, I had to make all of my images 300 dpi and change the dimensions to 8.5 x 11, my chosen trim size. These dimensions caused the least distortion of the original images.
Additionally, I made the images .jpgs so I could PDF them and changed the position of the page numbers on the even pages to follow correct verso/recto formatting. I also adjusted my front matter so that the first poem would be on a recto page (really, I just added an interior title page and that did the trick). All in all, I went through four full interior PDFs to fix display issues and errors that I got from Amazon’s book previewer.
One of the first errors I received said that the book had no content. Yikes! Turns out I didn’t PDF the images with the correct settings. A quick Google search told me what boxes to check during the conversion process. Once I fixed that, the biggest error I received was not having enough room for bleed–puzzling since the large background space around each poem already accounted for that. I figured, though, that Amazon’s previewer had no way of knowing the content on my pages. It just saw files that left no room for the printer cutting the pages too close.
I changed my trim size from 8.5 x 11 to 8 x 10 and that solved the issue because my images were still 8.5 x 11. Therefore, they had plenty of room for bleed. Still, I then had to go back and edit all of my images to be within the safety zone that shows in the previewer. I did this by simply opening the poems in Paint, selecting the text, and dragging it down about an inch, as the length is cut from the top in Amazon’s system.
Lastly, I went through a few rounds of adjusting the cover size with Corrie since I kept getting errors about that through no fault of her own. Finally, I had no errors in the previewer and could approve my manuscript. Yay!
Yet just when I thought I was finally finished, I got an email from Amazon saying the spine text was too small. Thankfully, that was an easy fix–Corrie just got rid of it altogether.
KDP’s paperback previewer is meticulous, but it’s not the most difficult platform I’ve worked with. My day job has given me quite a high tolerance for troubleshooting and figuring out how platforms work. I’ve also worked on many print publishing projects for the day job, so I wasn’t totally clueless about publishing terms. I’m actually glad that the QA process is as rigorous as it is because you know what? My paperbacks turned out beautifully.
I still have a lot to learn and a lot to look forward to in 2018, but I’m proud of myself for doing this!
My blackout poetry collection, Forgive Us Our Trespasses is available as a paperback and an ebook! The poems explore faith, doubt, lament, and hope. Check it out and discover why readers have called it “pithy,” “insightful,” “visually stunning,” and “emotionally challenging.” Be sure to add the book to your Goodreads list and leave a review when you’re finished!
Also, check out select poems on Redbubble, available as prints, stickers, and many other products. They make great gifts!