Mind Seed was my first experience as an anthology editor, publisher, typesetter, and commissioner of art, everything to do with production of a book from concept to finished product. I had some good help, but I was involved in every stage and I did much of it myself. Was it complicated? In places, though much of that was because I’d never done it before. Was it difficult? Sometimes, but I made some of those difficulties for myself. I learned a huge amount. It was hard work but it was good fun. I lost sleep, I’d wake up in the middle of the night with a list in my head. I’d definitely do it again.
There were two things I knew about publishing before I started: You need a good cover, and you need good editing. And you need good stories.
So – Among the many things…
Mind Seed is the third anthology from my writing group, the London, UK based T Party. Early in 2013 one of the group, Denni Schnapp, died. For many of us this was out of the blue and, although the group is twenty years old, this was the first time we’d lost one of our own. It had been a while since the last anthology, so I suggested we do one now, for Denni. From the outset this was intended to be a group project, with invitations to contribute from other writers who knew Denni. Denni was a biologist, a traveller, and she wrote SF. Living things fascinated her. The anthology needed to reflect that, and also to be a celebration.
Looking back, the whole project was a learning process. Things I thought would be hard were easier, and vice-versa. Other things I thought would be hard were even harder. I found rejecting stories very difficult. (I know very well from experience being rejected can be tough, saying ‘No’ wasn’t easy either.) From the outset, because of the origins of the anthology, I really hoped everyone who wanted to contribute would be able to do so. In the end that simply was not possible. Some stories were just not going to work.
There’s so much to say, so I have concentrated on what I think are the big things. Otherwise, we’d be here all day. I could write a book…
In some ways this was the easy bit. I’ve a lot of experience of critique from the writing group, and I had some help – my co-editor was Gary Couzens, editor of the award-winning Extended Play: The Elastic Book of Music, and other anthologies. We both knew what we liked and were happy to say so. While some stories needed little work, others needed some work, and some to-and-fro. Without exception that was a straightforward process. Obviously negotiation was involved, but we got what we wanted. Any request needs to be justified. From anthology theme through to the editorial detail: Know what you want, and explain why you want it.
Story order is important. This is one of the things I learned from Gary. There are a few basic guidelines: you need to lead with a great story, and if you have a novelette-length story, as we did, then that often sits most comfortably somewhere in the middle. Apart from that, there are multiple ways to arrange story order.
As the story we chose to open with was very close to the modern era, and Denni’s story, which we wanted to end with, was far-future, we decided that with those anchor-points, our story order should move further and further away from today, and into the future.
It’s as much about gut feel as design, but I think the rule here is: Think about flow and balance, theme and concept, mood, length, and tone.
Dear God, you have to get this right. Books might survive a poor cover but they will live and die by good or bad proofing.
Obviously a conscientious writer will proof their own work, but spotting mistakes in your own writing is not easy, you know it too well and so you see what is meant to be there rather than what you actually wrote. Gary and I proof-read the stories but we also knew that wasn’t enough. I’m lucky in that my partner, fantasy writer Gaie Sebold, spent many years proof-reading as part of her day job. As soon as she heard about the anthology she more or less insisted that she be allowed to proof it. We were happy to oblige. So: Get a professional proof-reader.
- Cover art.
This was brilliant. It was exciting and wonderful. Eventually.
I’d originally hoped to use a cover from Mick Van Houten, one of my favourite cover artists. He was very happy to let me re-use the cover I asked about for free, but the book publisher put various obstacles in my way. I didn’t want any constraints on what we could or could not do with the book, so decided to commission original art.
I found Ian Stead from the work he did on the Mindjammer RPG and thought his style fit perfectly with the anthology. Ian was the brilliant bit, because he came up with an amazing cover and was fantastically accommodating with text layout and changes to detail in the cover. Seeing the final version was one of the highlights of the whole experience.
Ask any publisher, editor or agent and they will tell you: Good cover art still sells books.
I’d no experience of this but by looking at existing books and reading around I found enough information to understand what I needed to do. (Lulu has much good advice – more of Lulu later.) In the past I’ve done a lot of costume and armour design, working mainly in leather. This might not sound useful, but I learned about proportion and balance of items within a space.
As this was my first project I didn’t want to be overambitious and decided to do layout in Microsoft Word. By default I use .RTF format and found I could do everything I needed.
A very important thing to remember is that odd-number pages are always the right-hand page of a book. Therefore things like the title page, acknowledgements, table of contents, and the first page of each story, will all be on odd-number pages.
Section Breaks let you do useful and professional things such as have different headers on odd and even pages, drop the headers on blank and title pages, and span page numbering across sections.
One thing I restricted myself on was choice of fonts. I could have embedded fonts in a PDF for the publisher, but at the time I felt I was already doing enough new things. So I limited myself to the supported fonts the publisher accepted, and selected two that worked well together (again, there’s good advice available out there).
A few important things are:
– Set your document page size to the book size before formatting.
– Odd numbers on the right.
– Don’t use too many fonts.
Simple tools work well. Do your research, design a simple theme, and stick to it. Pay attention to detail.
I started out intending to use Lightning Source. Many of the UK small press and other publishers use this advanced service, including Clarion, who published my SF novel Shopocalypse. Unfortunately my registration was not straightforward, and I never heard back from them. I decided to look at Lulu. My short story collection (Open Waters, theEXAGGERATEDpress) was produced on Lulu, so I knew you could create a very nice product.
Publishing on Lulu was straightforward, once you have everything ready you just press the buttons and there is plenty of opportunity to revise and check what you’re doing. Before releasing Mind Seed to the world I ordered a copy as a final proof. It was definitely worth it – I needed to tweak the spine and back cover design, and of course it was lovely to get to hold of the real thing!
Lulu also offers distribution via Amazon, B&N, Ingrams, etc., so you get a full and proper distribution service. I am sure there are other very good services out there, and I’d like to take another look at Lightning Source, but for me: Lulu was a good experience.*
- The Road Goes Ever On.
There’s always something else to do.
– We’re planning an official launch at LonCon3. With over
8,000 9,000 people attending we’re hoping to sell some books!
– I need to create
E-book and PDF versions.**
– And then there’s publicity. This, perhaps, is one of the hardest jobs of all, and one where there is the least advice. What I’ve learned from this book, and others, is that no one event will do the job. Publicity is a process.
Those three essential things I thought you needed at the outset are still very true, and there are plenty of other things too. None of it is horribly difficult, but there’s lots of it. In the end it comes down hard work, vision, and attention to detail. Don’t cut corners, there’s lots of good advice and help out there, use it, and go make some lovely books you can be proud of!
* And continues to be. I ordered 140 copies for the LonCon launch last Saturday, and they were delivered today, Tuesday. Super service.
** The E-book version is done – that was a whole separate experience. PDF is still in progress, and as I am discovering, this too has its own particular formatting wants and needs – just like print and e-pub.