If There’s a Right Way and a Wrong Way, Trust Me to Find the Hard Way

My Christmas present to myself this year is publishing my Christmas novel. The one I’ve had ready to go, textually speaking, since October. I haven’t sat down to make it into a proper ebook with all the bells and whistles before now because I both haven’t had all the elements ready and also haven’t had both time and mental energy to sink into that type of thought for long enough to get a book ready to go. Somehow, it seems the sort of project (to me, at least) that should be done in one fell swoop rather than in pieces, probably because I don’t know the whole process well enough to be sure I’m doing everything if I stop and come back to it later.

As the title of this post alludes to, I am also making this job extremely hard on myself. What can I say; I don’t do anything by half-measures. I could have put a plain and unadorned book with a plain cover out back in October. I chose not to, because I would rather have a professional quality book with hoops and adornments. I have been somewhat constrained by a lack of money here…many of the websites that offer graphic and visual elements require a licensing fee for commercial use that is not worth the minuscule effect they would have on the book as a whole, which left me at ask a friend or do it myself. Same with the cover art.

For…reasons…I find myself in the position of having to do it for myself if I want it done at all.

I spent an hour on Saturday cutting graphic elements out of black card stock and photographing them so that I could have my mistletoe (versus holly, which apparently 95% of graphic designers don’t know are different things) adornments. While I was at it, I made holly just in case, and a masquerade mask for my Twelfth Night novellas, which are about to get an upgrade to my new standard for ebooks. I hauled out my old calligraphy pens – both the marker-like pens and the old-school type that gets dipped in an inkpot – and spent an hour practicing forming letters before I made the “calling cards” for the new Twelfth Night covers. I played dress-up with my spencer jacket (finally finished it, will post on the end of construction later) and various skirts I have made for other costumes until I found a combination I liked, and took test shots with various gloves and without any at all. I stopped in at the plant nursery a few blocks from me and scored a huge stalk of mistletoe for free because they were 5 minutes past closing and the whole wheelbarrow full of it was already wilting.

Sunday I rearranged my living room to show only the oriental rug and chesterfield couch, with a sheet hung behind  it so I would have a blank backdrop, and spent about 3 hours taking photographs of myself in costume on the couch and then standing against the sheet. Let me tell you, figuring out how to balance a little hand-held digital camera on top of 5 books on top of a chair on top of your coffee table is not easy. I ended up having to pin the wrist-strap into the front of a writing journal as a bracer. But it worked. I got some really awesome shots, at least a couple of which could almost be slapped onto a cover as-is. When I see the thumbnails I have to do a double-take to be sure it’s not a picture of a book cover. Unfortunately, the wrinkled green sheet in the background just doesn’t look like wallpaper, so I have to manipulate the image (original plan was to have someone photograph me in an historic hotel with appropriate decor and then just run the picture through an oil painting filter in Photoshop…you know, an hour and an hour and done sort of thing; plans change).

Alas, poor Lily, for the rest of Sunday’s project time did not go so smoothly (“smoothly”) as the picture-taking. I don’t have Photoshop, and I don’t have access to it this week, so I am stuck using a freeware program. I chose Gimp because I have a friend who uses it (unfortunately, it’s a guy I work with so not someone I can just outsource fixing the cover to), and several places online claim that it’s actually more powerful than Photoshop…once you learn how to use it. That caveat needs to be 10 inches high and in red, because Gimp is NOT an MS-based program (I know Adobe is a different company but they mimic the “logic” of MS commands, which is probably part of why they have become/stayed ubiquitous as the go-to photo-manipulation program). I had to find a tutorial merely to open a picture in the program!, and I do not consider myself either stupid or ignorant of computers in general. I spent another 3 hours trying to change the background color and just figuring out a little of how Gimp works in hopes that I might be able to get a working knowledge of it. No such luck, on either count. I finally put my computer aside in abject frustration, resigned to the fact that I would be using tutorials specifically and only for the tasks I needed, and therefore there was no point until I had the pictures all taken (I still needed my “wallpaper” – fabric out of my sewing stash for the win!- and the Twelfth Night pictures, which I needed to take outdoors in daylight) and could just work on the actual cover instead of a practice picture. This was the point where I looked up and realized it was 9:30 and I hadn’t eaten anything since about 11 that morning, and, oh, yeah, I’m not just feeding myself right now.

Monday was a long day at work, and I came home too tired to do anything. Yesterday I got home around 3 and took my Twelfth Night pictures, had Christmas Eve cocktails with my husband, and went to bed early.  He’s back at work today, and I am blessedly off, and so today I embark on the following tasks:

  • take my fabric pictures
  • load all three sets of pictures to my husband’s computer (I don’t have our camera reader installed on mine) and transfer them to my own via Dropbox or email
  • crop out the ugly green curtain from around the couch and replace it with proper wallpaper
  • run the manipulated picture through a filter to make it look more like art than photography
  • add the title/attribution
  • make proper graphic elements out of the mistletoe, holly, and mask .jpegs
  • buy a license for the font I’ve settled on for all my historical romance title needs
  • create graphics for my title page and chapter headings with the font (bc otherwise I have to fool with embedding it in the file and…just no)
  • learn how to hyperlink inside an ebook
  • copy the novel into a new document with appropriate style sheets
  • add the front and back matter
  • add the chapter headings, first line treatments, and graphics section dividers (if I decide to use one instead of the traditional  * * *)
  • make my table of contents
  • do any other html code fiddling (such as defining the size of graphics if necessary, etc.)
  • convert into .mobi and .epub files
  • load to my distributors

I am not in a rush to do this by a certain time today. It’s the only project I have to do, and I doubt anything is showing up in an online store for a day or two after Christmas. Just a hunch, somehow, if any human element whatsoever is needed to make files live.

So there it is. As presents go, it’s kind of a doozy, even if it’s a helluva lot of work to get to the point of presenting it to myself with a nice little bow on top. 🙂

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2 responses to “If There’s a Right Way and a Wrong Way, Trust Me to Find the Hard Way

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