Friday, December 19, 2014

Taking the plunge

My first foray into designing a book cover and formatting the interior started with Empty Shell. The decision to jump from the cliff and tackle the challenge on my own came about from a financial standpoint. Circumstances out of my control (i.e., the money tree in my backyard withered and died a horrible death) forced me to change my path. Plus, Indie authors must watch every single penny as we attempt to compete with all the millions of other works available to readers. Each cent saved in one area adds to the bank of another, such as editing, advertising, paperback purchases for book signings, etc. Also, keeping our costs low allows us to offer better prices for our works to our readers.

Empty Shell came out just fine and I was quite pleased with the results. The formatting was correct for both print and ebook, and I was happy with the cover I created using Photoshop. I started out with a Microsoft Word document and made sure all the parameters were formatted correctly and poof! I was in business. I figured out how to use Calibre  and created the mobi and epub files. Then, I used a template provided by CreateSpace to format the print version. (That was not a fun experience, I promise. Talk about format, format, format!


I wanted to learn more. As I worked through Calibre and started to get a handle on coding, I went in search of other programs which would allow me to customize my books. There are many software options out there, but the ones I found were not only pricey, but the learning curve seemed a tad too long for me. After all, I have a new release coming soon (January 15, 2015! Pre-order your copy of Growl on Amazon)

Then, late one night, I found the answer (at least for me):

When I landed on their homepage and read the following, I knew I needed to learn more:

Pressbooks online book publishing software creates the files you need to publish your books and ebooks: PDF for print and print-on-demand including Amazon’s createspace; ebooks including MOBI for Kindle book publishing, and EPUB for Apple’s iBooks, Nook, Kobo and others. All your books can be managed from one simple Web-based platform. We work with small and medium-sized publishers, as well as individual authors and writers, who want an efficient way to make an ebook or print book — with no design or coding skills required.

Intrigued, I dove in. I decided to use my upcoming novel, Growl, as my test subject. Armed with my new ideas, I followed the instructions in the YouTube video below and uploaded the Microsoft Word version of Growl:

Excited by this new prospect to create custom work on my own, I decided to make a new press logo, and then went in search for the perfect vector for section breaks. It took a few days, but the careful research was worth it! Below are the results:

New logo

New Section/Chapter Break Vector

Once uploaded, I spent two days looking at the over 45+ theme options Pressbooks offers to their customers. I finally picked one and then watched the video below. It gives you step-by-step instructions how to activate the particular theme you desire into your book.

Over the course of the next several days, I took the time to watch, read and learn how to use the functions, create my own custom book using their themes by tweaking the CSS code, how to import and add graphics, etc. I even exported the final product to mobi and epub (which you can do without paying--it will just have watermarks) and sent it to my Kindle. The final result almost made me cry! I was overwhelmed by what was created. And the print version--wow!

But the biggest kicker was the price. Are you ready?

$25.00 for the epub and mobi version.
$100 for the ebook and print version.

If those two figures aren't enough to make you stop reading this blog post and type into your browser, I offer you some other reasons to give them a shot:

Fantastic Reason No. 1:

The site is FREE to use while you are working and learning, creating your custom masterpiece. You can upload your work and play around with all the options as long as you need to--without paying one single penny. Talk about a test drive! You are handed the keys and get to take the car home!

Fantastic Reason No. 2:

There is no software to download, update or cuss at when it crashes while you are working on your book. is an online tool. And, if you happen to be a current user, or at least familiar with, WordPress, then using their site will be a breeze. No need to worry if you have never used WordPress. The Pressbooks site it is quite user friendly.

Fantastic Reason No. 3:

The site has great tools to help you along in your journey of creating custom work. They have a user forum where you can post questions; an online Userguide to study; and even a YouTube channel (which I found extremely helpful!)

Pressbooks has done all the coding for you and even allows you to tweak themes (if you are willing to invest the time to learn how). I started out with the Christie Theme then added my own little fancy twists.

Fantastic Reason No. 4:

The $25.00 fee (or $100, if you decide to do ebook and print) is per book you upload, but get this: you can make changes and export again and again for no charge.


Say, for example, you have already loaded the book up to various retailers and discover you've made a mistake. Left out a chapter. Decided to add a chapter. You want to change your cover. Whatever the reason--don't panic! You simply log back into your account on Pressbooks, pull up your book, make your changes, then export it again. Bang! Done! And no extra charge.

Fantastic Reason No. 5:

The final result speaks volumes:

This is a screenshot taken from my KDP account after uploading the mobi version of Growl. As you can see, I was able to incorporate the font used for the cover (Ghastly Panic--isn't that a perfect name?) as well as the same font I use for my name on the cover, and my press logo. When it came time to upload the print pdf to Createspace, I almost fainted. The process was flawless. The pdf was formatted perfectly with all the correct gutter/margin/header information...and I didn't have to do that, which was such a relief! Pressbooks automatically did it for me after I clicked on what size I wanted the print book to be (5.5 x 8.5).

I am beyond thrilled with the results, so I decided to share my experience with fellow authors, in case you get a wild hair and decide to try your hand at this. Warning: it isn't for the timid or those who fear technology. It takes time to learn. But, the results are more than beautiful--and cost efficient. And the cost savings spills over to my readers, since I am able to offer my books at a lower price!

Some things in the process of publishing a book didn't change. I am fortunate to have a great group of beta readers (also known as Ashley's Angels) to read my work before sending it to my editor. These wonderful individuals provide thoughts, edits, suggestions, and opinions free of charge. This helps out on the expense of the editing process (which is not free of charge), because the beta readers catch a lot of things I am able to fix before sending it in for editing. The cleaner the work, the less time the editor must spend fixing mistakes.

Another money saver has been finding high quality images to use for my covers. For Growl, I lucked into an amazing opportunity (see below), but those lucky moments don't happen often. I did, however, find a great site full of stunning photos called The owner of the site, Nicholas Raymond, is a photographer and has tons of beautiful shots, ranging from landscapes to people. I used several images to update the covers for my Eviscerating the Snake trilogy. Most of the images are available to use for free, as long as you credit the owner of the picture and link back to the site. Of course, there is a "donate" button on the top, right hand corner, should you decide to help alleviate the cost of maintaining the website, which I highly recommend because the images are worth it.

Taking control of the entire process of publishing a book from beginning to end isn't for everyone. Some authors prefer to only write and outsource cover design and/or formatting, allowing them more time to craft new stories. I get that, since I used to be one of them. But, if you have a creative eye, the desire to have more control over your work, along with some free time to learn something new, the rewards are immense.

Now, on to Growl.

Taylor Bellott is a photographer from Hot Springs, Arkansas. While my mother and I were in his gallery one day, drooling over the amazing photographs he has on display, we came across a picture that took our breath away. We knew it would be the perfect backdrop for Growl, since the story takes place in Mississippi, and water is a major plot theme.

Mr. Bellott was kind enough to allow me to use the image for the cover. Once he sent me the jpeg copy, I played around with it in Photoshop and created the final version:

Ebook cover

Print wrap

Growl is now available for pre-order on Amazon, and is scheduled for release on January 15, 2015.

Here is the back cover blurb:

My name is Sheryl Ilene Newcomb. And yes, my initials are S.I.N. A funny little piece of whimsical humor my parents found amusing when I arrived. Mom and Dad were two high school sweethearts who adored their guns, their beer, and their self-appointed titles of King and Queen of the Rebellious Rednecks. The day I was born, they didn’t think anyone in the town would have the mental acuity to put two and two together to discover their little inside joke. Shame on the pathetic excuses who called themselves teachers in this dreary city because Mom and Dad had been right: no one caught on to their little attempt at humor.

Then, it turned out to be true. Looking back with wiser eyes now, my family and I concluded that the events leading up to my transformation started the summer I turned nine. But the day we realized there was a problem, and no turning back, was a week before I started my senior year at Junction City High. The day the fangs and claws appeared and the monster inside of me emerged. When mutilated corpses appeared near a pile of brush down by Caney Creek, everything changed.

That day I changed—forever—because evil woke up and growled, its ominous rumblings heard by every living thing in Locasia County, Mississippi.

The first chapter of The Magnolia Series - Book One: Blood Ties, is also included at the end of Growl. I am very excited about this trilogy, penned with my mother, Lillian Hansen. Below is the cover:

Look for Blood Ties in the Summer of 2015.

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