Next Step: Images

The text for 5 Acres & A Dream The Sequel has at last reached final draft status! The next text check will be when I review a printed proof copy. This is important because it’s amazing how things you miss on a computer screen. Yet, they pop out at you from a printed page.

Before I can do that, however, I need to prepare the entire interior book file for print. This includes selecting and optimizing the images for print, designing the book interior page by page, then designing and preparing the cover.

I do all of my image prep with Gimp Photo Editor. After I open the photo in Gimp, I follow these steps:

  • Image > Mode > Grayscale
  • Image > Scale Image > 300 pixels/inch
  • Colors > Brightness-Contrast > Brightness 30, Contrast 20
  • Filters > Enhance > Unsharp Mask > Radius 1.5, Amount 1.0, Threshold 0
  • Image > Scale Image > width 1350 pixels (4.5 inches) or whatever final print size is desired
  • File > Export As > (.jpeg), Quality 100, Advanced Options > uncheck everything. This decreases the image size (kilobytes) as much as possible.

At this point, the images don’t look good on the computer monitor because optimizing them for print is very different than optimizing them for a screen. Anything that looks questionable can be run off on a printer at its desired print size. That gives me a fair idea of how it will look in a paperback and whether or not to replace it.

I organize the images in their own folders by chapter, and number them in the approximate order they will appear in the book. This is important, because when the photos pile up, it becomes confusing as to which one is next.

When I get my first print proof, I will be able to see how the photos turned out. I then make both image and text adjustments in a revised interior file, upload that, and order a new print proof. I repeat this until I’m satisfied with the proof copy. Then the book is ready to publish.

My record for proofs was 5 Acres & A Dream The Book. I ordered seven proofs, mostly because I had trouble getting the cover right. Hopefully, The Sequel will go faster than that!

What I Like About Publishing eBooks (and What I Don’t)

They are the trend, aren’t they? Electronic books. Cheaper to buy and easier to carry around. I understand why consumers like them. Personally, I don’t think anything is better than a real live book in my hands, but that’s a debate about personal choice. As a writer and independent publisher, my likes and dislikes about eBooks shift a bit. They’re more about the things that go on behind the screen.

What I like best about publishing eBooks is that they can be updated. This is useful on several levels. For example, there’s nothing worse than finally getting a book in print, one that you’ve labored over, checked and re-checked, only to find errors. And there’s nothing you can do about it. With an eBook, the errors can be corrected and a new file uploaded to replace the old. No new ISBN or ASIN required. Simple as that.

This is also useful for promoting newer books. In my The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos, for example. With every new volume, I can update the previous eBooks and include a link to newer works.

Along those lines I can let new readers get a sample of me and my writing by offering books for free, say the first in a series. I’ve done just that with my how-to series, offering volume one for free. Hopefully they like it well enough to be willing to buy more of my work. If they don’t, then they haven’t lost a dime.

So what don’t I like about publishing eBooks? The first thing is that they are difficult to make pretty. They are ugly. Not the covers, but the interiors. Formatting options are limited because different eReaders render the book differently, so the rules to formatting are set and with little aesthetic leeway. I don’t like it that I can’t compose my text and white space to suit myself. On top of that, different eBook conversion software produces different results, which compounds the problem of creating a pretty page. I’ve tried several services and now stick with only two because the results are more acceptable.

Images and diagrams are a problem in eBooks, and avid readers agree that this type of book is not very picture friendly. For one thing, the screen is relatively small, although some eReaders have zoom type features. From the publishing end, images seem less predictable than I’d like. The image in the file I upload may end up larger or smaller than I aimed for.

I don’t like that I can’t make tables. In some of my how-tos, tables would be a helpful way to visually organize data. I end up having to type it all out in a line with commas or hyphens, which isn’t very “at a glance.”

The other thing I don’t like is that eBooks have a sense of temporariness about them. If my device breaks or my computer dies, they’re lost. If I don’t have electricity or battery power, I can’t read. Expiration dates can be added when the book files are converted to the various formats so that the books can be automatically deleted. As an author it’s unsettling to think that all of my hard work could simply disappear from the face of the earth.

I suppose it could be said that eBook are here to stay. Maybe. Likely they will change somewhat. However, print books don’t seem to be going anywhere soon either, which is also good. I suppose the best way to look at it is that in the realm of books, there’s something for everybody. As a publisher, I just have to learn to do the best I can with what I’ve got to work with.

Unsharp Mask – Woot!

After what seems like forever, I was finally able to order my first print proof of Critter Tales. Besides checking things like page numbering, formatting consistencies, overlooked typos, or even blatant mistakes, this is my first look at the photos, both cover and interior. Like 5 Acres and A Dream The Book, the cover was too dark, but the interior photos were better than I hoped. Still, they all needed some work.

What needed to be done to most of them was to increase contrast. I do this with the “Brightness-Contrast” tool in Gimp. Both are increased to give a sharper contrast, which translates as better grayscale images in print. For the record, I’m increasing brightness by 30 and contrast by 20. Only a second print proof will tell me if this was right. I should mention that I save the adjusted image with a different name by simply adding a “b” to to it. I’ve learned the hard way to always preserve the original images, plus each of the changes.

Photos that were taken with a camera set for a sharper photo were the easiest to do, but some of them were taken as 640 by 480 pixel images for email or the internet. I’ve learned how to enlarge these by first increasing PPI (pixels per inch) to 300 and then resizing to, say, 4.5 by 3 inches. Most of the times that works, although some still end up looking rather pixelated.

I was researching this the other day, and learned about “Unsharp Mask.” ¬†In Gimp it’s found under ¬†Filters > Enhance > Unsharp Mask. It’s a tool folks use to sharpen photos that are soft-looking. For print, the recommended settings are 1.5 for radius, and 1.0 for amount. I’m leaving threshold at 0, because I don’t know what it does. I don’t actually know what any of them do, although I found an excellent article explaining it – “Understanding Unsharp Mask.” Once I’m not pressed for time, I’ll give it a read so I know what it is that I’m doing!

Here’s an example from “Kitty Tales” to show you the difference that the tweaks have made.

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After I finish tweaking all the images, I’ll order another proof. Hopefully no further adjustments will need to be made, but I’m not holding my breath.