Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Why it is important to have a good relationship with your digital printer

Slightly random post this week but very topical in terms of our business at the moment.  Dave (yes I can't be bothered with that "Itinerant Poet" anonymity any more) has been working his little socks off down in The South for the last few weeks.  Performances, workshops, parents evenings, INSET/CPD name it!  The upside is that schools and students have been buying loads of books.

Managing the stock levels is always tricky when you run on budgets as tight a ours.  Fortunately we have built up an excellent working relationship with the digital printing company we have been using for several years now - Orbital Print Services (they also offer litho printing and many other services).

Last week they helped us out of a very tight spot when we had to place an order for reprints of three different titles for delivery on the Friday of the same week.  They did it!

Sarah, Mark, Oliver and Leon
at Orbital

Sarah at Orbital
Orbital's digital print room

I need to ask them for more reprints this week after a primary academy in Merton bought a full class reader set of "Mr Smile investigates...Ten Ways to Happiness" for use in PSHE yesterday.  This cleared out most of our remaining stock so I pinged Jo and Sarah at Orbital again this morning - at least I won't need the delivery for Friday though.

If we have occasional issues with quality (and these are extremely rare) e.g. sometimes a page may be smudged or wrinkled they replace the affected copies without cost or quibble.  They are always cheerful and yet remain thoroughly professional.

They also do special offers.  In February, they offered ten free A5 spiral bound notebooks (with your own cover art if you supplied it).  In April, orders came with 6 free Cadbury's Creme Eggs - shame the kids ate them all before we got a look in.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Indie children's books on Kindle

I have just added "The Jenie Jazzles" to my Listmania list of the Itinerant Poet's works available on Amazon for Kindle.  It is a re-working of a story the Itinerant Poet wrote back in the 1990s.  It was originally published in a single volume alongside "Leo's Magic Shoes" under the (sub)title "Another quarter pound of chocolate drops please".  It was extremely popular with children and many schools bought entire class reader sets.

Plot summary:  Leo loves to visit Mr Bowers' old-fashioned sweet shop every Saturday morning to spend his pocket money.  One day, he buys some different sweets from his normal favourites.  He hides in his secret den while he eats them all - rather too quickly - well, nearly all of them.  Strange things happen to his eyes and he realises the Jenie Jazzles have given him x-ray vision.  The following Saturday, he buys more but they do not have the same effect.  He doesn't tell anyone about the magic but discreet enquiries of Mr Bowers reveal he had sold the previous batch to Leo the previous week.  Leo fears his adventures have finished.  However, on accompanying his mother and sister to the hospital for her hearing test, he finds the last remaining two Jenie Jazzles in his pocket.  He overhears doctors talking about a boy whose life is in danger and realises he and his sister can save the boy's life by using the sweets' power.  Hailed as a hero, he is rewarded by going into business with Mr Bowers.  Scientists never manage to discover the secret of the Jenie Jazzles.

Original Cover

Illustrations and litho vs digital

The original versions of both "Leo's Magic Shoes" and "..Chocolate Drops..." had illustrations created in ink and paint by our artist friend, Kirsty Munro.  The books were litho printed back then and I did not hold digital copies of the files though I did keep the physical artwork.  The books were originally created in Word then saved to RTF (I think!) before being loaded into Pagemaker 5 by the printers for further processing by them.  Our minimum print run was 500 but 1000 was more usual so when digital printing came on the scene, it was an obvious route for us due to the possibilities of smaller print runs for our increasing list of titles.  However, we chose not to reprint the original combined book and so it just disappeared from our stock list.  It is still present in many of the schools who bought sets, though the copies are a little battered now - obviously much-used!  I often wonder if our digital print copies will last as long.

Converting ancient graphics files for modern use

Years later, I approached our former litho printer and asked them if they could dig out the old files and send me the manuscripts and pictures.  They duly did so but I put them away in a cupboard and largely forgot about them until I started to e-publish our books.  Initial attempts to load files from an ancient format into a modern graphics programme failed but I kept on trying different conversions until I finally succeeded with what turned out to be the most simple step of all - amending the file extension!  The original filenames were such as LeoGoingIntoShopTIFF with no file extension.  The final solution was to change the filename to LeoGoingIntoShop.tif and it loaded straight into Photoshop Elements 6.  I added layers and semi-transparent colours to the black and white originals before saving "for web" as JPEGs to reduce the file size and reduce download costs of the book.  I like colour and think it best to offer it to people who read on Kindle for tablets/computers with colour capacity even though I personally only have an original black and white Kindle.  Link here to free downloads of reading apps for computers/iPads etc and device purchases from Amazon.

Future plans for the book

Although digital printing is still a possibility for this title, we have so many now in print or in the process of production, that I wanted to make this available purely as a digital version.  If you do purchase a copy, please do me the huge favour of writing a review for the book on Amazon - a wonderful review, of course ;)

 You can buy "Leo's Magic Shoes" as an ebook too.

New version available from Amazon for Kindle
(Look Inside available on Amazon page)
(Look Inside available on Amazon page)