Tag Archives: Indie publishing

Dissecting Old Hardcover Books

Photo of old books

Lots of old worn out books can be found at garage sales.

Garage sales are a great source of antique books. These musty old relics hold a bit of information beyond the printed words and pictures… at least for book binders. For as little as fifty cents, you can find old books that can be dissected in order to learn how they were constructed.Photo of Old Book Disection #2

It is not uncommon to find books over a hundred years old, many of which were bound by hand. Books may have become damaged over time, their covers torn or missing. Pages are dog-eared and stained. These dinosaurs have outlived their usefulness as texts, but stand in the spotlight for the aspiring book binder.

Photo of Old Book Disection #4

This book has tapes that pass through slots cut into the entire text block, rather than sewn in.

Book covers have been made from all sorts of materials ranging from leather to fine silk book cloth. Most, however were made by wrapping and gluing some sort of fabric around a stiff book board. I have seen book covers made from wood and even woven mats of bamboo.

Covers are usually attached by gluing heavy end papers, supplemented by the addition of a cloth backing glued to the spine. The end sheets are sometimes decorative, and the paper may have been hand made or individually hand colored. Some striking examples of marbled papers can sometimes be found inside the covers of old books.

Removing the covers almost always involves severing the end papers from the text pages. In some cases, the end papers may be moistened and peeled from the book boards to release the cover and reveal the spine.Photo of Old Book Disection #3

Older book bindings differ in many ways. Each time I cut into one of these old volumes, I may discover another unique method of construction.

But there are many common elements too. Folded sheets are inserted within each other to form signatures. These are most commonly in fours to make sixteen pages. But it is possible to find instances where the bookbinder used other combinations anywhere from two to six sheets per signature.

Diagram of nested pages

Four sheets of paper nest to make a 16-page signature

Diagram of stacked 16-page signatures

Ten 16-page signatures stack to make a 160 page book

Each signature is stitched along the inside of the fold to bind the separate sheets to one another, and then each signature is in turn stacked and stitched along the spine.

Here is where I find a variety of stitching patterns. Coptic stitching is a general term applied to sewing all of the pages together into a text block. I find quite a few different patterns used, but most employ the use of a kettle stitch to connect the signatures to one another.

Coptic stitching using tapes or bands.

Once the signatures are sewn in place to make the text block, some sort of flexible material (mull) is glued over the stitches, leaving loose flaps on either side. These flaps are in turn sandwiched between the end sheets and the book boards.

The result is a sturdy connection between the cover and the text that will withstand repeated handling throughout the long life of the book. The paper will tear before a page will come loose in this type of binding.

Photo showing Endsheet showing mull backing

Endsheet showing mull backing on text block before assembly with covers.

Next time I will show how I construct and assemble hard covers for several types of books.

I am always open to new ideas about bookbinding and publishing and would relish some comments and suggestions from my readers. I love to share information and to teach my craft to others. So please, comment, call, come by or send me an email with your thoughts.

Michael A. Faris Bio Photo

Michael Faris

Michael

mfaris1950@gmail.com

541-954-6724

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Bookbinding – DIY Marbled End Papers

Lately I  have been experimenting with end papers, the sheet that is pasted to the inside cover when binding books.Endpapers or endsheets serve a number of purposes, the most important being to help connect the cover to the signature block. It also covers the more substantial mull flap that actually does the job of securing the text to the cover. In some cases, the endpaper is used to mask side stitches or oozing glue.

The secondary purpose of the endsheet is decorative.  It is usually made of something other than the text paper. Handmade or painted papers are common.

I tend to favor a more substantial sheet with stiffer properties. Thin papers present problems when pasting them onto the bookboard. They tend to tear more easily during assembly. In use, thin papers make for a weak hinge joint that will eventually fail.

Since only two papers are needed per book, the additional expense of a better sheet is trivial. Even handmade papers are affordable for the purpose. You can even add color or designs using your inkjet printer.

Image of real marbled paper

Marbled paper – A chunk of the real stuff.

Ahh! But marbled paper! That’s the stuff!  Fascinatingly beautiful marbled endsheets. Hand marbled papers are exclusive, that is, no two are exactly alike. Mastery of the technique takes time and patience, but the results are outstanding.

I Googled marbled paper images and studied them carefully. I saw basically two types, a more or less repeated pattern of loops, and a random swirly version that actually looks like real polished (stone) marble. I researched the process enough to develop an appreciation for the effort it takes.

If you are really a rough ‘n ready do it yourselfer, you can try marbling your own paper. The process is time consuming, messy and a little spendy.

But I’m an old printer, and my tendency is to look for a way to get the same effect digitally. I naturally tried to simulate the beautiful peacock’s tails and marble-like swirls on the computer. I am fairly adept at Adobe’s Photoshop and Illustrator. I thought surely I could come up with something that would work.

image of Maharaji Paper

My own Maharaji Paper! Made in Photoshop.

“Work” was the magic word here. I tried starting with a pallet of colors sprayed in a sort of soft rainbow. None of Photoshop’s stock filters produced the desired effect. So I imported my rainbow to Illustrator and dinked with the tools I found there. I got some very interesting results, but nothing even came close to the marbled look I was striving for.

Next, I tried making a series of hard-edged circles and shapes, and then applying the various filters and experimenting with the different drawing tools… with only marginally better results. Each time I tried, I developed a better appreciation for the the art form. It was easy to become discouraged.

But then I tried working with photographs as a base.

Photo of Brick Wall

Original Image of brick wall

Using a picture of a brick wall, I used the liquify filter and a small size brush. By experimenting with the brush size, density and pressure, I was able to get the effect I was after.

Marbled brick image

Brick wall after applying liquify effects in Photoshop

It takes a lot of time and patience to simulate marbling in Photoshop, as the “comb” used only has a single point, in contrast to the multi-toothed combs used by the true marbling artisan.

This means you have to drag it multiple times in order to achieve the same results. I would painstakingly make a single stroke and possibly delete it and try again. Each time I liked the effect I would save it. In this way I finally fell into an acceptable rhythm of strokes and the process became easier.

I was able to work the image to my satisfaction by taking my time. I came up with a pattern that reminded me of the old Checkmate TV series in the 50’s (for you old fogies out there). It looked like swirling liquid candy to an eight year old kid.

enlarged section of brick marble

Enlarged section of brick-marbled paper

I saved several versions, each with a different overall look. By manipulating the colors using the hue pallet in Photoshop, I was able to generate and save several different colored versions using the same basic pattern.

Photo of Climatis and chives.

Original photo of Climatis and chives.

I produced a number of interesting patterns using a combination of tools and effects in both Photoshop and Illustrator. Exactly how I did it makes no difference. The point is that with a little clicking around, you can generate your own patterns, using pictures, drawings or any number of colored shapes using a drawing or photo program on the computer.

The next image I used was a photo of a purple climatis. Using the same tool, I tried to achieve the peacock swirls. To do this, I soon discovered that my strokes had to be more uniform and less random. It took significantly longer to produce this one and I was not as pleased with the effect.

Image of Climatis and chives with liquify filter applied

Climatis and chives with liquify filter applied

I would like to see someone develop a tool to be added to the liquify filter in Photoshop, one with several points to be dragged at time. This technique could be really interesting if it was applied to other colorful subjects such as an American flag or a circus clown.

Image of Climatis + Chives (marbled) closeup

Climatis + Chives (marbled) closeup

I had some of these patterns digitally reproduced on an ivory colored 100# Parchtex cover. I made full 12×18 images using these patterns so that I could make endpapers for any size book that I was likely to bind. I also did a job where I used one of these patterns on a gloss white stock with good results.

One advantage of making your own patterns and printing them digitally is that you have full control of the scale and colors, making your options practically limitless.

Do you know of a way to make interesting patterns for endpapers? I would welcome some advice on how to simulate real old fashioned marbled paper using digital tools. Show me your work. Let’s share some ideas. Make a comment.

Until next time,

Michael

image of 4 Different Marbled Brick Colors

Four different colors generated from the same pattern.

Binding Better Books

Photo of hand-bound book

Over the years I have experimented with a lot of different ways to bind books. After learning to bind flat sheets with glue using the perfectbinding process, I moved on to more advanced methods involving folding and stitching signatures and attaching them to hard covers. Casebinding is a great way to add beauty and durability to books, and to protect the pages from unnecessary wear in normal handling. These sturdy and handsome books just feel really good to hold and to read. The coptic stitching and casebinding processes are lengthy compared to softcover perfectbinding, but the results are far superior.

Closeup photo of arched spine

Detail showing arched inner spine

A properly made book of this type should lay open easily without damage to the spine, and of course, close satisfactorily and remain so. The inner spine should form an arch, bending away from the case, allowing the leaves to lay over to either side.

Diagram of nested pages

Four sheets of paper nest to make a 16-page signature

Planning the text layout is the first step in building a book. Beyond all the regular page conventions regarding margins, gutters, type selection and formatting to position the text properly on each page, the layout must be imposed for the press sheet. This process locates each page so that when the press sheet is folded down into signatures, the pages are ordered properly. Four-page signatures are easily accommodated in most word processing programs by use of a booklet utility, which will order and position the pages automatically. Eight or more pages per signature are usually handled by the digital printer with special imposition software.Sixteen-page signatures are the most common, consisting of four sheets of paper inserted within each other. However, any number divisible by four will work.

Diagram of stacked 16-page signatures

Ten 16-page signatures stack to make a 160 page book

The signatures are stacked and stitched into place next to each other by any of several methods. Coptic stitching binds the pages to each signature and the signatures to each other to create an assembly called the text block. The text block is glued to a flexible mull with wings that will attach to the cover boards.

Photo of comparison between round and square backs

Flat vs. round backs

There are basically two kinds of spines: flat and rounded. The rounded spine is more traditional and was developed to reduce the added bulk offered by the cord used to stitch the signatures. The additional spread is fanned out at the spine, resulting in a book that is more uniform in thickness. The flat type, sometimes known as smyth sewn, utilizes finer thread and more stitches to overcome the same problem. Either method results in a durable binding that will stand up to normal usage for many years.

If you decide to bind your own books, a lot of your time will be invested in doing so. If you value your time, it only stands to reason that you should use the very best materials that you can lay your hands on. However, I would suggest that the beginner start with anything they can get for the purpose of learning. Good stitching technique takes practice. I know I made at least ten books from start to finish before I had anything that I was unashamed to show. My first efforts were crooked, too tight on one end or too loose. I missed stitches and tore out holes. I had big nasty knots that bulged at the spine, and my books didn’t open or close properly.

But now, with thousands of stitches behind me, I can say they are looking quite respectable. It takes time and patience to get it right. Learn when and where to tug on the thread, and how hard to pull so that it is just snug. Concentrate on consistency so that your stitching looks even and orderly. I spent a lot of evenings in a comfortable chair stitching signatures and listening to a TV or radio program.

Photo of stitching frame

Home-made stitching loom for Coptic stitching.

During this sojourn into stitching signatures, try out different types and weights of thread, different needles and spacing between stitches. Check out the difference between using waxed vs. unwaxed thread.  Read up on the various methods of stitching with cords or bands. Try your hand at ethiopian coptic stitches or try to emulate smyth sewing.  Any of these methods will produce good books. It is really only a matter of choosing the way you are most comfortable with and then practicing until you get it right.

I like waxed thread and stitching with bands made from scrap bookcloth. For my 6×9 journals I use three bands each 1.25″ wide. I punch eight holes into four sheets at a time making sixteen page signatures. I use the kettle stitch on each end and loop through the cross stitch over each band to tie the signatures together. I keep my stitches snug by tugging parallel and tight to the spine at the end of each course.

Endsheets go before and after the textblock. One leaf is glued to the cover board and folds to make the first and last loose pages. They serve as hinges between the cover and the pages.  Although many bookbinders will add the endsheets afterward using glue, I prefer to stitch my endsheets to the textblock.

Photo of first PVA application

Applying first coat of PVA

When the assembly and stitching of the textblock is complete, I apply a single coat of PVA cement over the threads and between the signatures at the spine, making sure that the block is nice and square and not twisted.

Photo of rounding the spine

Gently rounding the spine

Once the PVA has set up a bit (not tacky, but still workable), I round the spine by pinching the textblock and hammering lightly along the seams, driving the outside pages slightly away from the center ones. By gently working the spine alternately from side to side using the hammer and your hands, the spine takes on a rounded appearance, and the leaf side opposite the spine has a marked concave shape to the block.

I work the block until it is almost to the desired shape, but yet a little flat, and at this point I choose to trim the three sides on the guillotine cutter.  I then finish rounding of the spine, which results in a much shallower concave profile on the leaf side. Alternately, I could round the spine completely before trimming in order to produce a flat result.

Photo of headband as it is glued to the bookblock

I made a pseudo headband using a Post-It note wrapped around a piece of twine. The clamp is used to help maintain the spine’s shape as the glue is applied.

Photo of comparison between rounded and flat spines

Rounded and square bindings

When the spine is rounded and the block trimmed to my satisfaction, I apply another coat of PVA. To this I add the mull and attach decorative headbands. A final coat of PVA is applied over the entire spine and allowed to dry completely. I should mention here that up until now a lot of effort is made to ensure that the textblock is shaped properly. If it is not cut squarely or is lopsided it will be impossible to correct beyond this point.

Spine laminates and bookboards

The cover base is made from davey board and construction paper. I cut my boards the same width as the nominal page width and 3/8″ taller. The spine width is determined by holding the boards in place and wrapping a piece of paper around the spine. Score the paper by running a fingernail along the edge of the boards. Transfer this measurement to two pieces of construction paper and score them similarly. I made a jig for forming a round spine by gluing the two pieces together around a piece of PVC pipe inset between two boards. I assemble the two pieces of scored construction paper with PVA between, working them until they form tightly around the curve of the jig. You will have to experiment a little to find the right size pipe and inset specs to make it work for your book, or if you are a competent scrapbooker and crafter, you can just form the sandwich by hand and eyeball it to get the right shape.

Photo of rounded spine jig

Rounded spine jig for laminating

Photo of trimming the laminated spine

Trimming the laminated spine

Trim the wings from the bottom layer so that only one pair extends to approximately 3/4 to 1 inch to either side. Assemble the boards by gluing to the wings either side of the spine, leaving a small gap equal to the thickness of the bookboard between the spine and the boards. Adjust the curve of the spine if needed to approximate the textblock thickness by placing weights on the boards and allow to dry.

A simple but very nice effect can be added at this point by gluing paper cutouts to the davey board prior to covering with bookcloth, producing an embossed look. I like to glue bands across the spine to represent the cords used in medieval binding.

Photo showing cutouts glued to bookboards

Any sort of shapes can be used

Any number of shapes can be utilized to create depth. But there are limits. A bit of experimenting will help you to find the right thicknesses and shapes to use to achieve the right effect. To be successful at this bookbinding stuff, one has to dive in there and make a lot of books. Doing so will increase your knowledge of materials and methods. It will also increase your reverence for those that went before us in pioneering the art, develop your style and hone your craft to a more respectable level.

Photo showing the gluing of decorative spine bands

Gluing Decorative Spine Bands onto the formed spine.

Anybody can cobble a book together. It is the fine points and the details that set the novices apart from the true crafter. Choosing the right covering for your book is part of that experience thing. It took me a while to discover the right properties, mainly because I ignored the bookbinding suppliers at first, being mesmerized by the selection of fabrics at JoAnn’s. I used transfer adhesive to stick the fabric to the boards and they looked great! At first, it seemed the way to go because for one thing, the bb suppliers had a minimum order policy. What was I going to do with ten yards of the same material? I wanted variety, man! Besides, the dealers only had limited choices.

The fabric stores had a rainbow of colors and surfaces, and I could purchase small amounts. But as my journey continued, I began to see that my earlier books were starting to sag, looking tired and even wrinkled. I discovered that the adhesive I had used was starting to fail after about four years. This was not good. I had settled on transfer adhesive because it was not as messy as glue. Production orders could be processed in less time with no risk of damaging the books with glue on unwanted surfaces. It seemed a no-brainer.

But now I think that was a mistake. Bookcloth is designed for the purpose of covering books. It is stiffer than regular cloth and it has a coating on the back side that prevents the application of liquid glue from bleeding through to the front side. In comparing costs, I found that the cost of the transfer adhesive plus the fabric exceeded the cost of real bookcloth and liquid adhesive! (Dang! Those bookbinder guys really have it together!).

Photo of rubbing the cover with a stylus

Rubbing down the cover with a stylus to enhance the cutouts

But now I had to learn to use the liquid glue, despite the obvious drawbacks.  So I opened my mind and researched the process. To my surprise, I found it to be not so difficult and very beneficial. In fact, I kicked myself for taking four years to discover it. (Dang again!). The two main things that sold me on PVA were the much lower cost and its versatility. Once I learned to work with it I decided it was the only way to go. Here is a good tutorial on gluing by a master craftsman. In fact, I recommend watching all of his videos for dozens of good tips on bookbinding. Remember, it’s the details and fine points that set you apart from the others.

I like to have a one inch wrap margin for my covers. I start by coating the bookboards and spine with PVA using a roller. I then center the bookcloth and proceed to rub it down starting from the spine and working outward, being careful to push the cloth down into the crevices with my fingers as I go.  Once I have it fairly smooth and even, I trim the corners at 45 degrees and wrap the long sides first, taking care to burnish the surface well, and wiping off excess glue with a damp cloth. Then I crimp the corners and turn the short sides in.

Photo of burnishing leather spine

Using a bone folder to burnish bonded leather to the formed spine

Photo of Butterflies book

Paper and string beneath bonded leather bookcloth

To finish, I continue to rub and burnish the bookcloth, using a stylus and bone folder to work the surface to form around the cutouts, to produce the embossed effect. The finished cover should be placed under weights to ensure that the bookboards dry flat, due to the wet adhesive applied to only one side. Otherwise they will curl as the glue cures. Be sure that all the glue has set and the cover is dry and the boards are flat before proceeding to the final assembly.

Photo of Finished Half Leather Journal

Finished Half Leather Journal

Next time I will be covering the process of making and attaching end sheets as well as final assembly into a finished book.

I  welcome comments and any suggestions you might have for future articles. I love to talk and write about bookbinding and publishing, so hit me with some feedback!

Until next time,

Michael

Rolling Your Own Audio Books

Photo of Michael Faris sitting in chair

Why not do it yourself?

I started checking out audio books to listen to on my mp3 player. I downloaded some free classics that I found on Librivox. These are mostly public domain books read and recorded by volunteers. Having read some of these books in the past, I had an idea of what to expect… but I was mostly disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong. I fully support their noble cause and salute their efforts to preserve literary heritage.  But there has to be better quality material available in the way of audio books.

For me, lengthy novels like Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea quickly became boring and difficult to follow. The same of shorter ones like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Why was I dissatisfied? Aside from sound quality, which was rather poor to good in my opinion, there was something about the intonation or pace that I didn’t like. But hey! What can you expect for free. ..and what can a really good audio book sound like?

So I went to audible.com. Here I found much newer, popular books read by professional people. Yet I chose to purchase another classic: Jack London’s The Sea Wolf, narrated by Frank Muller. The book was over nine hours long. Sound quality was way better, and the narration was excellent.  After that I purchased Henre Charriere’s Papillon, narrated by Michael Prichard. I had seen the movie starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, and loved the story, but the eleven-hour audio book was even better!

So what made those books better? OK, the sound was produced by professionals, people who specialize in recording quality… and it’s what you would expect. The track was all normalized, optimized, tweaked filtered and whatnot to create the best possible results using current mainstream technology. But more than that it was the narrator’s tone, inflections and perhaps the soul that he put into the reading.

True, a great storyteller needs a good story to do his thing, but the life he breathes into characters becomes the spice to the essence of the tale. His voice paints a vivid picture made more complete by his intonation. He adds character to characters. They take on more meaning just from the way he expresses the words used in dialogue and descriptive writing.

Of course, the professional audio books cost money to produce and to own. They are often subject to digital rights restrictions, which severely limits the ability to transfer them from one device to another. This is intended to prevent unauthorized downloads and free use of the material. But is it really necessary for the newbie author?

So the big guys have produced professional quality audio books by famous and popular authors selling anywhere upwards from ten to thirty dollars or more that are difficult to give away or share due to DRM. (Personally I would love for someone to steal my material and pass it all around… Heck,  make it go viral! It’s free promotion for me. I can see nothing but benefit by not using DRM. But that’s a whole different subject).

This model works for an established author with a track record. He gets great reviews and wide distribution as well as premium space in the brick and mortar bookstores. The business plan is structured so that everyone along the path of production, sales and distribution gets their cut of the proceeds from the project. Nothing really wrong with that model, except that it requires prior establishment of and considerable investment by the author.

But what about the fledgling author just starting to flex his wings? The one without the budget. And what does it mean to the writer with several published books under his belt that wants to expand into audio versions of their work? Does it really take big bucks to produce and market your own audio books? Can a person produce a good audio recording on their own?

I’m thinking that along with the flood of new technology comes a vast opportunity for creative writers. Obtaining the software and learning to record your own narrations is simple. All you need is a modest investment in a good microphone, and a computer with a sound card plus speakers. The rest depends on your ability to tell a good story.

Notice I said tell. You might believe you can write a good story, but can you tell one? Have you listened to your recorded voice? What do others say? How well does your work come across when it is narrated, rather than absorbed by looking at the printed page?

Words can only half describe the author’s real meaning. The other half comes from the subtle inflections and emphasis of the voice. An author may even feel that no one can read it like they wrote it, except maybe themselves. Punctuation and  diacritics can only go so far in describing speech. The very same printed words when spoken by different people can sound so different.

So if you can write a good story, and you can tell a good story, what’s to prevent you from making your own audio book?

In an effort to find out, I obtained a dynamic microphone and downloaded Audacity, a free program for recording and editing sound tracks. I made some tests in my relatively quiet office, laying down tracks of my voice while reading some of my material. After comparing samples made with and without the pop-filter, and testing different mike positions and volumes, I attempted to do an entire short story.

Right off the bat, I stumbled and stuttered, causing me to pause and reread portions many times. But I would stop and patiently repeat the words until they came out the way I intended for them to sound. The whole process took about an hour to lay down the raw track. However, the editing process takes a lot longer, especially if you factor in the learning curve. For me, it took approximately six hours of recording and editing to produce what I felt was an acceptable file.

Audacity is a cool program that anyone can use. It records in .wav format, which is an uncompressed file that will play on any Windows Media Player. When you open the file it is graphically represented on a timeline from left to right. Sounds are represented as groups of squiggles that form definite shapes.

Audacity Screenshot

Besides the ability to cut and paste, there are dozens of effects that can be applied to any selection. You can amplify or soften the volume, fade sections in or out, change pitch, eliminate pops and unwanted sounds, adjust the high, mid-range and low tones and take advantage of many other professional features to edit the sound.

I archived my edited track as a wav. file and saved often as I progressed. When finished, I was able to import the file to mp3 and transfer it to my portable player.

Now I was excited. I invited my wife to go for a ride with me in my pickup truck. (She had no idea!)

I casually plugged the player into the deck and turned the unit on. I kept glancing over at her as the piece began, watching her reaction.

She sat there looking out the window, not really paying attention at first, but as it soaked in, she cocked her head and stared at me in amazement. “Hey! That’s you!”

We both burst out laughing. It sounded pretty good. Not bad for a novice.

So my next questions are: Why do you need to hire out this service? What is it about the process that you cannot do yourself? It would seem that pushing your art to the next level would be an inviting challenge, worthy of your creative abilities as a spinner of great yarns.

So for an online test, I have recorded one of my poems – Completely Stumped by Michael A. Faris. How does it sound to you?

I’d like to hear from some other folks that have tried this. Let me know your experiences and conclusions. I especially want to know how indie authors view DRM.

Until next week,

Michael Faris

The Author’s Hat

Photo of Michael Faris wearing a hat

Everybody's hat is different

“Cowboys and outlaws, 

Right guys and southpaws,

Good dogs and all kinds of cats. 

Dirt roads and white lines,

All kinds of stop signs,

But I’ll stay right here where I’m at… 

‘Cause I wear my own kind of hat.”

–Merle Haggard

Merle said it with the song “My Own Kind of Hat”. It speaks loudly of the desire for indie authors to create their own brand, regardless of how the literary world has elected to categorize them.

Writers want to stand out from the rest, to be seen as unique artists in their own right, presenting work in their own style. Few authors today will place themselves firmly into any one genre. Doing so tends to associate their work with other “genre branded” authors. It means their work is stereotyped. Tagged. Pigeonholed.

We conjure all kinds of preconceptions when we have a label applied to anything. Our experience with classifying things teaches us to expect certain behavior when we encounter similarly labeled  products. Associating a label with specific traits subconsciously embeds this information in our minds. This conception is tempered by an individual’s unique experiences associated with the label. This alone is enough to give everyone a totally different slant on any given category.

Some things are indelibly woven into our concepts. For instance, if you see two men with guns facing each other in the street. One is wearing a white hat, the other a black one. What things come to mind? Most of us think of a good guy about to duel with a bad guy. Why? Because it was hammered into us from the time we watched that first episode of Gunsmoke. Good or bad, you can tell by the color of the hat.

Attempts to define specific genres suffer the same drawbacks as any classification system. They specifically include some things while excluding others, and so it becomes necessary to understand the limits of the system you are using in order to appreciate how to best utilize it.

An author might try to qualify their work by adding a note that further defines it, but the truth is that genre classifications tend to blend into each other at the edges, making it difficult to pin some types of work down.  In any case, aligning oneself with a generic or general classification could result in an unfavorable brand that limits the scope of your work.

Plato started this genre stuff, and Aristotle elaborated on it. Down through the ages, others have massaged the concept and expounded and debated the subject until it has mushroomed into a complex set of loosely defined definitions that cannot be agreed upon by anyone… completely, that is. Some authors have been driven to try spanning two or more genres in an effort to categorize their work, but this angle might serve to cloud their image even more.

Just as there are the crossover musicians which appeal to a broader cross-section of fans with individual tastes, so there must be authors with the same kind of charisma, ready and willing to cross the lines and make their work available to a wider and more varied audience. Branding yourself as a “one-size-fits-all”  kind of writer might tend to dilute your image. I don’t believe there are any genre police going after authors inventing their own classifications, but I expect there are penalties.

To play ball with the big guys, you have to first learn their game. If you are working through an agent or otherwise publishing traditionally, this means you will need to discover the genre that best fits your work. The reason is that there are already institutions, campaigns and tried methods in place that are geared to marketing these predetermined broad-class genres. In order to fit, you may need to… conform (ouch!)

But if you are truly an indie, you won’t be encumbered by traditional rules. You will bravely stick to your course and hope that your social media effort will gain enough followers to see you through. You will realize that there is a much bigger audience out there if you don’t confine yourself to any one genre. But one thing is certain. It is difficult for readers to make any kind of judgement about your work unless they can either compare it to something familiar or experience it firsthand.

Try to connect with and appeal to folks that have similar likes and preferences. .. those with their own kind of hat.

Do you have some thoughts about assigning a specific genre to your work? I’d like to hear how some other indie writers out there seeing this problem and what they are doing to avoid it… or maybe they totally disagree. What do you think? Let’s hear your side.

Michael Faris

About Time Publishing

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genre

http://www.bubblecow.net/a-list-of-book-genres

http://homeworktips.about.com/od/booksbytopic/a/genres.htm

Book Authors Drop Old Paradigms and Pick Up New Tools

No question about it, computer technology has radically changed the way authors develop their books.Photo of Michael Faris

The old publishing paradigm presented some formidable hurdles for an author. Aside from writing the book, the remaining task of formatting and otherwise readying a manuscript for printing and subsequent publishing used to be a daunting and expensive process..

In the past authors inspected galley proofs from the typesetter for errors and typos. Once they were satisfied their copy was correct, they waited (sometimes for weeks) for the book printer to generate proofs in the form of a blueline. Photographs and pictures needed to be rendered by a completely different process that involved color separations and halftoning. Proofs were made from the same films intended for platemaking.

All in all, the process was painstakingly slow and unforgiving. Visualizing the final outcome took some experience and imagination. All the parts had to be wrestled into place with careful considerations about the way everything fit. Resizing or reworking any of the elements involved more time and expense, making the process tedious and pushing actual publication dates out further.

Authors had to rely on the services of graphic arts specialists in order to get professional results. Typesetters, color separators, strippers and proofers all contributed to the process. All these methods and procedures jacked up the cost of production, not to mention the cost of additional materials consumed in the prep stages.

Not only was the author forced to pay for these services (in advance), but to make matters worse he usually had to compromise design considerations in order to conform to the process. As if that wasn’t enough, the actual production was slow. By the time he held an actual printed book, there were months of time and thousands of dollars already invested. The icing on the cake was when additional errors were discovered on the five thousand (or more) copies, all printed and bound.

Today most of the middle operations associated with publishing have been eliminated and replaced with a new workflow designed for digital production of printed books. Now the creative and motivated author is able to visualize the final product on his desktop computer. Most WYSIWYG programs are fairly accurate in their page renditions, within the limits of what can be seen on a monitor as compared to printed page.

Now you have ultimate control over content and design. Electronic tools are available that allow you to work with pictures and graphics to format your work any way you want. Changes can be accommodated with the click of a mouse. Different versions can be set up using modifiable styles that change the appearance of the document instantly. Image quality is better than it has ever been, owing to the recent advancements in color control and imaging technology.

Perhaps best of all is that with today’s tools an author can produce a finished document, one that he has generated completely on his own, all formatted and press ready without any outside assistance whatsoever. In some instances, he can submit a file for printing and get it back in his hands —the same day! Not only that, but this first proof is exactly what the finished product will look like —the paper, the image quality, the page order and positioning —in short it is just like the finished product will be in production, because the proofing process is the same as the production process.

This opens up vast opportunities for authors. Now there is an economical way to produce material that can be marketed in small quantities and then revised and re-issued. These test cycles make it easy to improve the effectiveness of a document and help to tailor it for a specific purpose. Without this ability, many good ideas are abandoned because of the expense of adequate testing.

The new tools are rapidly evolving, offering better ways to communicate. Small quantities of quality printed books can now be created on demand by just about anyone.

So what’s next? The writing’s on the wall… er monitor. The industry has taken great steps to streamline, economize and otherwise develop systems to produce books with less impact on the environment. All of this research and investment in machines and technology to print on paper will continue to evolve as the old school dies out. In its place will be the children of the future. These people will not remember paper-based books because all of their interests and needs will be delivered electronically. The information is too timely, too fleeting to be recorded in print media. Storing printed books will not be practical. Traditional books will become dinosaurs of the past.

But complete control over content and appearance will likely remain in the hands of the creator. Imaginative authors will be able to add additional media (videos and sound clips) to the electronic versions of their work. They will be able to deliver content targeted at specific profile characteristics in small focused quantities. Building, modifying and enhancing archived data will continue to get easier as more software tools become available.

On-demand printing on paper is clearly a temporary niche in publishing. Its features pale compared to those offered by completely electronic media. It will certainly fade into the background as people gradually change the way they acquire and absorb information. It is only a short run to the next level. The real challenge, more than ever will be to be heard in this growing mass of confusion. Where will you fit in?

Michael Faris

About Time Publishing

Author’s Brainstorming Tool

Mike riding backwards on bicycle

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I have difficulty defining and sticking to a plot when writing fiction. I’ve tried outlining everything on paper. I’ve tried index cards. I’ve experimented with different text programs and even full-blown page layout systems in an effort to arrange my thoughts before sitting down to actually write.

I usually keep a notebook for each writing project where I stuff all my outlines, notes and so forth. It works better than my former method of leaving these things scattered in, on, around and even under my desk. Some notes don’t even make it out of the bathroom, or perhaps it fell down between the seats in my truck when I scribbled the thought on a McDonald’s napkin while sitting at a traffic light. I try to discipline myself to at least try to get my doodles into the notebook.

My point is that an idea will occur at the strangest moment, sparked by just about anything. If I don’t write it down somewhere it will surely fade into oblivion in only a short time. At best, I can only remember that I had a great idea a while ago, but the substance often eludes me.

Of course, just having ideas is nothing if no action is taken. So many times I have come up with a half-baked thought that really only needed more cooking time to become a good idea with some merit. I just need to brainstorm about it, or perhaps seek some advice… if I can just hold on to it… maybe park it somewhere until I can focus.

Well today I came across some software that might help  to organize my thoughts in a simple, easy-to-use format. I can carry it with me on my thumbdrive and work on it anyplace I can plug into a computer.

Idea Cruncher is meant to help you manage any project, but it is really super for writing books. Its simple interface is intuitive and easy to learn. You input data at anytime and anywhere within an outline that is very flexible. Information is graphically displayed as a tree. You can drag the order around, jot notes on any of the ideas and arrange parent and child data as needed. You can save versions and even import and export information between Idea Cruncher documents.

For managing projects, you can flesh out the the outline with more detailed information by adding notes to each point. Any of the outline entries can be tagged as actions, which can be displayed in a separate list of all actions contained within the entire document. You can check off points of the list, which draws a line through the text, just as you might do on a paper list.

There is a third window on the bottom that can be used to make text drafts before moving the information to your favorite word processing program. This is a scratch area that holds anything recorded there no matter which parts of the outline you are displaying above.

I downloaded a 30-day  trial version onto my laptop and was using it productively in just a few minutes. The registered version is less than $15 and includes the portable (thumbdrive) version. Sweet!

Michael Faris

About Time Publishing

Its the same old story…

Photo of Michael Faris sitting at desk

Michael Faris

I’m often asked, “Where do you get your ideas for your stories?”

I get them from everyday news events, from personal experiences, friends’ suggestions, from happenstance situations, satisfactions, disappointments, absurdities and ridiculous occurrences that are all around us… or maybe from a wish, a realization that things could be much different than they are. I have only to open my eyes or lend an ear and there are things to write about.

I probably have more trouble narrowing ideas down to a reasonable size so they don’t become a career project. For me, it really becomes a matter of deciding what’s important and sticking to that thought.

These what I call “career projects” become an awesome burden, mainly because of the time invested. I somehow cannot let go of them, desiring to see some kind of reward for my efforts. It’s like I won’t admit to myself that I acted on a bad idea.

What happens is that it gets stored away in a box or on DVD for future reference, (just in case I want to pick it up again).

One day I realized I had dozens of these “great ideas” all at various stages of development, any one that I should be able to pick up and finish with a little more effort. But somehow, yesterday’s ideas just don’t provide the inspiration that today and tomorrow promise. Or is there something else is at the root of my problem?

I know I have trouble finishing stories with sketchy plots. Attempts to outline the project ahead of time just never seem to pan out. Once I get to writing, my imagination just takes off and leaves the plan in a ditch somewhere. To heck with that outlining BS, I’m too busy having fun!

My first novel took me almost ten years to write. I went through three computers and swapped platforms twice before I cobbled together a meager 100,000 words. That’s about 27 words per day.

The sequel only took two years to write… (comparable length of 100K words). I was now working five times as fast now at 135 words per day!

Novel number three was also taking two years. But I could see an underlying problem here that made finishing very difficult. I was getting bored with the project and enthusiasm waned.

As much as I enjoyed writing, I couldn’t seem to finish a project. I asked myself why and could only blame it on the size of the undertaking. So I decided to concentrate on short stories.

This presented a whole new set of rules. I had a lot less time to develop my characters and to execute the plot. They tended to drag out because I couldn’t effectively tell my stories in so short a time… the very reason my novels became so long. So what was my problem?

I decided to join a writer’s group and get some pointers so I could effectively improve my work to the point of writing more complete material in a shorter length of time. I had no idea about how a writer’s group was conducted. I just wanted to get some of my work out in front of some guys that didn’t ‘love’ me. They would all be strangers and that seemed a good way to find out if my stuff was any good. So I found a fiction writers group on Craigslist and joined.

It has been about four years now since throwing in with “The Write Guys”, a very informal group of six members that meets twice a month. I have found it to be very rewarding and I have grown because of it. I have also followed and enjoyed a lot of superb stories from the rest of the group. Good fellowship. Great medicine for me as a writer.

The Write Guys try to get three readings in per meeting, which keeps each member’s presentation down to around 20-30 minutes and allows them to read about once a month. Each of us reads the next chapter from our ongoing novels, then the group discusses the story, pointing out things that we liked (or didn’t), and making suggestions that might help to improve the work.

The guys really seem to like my writing, but I’m still having the same problem. I can’t seem to finish a story because the plot isn’t well defined. I’m starting to realize that beautiful sentences do not make a story. It takes more than that.

The writers group experience has been positive, and I thought we were doing reasonably well, until I ran across Kristen Lamb’s blog. Her perspective has radically altered my thinking and presented a few challenges that I know will help me to grow as a writer.

Kristen’s advice and tips on how to effectively write and critique fiction are terrific! She also has some excellent advice on promoting fiction using social media, together with a couple of books that every serious fiction writer should read. Check it out at warriorwriters.wordpress.com/.

Now I think I will go cut a few projects down to size.

Michael Faris

About Time Publishing

Self Publishing’s Biggest Hurdle

Photo of Michael Faris - About Time Publishing

Michael Faris

So you hear about this great book that you simply gotta have. What do you do?

Most folks go online to Amazon and do a quick search. Payment is by credit card and the item is either shipped or made available for download. Simple and effective. Customer gets product and seller gets paid.

This seems like a very efficient system on the surface. But is it really?

Why did the consumer even want to buy this book? Was it something that Amazon did? Is the fact that they were able to find the book listed at Amazon have anything to do with promoting the merchandise?

I have an idea that building a demand for your work is the biggest chunk of a successful author’s marketing plan. It is far more important than developing distribution systems, because if there is no demand for the product, then there will be no sales. In fact, it could become a drag because of associated costs, such as inventory or membership or listing fees. Distribution arrangements must be managed, which takes valuable time. Further, you could be subject to restrictions that could compromise your flexibility when it comes to setting prices and selling in other venues.

I’m not saying that that you don’t need a way to distribute your products. But I am raising a few questions:

  • Is a big worldwide distribution channel really necessary for your work?
  • Does an author need to share revenue by way of sales commissions to a distributor?
  • Are there other potentially more profitable ways to set up a supply chain?

True, dyed-in-the-wool DIYers thrill at the chance to produce something through their own ingenuity. To create a work of art is a beautiful thing. To be able to sell it is even better than beautiful! But sometimes production costs for small quantities of quality goods leaves no margin for profit when you go to sell it. That’s why it is important to examine every aspect of your plan to market your work.

Since profit equals the selling price minus the costs ( production + distribution), it would stand to reason that anything that can be done to reduce the cost will increase the profit. This goes for anything that influences these costs.

I will be covering some ideas about shaving the cost of producing and marketing books for writers and self-publishers in later posts. I invite feedback and suggestions. What are some of the best ways a fledgling author can promote and distribute their work.

I would like to leave you with some food for thought:

Search engines can find just about anything, including the distributor of your books… even if the only distributor is You!

Michael Faris

About Time Publishing

Do It Yourself Hardcover Bookbinding

photo of Michael Faris

Michael Faris - About Time Publishing

The first time I tried to bind my own hardcover book was after I had written three novels. I wanted a very special edition to give to my friends and family. So I started looking at hardcovers to try to decipher their anatomy. I started dissecting garage sale books. Any old books. They all held secrets as to their construction.

I went online and even purchased a few handbooks on the subject. It didn’t seem too difficult. There was loads of information out there, YouTube tutorials and so forth. Supplies could be purchased at the UO Duckstore. It seemed easy, and it was! All it really takes is careful planning, patience and imagination to make very unique custom hardcovers that will rival the production line models.

Understanding the mechanics of the hardcover is important. Besides the book block, (which is basically perfectbound using a short ‘saddle’ instead of a wrapped cover), you will need Daveyboard, some heavy weight paper, transfer adhesive or permanent spray-mount, and a substrate to act as the wrapper. The wrapper can be almost anything from cotton prints to wallpaper, to grandma’s apron… in short, anything that is thin and flexible.  I chose Navy-colored muslin from the fabric store for my first project.

Hardcover books have several components, the most obvious being the front and back and the spine. These elements overhang the book block by a small amount. I determined that the faces should be cut to the same width as the book block and approximately 3/8″ taller. The spine width is determined by the thickness of the book block plus two thicknesses of Daveyboard. The boards are placed with a 3/8″ space between the spine and each face.

Diagram of hardcover wrapper for DIY bookbinding

Make a drawing on paper to determine sizes and position of everything. Coat the backside of the cover wrapper with adhesive and place the boards using the drawing on a light table to determine exact position. Wrap the long side first and stick it to the daveyboard. Crimp the corners before wrapping the short sides.

Diagram showing how to crimp corners for DIY hardcover bookbinding

It is important to crimp the corners after wrapping the long sides. The short sides will now fold neatly.

Diagram of finished corner for DIY bookbinding

A little practice at cutting and wrapping will yield nice, neat corners like this.

The bookblock is prepared in a similar way to making a paperback (see yesterday’s post), the exception being that there are two endsheets and a saddle of muslin or some other material instead of a paper cover. Endsheets are made by folding larger sheets of either a similar or complimentary substance paper in half. Endsheets go in front and back of the book to assist in attaching the cover. Clamp the entire sandwich between boards as before, and apply glue. Work the adhesive well into the spine, being sure that it sticks to both end sheets.

Diagram showing how to make endsheets for DIY hardcover bookbinding

Diagram showing the relationship of the endsheets to the text pages.

Before the glue sets, apply a ‘saddle’ cut to about 4″ + spine width and about the same height as the pages. Work the saddle down into the glue and let it cure. Ask your printer to trim the three sides for you, leaving the spine intact.

Diagram showing a saddle used to attach the hardcover - DIY Bookbinding.

Photo of finished bookblock with endsheets and saddle before attaching to the hardcover blank.

Finished bookblock with endsheets and saddle before attaching to the hardcover blank.

Apply adhesive to the outsides of the two endsheets and both sides of the saddle so that it will stick to the cover blank and the endsheet. Lay the cover blank out flat and carefully locate the spine of the bookblock onto the inside spine of the cover, being careful to center it.  Then, holding the bookblock upright carefully with one hand, swing the front cover up and into position. Squeeze it against the bookblock and do the same with the back. Place the entire book under pressure and allow everything to cure.

Photo of attaching bookblock to the hardcover DIY bookbinding

Attaching the bookblock to the hardcover. In this case I used transfer adhesive. After aligning the pages, the waxed backing is peeled from the endsheets. This method is simpler and requires no masking the way spray adhesives do.

Don’t be disappointed if this first effort isn’t perfect. Mine wasn’t. My next few were much better… not bad, in fact. But only after building dozens of books did I produce what I would call a professional product. It isn’t hard. Just takes practice.As you attempt to improve your craft, don’t be afraid to experiment. There are all kinds of adhesives and materials available that were either designed for or can be adapted to bookbinding. Use your imagination! Upcycling packing materials or scraps from another project is a great way to make unique books. Try your hand at rebinding old books or just scrap paper.

Next time I will talk about the different materials I have tried, together with some suggestions about other ways to improve your bookbinding craft.

Michael Faris

About Time Publishing

http://www.judeco.net