Feed the Voices: The Book
The trip up to see my family is a long one; clocking in at nearly six hours, it leaves me quite a bit of time for thought (which can be dangerous) and listening opportunities (be they podcasts or music). I was making the journey in February of 2013, when my thoughts drifted toward one of my good friends and how I've neglected his birthday nearly every single year. We have done a bit of a gift exchange in the past, which was always a book or DVD/Bluray, but the guilt for not actually being there on the day itself was starting to tear at me. And instead of apologizing (again and again) I decided to buy my apology in a heart felt gift.
We started blogging around the same time, and have encouraged one another to continue throughout the years. There would be long talks on content, site statistics and generally: doing more with the blog than simply write and post. We played around with the idea of putting our posts together into a book. Creating something physical out of the virtual was a noble goal, and brought with it a certain weight to what we were spending our time doing. In this online world, the printed word is still held with a regard of realism.
Years ago, I would get myself into creating hardcover, oversized photo books. The first one was more of an experiment with a Canadian publisher. I chose the default book size of roughly 20 pages, full colour (of course) and a neat cover that had a cut out to reveal a portion of the image on the first page within. It was composed of photos I had taken while on an urban exploration outing in the Durham region. Looking back, it was a bit basic: I put in some text but not too much as I didn't want to have something in there I regretted. The book cost about thirty dollars and was well worth the money.
The second book I made was from the same publisher, and was composed of shots from a recent trip to Hawaii with some of my friends. It was a much more ambitious project: I spent a lot of time choosing from nearly four thousand photos. The urban exploration book was easier: twenty pages with probably sixty photos chosen from roughly two hundred. Hawaii was intimidating. We saw a lot, and took a lot of photos. Where to even begin? Luckily I had a lot of time and freedom at work to delve into making a pretty nice book that I was really proud of. I don't recall the final page or photo count, but the book cost nearly $70 to produce, which was just a small drop in the bucket when you consider the entire vacation.
So I knew creating a book was within the realm of possibility, and I set my mind to it. His birthday was in December, and this was February, so I had plenty of time. Or, so I thought.
There are a lot of places to go online to publish a book, so where do you start? It's handy to have an idea of your final product, I suppose, but I found that depending on where I go would define what type of product could be made. What size of book do you want? How many pages will you use? Do you want colour in your book? Will there be pictures at all? How much do you want to spend? What have others done in a similar situation?
The answers were too plentiful.
I decided the best way to get going is to just start creating. I settled on Blurb, because they offered a wide variety of book types. After downloading their software, Booksmart, I got to work. As a test, I took a few of his posts from his blog and pasted them into the templates provided and began playing around with it.
I initially chose a standard paperback size book, and began designing my own templates specifically for the first page of a post, which would include title and the date it was originally published, followed by the beginnings of the post itself. I took a long time to figure this out, and trying different formats. To be fair, I didn't work on this every day - far from it.
There was layout, then there were font choices. This included font size, and type. Each one modified the overall look of the book drastically, so I enlisted some help and ran some samples by others. I finally made a choice and decided to stick with it: Garamond size 11. I also changed the book size to 6 x 9, to better match trade books (mainly to match books coming out from Chuck Klosterman, a favourite author of my friend). With those decisions settled, I reworked the templates was finally able to begin filling content.
And what content to put in? Well, I decided to make the bulk of the entries movie reviews, as those are the bulk on the site itself. I created a listing of every post on his site, categorized them and made a short list of which ones to use. I skimmed through many of the posts, and tried to put them into the book in a somewhat organic manner, that followed a "movie - movie - other" structure. Long posts would be followed with shorter ones, and I tried to keep the subject matter moving along between posts. Once I had the posts decided, it was a pretty quick process of copying and pasting from his blog into the software. And after I hit two hundred pages, I was nearly complete (or so I thought).
The decision to either put images in or not weighed heavily on my mind. I knew that if the book was being sold, there could be copyright issues. But this was a private thing, so I decided to put some pictures in - especially in entries where he used images heavily or referenced them specifically. Adding images was a long, complicated process: once you added an image, the structure of the book changed. It would shift text along, and pages were no longer aligned. I made the decision to lock all new entries to start on the right hand page, so I had to take care not to leave too much empty space on the facing left page. If there was a line of text on there, it looked awkward, so I had to modify images to straighten things out. If the page was completely blank, that was fine: I would put a full page image there instead.
Then came the time to go over the book. I printed the entire thing (on regular paper) which gave me an accurate look at the final product. Pulling out my red pen, I went about correcting paragraphs, spacing, and spelling. Reading through everything was tremendous fun, and really cemented the reason I was doing this in the first place. I made all my changes in the software, then let the program run through its own spell check (which was terrible and time consuming with hundreds of false positives). Even after printing and getting the book in hand, I saw more spelling mistakes - the job of an editor must be tiring!
What to do for the cover? I'm no designer, and the software is pretty limiting in what you can do. If you
really want to go all out, your best to use advanced design software, which I had neither the time, money or patience to do. So I went simple: a stark blue background with the "Gonzo Fist" standing triumphantly in a contrasting red. My friend recently had this (combined with the dagger) tattoo on his arm, and I knew this would have meaning to him and his writing. Simple white block lettering for the title of the book and his name would round out the simplistic cover. Simple enough that it doesn't look terrible, but it's not going to look brilliant either. I'm quite pleased with the result, considering how limiting the software is.
I wanted to write a forward, or introduction, as well. This was difficult, so I tried keeping it simple. I had another friend edit it for me (she is fantastic and really turned my words into something I was happy to put to paper). I managed to create a table of contents, which became the last step. No more moving entries around or adjusting pages. After uploading it to the Blurb servers, I was ready to place my order, which proved to a a painless operation. Three weeks later the books arrived safely.
For those curious, the book quality is great. I would have preferred a matte finish to the cover, but the binding and page quality is top notch. It sits on my shelf with other, professionally done books and the only thing that gives it away is the cover design - which as I mentioned is not going to be the best anyway without some professional input. I saw no print errors in the book, and it came out exactly as seen in the preview section of the software.
From start to finish it was a great experience. One of my friends jokingly said that "he better be happy with it" but I knew it didn't matter: I was happy with it and myself for actually starting and finishing something of this magnitude. While it may not seem like much to others, it was for me, and I know he was appreciative. It wasn't just for him, it was for myself as well. I learned quite a bit throughout the process, including the self publishing industry, what authors can go through to get their work out there and what goes into design and aesthetics. What works online may not work in print, vice versa, and how many details there are in what are seemingly the simplest elements.
Feed the Voices