Tag Archives: self published

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

DIY Writer-Bookbinder

Real do-it-yourselfers have a craving for knowledge about how things work. We aren’t satisfied accepting things “off the shelf”. We have to take them apart to see what makes them tick, and in many cases we wind up modifying or even building a better version using the knowledge gained. Once the basic principles have been learned, the true DIYer will look for ways to make it faster, cheaper, more appealing or whatever. The satisfaction gained from these journeys nourishes the creative fires and feeds the soul of these DIY creatures.

Photo of Michael Faris sitting in chair

Why not do it yourself?

A printer for more than forty years and a writer for the past twenty-five, I have always looked for ways to print and bind some of my work… in small quantities.

The digital press opened the door, at least to the printing part. Finally –an affordable way to print books. I could even print a single book if I wanted. Digital printing is the writer’s dream come true. The work comes off the press already collated and in order, just like a real book! Zowie! The only thing missing to make it actually be a book is the binding part, something I felt could do for myself.

After all, what could be so difficult about gluing a stack of paper, right?

My first perfectbinding effort using Goop silicone adhesive.

So I tried it, using some scrap paper and some silicone rubber. I placed the stack between two boards, put the sandwich in a vise and smeared some Goop on the bind edge and it worked! I was able to wrap a pretty respectable cover around it in a separate operation.

I was elated! My home-grown process worked so well that I bound my first run of my first novel that way. The process took me the most part of a day to bind five books, but they came out perfect! I had perfected perfectbinding in my garage!

Later, I learned to score the edges and scrub the glue down into the book block to penetrate and form a better bond. Later still, I bought a table top hot-glue binder that bound the cover to the edges in a single operation. However, I have to say that the hot glue holds no better than the silicone rubber did.

So now I could make my own paperbacks. Big deal!

Perfect results!


Once I got over how cool it was, I decided to try a hard cover version as it seemed to be just an extension of skills I already had developed with my paperbacks. I was sure I could do it.

And so began an adventure!

My first few efforts were laughable. They were uneven. Some of them wouldn’t stay closed, and most of them wouldn’t lie open without suffering damage to the binding. But I didn’t lose heart. I was determined to find a way to use modern materials and adhesives to produce a nice looking and durable book. I tried this and that idea, trying to emulate the common hardcover book with the tools and knowledge I had at my disposal.

You see I was tired of the look of production books, the mass-produced paperbacks and bookstore hardbacks. But by trying to ignore the old ways, I missed all the important things that traditional bookbinding could teach me! Duh!

So I started taking old books apart to see how they were constructed. I bought a few manuals on book binding and book repair and I read all the articles and watched all the video tutorials on traditional bookbinding. Then I began to see the process in a different light.

There are two major categories or methods to bind pages: flat sheets or folded signatures.

Perfectbinding flat sheets by the application of various adhesives is the most common (and cheapest) way to bind books. This binding method lends itself very well to digital printing, as there is virtually no complicated bindery tasks like folding and stitching required. Hot glue does a respectable job on uncoated paper. Additionally, holes can be punched or drilled near the bind edge for the purpose of stitching coated or glossy papers. The result of gluing and stitching is a very sturdy binding. However, stitching from the side robs a lot of margin from the gutter or bind side. Allowances in the book layout must be made for this. Also, the paper grain should run parallel to the spine to favor the book construction.

Punching Cradle

Folded signatures are stitched in any number of ways before attaching the pages to a flexible cloth backing. This is a much more durable way to bind books, but it is more time-consuming and uses more materials, because this method generally involves a hard cover or casebinding.

But the most important lessons were in the hands-on experience I got while attempting to follow the traditional methods to bind my work. I was surprised at how much easier it was to use tried and true materials… especially adhesives.

Beforehand I was convinced that modern non-water based materials were stronger and easier to use. I thought it would be more efficient to use transfer adhesives and hot glue to produce my books. But I was dumbfounded to learn how wrong I was! Those materials are more expensive and far less forgiving than using water-based liquid glues.

Home made stitching loom for Coptic stitching.

With practice, I learned how to judge how thick and wet the glue should be, how to apply it and how long I can work it before it sets up.  I learned which surface to apply it to and how to rub out all the bubbles and burnish paper to board. I have to say I am sold on PVA, a relatively modern water based glue that lends itself to traditional (and modern) bookbinding methods.

One thing I was able to do was to make many of my own tools and equipment, a truly satisfying thing that fed my inner desires to create. The more conscious I became of exactly what I was trying to create, the more comfortable and capable I felt about making it happen. I began to look at the world differently. I saw bookbinding tools in everyday items — spatulas, putty knives, tweezers, carving knives, knitting needles. I saw bookcloth in fabric prints, batiks, old blue jeans, vinyls for sign making , placemats, old maps.

I have now lost count of how many books I have bound for myself and others. But I feel like my work has improved considerably over the years. Though I built myself a couple of book looms to aid in stitching signatures, I am just as comfortable stitching a book in my lap… and stitching is a trip!

So many ways to do it! I experimented with several stitching patterns until I found a couple that suit my style and I have worked to refine my stitches so they are now looking uniform and just tight enough to hold things together.


Closeup of Coptic stitches

I will often experiment with new ideas using scrap or discarded materials. Once I get the method down, I progress to quality materials. In servicing my customers, my philosophy is to use the best  I can afford, as cheap materials are not worthy of my time.

Traditionally bound 160 page embossed casebound journal

I will be posting some more information on how writers can bind  their own books in a variety of unique and interesting ways, including some of my experiments in hot foil tooling and blind embossing.

Another journal - 320 pages. These covers are bonded leather bookcloth.

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

POD Books on a Digital Press

Freedom of the press has taken on a whole new perspective. Control is finally in the hands of the author. Gone are the expensive and time-consuming middle steps that used to limit the production of printed material. In its place are user-friendly tools to communicate with state-of-the-art technology designed to print on demand.

Digital presses evolved from electrostatic copiers. The technology does not require plates in the traditional sense. Instead, the image is transmitted to the imaging cylinder electronically. Each revolution builds a new image. This makes it possible to print consecutive pages in order as they come off the press. Not only do they print consecutively, but the run can also be configured to print both sides of the sheet. This is how digital books are printed.

Electronic printing is not in its infancy. It has evolved from the smeared and often dirty-looking black and white copies to the sophisticated full color quality printing we see today. Mainstream software to communicate with these new printing machines is available universally. The interface is intuitive, making the preparation of materials easy and quite flexible.

In most cases, an author can submit a complete book, consisting of consecutive pages formatted to the desired page size. The digital press operator can drop the file into standard templates that will arrange the pages on the press sheet according to the chosen binding method. Documents can be created in most word-processing programs such as MS Word, or any program that will yield a PDF, a standard of the industry. After uploading your file, many online facilities provide simple tools to help you finalize the look of your project. You can even request a single proof copy before committing to any quantity.

Many printers who use Print-on-Demand technology have finishing services, such as binding, laminating and stamping. Printers who specialize in books have auto-binders that run inline with the press. The cost of digital printing is very competitive, so it is wise to shop around and compare services. Don’t forget to figure in the cost of shipping.

I purchase the printed sheets off the digital press and bind my own books. Over the years I have written and produced several books made in this way and have found the process to be efficient and economical. I can make as few or as many as I need at a time, even produce different versions in the same press run. I can add color pages at any position, photos, charts, diagrams and anything that I can get to work in my page layouts.

I will post some information about binding your own work in the near future. It is fun and very rewarding.

Soon,

Michael Faris

About Time Publishing

Are Traditional Books Dead?

Nothing like a good old-fashioned paperback book. One you can wrap the pages around as you read them, make a mark in the margins, dog-ear the corners and make it your own. It fits in a raincoat pocket so you can pull it out on the bus ride home, or while standing in line at Starbucks. These old relics live on the dashboard of your car, on the back of the commode, or in your lunchbox. They are cheap enough and durable enough to last through several reads by a number of folks as they are handed from one to another.

Hardback books are wonderful in their own way. These are the musty dinosaurs of yesterday, nestled on Grandma’s shelves in her library and kitchen. These books hold the ideas and accomplishments of days past, all worthy of recording on print, forever enshrined between  hard covers of cloth and leather. Most of the really great books are printed on archival-quality fine acid-free paper and stitched into traditional signatures. Coffee table books have long adorned living rooms with renditions of art and photography published in limited editions.

Books and magazines have always been an important part of our lives from the time we sat on our mother’s lap to read a good fairy tale until the time we graduated from college. Textbooks, manuals, dictionaries, encyclopedias, guidebooks, trade journals, hobbies, sports and news publications. The list goes on and on.

Why do these books exist? Why have we thought them important enough to produce and preserve them for the last few centuries? My opinion is that we felt the knowledge was something we needed to preserve in order for others to benefit. Knowledge always has worth and anything with value quickly becomes a commodity.

Commodities become the basis for entire industries, whether the goods are truly needed or not. Sometime it is a mere fad that drives an industry, such as furs or feathers. Other times it is basic needs like food, medicine or tools. But no matter the spark that creates the demand, once it has gained a foothold a commodity becomes entrenched in our way of life. Old habits are slow to die, even when there are good reasons to change. So it is with the information industry.

For the last twenty years or so, nearly every child in America has grown up with a mouse in their hand and an inherent knowledge of how to navigate and use computers. They can’t remember a world without the web. They get their timely information online. Most hardly ever pick up a newspaper. Their books are electronic. Their information is up to the minute and cross-referenced to several sources. They are plugged into a world that didn’t even exist only a few years ago.

So what does that mean to the future of traditional printed books? It means that they will eventually go the way of the horse and buggy. There is a better way to store and view data than ever before. Printed books are expensive to produce and impossible to edit without printing a revised edition. They are not searchable, the information cannot be easily copied and reformatted and they cannot be instantly transmitted to a point around the world. They require shelf space and need to be dusted. They wear out from use. You need to hold the book in your hands to get access to the information… and how many books can you carry with you at a time?

The child of today and tomorrow will only see books as a curiosity, an impractical novelty with little use other than an example of how it used to be. He will prefer to get his information online, and will have access to more knowledge than his parents ever dreamed of. This overwhelming sea of knowledge lays the foundation for a whole different set of challenges that I will try to address in my next Blog.

I would like to hear some other ideas on the subject.

Until next time,

Michael Faris

About Time Publishing