Glimpses: The Making of a Small Book

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Glimpses, my small collection of Nightrunner world short stories, didn’t exist in July. It was released in all its finished glory yesterday. And it’s not self published. It’s not a chapbook. It’s a real live trade paperback and e-book, professionally edited, professional cover art edition. And this is from the world’s slowest writer who doesn’t write short stories. Well, not many over the past fifteen years of my professional career.

A little background. For those of you unfamiliar with my work, the Nightrunner books are an ongoing series detailing the adventures of my medieval spies, Alec and Seregil, published by Random House’s Bantam/Spectra imprint. They—the characters— also happen to be bisexual, and, a few books in, a couple. That’s not what the books are about, by the way. They are save the world, outwit the bad guys, high/dark/epic fantasy. But that whole sexual angle is important to a lot of my readers, always has been.

The first book, Luck in the Shadows, came out (no pun intended) in 1996, before there was a lot of detailed sex in mainstream fantasy. That was fine with me. I didn’t want to write detailed sex scenes back then. I did have coy, fade-to-black, morning-after kinds of sex scenes, and lots of teasing, though. And that teasing drove many readers nuts. They wanted details.  This spawned some fan fiction, which I am not allowed by my publisher to grant permission to do. And people do ask. In frustration, a few years back, I jokingly threatened on my LJ to write my own fan fiction, or the author-created equivalent thereof. In other words, to give them the scenes they’d been missing and speculating over for years, straight from the horse’s laptop.

Many readers took this seriously. Many of them began to tap their feet impatiently and drum their fingers on tabletops, waiting for me to make good on my threat. Many of them began to ask “When?” I had written one in 2001, a sex-free story of how Seregil and his best friend and long time partner in crime, Micum Cavish met, many years before Alec came into the story. It was called “By the River” and I considered it more of a vignette than story—a glimpse, if you will. I put it up for a few fan groups and the response was good. Very good. And it bred more impatience for the “good stuff.”

Fast forward to June, 2010. I suddenly got inspired to write the oft-requested “first time” story—“The Bond”— which was alluded to in Stalking Darkness and Traitor’s Moon, but never shown. Then I tried to decide how to deliver it. My first impulse was to just post it online, as I had “By the River.” I happened to mention this to my friend Reece Notley, owner and editor of 3 Crow Press. She suggested (OK, demanded—Reece is also a fan of the foot-tapping sort) that I come up with a few more stories and she’d put them together in a book and publish it.  Reece is a human force of nature when it comes to supporting authors and publishing their work. She also knows how the heck everything works.

One of the many things I love about working with Spectra is that all I have to do is write and help edit the damn things. The publisher takes care of everything else, and sends me money. It’s a good system. I’m very comfortable with it. I have zero desire to self-publish. Z-E-R-O. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that it’s too complicated for a techno-idiot like me. I’m too set in my ways. I’m a Luddite who believes elves live inside my computer and make it work. I’m perfectly happy with that explanation.

So enter Reece, and a sudden burst of short story inspiration. Once I got thinking about various things I’d alluded to, the more the ideas came to me. What did happen to Alec’s mother, and how did she and his father meet? What was life like for Seregil when he first came to Skala, exiled, lonely, and in disgrace? Suddenly I was one of those inquiring minds who wanted to know. So I wrote some more stories and passed them on to Reece.

And Reece and I had another inspiration. One of the lovely perks of having fans is that they send me things—chocolate, hand-painted scarves, otters in various forms (if you know me and my work, that will make sense), more chocolate, flowers, yet more chocolate—and artwork. Fan art, as we call it. I am always just floored that someone who’s never met me would take the time to create something like that and send it to me. I’ve received some pretty stunning pieces over the years, too. I even created an online art gallery  on my website to honor them. Because they deserve it. So Madame Editor and I had the brainstorm to put out a call for art among the fans, and illustrate the book with them. And once again, I got some pretty stunning pieces from all over the world, far more than would fit into one little book, and many of them are featured in the pages of Glimpses.

My friend Laura Anne Gilman was kind enough to provide the Foreword, and a number of other authors were kind enough to blurb it, including Patty Briggs and Josh Lanyon. Reece gathered all these up, hired cover artist Anne Cain to do the cover, and voila—a book was born. I had the pleasure of working with Anne on the cover art, something I rarely get to do.

And that was my side of the project. I leave it to Reece Notley to take over and tell you the rest.

Glimpses


The Making of a Small Book (from behind the font side of things)

I have a few passions in life; classic cars, music and most of all, books. One of the best part about having a passion for books is that if you try really hard enough, you can have a hand in creating them. Most of the work was Lynn and the fabulous people who contributed to its making.

So what part did I play in this? I’m the editor/publisher, which is really an organizer, and apparently a force of nature but I don’t think that’s a skill I can list on a resume.

Lynn and I were sitting across from one another at a San Diego Yakiniku restaurant and she said; Hey, I’d like some advice about maybe putting out an e-story or something. Nothing was finalized. Stories weren’t written and in some cases, not even thought of but there is the germination of a project.

“Why just one story?” I asked. “Why not make it worth your while and time? Your fans would love it.”

This was followed by both of us saying; “ Oh, and wouldn’t it be great if it included illustrations they’d done for you. A sort of a thank you for the support?”

That’s the start. Writing the stories is hard. I know this. I write. I agree with Lynn. I’d rather be able to shunt them off to a great unknown magical place where words go in and perfect bound books come out but ah, therein lies the rub. It’s not that easy but because of the way technology has developed, it IS possible to have an idea in July and a published book in September.

Publishing a book is a recipe. The meat of the dish (or tofu if you prefer) are the words. The author does that. What does the editor/organizer do? Conduct the assembly of other ingredients; cover artist, typography, blurbs and publication.

Find a publisher. In this case, we used Createspace and Smashwords. There are others but to be honest, these two are currently the best channels for dead-tree books and e-book distribution. We spoke about it and agreed we would try to offer print, kindle and other DRM e-books. By using Createspace’s Pro Plan, Glimpses can be ordered by any bookstore, book depository or library. This was important because someone can walk into a brick-and-mortar bookstore and order Glimpses by its title or ISBN, not having to depend on an online source.

Why is a distribution channel so important? If at all possible, have your book’s distribution handled by a publishing channel. It takes time and money to distribute (and garage space if you are controlling your own inventory). Let someone else do that. If you are publishing a small chapbook yourself, keep a close eye on inventory and costs as well as including your labor as an expense. Sounds simple but the time expended does add up. Make sure you are willing to expend that time marketing and distributing. You could be doing something else—like writing.

The first thing an editor needs to do is find a typesetter. Luckily I am one so I didn’t have to go far. For small press, it’s actually desirable to do things in Word or a similar program. Find someone who knows fonts, formatting for a book, and knows about style tags.  If you’re new to the game and want to set it yourself, allow time. There are a myriad of things to learn, like gutters, odd and even pages, headers and footers and section breaks. I would also suggest not to do an illustrated book on your first round out. If you do not curse and drink, you will start once you typeset an illustrated book for the first time.

I had several cover artists that I thought could capture Seregil and Alec. The eminently talented Anne Cain came to mind and pretty much stuck there. I lobbed off an email to Anne and we worked out the cover art imagery with Lynn.

Why is cover art important for a small press book? Because it does have to shine across the room at an independent bookstore or convention. If you know a good artist, use them. If you don’t, find one. Anne’s one of the best and very easy to work with.

Typography was set. I found a font that I liked and felt it said “Nightrunner” in style. I had the trim size (book size) picked out and illustrations in. Now came the asking for blurbs from several authors and looking over the text for typos.

I sent the document to Lynn, then let the emails back hit my inbox.

This is normal. Everyone is going to see something they don’t like or want to change in the galleys. I did some tweaking back and forth alongside Lynn’s changes. I didn’t want to change too much in this because Glimpses really should be taken in Lynn’s voice. She’s a strong writer and practically perfect in every way with regards to grammar. Most things were caught. I tend to look over things afterwards. She looks at things first in. We discussed illustration placement and quality. The blurbs started coming in and then Anne produced a final cover piece.

Our deadline was approaching and I was putting the final touches on the interior while creating the cover from the art Anne provided. Some publishing channels let you upload your cover art or create your cover from their library of images. For Glimpses, I wanted a fully rendered cover and since I do covers for speculative fiction, it was easy enough for me to take Anne’s art and create the layout. This includes title, author name, blurbs and the various whatnots. Our print and e-book ISBNs were secured by our distribution channels and space left for placement on the back cover.

We were all set to go. Except — always take that one last final look at the cover and interior. My biggest pieces of advice are: Take your time. Plan for problems. Forgive yourself if something is not caught. Always spell the authors’ names right.

And say thank you.

There are dozens of people who help create a book, especially a book like Glimpses. People around the world have touched it, contributed to it and most of all celebrated its making and its maker. I could not have been in a position to help produce this book without Lynn’s support, other authors, the cover artist and her fans. They have made this book possible. I merely herded it together and cheered them on.

It is possible to have nothing in July and have a book in September. It takes patience, a willingness to work hard and to do research on what’s out there to help produce something as wonderful as Lynn Flewelling’s Glimpses. But just remember, it IS what’s inside that counts. Make your words the best they can be, and you’ll succeed.

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12 comments to Glimpses: The Making of a Small Book

  • Fascinating stuff, Lynn. Thanks. I’m curious about how Spectra felt about you talking the shorty pieces to another publisher. Did you have to give them first refusal? (Skip this if it’s legally or otherwise professionally delicate).

  • Congrats again on the new book and the wonderful artwork, Lynn. And welcome, Reece! Great to see you here at MW. Thanks for the inside look at your side of the process. This is fascinating stuff, and also heartening. As authors, we hear so much doom and gloom about The Impending Collapse of Publishing As We Know It. It’s nice to see ways in which new technology in publishing and networking can produce something so positive and visually stunning.

  • Lynn Flewelling

    Thanks AJ. No, Spectra had no problem with it, since it wasn’t something they’d be interested in publishing. They see it as good (free) advertising for the rest of the series.

  • Lynn Flewelling

    David, thanks. I am ridiculously happy with that cover. The artist uses stock photos as her models, and I got to shop for them. Much eye candy.

    This certainly wasn’t an easy project, compared to just sending the book off to a big house, but luckily working with an editor still spared me a lot of the heavy lifting. I think it’s important that the book look good, from cover to font choice. Reece did a terrific job of orchestrating all that. Publicity is quite a job, but right now the G. trade pb is #842 at Amazon.com. It did, of course, have a ready made audience, which I’m sure has a lot to do with that.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Thank you for this look at the whole process. New material from good worlds is always such a treat. For this you’ve focused on the two main protagonists of your series (with the exception of Alec’s parents), but the series also has a wonderful cast and range of secondary characters. Was there any temptation to explore one of their stories or any chance for stories of secondary characters in the future. (I’m a Thero fan.) Thanks again for this!

  • Lynn Flewelling

    Thero certainly has his following. :-) There might be a “Glimpses II” someday, with a mix of stories like that. If I don’t get the current novel in on time, however, I think my editor will want my head on pike. 😉

  • Congrats, Lynn. It’s a gorgeous looking book. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Sarah

    Congratulations Lynn and thank you for the behind the scenes look.

  • Young_Writer

    The cover left me speechless, congrats. And thanks for all the helpful information.

  • Congratulations on the new book. I *really* like the idea of “writing your own fanfic”. When you put a lot of thought into a world, it makes sense that there are small side stories that crop up but which can’t fit into the main stories. This sounds like a great way to give your readers a chance to hear them, too. :)

  • Lynn Flewelling

    It was fun, Moira. I was surprised at what came to me once I turned my imagination loose. I think a lot of it had been lurking in my back brain for a long time.