For the past 2 or 3 months I’ve been working on a small book, just a chapbook really, that is a kind of poetic journal of my trip to Japan back in May.  It’s in the form of prose-poems, one for each day of the trip, accompanied by photos.  I decided to publish it using CreateSpace on Amazon though I had only a vague notion of how to do that.  When I started working on this all I knew about CreateSpace is that you had to upload two PDF files for your book, one corresponding to the interior content of the book and the other containing the book’s cover.  But what’s the best way to create these?  I asked a friend of mine who’s retired from the publishing business how he went about creating the books that his publishing outfit published.  He said he used InDesign.  So I, naively, started getting ready to use InDesign myself, but was hesitant to commit myself because it’s expensive software.  Then I noticed a recently-published two-volume book by Chris McMullen on how to self-publish on Amazon’s CreateSpace.  I got a copy of McMullen’s book and it turned out to be a life-saver.  It’s very clear and contains a lot of very detailed and helpful advice about exactly how to go about formatting a book for publication and how to publish it on CreateSpace.  When I first started reading it I was surprised that the author did not recommend the use of InDesign or other desktop publishing software.  He recommends instead using Microsoft Word to accomplish all of the work of formatting the book for publication.  I figured that if he can create all of his books in Microsoft Word I should be able to do my book using OpenOffice (which is free software!) which has similar capabilities.

In the process of setting up the formatting of the book I learned quite a bit about how to use OpenWriter and found it to be a very useful and capable tool.  I had to figure out how to format the photo pages, which required the use of OpenOffice tables, which I struggled with at first.  Most of the real work of formatting the book had to with making the cover, which required me to learn how to use OpenOffice frames (I struggled with this too for a while) and which was mostly a long and painstaking process of working out a lot of little details, even though my cover was not a very complicated one.  I spent many hours hunched over my monitor making minute adjustments to font-styles, text-size, and spacing of the various elements of the cover layout until I finally had it all just the way I wanted it.

CreateSpace turned out to be very clear and easy to use.  I was able to setup my account characteristics and the details of my book very quickly and easily.  I got my ISBN, a custom ISBN that would allow me to use my own publishing imprint, and setup the defining characteristics of my new one-person publishing outfit, Century House Books.  I found a website that would generate an ISBN barcode that I downloaded an inserted into the back cover layout.  I also generated an EAN-5 barcode (that encodes price info) and downloaded and pasted that onto the cover also.  I uploaded my book interior file and cover file, which were then subjected to a file review by the CreateSpace team.  This takes several hours, perhaps as much as a day.  After that was done I was able to do a first pass on proofing the book using an online proofing tool.  And after that I ordered a printed proof copy to be sent to me.  Unfortunately when I got the printed proof copy I noticed a formatting error (my fault, not Amazon’s) on one page of the book which I hadn’t noticed during the online-proofing phase, so that had to be corrected.  I also decided after seeing the printed copy that all of the text on the cover would look better slightly larger, so I increased the size of all the cover text.  I resubmitted my book files, necessitating another Amazon file review.  After which I did the online-proofing again, and since it looked good I went ahead and approved the proof, so it should appear on Amazon’s online store in a few days.  The only thing that perplexed me a little bit was that on the proof copy Amazon had replaced my EAN-5 code and barcode, that I had generated to encode the price, $9.50, of the book, with a generic EAN-5 barcode that encodes no price data.  I’m not sure why they replaced this but I figured they must have a reason, and I’ve noticed a few other books published by CreateSpace that have these generic EAN-5 barcodes on them.  So I guess it must be OK.

Though I encountered a few small technical difficulties in the process of working on this, mostly due to not having sufficient understanding of how OpenWriter works when I started on this project, in general the whole process was remarkably clear and straightforward.  I’m now confident that I can publish any kind of book I want, by myself, without having to spend any money to do so.  In the process of working on this book I used a free word-processing program to format the content, and for editing the photos I used GIMP which is also free software!  The only things I spent any money on were: $10 for a custom ISBN which would enable me to use my own publishing imprint, and $20 for access to expanded distribution channels (includes Amazon Europe and also sales to bookstores).  So, only $30 I spent to publish this thing.

Feel the Earth Turning: A Japan Journal should be coming out on Amazon very soon!  It’s been a fascinating process learning how to do this, and putting it together.

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