Archive for 2012/06/25

Self-publishing a children’s book: What’s the best software for layout and design?

The article title question is a pretty easy one to answer: Adobe InDesign is an industry standard for book publishing, and would be an excellent book creation tool for a self-publisher, specifically those needing graphics manipulation or other advanced book layout and design tools.

…and there’s no way I can afford it. So, sorry InDesign, no offense but you’re too rich for my blood. My wallet can’t afford you. 

I had been using Microsoft Word. It’s a fine word processor and document creation engine – I use it for my “regular” book publishing needs. But I’m working on a new project. A children’s book. With a title of “Sharks and Bunnies“, you can bet it’s got a lot of interesting art on each page.

For now, I’m using Microsoft Publisher. It’s not InDesign, but it’s a heckuva lot cheaper and far better than MS Word. So far, it’s perfect for my needs.

For building my children’s book, I’m doing this for every page:

1) Work with an artist to create art. She’s painting 18″x18″ pieces.

2) Scan in and post-process the art with Photoshop. This is also where I overlay the book text over their place in the art. Other tools like GIMP (free) or the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite (cheaper than Photoshop, but I don’t use Corel for this reason) would also work fine.

3) Export from Photoshop as a 9″x9″ TIFF.

…then I do this in Microsoft Publisher:

4) Create a new document (page/paper size is 9″x9″, with an extra .5″ gutter for the spine. The published book will be an industry standard 8.5″x8.5″.)

5) Import all page TIFFs into each page in Publisher, and place each piece of art where it goes – the guidelines and rulers and “snap-to” functionality allows me to place the graphic easily on the page and plan for bleed and other layout considerations.

7) Export the entire project as a PDF. (Publisher has detailed resolution controls so the art won’t be degraded by PDF image compression.) 

…steps 4-7 are what I was originally trying to do in Microsoft Word, and it failed miserably. It’s not designed for such sizes or frequent graphical manipulation. The process was extremely buggy.

And I also found out another Microsoft Word “feature” the hard way: Word’s file size caps off at 512MB. Any bigger, and Word will refuse to open the file. So after I made modifications to my Word file, I could no longer open it! Nasty. Microsoft Publisher, on the other hand, doesn’t crash, graphic manipulation and project sizing is smooth and intuitive, and the performance is great, even with a large file (the current file size for my publisher file is 643MB. It takes several seconds to initially open and save, but the actual work inside the file is delay-free).

To answer the original question: What’s the best software for doing layout and design for self-publishing a children’s book? There are many options that will work well for many people. My choice right now is Microsoft Publisher.

Bad writing advice that works

I’ve been featured as a guest writer on the “Writing and Publishing Resource” website. Check it out: 

Recommendations for writers: How seemingly bad advice can improve your writing process

A goal in writing the article was to describe mental stumbling blocks that I’ve encountered in writing and publishing, along with advice on overcoming those problems. 

Thanks to Sabine Reed for making this guest appearance happen.

Stunt kite recommendations and tips on how to fly

Stunt kites are a blast. Here’s an example of their capability. This video features a quad-line stunt kite, which I’d like to get someday but haven’t yet:

The above video stars an expert pilot with an expensive kite, but the hobby is easily available to beginners. Other stunt kites have the more traditional look, and allow you to do some pretty incredible things (please ignore the embarrassingly dated music – focus on the visuals!), as we see here:

Here are tips for anyone interested in getting started:

My first stunt kite (what you see in some of the video above is a Prism E2 – here’s the Prism E3, the next generation in that line). It’s a great “intermediate” kite that I was able to pick up in just a couple sessions. I had no other stunt kite experience at the time. 

(Alternatively, if you want to practice all of the below with a kite with fewer breakable parts, get the Prism Snapshot 1.2. No carbon fiber or plastic bits. It’s not as versatile as a stunt kite, and is a little harder to launch it solo, and requires more arm strength to fly, but it’s great for flying and not worrying about breaking the thing.)

I learned on my own and crashing now and then, but I also got technique help from this video that came free when I purchased the kite at a local store. It shows some awesome advanced tricks, but gives great basic technique, too. There is also a ton of good stuff on youtube, of course.

Andy’s list of quick tips on how to start flying a stunt kite

This is the info that would’ve helped me the most when I was first starting out:

Even if your left/right lines seem to be the same length, there are still probably small variations (and there will be more as you snap and retie lines). Keeping your kite steady and unmovving may actually mean one hand is pulled in more than the other. You’ll have to experiment to find this sweet spot.

Learn a good knot for rejoining a broken kite string. Versus a standard square knot, it will look better, be far stronger, and will lessen the changes of breakage.

If your kite just can’t seem to stay in the air, verify your build – you may have put it together incorrectly. You should be able to at least launch the thing from the ground. Watch this video for an example (start at 0:55):

If it doesn’t get off the ground, you don’t have enough wind, or your kite is assembled wrong. If it launches but then soon turns and nosedives, then your steering is off – pull the string of the side you want the kite to turn to (if it turns right, pull on the left string until it evens out). If the kite pinwheels a bunch of times, then either something is wrong with the kite (check your build, or a line may be tangled on the kite), or you’re pulling too much on one string.

When you launch, make sure your strings are NOT twisted – each string should head right to the kite without crossing over the other. You can still launch all twisted up, but given the above tip, twisted strings make steering trickier.

Keeping the kite straight does not need big movements. It’s like when steering a car down a straightaway: Use small, corrective motions. Resort to big moves and moving back/forward when you’re doing tricks or recovering if you lost wind.

Expect to break a few carbon fiber struts and things. Luckily, the kite is designed so that repair parts are modular and cheap.

Give yourself more room than you think you need. Expect that the kite will crash anywhere within your flying radius. If you have 100 feet of string, anything in that 100 radius the leeward side of the flyer is a target. Keep kids and pets FAR AWAY from the kite path – that carbon fiber arrow can fly up to 70 MPH. It’s a fun hobby, but don’t screw around with safety.

Wind speed is critical. It’s obvious, but do pay attention to it – how fast it is, and (most important), how stable. My kite was only good within a certain wind speed range. Not enough wind (or if it was just intermittant gusts), and I’d lose momentum and stall out. Too much and the kite would move extremely fast, be difficult to control, and was potentially dangerous (your lines may break). The best experience I had was taking it to a beach when the wind was constant. 

Stunt kite flying: It looks cool and can engage anyone with basic coordination and the knowledge of right and left. The best part: It’s a lot of fun.

For my own credentials and confirmation of skill, here’s visual proof that there has been at least 1/30th of a second when my kite was actually airborne: