The Making of Type Something: Part 3

On making my chapbook, Type Something. Link to part 1

A screenshot showing the iPhone 12 aspect ratio that I used for the InDesign text box.

The process of laying out and designing Type Something was perhaps the least fun part. After taking screenshots of story poems for months, I had a disorganized collection of ramblings that I now had to make into something palatable.

A few themes were loosely present, based on the fact that I, like many writers, have been circling the same topics for years. YEARS! Anyway, I’ll save that screed for another time. Gotta focus on the task, here.

To put the book together, I borrowed a process from my team at RAA. When collaborating on documents, we often use Google Slides as a collective brain. We drop in thoughts, research, sketches, and ideas to be shared with the larger group. They’re marked up, expanded upon, and further refined. Over time, big ideas emerge and the details are sussed out.

Thumbnail view of the Google Slides that I used for organizing the book.

You know how writers will sometimes share photos of their manuscript prep on Instagram? There’s a floor, or sometimes a wall, completely covered in sheets of paper. For the writer, the photos capture a triumph. It’s the art museum staircase moment of the montage. We haven’t made it to the final bout yet, but we’re on our way. The Google Slides thing is essentially that same process but not printed out. I needed a way to look at everything that I’d written as a whole. Using slides allowed me to quickly shuffle the poems around and edit out the ones that weren’t working.

I ended up cutting poems that were not particularly strong or just didn’t fit the overall shape of the book. Two poems were solid, I think, but just didn’t fit. One was an ekphrastic poem about a photo from the LA riots and the other was about the beginning and end of the war in Afghanistan. Another one was a screenshot of a supermarket receipt from a weekend that my wife was away. It’s funny, at least to me, but including it would have felt random.

What is this assortment of items? I feel shame.

Once I narrowed down the poems, I moved to Adobe InDesign and set up my file.

I knew that I wanted the book to be somewhat small. Initially, I wanted it to be the size of an iPhone 8 plus (the device that I owned at the beginning of the project, and which I lost somewhere between Tulum and Cancun, Mexico), but I realized that the custom print size would make it more expensive to produce.

Instead, I set up a standard 5×8 book and made the InDesign text box the same aspect ratio as an iPhone 12 (which I got after losing the aforementioned phone). Full disclosure, I had to break that aspect ratio occasionally, but the pages are mostly set within those parameters.

I then went on a hunt to find the italicized serif that I’d used in the Instagram Story interface. Unable to find the exact font, I settled on Winslow Book Italic by Kimmy Design, which I discovered via someone else in the same rabbit hole in which I found myself.

Once I had my typeface selected and the InDesign master pages set up, I began typing in the final set of poems from the screenshots in Google Slides. Naturally, some of the poems got edited during this process. By the way, forcing yourself to retype your poems is a great way to get in the habit of editing your shit.

With the book layout complete, I worked on cover designs for a few days. Because the book’s interior, with its black pages, was going to be stark, I knew that I wanted to use the default IG gradient on the cover.

I went back and forth on a bold type treatment or an understated type treatment but ultimately landed on the bold. The first print run of the book has a full-color interior cover, with a gradient graphic that’s designed to look like it’s melting. While it looked cool, the option for printed interior covers wasn’t available for the current version of the book.

A few notes on that: I printed the first set of books using Mixam. The overall quality was good, but I wasn’t entirely satisfied. I’d wanted their lightest weight of paper, so the pages would feel soft and have a little texture, like a mass-produced book. When the job was set to print, Mixam notified me that they didn’t have the weight that I wanted on hand. I ended up approving the run anyway. When the books arrived, I liked them but ultimately felt they could have been better.

I’d also not anticipated how much the cover stock would affect the thickness of the book. The cover design that I sent Mixam didn’t have a spine, as I’d opted to do saddle stitch binding, instead of perfect binding. The first run, while having the nice interior cover, didn’t close all the way due to the combination of page count and cover weight being at just the threshold where perfect binding would have been a better option.

I’m skipping a bunch of stuff about setting up the ISBN b/c that’s even drier than all these design details.

Anyway, after receiving orders for the first run, which I promoted by sharing a post on Instagram, I spent a few late nights packing and shipping the books. I included a signed postcard with an excerpt from one of the poems in each order and sent them off via USPS.

Having sold all the books from the first run, I decided that I’d give Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) a try. I knew from my experience running Well&Often Press that I didn’t have time or the desire to manage the shipping of the books. I’d also been impressed by Amazon KDP’s print quality, as I’d designed a few poetry books that were published using the service. I reformatted the books for the KDP uploading process, switched the book to perfect binding, and put it up for sale on Amazon.

Pros and Cons of using KDP

  • Mixam was cheaper than Amazon KDP, in terms of cost-per-book, but the KDP books look and feel better in hand.
  • With the non-KDP books, I had to package and ship the orders myself. However, I could sell them directly from my web store. The benefits of that are a direct relationship with your reader. For instance, I could write them an email thanking them for their support. With KDP, I don’t have access to that information.
  • With the non-KDP books, I don’t have to wait for royalties on the books. A sale is a sale. That being said, the cost-per-book ended up being about the same, when you factor in shipping costs. Also, considering the labor of processing orders and shipping books, KDP ended up being a better long-term option for me.
  • Also, it goes without saying that you may not sell all your books, so print-on-demand gives you the option of not having to sit on a box of books.

Another note here: If you have the funds, and are okay with handling the shipping of your books, I encourage you to work with a smaller printer, who’s willing to work with you on perfecting your book. I used to work with PA-based Spencer Printing for Well&Often and loved the books they produced.

Okay, I think that covers about everything. I hope that I’ve given you at least some insight into my poetry, self-publishing a book, or the process of designing a book. If you haven’t already gotten a copy of Type Something, I’d be so happy if you did.

Thank you for following on this journey. I’ll leave you with a collage of photos that friends and readers have shared on their Instagram accounts.

Thank you.

Posted on May 1, 2022