Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Self Publishing, Amazon, and Microsoft Publisher 2010

I received a proof print copy for DEATH OF A MATADOR last week. I decided to read through the book from back to front, hoping this would keep me from becoming too absorbed in the story and prevent my mind from inserting missing words or correcting typos in my mind's eye. For the most part it did.

If you self-publish and you haven't tried this, you should give a whirl. Begin with the final paragraph and work your way toward the front of the book. You'll be surprised at what you find that didn't when you read through it conventionally all those times.

I'd like to explain how I prepared my files for print publication. Please keep in mind I'm not a professional typesetter; I aim to keep things as non-techie, simple, and inexpensive as I can.

Amazon/Kindle Direct Publishing

I sell my ebooks only on Amazon.com. My most recent ebooks, DEATH OF A MATADOR, was processed for publication with Scrivener, which takes some fiddling to get it right but is less frustrating that using Word. I think the finished product looks fine.

The covers for all three of ebooks were produced with Microsoft Publisher 2003. Publisher 2003 allows you to save the file as a .jpeg, which you then upload to KDP. I don't have a true graphics program and outside of self-publishing don't need one. I'm sure the covers could have been better if done by a pro, but I think they look fine. They're eye-catching enough to catch a prospective reader's eye without being silly, as so many ebook covers are these days.

Print is an entirely different animal.

Microsoft Publisher 2012

I formatted my first two books Publisher 2003. My main complaint with Publisher was, it couldn't save a file in PDF format. KDP requires print book covers and interior files be provided in PDF format. I had to find a PDF print driver to use. It worked, but I wanted one program that would do it all so when it came time to typeset DEATH OF A MATADOR, I upgraded to the 2010 version. It promised the flexibility of saving to many different formats.

Here's what I discovered: Saving my cover file, which features a large a photo that covers both front and back, works fine. I saved it using the Commercial Printing setting and unchecked the PDF/A box, which seemed to muck things up. My only complaint in regards to the cover with the proof copy is, the colors seem muted compared to how it looked on my computer screen.

Publisher failed to generate an acceptable PDF of my book interior. Even saving in high quality mode, the file, as viewed with Adobe Reader, sucked. Too low-res. Plus the program took 45 minutes to save the file. Very frustrating as this was the reason I upgraded.

Off I went on a Google chase, looking for another PDF print driver. Enter PDF24. It's free if you resist buying their fax program and service. The way it works is, when you go to print you select the PDF24 driver as if it was an actual printer. Once you click print, a little box pops up that allows you to fine tune the PDF. The PDF I needed was produced in seconds, not 45 minutes. Again, I set it for the highest quality setting.

After uploading, KDP said the fonts weren't properly embedded, they appeared to be when I checked them in Adobe Reader, and the layout didn't fit what they wanted. But they fixed both problems for me and the preview looked fine.

I had a couple of problems with my proof copy: a typeface didn't print despite it being clearly visible in the PDF and a double printing appeared in the header on one page. The double printing was my fault, I still have no idea how I did it, but the font not printing was KDP's problem. They offered to reprocess the file and send me a new proof copy without charge.

I purchased the update for Publisher from a Canadian company. It cost $65 and comes only as a downloadable program: no install discs. The install went fine, perhaps it was my crossed fingers that made things run smoothly, and to my surprise I discovered I had purchased the entire Office Professional Suite. No, it wasn't a student discount and yes, I was able to successfully register my program with Microsoft.

I have an extensive background in computer typesetting, but as a hobbiest. I already knew how to set a page so the lines on both sides line up, know what leading is, know how to properly use true small caps and ligatures, etc. If I hadn't already know these things I'm not sure I could have figured things out using Publisher. And in the 2010 version, in an attempt to make things easier for the average small business owner producing his own brochures, Microsoft has made it more difficult to really fine tune a book. I can still get around quickly because I remember the old keyboard commands, which the program still accepts.

So, I'm not sure I can recommend Microsoft Publisher 2010, or any version, for the serious author and self-publisher. It's worked for me, but only because I have years of experience with it.