For winning Camp NaNo in July last year I got a coupon for a discount on one printed copy of a book from BookBaby. When I won NaNo in November the year before that I got a coupon for a free book from FastPencil. Now that I finally have my copy of Wind Age in the flesh, I want to show you both of them.
FastPencil’s process was very simple: upload a file of your cover, upload a file with your book, specify the size of pages you wanted, insert payment information, and wait. It was your responsibility to make sure covers were the right size and books had no typos and such. Nothing wrong with that, either. It’s another illustration of why a good editor (and graphic designer) is so important for self-published authours. To be clear, I wasn’t publishing, just collecting a prize.
Unfortunately, FastPencil’s directions were extremely unclear. Perhaps they assumed anyone using their services would be a professional at publication, and would therefore know everything already. We didn’t. There were some instructions even our father, who works with computers for a living, couldn’t interpret. After weeks of frustration, we clicked “submit” and prayed everything would turn out okay.
We wait. No notices from anything like quality control — so things must have been fine.
The Great Day arrives. We get a package from FastPencil. It’s a rather big box for just one book that’s supposed to be around six inches tall, but perhaps that was the smallest size they carry. After all, they’re used to much larger orders.
We open the box. Olivia had sized the cover for a 4×6 book, but here it was, staring at us, blown up to 8.5×11. It looked like an Impressionist painting, and in fact the picture only became clear when you were too far away to see details. Olivia pronounced it extremely pixelated. Surely, surely someone handling the book in its final form would have noticed this. A rational human being would have concluded that the designer did not intend such a result. A kind one might have let us know.
But no. So we were left with a book whose cover had been designed, and text formatted, for 4×6, but whose actual size was 8.5×11.
(Here you may see how, er, generous my margins turned out — with room for plenty of notes, not that I intended to put that many in. A proper scribe, seeing such waste of valuable paper, would have fainted, gone into a tirade, or sat down and produced plenty of marginalia and/or borders according to the Insular style, according to his temperament.)
In the last week of December last year I discovered the coupon for a discounted copy of my book, from a different company. With the deadline looming (it expired on the 31st), Olivia and I got to work.
We found out at once that BookBaby is not like FastPencil (or, as it has become known in our house, SlowBrokenPencil). Their directions were endless with detail and clarification. We still had to ask our father for help understanding some of the terminology, as the directions were for people who already knew their stuff, but even when Olivia had to get up the courage to contact an employee they were helpful and willing to spend valuable time working to help out a teenager who was only ordering one book.
She had no end of trouble meeting the guidelines for the cover work, though. The template required Photoshop in order to work, and we didn’t have it, so she had to ask for help from a friend of ours who did — and that was chancy in itself, with the deadline so near, because we knew he checks his e-mail very rarely. Negotiations this way and that over the cover took between two and three weeks. Fortunately they came to our attention after we finally managed to submit the order successfully, so as we’d ordered the book before the deadline, the coupon was still good. BookBaby’s prices are significantly higher than FastPencil’s, and I wasn’t up for spending forty dollars on a single copy of a book I knew would change a lot during revisions. Nine dollars for the book wasn’t so bad. . . twice that for shipping on a single book is, I think, extravagant. Not every customer will be a self-publishing bestseller.
But the order finally went through, in January, and we had again to wait. Waiting was worse this time, because we were already nervous about the result on account of our previous experience. Furthermore, enough problems had already come up that we were worried something glaring would meet our eyes when we opened the box. Either it would be of excellent quality, we said, when we were inclined to look on the bright side, or it would be awful.
This is what we got.
Here are Wind Age and Of the North together, for comparison. Of the North doesn’t look so bad in this picture because you’re not close enough to see the pixels as large as they appear in real life.
Olivia’s skill has improved since Of the North, too. In that cover the human figure wasn’t even in the picture she took, but edited in — a job that wouldn’t be so obvious if the picture weren’t immoderately blown up to fit the book. Nothing is inserted into the picture for Wind Age: I was really there. (That’s me, in my early-period garb, in our grove. Not shown: the blue rubbers I was wearing. The “garb” I’m wearing in Of the North‘s cover was my first. I’ve improved too since then.)
If I do go the self-publishing route, which I might, I’m much more likely to use BookBaby for printing (since I don’t intend to do ebooks or anything that requires a screen), even with the price.
(What appear to be typos in some of the words of the second quotation are, in fact, the result of the cover obscuring the beginning of the lines, because it wasn’t open very far, and the cover is white inside, so it’s hard to tell there’s anything blocking the words.)
There’s something magical about a print book. Scenes you’ve seen so many times in the document that you scroll past them take on new interest when there’s actually pages to turn. The weight of it in your hands, or holding down a stack of paper, gives your dream more reality. The book doesn’t yet fall open to a certain place, and the pages don’t smell of anything but paper yet, but those will come with time and love. And, maybe, a little frustrated editorial scribbling in the margins.
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Apologies in advance for any surviving typos. I’m writing this post on a library computer, with which I’m not yet well acquainted, and this particular one doesn’t like to capitalize.