NOTE: This post is part of my 100 WRITERS project.
Do you want to write and publish your own book? Maybe produce a few copies, for your friends and family? I started Super Cool Books in 2011 because my two sons wanted to learn how to write stories and publish them. Read about our adventures here, here and here. We started out printing the books in small quantities just to sell online. Eventually, though, we were selling them in major bookstores, and ended up collaborating with Marshall Cavendish for two popular series, SHERLOCK HONG ADVENTURES and LION CITY ADVENTURES.
Since then, I've met many other parents who are keen to experiment with their own DIY publishing projects. I always share what I can. The most vital piece of information seems to be this contact in Singapore for printing and binding one or two copies of your book, at very reasonable prices. I've used them many times for making prototypes of our Super Cool Books titles. These look just like the editions you would find in bookstores.
Recently my friend and fellow writer Jo Furniss decided to make some books for her daughter. Find out how she did it below. Thanks to Jo for writing this guest piece.
MEET JO FURNISS
LYDIA HOBS AND THE BANE OF WOLVES – a story for my daughter
My daughter, Lydia, sat down to write a story one day. It concerned a little girl who became a vet for magical animals. With the total confidence of a seven-year-old, she knocked it off in about ten minutes; words, drawings and all. I envied her focus.
At the time, I was “between novels”. I’d just finished writing a 95,000-word thriller and was about to embark on a second novel. In hindsight, I was creating a distraction for myself, but Lydia’s story galloped into the room with a whole herd of plot and character ideas racing behind it:
Lydia Hobs has a special way with animals. As the daughter of two vets, she knows how to treat them. And when they start speaking to her, she discovers that the animal kingdom keeps secrets – magical animals are hidden all around us. But when a poacher arrives in their community, these incredible creatures are in danger and only Lydia Hobs can help.
This magical world arrived so complete in my head that I felt it wanted me to write it. My daughter wanted me to write it. Even as I tried to concentrate on thriller #2, I wanted to write it.
In the end, however, I wrote it in two stages. The first 10,000 tumbled out last year. Then things started happening with my adult novel; I got signed up by an agent. Then I started SWAG, an online magazine about literary events in Singapore. Despite my daughter’s plaintive requests for me to “write her book”, Lydia Hobs and the Bane of Wolves was put into a drawer while I knuckled down with more pressing matters.
But as we approached Lydia’s birthday in April, maternal guilt kicked in. She never stopped asking about her book – what happens to Lydia Hobs? How long could I go on telling Lydia that I didn’t have time to finish her project? After leaving it for 6 months (or maybe even 9, I can’t remember!), I revisited the manuscript. I use Scrivener, so my notes were all in one place and easy to find, and I discovered that I’d already tightly plotted the story; I had everything I needed, I just had to write it. I cleared time in my diary, sat down and wrote 7,000 words in one week to get it finished.
Admittedly, I was freed by the knowledge that I was only writing it for Lydia; I didn’t have an eye to publication or having it critiqued or reaching a wider audience. I just wrote the story without overthinking it. This freedom was such a joy, I wish I could write like that every day!
I hadn’t really thought about printing it properly, until I met Don for an interview for SWAG and he talked about one of his early projects. He directed me to a Japanese printing shop (ACCEA in International Plaza) where he’d had books made. I popped in one day, expecting to be told that it would be prohibitively expensive to print a single book; instead, they said an A5-sized paperback would cost the princely sum of $6. Six dollars!
This was in late March. I decided to do it. I had less than a month.
Then I got on Fiverr and commissioned the artist and author Tanja_Ru to design the cover. It cost USD$50, but was worth every cent. She read the manuscript, looked at photos of my daughter and picked out details from the story to draw the beautiful watercolour illustration that graces the cover. Everyone comments on how much Lydia Hobs looks like my Lydia!
But the trickiest part of the whole process was still to come: setting up the manuscript for printing. First of all, I had totally miscalculated the number of pages and so the printing price was more than double the original estimate: but still a relatively modest $14.
The first printed book was a bit of a disaster. I followed guidelines from self-publishing pages on the Internet, but still my formatting was all wrong – the margins were too wide so the text seemed to bunch up in the middle of the page, almost like poetry. In addition, the inside paper was too shiny, too thick, too high quality. It didn’t feel right in the hand.
So I decided to have another go. I went back to ACCEA. They offered a different type of paper for the inside pages – not as rough and ‘pulpy’ as I would have liked, but better than the shiny original (if you go and pick up one of the paperbacks from your shelf, you might be surprised at how low-quality the inside paper is – I think ACCEA was shocked to have someone requesting a lower-quality product, but they tried to accommodate me!)
Then I tackled that dodgy formatting. I almost got it right.
With narrower margins and justified text, it looks much better on the page. Unfortunately, I didn’t spot a major hiccup – the page numbers go from 1-20 and then start again. (The original Word document must have separated into ‘sections’ and the page numbers start afresh in each section.)
My eagle-eyed daughter – who will make a marvellous editor one day - spotted it in the final printed book. She agreed to overlook this mistake, but it bugs me! Especially as I decided to cut costs by printing 10 copies (which brought the per-book price down to $8).
My daughter’s face on her birthday was priceless. I had kept the book a surprise. She was delighted to see her story in print, and took it right to school to show all her friends and teachers. She thinks she’s a celebrity now.
So it was worth it. But it was also immensely time-consuming; a classic labour of love. Aside from the writing time – the final manuscript is over 17,000 words, so it’s no short story! – the printing process was a hugely-fascinating, but headache-inducing feat of trial and error.
Maybe the specs below can help others, but – with hindsight and more preparation time – I would pay someone to do a professional layout, especially if the book will be sold rather than gifted. There are just too many parts to the process. As they say, the writing is only the beginning.
Lydia Hobs and the Bane of Wolves
Printed book specs:
Approx. 120 pages
Full colour cover
Inside pages black and white
Final margin set up:
gutter position – left
use mirror margins
Jo Furniss is a British author and journalist based in Singapore. Her first novel is represented by the US literary agency Browne & Miller; its title is the subject of high-pressure talks. A second thriller, which may or may not be called Trailing Spouse, is set in the expat bubble of Sentosa. Jo is also the editor of SWAG, an online literary magazine for writers in Singapore, which posts events listings on its Facebook page. On Twitter, she has multiple personalities as both @jo_furniss and @swag_lit.
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