Behind the Book: Part 7 – Paper rules

Continuing from previous parts, this series chronicles the journey of publishing my book – Let it Flow.

Previous parts in this series:

  1. How it all began
  2. From blog to book
  3. Things fall apart
  4. Publishing decisions
  5. Making things happen
  6. Don’t dream it’s over

A year ago, I was pushing forward to try to get a print sample of the book done – after finding new momentum. I sit here, a year later, grateful that it’s all done now.  For good. On paper. Which makes it feel real to me.

How did I get here?

I finished the e-book version and launched in late November 2019. It was a proud day for me, and I went pretty big in announcing it to family, friends, and others in my networks. That was out of character for me, because I’ve always kept my writing fairly private from those who know me in person.

But I wanted people to know at this point, because I felt ready to share this side of me with real-life acquaintances. In the 14+ years this blog has been in existence, I’ve felt a lot of positivity from my readers, so I hope that the material I’ve put out has been of benefit. Those readers were almost always strangers (though some have now become closer virtual acquaintances), and I felt that if the work has touched people I don’t know, then perhaps there’s a chance that it could also inspire or encourage those I do know.

Following the announcement, I was overwhelmed by an outpouring of positive sentiment – which banished any doubts I’d had about whether to share the news.

Along with all of this, publishing a book had been a dream of mine for many years, and upon fulfilling that dream (albeit halfway – because the printed version would mark the very end), I wanted to share the news with people who otherwise didn’t know this side of me exists.

And even if the book didn’t sell many copies at all, that would be OK – because I felt a sense of accomplishment: having been through this whole process and having something to show at the end of it all. This book was my tangible legacy that I’ll leave behind once I’m gone…my place in history, secured in more than just the memories of those who will outlive me.

Pause

After that, I had planned to take a long break before working on the print version. I felt exhausted from the exertions of the four years (on and off) it had taken to get this book done…especially the final few months, where it was more intense, as I worked towards a set deadline. So, I took time away from it all.

But that rest turned out to be short-lived. There was some demand for the print version – because my country, it seems, is still fairly traditional in terms of favouring physical books over the electronic. So, that coaxed me into working on the print version sooner rather than later.

In that process, I came to realise that my initial ideas for print – which included the visual elements in the e-book – were more complicated than they needed to be. Graphics – particularly colour ones – can be a huge obstacle in print, requiring a lot of time, energy, and – if you don’t have the right resources  – finance, to bring your internal vision to paper.

I found that if I just dropped those visuals – modifying them to a simpler concept – the rest of the work would be fairly quick.

And so I set out, aiming to have the physical version ready by the end of March 2020. It was a process of bringing the final text – which was formatted specifically for an e-book – into a print format. Of course, I took the opportunity to once again tinkle with the words…the never-ending process of self-editing.

Things went better than expected, and I found myself getting print quotes in late January. And with printing prices looking reasonable, I pushed on with finalising the whole thing – which included getting giant proofs of some of the pages:

 

How do you judge a book?

With the finish line in sight, I needed to decide how many copies to print. I was still working on a tight budget, so I needed to assess the demand – both from private sales (which would come first) and bookshops – and weigh that against volume and intended selling price.

I ended up going with a fairly small batch to start with, because my goal was to at least break even on the printing costs.

And with that done, I just needed to make a few final adjustments to the text, then get my cover to the printer.

Which was when another hurdle emerged.

Just like the e-book faced a final, very frustrating obstacle, trouble came knocking for this edition, too: my cover – which I had designed myself using an online service – looked perfect on a screen. But for the printer to produce a perfect physical version, the file needed to use a different colour mode. I knew nothing of this…until the final step.

You see, in print, two of the colour sets in use are RGB (red, green, blue) and CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black). My design was in RGB, but the printer needed CMYK.

I tried using online converters, but the result was horribly faded. So I tried – in my design service – to manually reproduce the design using different colours that would convert better. But, being a relative novice to graphic design, I failed.

needed to resolve this, because the famous adage – “Don’t judge a book by its cover” – is really not true when it comes to first impressions. An inferior quality cover will cripple your chances of getting the attention of new readers, while also giving a poor impression to those who already want to buy your book.

So I needed a designer. Fast.

I found someone via a Facebook group, and he happily quoted me a fairly reasonable figure. But, with money already sunk into the printing process, I was reluctant to shell out even more on this process.

But I had to…unless an alternate was found.

And found it was. My wonderful work colleague – a design pro – graciously stepped in to assist, even though she was still in the final stages of a long leave of absence. Her incredible intervention was just what I needed, and she was able to perfectly reproduce the cover in the format required by the printer.

Things were looking up, and the end was in sight – which was both exciting, and a relief. I’d been working on this project – on and off – for about four years by that point, and I looked forward to finally getting it out so that I could move onto new ventures. And, being a book largely filled with poetry, it was fitting that a new piece came to me – a poem capturing the book’s journey

Dream delivered

On I went, with the next phase being receiving a proof copy of the book. That copy came with some binding issues, which worried me – but my printer reassured me that it was the result of an issue with the binding apparatus, which was being seen to.

With that sorted, the book finally went to print, and after some delay, it arrived on a Friday in late February…exactly three months after the e-book was published. It was an even better day because I happened to receive my first royalties from e-book sales that day. 

A happy day, as the batch of printed books arrived

I immediately set out distributing copies to those who’d ordered – at work, in other parts of the country, and by dropping it off with those in my city. It felt good to finally be delivering the end product, and I was optimistic that – after I’d gotten all the direct orders out – I would then get the book into a few independent stores that had expressed a willingness to stock it.

And then came Corona…

I managed to get the books to almost everyone who’d ordered – with the last delivery to a relative on a Sunday afternoon. It’s a day that will remain in my memory for a long time, because it was the day that our president made a groundbreaking speech – marking the start of COVID 19’s real impact in the country.

And that is when the world – for us in South Africa – truly changed.

I still had a few copies to deliver to others, but those would now have to wait. And the bookstores, if they survived what was to follow, would also have to wait.

Lockdown effectively put the book distribution process on hold, but it also brought an opportunity to do a bit of promotion which I didn’t think I’d ever do: a Facebook Live interview with an old acquaintance who was hosting a book show for a local media platform.

I was fairly nervous about that, but managed to get through it OK, I think. It was also the first time I’d ever done a live reading of my poems…I’d never even done that out loud, even in private.

Matters related to the book sat on hold, as the new reality of a COVID 19 world settled in. Surprisingly, I did receive a request to send a copy to someone in France, but with absolutely no courier or postal services operating, I had to delay that process until things finally started moving again.

And when book stores were eventually able to open again – selling ‘educational books’ only (which many broadly took to be all books) – I set out to get the print edition into the stores that I’d previously approached: one in another city, and two near me.

Thus far, I’ve managed to get the book into one of those stores, and am waiting to see how the process of consignment pans out. It’s exciting to me because I get to reach complete strangers – with a physical book – for the very first time, and I’m eager to see whether it will actually sell.

But again, my philosophy is to have hope – but no expectations – so that I won’t be disappointed if sales are slow (or non-existent). I’m not going crazy with marketing, and am not putting much more effort into promoting this book. Not at this point, at least.

So…let’s see what comes of it.

What’s next?

In recent years – stemming from the need to promote my work in a more appealing way (in the lead-up to the book being published), I’ve put my poetry into self-designed visuals – both in snippets and as full pieces (see samples here). That format was not only more visually appealing, but it also helped me get a wider reach – because I could put the pieces up on Instagram and other social media in a more digestible way.

A few weeks ago – in Ramadaan – I had a burst of inspiration one morning around a possible follow-up book. The idea is to present the new body of work in a far more visual way, but also including explanations of (all, or most of) the pieces. It will perhaps be a PDF – free on this blog – because I already know the limitations of graphics in print; but I may possibly do a print version later.

Essentially, it’s about compiling a new body of work – some of the older stuff that didn’t make the last book, plus the many pieces I’ve done in recent years which didn’t fit the concept of the last book – and packaging it into something that my readers will appreciate both visually and, more especially, because of the content.

I’ve collected more than enough of this ‘new’ material to compile the book, but am keeping it open to new material too – because who knows how long this will take to finish? I’ve also put a few pieces into visual format – experimenting with different styles.

And now I need to find a concept for the entire thing – so that it feels like something coherent, and not just a collection of material thrown together for the sake of putting out another publication.

And, very importantly, I’ve promised myself that I will not set deadlines or apply pressure to get this done. I want to enjoy the process…feel joy in working to put together a book that my readers will appreciate, God-willing. That approach is for my own well-being, but also – in a sense – for the audience, because I feel that if I take my time, and try to lovingly craft this thing, it’s more likely that a reader will feel that love and care, and appreciate it more…take it in more…thereby achieving the effect I’m going for.

That may sound weird to many of you reading…or not…but that’s the goal.

So, whether this project makes it to fruition or not…who knows?

Stay tuned to see how it turns out….


The book – Let it Flow – is available electronically via Amazon Kindle, Google Play Books, Apple Books, Kobo, and more. A print edition is available in South Africa via direct order. (I’m also open to international orders, but shipping costs are exorbitant for small volumes, so you would need to be willing to contend with that unless more cost-effective arrangements can be found.)

If you’d like to see more, click the image below for a comprehensive sample:

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