On December 31st I ordered the proof for my first print-on-demand (POD) book, a short story collection titled The Year of the Elm (TYOTE). I’m using CreateSpace (CS) to manufacture the book, and CS gave me three shipping options for the proof. I chose the slowest and cheapest option: three weeks for a little over three dollars. I did so because I couldn’t imagine it would actually take three weeks for the proof to arrive, and it didn’t. It took eight days, including a long three-day weekend.
The book itself is everything I hoped it would be, and better than I imagined it would be:
- The cover looks good, the images are clear, the print is clear, and the elm leaf is perfect in detail and color. (My thanks again to Joleene Naylor for all her help, advice and wizardry.)
- I went with the cream paper instead of the white. Under low light it’s a bit more yellow than I would like, but after reading only a few sentences the paper fades away and the print comes to the fore. In short, the contrast is sufficient. Under brighter light the page brightens accordingly and all concerns resolve. (I can’t imagine I would have preferred the white-paper option for a work of fiction.)
- The formatting choices I made seem to have been rendered as specified. I haven’t gone through the work page-by-page, but I have given it a once over and the font choice, font size, spacing, etc., is what I wanted — and none of it calls attention to itself. (I have the real feeling I got lucky in some of this.)
- The choices I made in terms of page layout, headers, chapter titles and such all work — or at least work as I intended.
- I chose the right size: 5.5 x 8.5. The common 6×9 would have felt too big.
- The book feels solid. I don’t trust glued bindings, and wouldn’t be surprised if the book fell apart in a month, but right now the build quality feels…dare I say it…professional. If you handed me the same book and said it had been published by a big-name publisher there is nothing about the book as an object that would make me think otherwise.
I’m really happy with how this book turned out. I know there are probably a hundred things a pro could point to that might have been done better, but to my eye — and I trust my eye — the TYOTE proof looks and feels as a book should.
As positive as all that is, the smile on my face when I first opened the package told me that there was more to the moment and the experience and the object than simply seeing something I wrote in book form, or seeing all of my design and production decisions confirmed. I’ve written for money before, and been well paid. I’ve bound scripts and optioned them, and formatting a script is a kick in itself. But being able to produce a book as a finished work is something else entirely.
I think the arrival of this proof is a technological and cultural marvel. It makes all of the prognostications about self-publishing and publishing utterly and irrevocably real to me. This is a book. Not a crap book or a fake book or a vanity-press book or a desperate book, but a book book little different from any other similarly-bound, professionally-produced book that I have owned or read.
Yet I think print-on-demand technology is a game changer not because it’s amazing, but because it’s so mundane. This is minimally complex technology available at minimal cost. This is publishing as a color-blind, means-blind, culture-blind, hype-blind, status-blind, clique-blind, location-blind, who-you-know blind manufacturing process. This is gatekeeper-free bookmaking. This is me being able to put a book in anyone’s hands without anybody’s help — unless I choose to enlist them.
Only a couple of days ago I read an interesting post by April Hamilton, in which she talked about going to see, for the first time, a book she’d written sitting on a shelf in a bookstore. I wasn’t surprised by her response:
It wasn’t a thrill for me at all; it was merely a confirmation, like double-checking to ensure a deposit I’ve made was properly credited to my checking account. I didn’t bother having the picture taken, and as I was feeling more awkward than happy standing there, I left. And I didn’t bother visiting any of the other bookstores on my list.
I felt WAY more excitement than this when I saw my first title listed on Amazon. THAT’S the moment when I felt like a “real” author. This was just…business.
I used to imagine how cool it would be to have a published book sitting alongside the works of authors I respected. Then I took a look under the hood of the publishing industry. After that I really only thought about readers reading what I wrote. I didn’t think about intermediaries or deals or cachet or agents. I thought about how I could make my work readily available at a fair price for people who might be interested.
Today I know I’m right to think that way. I have the proof in my hands.
— Mark Barrett