Here’s to Modern Times, When Publishing is (Relatively) Easy…

Donna Light Bearer

The Book Cover, The Light Bearer by Donna Gillespie. (Artwork by Jane Kiskaddon)

By Donna Gillespie

Recently I decided it was time to try out Amazon’s print-on-demand service, Create Space. It’s an appealing concept: One reader, one book. No inventory, no waste. I’d put it off too long: Only used copies of book # 1 (The Light Bearer) were available in the online bookstores, and since I’d rewritten the book for the e-book edition, that hoary old ’94 trade paperback edition was starting to feel like a first draft. I’d actually found myself asking people not to buy it, begging them to read the e-book instead.

Create Space has an easy-to-use online form to fill out, and since I got expert help with the text conversion and layout, it was not at all the hair-raising experience I expected it to be. Well, with one exception: It turned out that, at a hefty 810 pages, book # one was pushing Create Space’s drop-dead-and-please-go-away page limit; I scraped by with about three pages to spare. How had the publisher managed so effortlessly to slim this book down to a mere 788, using a font that looked tantalizingly larger than the eye-pinching one I was coming up with, all the while managing comfortable, roomy margins? It was a puzzle I never solved. It’s not all that easy to slap together a book. I have new respect for real publishers.

As for the book itself, I’d already dealt with the gremlins in the text that had been haunting me for years, and had even added an afterword just in case anyone wanted to know who really lived in this ancient Roman saga and who I’d made up. All I had to do was come up with some cover art.

It was a heady feeling, having control of both the inside and the outside. After days of ruminating on cover art I remembered I had an artist friend whose work I’d admired for years. I didn’t think of her at first because she does landscapes, mostly, and I also needed a woman on a horse — a first-century barbarian woman, to be exact. But my instincts told me I would love whatever she came up with. The first time I ever saw one of her paintings I’d started mentally counting pennies to see if I could afford to buy it, even though back then I was one of those people who thought original art was something only rich New Yorkers indulged in. It turned out the pennies didn’t stretch, and I mourned a little, afterward. I can’t describe these landscapes adequately. They glow with what I can only think of as mystical realism. The ones I loved best were her forest scenes — often, oak trees bathed in mist, dappled with playful color, usually with a strong light source, so that you feel you’re being socked back into space. They are a playground for the eyes. Her name is Jane Kiskaddon; you can view her recent work here.

In the meantime I’d met her and I asked her to do my cover, even though I worried that horses weren’t her thing and I didn’t know if she’d want to attempt a barbarian woman in first-century garb. Luckily for me she was game to try. She decided right away that working from a photograph wasn’t going to be good enough and hired an equestrian friend to model for her. On horseback, of course.

Many modeling sessions ensued. The painting grew. I was ravenous with curiosity. I was
envisioning oaks that might have tried out for a part in Lord of the Rings, mysterious light
sources that beckon you into another world, and my character proudly astride a horse of any color (I didn’t specify), the whole soaked in mystical realism.

The day came when Jane brought the painting over to my apartment, almost finished. She arrived with paints and sat on my floor, huge canvas before her, because there was a spot that still wasn’t right. After a struggle I managed to yank it out of her hands.

I was entranced. This painting has presence; it’s five feet high and four feet wide, and,
particularly at night, I swear it comes alive with an eerie luminescence. There may even be a family of elves living in there. It’s now ensconced over my writing desk, dominating my tiny apartment, hovering there like a window into an ancient forest.

Donnas cover 2

Original Painting by Jane Kiskaddon

She did a fabulous horse, and added some atmospheric details of her own that I couldn’t have imagined. Later, she said only the spear my warrior woman was holding had presented a challenge — to get the angle of the woman’s arm right, she had her equestrian friend pose with a Swiffer Sweeper. Whatever works, I say.

So now I was ready for the final step — uploading my cover to Create Space’s site, so they could do their own magic and make it into a real book. I ordered my sample copy. Then came the raw thrill of tearing open the package and holding the finished product in my hand. Jane’s painting fulfilled all my fantasies of the perfect cover. And now that I’ve kindled my first book and created some space for it, I can finally let it go.

But sometimes with freedom comes too many choices. Should my cover be glossy or matte? The system lets you choose. Both looked good, so I’m thinking I’ll switch it back and forth daily, just because I can.

©2014, Donna Gillespie

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14 Responses to Here’s to Modern Times, When Publishing is (Relatively) Easy…

  1. David Frisby says:

    Donna, I am waiting for the third in your Light bearer trilogy. I will buy it hard back, paperback, E-Book or any way you wish.
    David

  2. Bryn says:

    Great to hear. Isn’t CreateSpace wonderful? I hadn’t caught up with the fact that I need to update my copy… now I’m torn between ebook and that lovely-covered paperback (in Australia as I am, for postage reasons I might wait for Expanded Distribution to deposit it at The Book Depository: it’s not there yet). Anyway fantastic that you can, and have done this, and I wish your book a new lease of vigorous life. It was an early inspiration/aspiration for me, who went indie when I did publish. I’m happy that independent publishing has also been an opportunity for yours. — I always wondered how you managed to have published a first novel of 800 pages. Quite an achievement. Agents told me my 600 pages were impossible to have a publisher look at, and your example was my only hope… until I went indie.

    Lastly, I vote matte. Have you seen the mattes from CreateSpace, in person, in your hands? Gorgeous.

  3. Thank you, Bryn! You’re right, it would be difficult to mail it to Austrailia — for some reason the Create Space version is quite a bit heavier than the original, weighing in at about 3lbs. I guess that’s my one complaint with them. Anyone who gets through it will have stronger biceps, though. It’s like reading a brick.

    I voted matte at first too, until I saw my sample copy in glossy — it had a yummy laquered, enameled look that I couldn’t have imagined until I saw it. Hence my quandary…

    As for publishing a first novel at 800 pages — that was a mix of timing and luck. It turned out my publisher had just lost a bid on an extremely long historical novel with a strong woman protagonist, and that book had gone on to do really well for the company that bought it. I guess my book reminded them a little of the book they’d lost. Also, it’s only in the historical genre that longer books are tolerated, something I didn’t know as I was writing it. My editor told me later my book was the second longest book they’d ever published. So basically I was just extremely lucky. (And then when they accepted Lady of the Light they complained that it was going to be expensive to publish because it was so long! It’s about 1/3 the length of TLB. Go figure.)

    What was your experience with Create Space? Were you satisfied with how your books looked?
    Thanks so much for commenting,
    –Donna

  4. The new cover is beautiful! I’m definitely picking up a copy- many many years later and it’s still my favorite book of all time 🙂

  5. Jesi says:

    I’m really not sure about this new idea of reading your book via e-book. I have reread your book The Light Bearer 4 times and I have a soft cover that is pretty beat up. I have read the second book as well and enjoyed it but only read it once so far. I hope to see the third one if you ever publish it but honestly the first book is what completely changed my life. I’m also extremely partial to the cover from my physical book. Once I get my tablet I’ll probably get TLB on the reader so I can preserve my physical copy as I cannot seem to buy it anywhere. You are truly an amazing writer and I would read anything you wrote EVER.

    • Thank you for your kind words! this is exactly what Donna uses to keep her going on that third book! She has done some editing on THB e-book version and is really happy with it. It has a really lovely cover!
      Thank you and enjoy the next one! Sincerely, Cathy Hedge

  6. Thank you so much, Jesi! This is all very encouraging to hear! To hear the first book changed your life — wow. That’s just flat-out awesome. I feel so honored. The third book is coming along slowly, but will be finished some day, I swear…
    The e-book edition, along with the new Create Space trade paperback edition that came out last year (with my friend Jane Kiskaddon’s lovely painting on the cover, both available on Amazon) are my favorite editions because this time around I got a chance to do a little revising and rewriting, which in my mind at least, improved them. (Who wouldn’t want to tinker with something they wrote in 1994?) So these are the editions I always suggest that people read.
    Thank you so much for commenting; it is so wonderful to hear these things!

  7. Stefanie Eronen says:

    I “ate” the Light bearer when I was a teenager. Now, in my late thirties, I am thinking that my husband must read this book. I also liked the 2nd book a lot but not as much as the first book. If there will be ever a third book (which I sincerely hope) I will buy it instantly. In any form possible. I often think about Auriane still. I think “The light bearer” is one of 2 books that created a really lasting impression on me, for over 20 years now.

  8. Hi, Stefanie,
    This is all so wonderful and encouraging to hear — comments like yours make my day. It means so much to me to hear that my character has remained with you through the years — this is every writer’s dream.
    There will be a third book some day, though it’s hard for me to estimate just how long it will take; I’m working on it steadily but it’s all taking so much longer than I expected.
    Thanks so much for the encouraging words!

  9. StorytellerAer says:

    I really LOVED your books with Auriane. Reading both of them was sort of a rare thing for me because I usually read nonfiction or more modern fiction. Also your books are one of the few that my mom read, we generally don’t have the same tastes at all in literature. We both are waiting for the third (no rush, I only write short fiction as an unfruitful hobby and that takes me forever to do, so I can only imagine how long a historically accurate novel could take!) I know it will be as good as the others, good quality things take time. I sort of bonded with my mom reading this, which sounds scary to me usually, but it was a pleasant bonding time because of your stories are so enthralling, yet realistic concerning the characters very human natures.

    • Thank you! I know Donna will be delighted to read your note. Sincerely, Catherine

    • Thank you so much, StorytellerAer! I’m particularly touched by hearing that the book bonded you with your mom. You’re giving me such great encouragement to write faster. This third book is taking longer than usual — seems like life intervened more than usual this time around — but it is crawling along. You say your short fiction takes forever so you probably understand. Anyway, I’m heartened and pleased to hear all this!
      –Donna

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