Tag: livia

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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Livia Book Party

A very exciting arrival yesterday: a box of books arrived from Create Space!

it's a box with something inside...

it’s a box with something inside…

look! It's Livia!

look! It’s Livia!

I ordered these books because we’re having a low key book party for Livia and the Corpuscles – an opportunity to talk about how the book came into being, and maybe to read a bit from it. It’s on Sunday, 25th September at the Multnomah Arts Center in Multnomah Village – here’s the Facebook event. I know it’s Facebook, but…  well.

This process of getting a book out the door has been very interesting. I’m not expecting to qualify for SFWA membership off it or anything, but I hope people enjoy the story.

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Livia and the Corpuscles – Publishing Day!

the proof of the book is in the reading

the proof of the book is in the reading

Christmas has come a day early for me – the proof copy of my book has arrived! And it looks great.

I wasn’t expecting it until tomorrow, so I’m happy to announce that today is release day for Livia and the Corpuscles, available through Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions. There is a listing page for it on Amazon, but as I write this the book is listed as “not available”. Well, I am sure that will change in the next day or so.

Livia and the Corpuscles on Amazon.com
Livia and the Corpuscles on Amazon.co.uk

It’s also available now on the Create Space title page:

Livia and Corpuscles on Create Space

I’m so excited, to a degree that really surprises me. I was expecting to be happy with it, but having a physical copy of a book in your hands is really quite thrilling.

Thank you to everyone who helped get this thing out the door. For a bit of stunt writing I think it turned out all right.

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Livia: Proofing

Last time I said that Livia was nearly here. This time I just have to admit that all of this stuff takes more time than I had expected. It’s all part of learning the process, really.

Part of it was just being on holiday. I got the copy edits back before I left, but I ended up writing a remarkable short story* for the first few days we were away.

It took a week to review the copy edits, more than another week to apply them, then most of a third week to do my own final text review and update the manuscript accordingly.

I have spent the last three days finalising layout to satisfy Create Space**.

… but the outcome of all of this is that Livia and the Corpuscles is ready to go. I have just ordered a proof copy which will be here in a week and a bit, so assuming that everything looks good I will probably throw this book out in front of a wider audience by the end of next week.

This is all very exciting.

[*] this story is remarkable for at least three things: it is a short story, which I almost never write; it’s a fantasy story, which is a bit outside my usual science fiction by quite a margin; and I wrote it longhand in my notebook. This was easier to work on when flying anything on the computer. Still, more on that another time.

[**] which was not actually hard or unreasonable, but I learned some lessons about cover layout in Inkscape.

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Livia’s Nearly Here

Livia and the Corpuscles is nearly ready.

Well, more precisely, large parts of it are actually ready with last steps being about finalising the interior text and some marketing material (including a longer blurb for Amazon).

Let me take a step back, here. I might do a full timeline when the thing actually goes out the door, but for now I want to write an update on how things went after my last post.

The Work That Was Remaining

I ended up with a hierarchical punch list of things to be completed. The primary goal of this publication is to put copies in the hands of my co-workers, but this is also a story I care about so if I am to put it out into the world it needs to be at least of plausible quality.

So, having got the story more or less sorted out, my list included the following things to do:

  • cover content – back cover blurb, blurb box layout, cover sizing. The size of the cover layout is dictated by the number of pages in the book since that’s how you define spine width.
  • internal content – acknowledgements, dedication, credits, author info, title page. And the novel text, of course.
  • internal layout – page styles, header and footer choices, font choices.
  • publication setup – setup book project in CreateSpace, test uploads of cover and interior files.
  • web site refresh – Orangeness has not had much attention lately, and I wanted to make it more authorial.

There are a lot of things in this list that rely on having the book text ready. It’s not, but I have a good second draft which I have laid out using my page styles and which at least gives me a likely number for page count. Any changes will be of the order of thousandths of an inch.

What’s Left

The manuscript is going through copy edits now. I will be applying those shortly, and then ordering a proof copy from Create Space.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know how long that will take but assuming the proof is acceptable I should be releasing the book in August.

I am not planning on getting a proper editor involved on this book, or at least this version of the book – I will be returning to this setting because it’s enormous fun, but this is not the book I will submit for agent consideration.

The Cover

giant robot gladiators!

the front cover

With that long note to say “not yet”, here is the front cover of Livie and the Corpuscles.

I look forward to sharing the completed book with you all!

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