It's one thing to write a book. It's another to launch it, as it were. But how hard could it be? After all, Val and I are intelligent people who have published a myriad of scientific articles over the past 40+ years. Despite not enjoying it, I can read the 'Instructions to authors', as well as anyone, and although I get frustrated, the product is usually what I expected. It's not quite the same in the self-publishing environment as in the world of academic publishing. A word to the wise: don't assume anything!
It seems a long time ago that Val and I sat in a hotel room in Columbus, Ohio, debating the merits of Bookman vs. Times New Roman vs. Cambria. She was giving a week-long course there on Soil Ecology, so I drove down from Madison to spend a couple of days with her to work on our book. We had finished with the text but needed to discuss fonts, lay-out and the book cover. Amazingly, we agreed on everything (we really are very alike), and I returned home to create the perfect Word document for Create Space, my choice as an on-demand printer. It's a branch of Amazon. Their instructions were pretty straightforward. The only concern was the image size - they warned about inserting images at too low a resolution, which would appear pixelated in the final product. This has never been much of an issue with academic publishers - you give them your best images (huge tiff files) and let them sort out how to make things look as good as the original. Needless to say, with 20 images in our book, the Word document was pretty large, and the PDF was way to big to send via my local internet service (.15 Mbps upload), so off I went to the local library.
Libraries are wonderful institutions. Ours (Ruth Culver Library in Prairie Du Sac) overlooks the Wisconsin River, with huge picture windows. In the Fall the white pelicans drift lazily downstream from the dam as they fish, fattening for the flight to Florida. In Winter bald eagles gather and hang out in the trees near the open water below the dam. In Summer it's canoes and kayaks and fishermen. I spent quite a lot of time at the library over the next 4 months.
The manuscript looked great when I printed the PDF at home, all 196 pages of it. The Create Space proof looked pretty good too, so I ordered a physical proof, complete with cover. That's when things went south. The images in the printed proof looked nothing like the ones I had submitted. They were grainy the book looked as if it had been photocopied, or printed by some bootleg operation in India.
There's nothing like a feeling of utter frustration, not knowing what had could have gone wrong. Where was my mistake (s), and what strategy could I use to sort it out? With an academic publisher you can have an intelligent conversation with someone who will ultimately take responsibility for the product. But that's not how Create Space works. The communication is by e-mail only. After all, you haven't paid a cent up to this point, only filled out a lot of forms. Still, that's enough of an investment that you want to persist with the process.
At this point I assumed that I had inserted low quality images into the Word document by mistake, or maybe the conversion from Word to PDF had altered them, or maybe I hadn't followed the instructions correctly. So I reinserted the images, making sure they were optimal. The next e-mail back-and-forth (ever so polite, but with a new name at the end of every message) assured me that the quality of my images was not adequate. I practically tore my hair out!
Eventually I gave in and signed up for editing help. The minimum I could spend was $575 because of having 20 images. OK. I uploaded everything again including the individual tiff files, and was assigned a 'team' with a new name leading it. She set up a consultation telephone call a few weeks later when I would have received the new proof. Unfortunately that version was no better! Under the microscope (yes, I put the images under a microscope!) I counted 150 dots per inch. Let's say the conversations with my team members (it was never the same person) went downhill from there. There were several more back-and forths, a new proof which was even worse. Finally I asked for my money back (and eventually got it).
What did I learn: that Create Space does not print images at greater than 150 dpi. I wish they had told me that in the beginning!
I found an editor locally who took my Word document and images and made a lovely interior for the book using InDesign. I sent that file and the cover to a printer she recommended. I am pleased and proud of the product. I'll be selling it on Amazon!