This month Carnegie Medal winning author Susan Price shares the knowledge she gained from turning her picture book manuscript into a POD book using Createspace.
After hours of work with much cursing and teeth-gnashing my latest picture book The Three Billy Goats Gruff is at last available on Amazon, both as a paperback and ebook. The following is what illustrator Andrew and I have learned about the process.
I’ll start with the paperback, published through Amazon’s Createspace. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. After going to the mat with Createspace, producing the Kindle will be a piece of cake. But don’t let me put you off. Lash out a couple of quid on 'How To Format Your Picturebook For Kindle Without The Frustration,' by A. Olsen and get stuck in. We found Olsen’s book invaluable, but worked out a few wrinkles ourselves too.
You will need to use a graphics programme, such as Photoshop or the free Open Source programme, Gimp. There are others, such as Canva and PicMonkey, which struck me as a more user-friendly PhotoShop.
If you don’t know how to use any graphics programme and can’t face learning, then bribe, trap, marry or otherwise acquire someone who can. I'm lucky in my brothers, Andrew and Adam, both of whom can use more than one graphics programme. Andrew has even taught me some of the basics.
Before You Even Start
There are things to consider before you even start formatting your Createspace paperback.
For one, Createspace won’t upload any book that’s less than 26 pages, so forget the traditional picturebook format of 24 pages, excluding front and back matter.
This gives more freedom in telling the story but if you’re formatting an out-of-print (OOP) book you may need to add dedications, title pages and end pieces to reach the page-number.
Cost is another consideration. Amazon charges only pennies for electronic delivery of Kindle ebooks, so a Kindle can be any length you like. Cost of production is irrelevant. But Createspace produces an actual book, which you can drop on the floor with a thump. This means costs for materials, storage and delivery. Createspace sets a minimal price: their cost of production plus their profit. Your price must be higher than this, allowing for your profit. The more pages, the higher the price.
Createspace Hates Spreads
One of the great appeals of a picture book for an illustrator is the creation of a beautiful, story-telling double-page spread. But Createspace was designed to produce books for adults, with separate pages of text to the left and right, and a gutter down the middle. The automated process doesn’t lend itself readily to edge-to-edge, double-page images. Createspace’s digital previewer marks such pages as a mistake. The challenge is to publish such a book despite Createspace.
You need to decide on your book’s size. Createspace offers you several. Some are almost square, most rectangular. You can customise the size by entering your own numbers into Createspace but these custom sizes aren’t made available to bookshops as the standard ones are. They can be sold only through Amazon and your own website. For Three Billy Goats Gruff, Andrew and I chose the largest standard size Amazon offers: 11 inches high x 8 inches wide (27.9 cm x 20.3 cm). Amazon always works in inches.
How Do You Get The Book Into The Computer?
You’ve decided on your layout and page number. You’ve decided the size of your book. But how do you get it into your computer and Createspace?
First, in your graphics programme you will make a blank canvas or background. Your book’s pages will be inserted onto this canvas. When edited to your satisfaction, you’ll save them as picture files. We used the jpeg format.
But, before you know how big to make your ‘canvas’, you have to consider ‘bleed’ and ‘gutter.’
You’re creating a paperback, which will be printed on real paper and chopped to size.
You need to allow an area around your image for 'bleed.' Anything which falls within the bleed may be cropped during the book’s production.
Createspace suggest that you add 0.125 inches to the width, and 0.25 inches to the height. So, if each of your single pages is 11 x 8 inches, then this has to become 11.25 x 8.125 inches. Olsen suggests playing safe and making the bleed a half-inch. So: 11.50 x 9.
Gutter or Spine Width
Createspace provides a formula for calculating spine width. So in short, for a colour interior, you multiply page number by 0.002347 inches. Three Billy Goats Gruff had 48 pages, so its spine width was 0.112656. Or, rounded up, 0.113 inches.
When calculating page dimensions, this is halved, as one half is on one side of the gutter and the other half on the other.
The dimensions for a single page width is then, in inches:
Bleed Page width Bleed Half Gutter
0.25 + 8 + 0.25 + 0.06 = 8.56 inches
For double page-spreads, if your book is to be 11 x 8, you need to create a blank canvas of 11.5 inches high by 17.12 inches. You will need to mark the bleed and gutter areas with guidelines. Your graphics programme should allow you to do this.
So you’ve done all your hard sums and now you can set up your blank canvas? Wrong. Now you have to supersize.
Don’t make your page the size of your book, not even with added bleeds and gutter.
Andrew, with his graphics background, made our canvas four times bigger: 45 inches high and 34.24 inches wide. (Miraculously, this fits easily within the computer screen.)
Set a resolution too. Andrew says, make it at least 300 dpi (dots per inch: also known as ppi, pixels per inch.) He never works at less than 300 dpi.
Why such huge files? Two reasons, Andrew says: to enable you to create original artwork, and to keep your images sharp when reproduced.
'When creating original artwork,' Andrew explains, 'You need to magnify your image to do fine detail. If your image is a mere 11 x 8, it will blur as you move in close. Make your file four to six times larger than you need and you can zoom in and work very finely.'
Then, looking ahead, 'What if you want to use your image for small postcards or a big poster? If we made our images 12 x 9, they would pixelate and look terrible when shrunk or blown up. Huge files give you very high resolution. Shrinking files to the requirements of Kindle and Createspace means losing pixels, but if resolution is high, the image stays sharp.'
On your supersized blank canvas, put guide lines, to show where your page edges will be. The bleed of 0.25 at top and bottom becomes a supersized inch, so the horizontal guides lines are set an inch from the top and 42 inches from the top.
The vertical guide lines are set at an inch from the left-hand edge, at 33 inches from the left. You can place guides to mark the gutter too.
So, you have your huge blank canvas set up, and your guide-lines in place. Now you’re going to bring your pages into the computer and place them on this canvas.
An OOP Book
You have an OOP book you want to republish. You either own the rights in both text and artwork, or own one and have the permission of the rights-holder in the other.
If your scanner has a large bed, capable of producing high-quality scans, then scan your book, page by page, and save the scans to your computer as picture files. We saved as jpegs but you may prefer another format. The pages must lie flat on the scanner’s bed, to prevent outside light spoiling the image. You may have to tear your book apart to achieve this.
Create a folder for these jpegs, so you can find them easily. Label each file alphabetically, ie: ‘aGoats01 – bGoats02… Back up that folder!
You may prefer to take your book to a high-street printer. They will supply you with high quality scans on a CD or USB stick.
Once the scans are in your computer, you can open and edit them in your graphics programme. Copy them, one by one, onto your supersized 'canvas.' Resize them. Use Save As to save them as humungeous jpegs.
Make another blank canvas, this time the size your book will be. Copy your humungous jpegs onto the book-sized canvas and shrink them to fit. The image will stay sharp. Put the book-sized ones in their own folder. Name them alphabetically.
An Original Book
You can make your sketches or paintings on paper and scan them into your computer, saving them as jpegs. Or you can use a graphic tablet, such as a Wacom bamboo, to draw directly into your graphics programme. Or combine the two methods: scan in drawings then use your graphic tablet to rework them.
Take full advantage of your graphics programme’s layers. Put every element of your work on a different layer.
Think of 'layers' as a series of transparencies piled on top of one another, just as pre-digital animation used layers of transparent cells.
The background was painted on the bottom layer. An important feature, such as a large tree, would be on the next layer. Characters on layers above that. The layers underneath could be seen through those on top, and formed a complete picture for the onlooker. However, details on the upper layers could be changed, without altering underlying layers.
The layers in graphics programmes work in the same way. Different programmes may call the layers by different names, but I think most have something similar.
Put your background drawing, in black and white outline, on one layer. Add colour to it on another layer. Name each layer clearly, so you know what is on each one.
Put the outline drawings of characters on a separate, clearly named layer. Add their colour on another layer.
The text will have its own layer. Indeed, every sentence can have a layer to itself.
The multiplying layers can become difficult to manage. So, why bother?
Well, say you want to change a tree but Goldilocks is standing in front of it. You don’t want to change her. Switch off her layer. She vanishes and you can change the tree as much as you like. When you’re happy, switch on Goldilock’s layer and there she is, in front of the tree, untouched.
You can experiment with text, trying different fonts, colours, positions, sizes without changing anything except the text. You can use a background or character several times, by copying it from one 'canvas' to another.
People used to brushes and pencils often find graphics programmes cumbersome at first but being able to change and refine quickly without redoing whole pages is wonderful.
Save and Back Up!
When you’re happy with a page, save it first in your graphics programme, with all its separate layers. Again, label files alphabetically. Put them in a Graphics Folder of their own. Back them up to an external-drive or a usb. You will be grateful you did this later.
Open each image again and ‘flatten’ its layers. This amalgamates all the layers into one image. You have to do this before they can be saved as picture files and uploaded to Createspace, but once flattened, you can no longer make changes to them. But you will almost certainly have to make adjustments before you publish.
This is why it’s important to first save your images as graphic files. When you need to make changes, you return to these graphics files, open them in your graphics programmes and edit them.
Use the Save As tool to save the 'flattened' images as jpegs or another format acceptable to Createspace. Put them in their own folder, named alphabetically.
Back them up!
These jpegs are huge! They are four times bigger than you need them to be. You need to resize them to the actual dimensions of your book. The way you do this will depend on the graphics programme you use.
Save your new, book-sized graphics file as a jpeg. Put it into its own clearly labelled folder. But keep your supersized files. They are your master-copies.
Next, loading them up to Createspace and making a book.
Faff and More Faff
We used Microsoft Word — eventually.
If you have Word, or a programme such as Open Office where you can save a document as Word, I suggest you do the same.
When Andrew and I researched making a picture-book, every source we found advised making a PDF, using Adobe Pro, an expensive programme which will create a PDF file as well as read one.
We signed up for the 30 day free trial, agreeing that, if it worked, we would each sell a kidney and buy it.
Readers, it did not work. We followed instructions to the letter. We hopefully loaded our PDF to Createspace’s previewer countless times — and saw tiny thumbnails crammed into one corner.
We re-read the best advice by the best people, checked and re-checked our work, changed dimensions, sacrificed to Odin… Nothing worked.
While Andrew howled at the moon, I read further into Olsen’s book. There was a chapter on using Microsoft Word. Here’s how:
First, create a Word file at the actual size of your book, plus bleeds and gutter. I refer you to Olsen’s book, where she tells you exactly what to do.
We learned that it’s best to add more blank pages than you’ll need to the Word file before you 'insert' pictures, as it’s much easier to 'insert' a picture file into an empty Word page than to 'add a page' after you’ve inserted a picture.
When your blank Word file is ready, go through and insert all your book sized jpegs. Here is where the alphabetical labelling pays off. Instead of hunting through rows of thumbnails in the folder, searching for the one you want, they are all in neat alphabetical order.
Click on the one you want, click insert, and it will appear in your Word file. Click on 'Picture Tools' on your tool bar, go to 'position' and click the central icon, the one that will centre your image exactly on the page. You may need to drag at the picture’s corner to fit it precisely.
Your double spreads will have to be cropped into single pages. Word will only accept single pages.
They won’t necessarily look as if they join up, but if you have your measurements correct, they will.
The first time we loaded a Word file up to Createspace was thrilling because it worked! It wasn’t perfect but it was at the correct size. The pictures filled the digital book from edge to edge.
The pages were out of order, and we had to add an extra title page to bump the pages along so that the double-spreads were next to each other.
Look through the whole book in Createspace’s digital previewer. You may spot typos or other changes you want to make. If so, return to your original supersized graphics files, make the changes, save as a Huge Jpeg, resize to a book-sized jpeg and put it into your Word file in the correct place.
When you’re ready to publish a proof-copy, Createspace’s proofer will put big red warning signs all over your work. There are live elements in the bleed areas! If the book looks as you want it to, ignore these warnings and click on the button that allows you to go ahead despite them.
We advise coughing up for a paper proof, because the on-line previewer, though very good, is not perfect. When our paper proof arrived in the post, we saw lines of text much closer to the edge of the page than they had seemed on-line and Andrew spotted places in the pictures which he wanted to improve. We still had all our master-files, so were able to edit.
We also turned Three Billy Goats Gruff into a Kindle ebook, which is somewhat easier and which seems to selling in America.
This first attempt was a lot of hard work, but we’ve learned a lot and are confident that our second picture book, The Bremen Town Musicians, will be produced much more quickly and with less grief.
I hope that's helped and good luck.
Please note this post originally appeared on Authors Electric 25th August 2016
Please note this post originally appeared on Authors Electric 25th August 2016