Month: May 2016

Trackless Waste

One of my best tools to keep me on track is my writing log where I record how far I’ve got in a draft, or in a directed read, or on applying corrections. In it I can see what work I’ve done in a month, and measure how fast I’m going. This is necessary since I only usually work on my books for an hour or so a day – having a sense of momentum is critical.

I don’t have that sense of momentum at the moment. Quite apart from having been ill with a stinker of a cold, my last three weeks of log entries have been “prep for pub” with no metric attached – I know I’ve been making progress, but I’m lost about how much of that progress there has been and (crucially) about when I will be done.

This lack of measurability is a natural consequence of working on part of the book production process I’m not familiar with – figuring out internal layout, collecting reasonable copyright language, and so on. There were big tasks that I knew had to happen and I’ve been working on those, but there was an indeterminate amount of other stuff to do.

So I did a bit of research and found a few useful resources:

With those resources and some review of other books in my collection, I feel a lot better about having an end to this process. Here are some of the things I have learned.

Internal Layout Is Hard

I’m focussing on print layout at the moment, because the goal of this exercise is to have a physical book to put into the company library at the day job. My tools consist of Scrivener (which is unparalleled for preparation of text, but has more basic tools for layout because that’s not what it’s for) and LibreOffice (which is good at layout and has the other significant benefit of being free).

The workflow is to compile from Scrivener into ODT. Scrivener allows control of page size, inclusion of front matter and trailing content, and setup of headers. Then I load that ODT file into LibreOffice and make fine adjustments based on a template I’ve saved which has the right margins and so on.

Figuring out the LibreOffice templates was a challenge for me, as was determining how to set a new page style at the start of a chapter, but I’ve got a process that broadly works now (although I have not yet applied it to all 25 chapters).

One wrinkle in the compilation process was the need to specify front and back matter sections “as is” in Scivener, and to format appropriately there. This prevents the acknowledgements from getting a generated chapter title, for example.

The single biggest problem in the layout process has been setting up margins. I would like to have a wider gutter margin (next to the spine) than on the outer edge of the page (which I think is called the fly, unless I am making that up) but LibreOffice’s interaction with Scrivener’s exported page styles is letting me down. Currently I have symmetrical margins, but I may need to switch to distinct left and right page styles instead.

There Are A Lot of Decisions To Make

I mentioned acknowledgements above, and there are a lot of related decisions to make about what to include. Acknowledgements? Dedication? Author bio? Advance praise?

Well, obviously not that last one, since hardly anyone else has read it, but until I have those nailed down I can’t be certain on the page count.

Then there are things like paper sizes – or trim size, as the industry term goes. I’ve settled on a trim size of 5.06″ x 7.81″ (12.9 x 19.8 cm) because it matches a lot of my favourite books – it’s the Iain Banks size, in my mind, even though it’s used for many other books too.

I’m glad to say that most of these decisions have been made, although they’re still mutable since I’ve not printed out any galleys yet.

The Cover Art Was The Easy Bit

I had enormous fun doing a cover image for the book and laying out a basic cover idea, but between things like spine width and back cover box outs that bit of drawing was the easiest part of designing the cover. There’s still a lot of fiddly bits and fjords to work on here, mostly around spine width and image sizing to match the trim size.

Tools for this are GIMP and Inkscape, because they allow a lot of fine control. We’ll see how well that exports into files that the POD publisher wants.

There Is Still Writing To Be Done

I’ve been focussed on writing the book text itself, as you can probably imagine, but there is real writing to be done for all of these fragments:

  • dedication
  • acknowledgements
  • author bio
  • back cover blurb

I’ve made a start on all of those, but I’m not happy with any of them.

Still, there is an end in sight. That’s a good thing.

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First to Finish

I’ve been writing novels under the aegis of National Novel Writing Month since 2004 (earlier efforts having failed). I’ve won every single year, which means that at a minimum I should have twelve first drafts. I actually have thirteen since 2015 was the year of two novels, but still – I’ve completed that many first drafts.

What I’ve struggled to do is to turn those drafts into something even close to publishable.

I’m close with Livia and the Corpuscles, though.

Everything with that story seems to have gone smoothly, from brainstorming plot elements with colleagues to outlining to making words. Even the plot holes I’ve found haven’t been too terrible to plug, to the point where there are things I could add, but what I have is self-contained and relatively self-consistent.

It’s very exciting: 63.5k of steampunk Roman goodness, almost ready to go to the POD shop for being made into a real book. It’s also quite bizarre that a piece of stunt writing would be the first of my books to be ready for an audience.

I guess I’d better finish designing the cover.

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