How Livia Came To Be

Livia and the Corpuscles began as a roughed out novel concept from a lunchtime talk I gave at the day job. Early this year I had the pleasure, along with my colleague and fellow writer Jason LaPier, of giving another talk to the same audience* about how to turn a manuscript into a book. This is a summary of my part of that talk, albeit with fewer hat changes.

Writing the Manuscript

The initial draft of Livia was completed under the aegis of NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. It was a 60,000 word manuscript with lots of good ideas and lots of problems. I wrote it alongside another book, Perscon, a slightly shorter book with many more good ideas and yet more problems.

But Perscon is for another time. Let’s focus on self-publishing Livia: the act of turning


the scribbled-on manuscript


the finished product

the finished product

Basic Process

Making a book consists of the following fundamental steps:

  1. write manuscript
  2. revise manuscript
  3. turn it into a book

After NaNoWriMo I had the first step covered, but what of the rest?


My revision process follows a process akin to this:

  1. make it sane
    1. print it out and hide it. At least, this is what I usually do. For Livie I read immediately since the goal was to publish as quickly as possible.
    2. read it as a new reader, not taking notes
    3. ask yourself if you want to continue with this project.
      • are you absolutely sure? This could take a year or more.
      • really? Because this year could feel really loooooooong.
    4. read it again, taking notes this time.
    5. apply the notes, collecting things to worry about later.
  2. make it better
    1. give it to someone else to read. Provide guidance on the feedback you’re looking for (as discussed recently)
    2. collect your readers’ comments
    3. make a revision plan
    4. work through the revision plan.
    5. read it to out loud. You could read it out to yourself and then listen back, although I like to get the computer to read. It can butcher names sometimes, but even so this is very good at highlighting duplicated words or particularly ugly constructions.
    6. continue revising until it doesn’t suck.

Constructing A Book

You need several things in order to make a book:

  1. a finished manuscript (see the previous section…)
  2. a cover, including cover blurb
  3. internal boiler plate, from copyright notice to dedication and acknowledgements

The thing that surprised me in this is how much more writing there still is even once the manuscript is done. Back cover blurb is really hard to write, and crafting an author bio is just painful.


You have a manuscript, but that manuscript is only Minimum Viable Book. It is also hugely important to get someone of an editorly persuasion to read the book critically, both for errors and inconsistencies. Using a copy editor is essential, but a developmental editor pass is also an excellent plan**.

Once your manuscript is clean, you can start laying it out.

The specifics of layout vary by format and there are many questions of style which I, for one, am too dunderheaded to fully appreciate. What I did was to look at other books and follow their lead. This was particularly true for the paperback edition of Livia – I measured margins and paper sizes; read font credits and copyright notices; examined chapter heading styles and page layouts.

Once I had my parameters, I developed styles and settings for exporting the text from my writing environment into the tool I used for layout. Then I spent many days mucking around with those same styles and settings so I could complete the internal layout and obtain a final page count.

The outcome of this process was a PDF for all the internal pages. This PDF could as easily come from someone you have paid to do this work, and who will probably get better results quicker.

Note that a publishing platform may have specific requirements for your layout based on the publication process they use. Make sure to follow those requirements!


Funny thing about cover design: even if you have a strong idea, designing a cover that captures that idea is difficult and time-consuming.

My concept for the Livia cover emerged very early on, during the first week or so of NaNoWriMo. I roughed out a sketch of this concept and then returned to the cover design while my readers were doing their work. I assumed that I would be able to quickly turn that sketch into a cover.

I don’t do much work in graphic art. I was wrong.

So, the cover has several components:

  • background texture – this is a close up of some leather, processed to the colour I wanted (it was blue originally).
  • bronze frame – found a tutorial on making metallic textures then made a rivetted frame shape to match.
  • gladiator picture – this was the rough sketch I made originally. Tracing that and adding the colours took a ridiculous amount of time.
  • republic crest – sketched something and pulled this together in about an hour.

I made most of these components before I’d finished the manuscript layout, however the precise placement of the cover elements couldn’t be finalised until the internals were done because the cover has to wrap around the spine, and the spine width isn’t known until the page count is set.

Again, the output for this is a PDF of the cover graphics.

Also again, paying someone a few hundred dollars for a cover is an honourable and sensible option if you have the funds.


I used Create Space to publish Livia, and their process is quite simple: you upload the PDFs, then you review the online proof, then you order a physical proof copy and, assuming it looks good, you hit the big “Publish” button.

What can go wrong?

For me, I screwed up the cover layout. The components I used to make the cover had bounds that reached outside the range of the cover, which added a weird transparency border around the image – but only on two sides. It looked horrible.

For you, it could be something else. Some of your internal graphics could be mis-transformed into bitmaps, or your font could overflow the margins in certain circumstances.

But I’ll tell you – holding that first perfect physical copy in your hands is something special.


The tools I used for this process were cheap or free.

  • Scrivener is, to use Charles Stross’ term, an integrated development environment for writing. I’ve been using it since its beta in 2005 and I have only ever lost half a sentence (which was when my battery died mid-flow). It’s an astonishingly capable tool. I used this to prepare the manuscript, of course, but I also used it to prepare the ebook edition.
  • OpenOffice is the Free*** office tools suite. The particular version I am using at the moment is LibreOffice and it is perfectly capable for most layout tasks. Indeed, I heard someone on a literary panel sing its praises over Word for layout, because OpenOffice does what you tell it and no more, whereas Word keeps on trying to be clever no matter how often you tell it to stop****.
  • Inkscape is the most capable Free vector drawing application I’ve found. There’s still nothing I’ve found that really holds a candle to !Draw on the Acorn Archimedes, but that ship sailed a long time ago. Still, it’s a good tool that does everything I have asked of it so far. I used it for all the vector graphics and cover layout tasks.
  • GIMP is the Free bitmap graphics editor. People often bemoan that it is not Photoshop, but I have never used Photoshop so I have no point of comparison. I used this for all the photo processing and also for tracing out the gladiator graphic.

There are other tools that may be more effective or make better guesses about what you want, but I find for the most part I get things done with these tools and I understand what is happening, which is a feeling I like to have. And in all seriousness, this is the last time I expect to do all the parts of the self-publishing workflow myself.

How Long?

From first words on the manuscript for Livia to hitting publish took ten months.

Here’s the whimsical Beck-style map I made to illustrate the steps and their timing.

this piece of string is ten months long

this piece of string is ten months long

This is much quicker than you would see for a traditionally published book, and a more seasoned self-publisher might have a smoother workflow for their work, but honestly this timing feels like I couldn’t have taken much off with significantly compromising quality.

So, that is how Livia and the Corpuscles became a real book.

Does this make you want to dip your toes into self-publishing?

[*] well, some of the same audience. Things grow fast where I earn eating money.

[**] due to time constraints, Livia only had a copy editing pass.

[***] as opposed to merely free – the source code is available to build and modify the tool yourself if you would like. Not that this is necessarily a trivial endeavour, but you can do it.

[****] Microsfot and Apple are both awful in their own way, but Apple’s products tend to guess right for me whereas Microsoft tools generally just get in my way.

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