A false front

I was close to seeing my book in print. It was finished, but still really rough. It wasn’t important to have the cover be perfect at this point. In fact, it didn’t need a cover at all, but I was interested to see what a finished book from CreateSpace would look like. And just like the formatting adventure, it was something new to learn.

As I mentioned before, CreateSpace offers professional help to produce a good looking novel. But in the spirit of the self-publisher who wants to go it on his own, there is also a cover creator program on the website. There were several themes to choose from, each with a different color scheme and with varying picture sizes. The program is pretty straight forward, and you could probably whip out a cover in a half hour or less.

But I knew I would eventually want something different, so I decided to experiment. But I didn’t have any photo editing experience outside of the very basic cropping. More things to learn.

Still not wanting to spend any money, I went searching the web for a free program. From what I found, it appeared that the program gimp (GNU image manipulation program) was one of the best. I downloaded the program, as well as a very helpful manual produced by one of the discussion board regulars, and set about trying to learn to make a cover.

Like the movie making software I have used in the past, the gimp program could do far more things than I would ever need. As is true of many non-entry level programs, it was not incredibly intuitive to use, but the manual helped tremendously. But just like the formatting of the Word doc, there were still hair-pulling moments where I didn’t understand why things weren’t working.

I was still in the messing around stage of things, but I wanted the cover to look as nice as possible. There were several old photos that I thought I could use, but they were taken with an old camera and the resolution was not good enough to fit without blowing them up. I saw a cover of a book at my girlfriend’s house that reminded me of a photo I had taken at the Grand Canyon. It had nothing to do with what the book was about, but it was a nice shot and I thought the color scheme worked.

This is what the test run of the book ended up looking like:

I sent everything off to CreateSpace and I had a novel proof in my hand in less than a week. I knew it wasn’t really a novel, but is sure looked like one. It was a great feeling.

I noticed a couple of formatting errors (my mistakes), made some quick changes and ordered a couple more copies. Now it was time to pass them out to the first people who would read them. Yikes.

Getting it in print

After a couple of rounds of editing, it still wasn’t near ready for prime time, but it felt like there was enough there worth working on. But of course how I felt about it would change day to day, paragraph to paragraph. I needed to get the book out of my hands and get someone else’s opinion. I could have just printed it out, but I had the opportunity for something a little nicer.

NaNoWriMo is a non-profit organization, and they depend on the support of both users and corporate sponsors. Some of the sponsors provide discount codes to participants, and others offer prizes for those who make it to the 50,000 word goal.

One of those prizes was a free paperback proof from CreateSpace, a print on demand company owned by Amazon.com. The coupon for a free proof expired sometime in June, and I didn’t want it to go to waste. But of course I couldn’t just send them a Word file and expect it to turn out looking like a book.

Fortunately, they provide lots of help for the first time novelist. They offer professional services that you can buy piece-meal, as well as some help for the do-it-your-selfer. Not only are there guidelines and FAQs on the site, but there is also an active discussion board where people that have been through it all can pass on their wisdom.

The first step was to get the Word doc formatted to work as a paperback. CreateSpace has Word files on the site that you can use as a template, and they come in various sizes for your desired book size. This made things much easier than starting from scratch, but even so, there were many hair pulling moments trying to get the page numbers and blank pages to work. I was using features I hadn’t used before, and trying to learn how they worked by trial and error.

After much cutting and pasting, references to the help files, and heavy use of the undo key, it was starting to look like a book without a binding. Now I just needed a cover.

Back up

I write regularly in coffee shops and libraries. I am more easily distracted at home, so I am constantly carrying my netbook around. I am paranoid about losing my novel through either theft of my netbook, or from a computer crash that I can’t recover from. I don’t want to imagine losing my first novel. I don’t know if I would have the strength to write it again.

I have been using the online service DropBox. Dropbox is essentially an online drive where you can store and backup your information. Not only is the information backed up, but you can you access files from any computer or Smartphone. When you sign up for the (free) service, you place a folder on any device you use regularly. When a file is saved to the local folder, a copy is stored online, and the folders on your other devices are updated as well. You can also access the folder on any random computer by going to their website and signing in with your password.

When I was writing the first draft of Share the Road, I backed it up after each session. And either through paranoia, or to create a road map of how far I got each day, I sent a separate file each day leaving all the previous ones intact. There are 30 versions of the first draft, one for each day I wrote. I did the same thing for each of the edits, so there are more than a hundred files, each with a slightly different version of the book.

I doubt I will ever go back and pour over each version to see what each contains, but it is sort of interesting to look back on the file dates to see how long I took on each round of editing. I probably won’t even open more than a few of the files at any time, but it is nice to know they are there, backed up on another server in case my computer fails.

And of course, most everything is backed up on another external drive in case the cloud fails me. You can never be too careful.