So as you may have noticed, I’ve been thrashing around trying to find something that will allow me to create e-books and plain-vanilla print-on-demand layouts with a minimum of technological whizz-bangerie.
Scrivener, we’re told, will convert your golden words to .mobi, ePub, and various other electronic formats. Unclear, though, whether you can use it to do hard-copy page layout. And the learning curve: steep.
InDesign: Well, let me put it this way. I’ve taken two formal courses in InDesign and still can’t figure out how to use it. It is way, way, way over the English-major head. And, btw, if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.
A reader here kindly suggested PressBooks.com. I checked that out. Brought to us by the folks who bring us beloved WordPress, it uses a WP-like platform to allow you to generate book-like things for print and electronic publication. On close inspection, it has some serious limitations. One is that they want you to have your author page on their site. Another: unless you cough up a chunk of dough, your “book” contains a honking big ad, plus their watermark appears every few pages.
Spent yesterday evening crawling around the Internet searching for some sort of program that would let me do my own e-books (the FireRider serialization is going to generate about 20 books in quick succession; the diet/cookbook is still sitting there waiting to be published, and the Old New Bad Novel will probably present us with 12 or 14 serial bookoids). And lo! What should I stumble upon but the latest enterprise mounted by Joel Friedlander, the dean of self-publishing.
What the guy has come up with is the soul of simplicity: professionally designed Word templates suitable for building camera-ready PDFs and Kindle-ready electronic files.
Okay, before you fall on the floor laughing, yes, it is true that Word a layout program does not make. MS Word (or Wyrd, for those of us who have come to know and loathe its weirdnesses) is a word processing program. Its fonts are not up to the job of producing high-end, fancy publications. It lacks the versatility of InDesign or Quark. There are things it just flat can’t do.
All those things are true.
But consider: most self-published books don’t need InDesign-level power. Most readers can’t tell the difference between an OK font and a great font. And if you’re not doing a lot of swell graphics, all you really need is something into which to pour copy, maybe a few tables, and some catchy heads and subheads.
Something with the correct margins for the correct trim size. Something designed by someone who knows what a gutter is supposed to look like. Something with a nice running header. Something that will break pages so chapters start on recto pages. Every time. Something, in short, built by someone with a modicum of design taste who understands what you need. And what you don’t need.
For that purpose, Word suffices.
Friedlander has selected a variety of fonts that work pretty well in the book-printing environment. Are they perfect? Well…no. You might be able to do a little kerning here and there to pull up a loose line, but by and large, that’s beyond the average writer’s ken and doesn’t do that much good, anyway.
Artistic perfection, however, is probably unnecessary for the genre novels and pieces of casual informative nonfiction most of us are putting out. Readers who find Kindle a desirable platform are not the kind of people who spend a lot of time caressing paperbacks and admiring the visual effect of the type. That’s not what they’re reading for.
These templates of Friedlander’s look nice. The margins are set up to accommodate whatever trim size you choose, of several possibilities. They guide you through the steps of setting up your front matter and back matter. And they use styles to build consistency throughout the document.
They’re easy, they’re efficient, the program is familiar…and the price is right. For $37, I got a template with a design that looks like it was made for Slave Labor. That’s far less than it would cost to have my designer lay out the book for print.
If it works, bully for me. If not, forty bucks is not going to put me in the poorhouse.
You can take just about any Word file and present it to Kindle for e-book conversion. Most or maybe all of Friedlander’s templates can be used for that purpose. He has several, though, that are specifically designed to let you prepare e-book and camera-ready copy in one swell foop, saving you a lot of time.
Since Slave Labor is my sandbox project — something I put on Amazon for the express purpose of learning how the whole Amazon enterprise works — I’m going to use it to try laying out a PoD version of the book.
And if it does work? It’s on to FireRider, at last!