Discovering the Workflow

One of the interesting things about learning a new craft is discovering the workflow. In any craft you do, there’s an optimal order for performing the various subtasks. For example, in my digital renders/painting, I don’t bother setting up the lights until I have the basic scene composed in my camera view. That way, I’m casting light onto something tangible, rather than setting up lights that might or might not fall on something that isn’t there yet. Other folks might prefer it the other way, i.e. setting up the desired lighting and placing objects in the scene to conform to that lighting, but that’s their workflow, not mine.

And that’s a critical aspect to discovering the workflow. It’s not the workflow. It’s my workflow. These are the choices that work for me. Your mileage may vary.

But that also means there are very few guides to doing the whole process start to finish, and that’s been a real challenge for me as I navigate my way towards independent publishing. There are plenty of guides out there on how to do e-book formatting, or on how to design a cover, or on how to buy an ISBN, and so on, but I am yet to find a turn-key guide.

Step 1: Write the first draft.
Step 2: Let it sit.
Step 3: Print it out and buy a fresh red pen.

Step 73: Profit!!

A lot of it is obvious in retrospect, but it wasn’t ahead of time. For example, don’t design your wrap-around cover until you’ve done the formatting for your print book. Why? Because you don’t know the size of the cover until then. Even if you’d already planned on doing 8 by 5, you don’t know the thickness of the spine until you have the page count.

But yeah, I know the page count. It’s 190.

Except it isn’t. That’s 190 pages of 8.5 by 11 in Times New Roman 12-point with one inch margins.

Okay, let’s look at it as 8 by 5. Hmmm, 502 pages. That seems a little long for 90,000 words. Well, the margins look a little big. Ok, shrink those down. And pick a different font. Yeah, Book Antiqua looks nice, but the lines are a little scrunchy. Let’s space those out some.

Okay, now I know the page count. At 8 x 5, it’s 420 pages. Let’s get to that cover…

But wait, the cost is per page. How much is that going to cost to print? And how much did I want to charge for it? Okay… at 420 pages, I’m going to make about 48 cents per printed copy. While I’m not trying to make a mint on each copy, 48 cents is too low. Okay, I’ll just charge more… but no, that’s asking for too much. I know I wouldn’t pay for that much for a printed copy.

So back to the formatting. Let’s look at some books. Here’s an 8×5. That looks okay, but frankly, it’s a little smaller than I expected. Let’s look at a 9×6. Hmmm, it gets a little floppy when I hold it open with one hand. Okay, let’s split the difference and find an 8.5 by 5.5. Yeah, that looks about right, and it feels okay holding in one hand.

And back to the margins… trim them down a bit more at the top and bottom, but make the gutters larger so the text doesn’t disappear into the curve of the spine. And I don’t have to space those lines out quite as much as I thought. And let’s make sure that chapter headers have the kind of font and white space I want. And so on, and so on.

So, at 8.5 x 5.5, with these margins, in that font, that’s 320 pages total, which is about the right heft. I’ll price it at $14.95, which Amazon will discount to be some nice percentage off the cover price, and still leave me with enough to be making about as much on a print copy as I will on an e-book copy. $15 is a little pricy, but it really is in line with other print-on-demand or trade paperback books.

So now I finally know the spine thickness, and that means I can get started on my cover.

Except that I need the UPC barcode for the back, and that means I need an ISBN. Okay, so I can go get the ISBN numbers from Bowker. Yep got ten of them. Ready to go.

Except… which ISBN number of my ten will I use? All right, need to pick one and register it. Fine, I’ll take that top one at the head of the list. Enter title, check! Pick format, check! Enter product description… hmmm.

Product description? Well, it’s a story about this girl. And she’s on a spaceship. Well, not a spaceship really, more of a colony ship. And it’s one of those multi-generational ships, you see, and they’ve been at this for a long time, and…

Wait, what I’m looking for here is the blurb, the pitch, the log lines. I kind of sketched those out once for an agent pitch, but now I need the real deal. In addition to going into the ISBN registration, it’s going into the Amazon product description, the printer’s catalog, and… yep, the back cover of the book. So off I go to write the blurb.

“Maggie is a young schoolteacher on the multi-generation colony ship, God’s Chariot, bound for their promised world, New Providence. When a faster-than-light freighter crosses their path…”

Allrightee… now I’m ready to start on the cover. Right? Maybe? Or am I going to get halfway through and discover that I need just one more thing? Maybe I need to finish the e-book formatting first? Or do I need to choose the right genre in Amazon’s category tree first?

So in trying to do the art for the cover, I have gone through everything from font spacing to price analysis and marketing text, none of which really has anything to do with the art. But for me, it seems, they needed to come first.

That’s what I’m talking about when I say I’m “discovering” my workflow. I’m pushing my way through in starts and stops, backing up, and trying again. I feel a bit like a carpenter who foolishly stained and sealed the lumber too early. You mean I was supposed to sand it first?