I need how-to advice (on publishing a print-book)

Maisie is a silent-movie-star mouse. The story deals with her fabulous career. These outfits are part of her also-fabulous wardrobe. In case you’re wondering, her tail is on the paper doll figure.

I am creating a print-edition of Maisie in Hollywood, an illustrated paper doll/story book. It will be 52 pages, of which I have 31 completed, another ten or so with finished art (previously posted on Medium.com) only needing to be reconfigured to my trim size. The remainder has to be built from scratch. (The story is written.)

I am pausing in my forward progress, revisiting what I have in the can, looking for what needs to be tweaked.

I was never happy with the original page. This is a new version of One.Tough.Town.

I’m talking to a printer that GD recommended. Valor Printing will print inside front and inside back covers (Book Baby won’t) and will accept my 9×13 pages. Book Baby won’t. 9×12 is the closest they come. I had set up 9×13 to accommodate a decent-size doll and an all-in-one tri-fold stand. I have paper doll books that size and I like the generous proportion. (Bought forty years ago, maybe standards have changed.) I should have checked it out at the start. Too late now.

If Valor is not a publisher, only a printer, do I need to set up my own publishing company? Who has self-published print books?

I suppose I should buy a block of ISBNs? I have a bunch more stuff to publish. (All involve heavy illustration.) But to imagine that I can finish (art, they’re all written) Sly, Celestine, Gaudy Night, and my other series on Sly, on his hard-times childhood in Northern England, his (super whacky, naturally) adventures with his friends Herk (Herk the Jerk) Hedgehog and Ferd the Frog, is unrealistic.

I have an illustration method worked out. I grab bits off the web, marry them, and use the result as an underpainting, reworking them, using, not the Photoshop paint brushes, no. I go with the clone tool, copying textures, manipulating transparency, colorizing, building my figures piece by piece. I might find a mouse body I like, but not the head. I have my folders of high-quality mouse heads, mouse feet, mouse hands. Hands are always a problem. Resolution on mouse hands is mostly crap. You will notice that I use my go-to mouse hands again and again. I gotta jump back on the web and find more good mouse hands. Mouse hands, my biggest problem.

When I get my Info page together, I’ll feel like I’m really on my way.

Is Valor Printing a publisher, taking orders and mailing out the book, or do I have to have a stack of books on hand, take orders and mail them myself? I emailed them that question. Yes, that’s what I will have to do.

The gold gown could stand to be brightened a bit. I’ll be looking at everything as I give my pages a final evaluation.

I am researching POD publishers vs. working with a printer, doing the rest of it myself. Each method has advantages, and drawbacks.

A very informative article here by Andrew Couldwell has my head spinning. He has looked into five big POD publishers, and his conclusion is: IngramSpark is the best of the lot, but ‘Mostly fine’ is as good as it gets with print-on-demand.

With a POD publisher, you give up quality control (he had some significant disasters) but save yourself a lot of work and potentially (again, with IngramSpark) have your book included in industry-wide showcase/catalogs. Aside from iffy print quality you also, after all charges and fees are deducted, make little from your sales. That I don’t care about so much. I’m retired, I’m OK financially, my intention is not to make money. I do want my art to display well, that is my big concern.

With POD, neither do you have to pay for a print run (a thousand and up), nor do you have to be out and about selling. Book/art fairs are what I see ahead for me, and I’m hobbling around from arthritis.

Couldwell says to beware of the POD publishers. He received samples that were acceptable, but when his full order arrived, cheaper, thinner paper substituted, the spines, set up for heavier pages, cracked. Color was sometimes streaked. A bunch of books began on page 31! Some of those services print at multiple facilities, which give very different results. He looked at Kindle Direct (Amazon), Blurb, Lulu, IngramSpark, and Book Baby and, as I said, pronounced Ingram the best of the lot. Ingram also seems to have the most potentially advantageous distribution network.

Lulu has a direct connection with Shopify. You put your book up on Shopify, an app sends the purchase to Lulu, the order is fulfilled, no muss no fuss on your part. The problem is the quality of their product. He gives Lulu a big thumbs-down.

KDP: “The print cost for a full-colour book is unreasonably high for the low quality. But you have the discoverability of your book on Amazon.”

Blurb: “The image quality was passable given the subject matter of our book (technical how-to), but to a critical eye, the images looked like they’d been printed on an inkjet printer.”

Book Baby: “The profit margin of their service is practically nothing, once they — and the retailers they list books with — have deducted their charges.”

Lulu: “Looking into Lulu was a waste of time and money.” The Shopify link is all they have going for them.

IngramSpark: Quality pretty OK in a small order. (He finally took to ordering 22-44 books at a time.) In larger orders, many of the books were damaged in various ways. Strange, eh?

Couldwell writes:

The damaged books were reprinted. Unfortunately, the replacement books were still not perfect. I counted that:

  • Only 8% of the order was perfect.
  • A further 8% was similar to the first batch (i.e. had the same faults).
  • A staggering 19% was damaged!
  • The remaining 65% was close to (but not) perfect.


I don’t know what I’ll do. This is a lot to think about. Several of these services would (most likely) be fine for straight text. Me with my illustration, maybe not. At the moment I am mighty discouraged.

I will continue to create Maisie’s costumes, but avoid doing any more layouts. I may have to reduce my page size (Ingram’s max size is 8.5 x 11″). With a small reduction, tighter cropping, and a reconfiguration of elements, I can handle that.

OK, I see an article that seems to say I can POD-publish through my choice of printer, order copies to sell on my own site or at fairs, and still get my book into IngramSpark’s distribution network. If I do that, I don’t believe I can put my book on Amazon. This article explains – they are competitors in terms of distribution. I’m a bit fuzzy about this. I’ll give it a closer read.

Well, I got that wrong. It’s the Amazon Expanded Distribution you can’t employ if you use IngramSpark and their distribution network.

Here’s another piece that recommends Ingram. This guy says: like it or not, bookstores see the Amazon/Kindle name listed as the publisher and automatically consider it an inferior, amateur effort, without checking it out.


My final thoughts (after another several hours of reading and asking questions):

It costs nothing to publish on Kindle Direct. IngramSpark charges you every step of the way. For Kindle all I have to do is buy an ISBN. I can get ten for $295. I’m prepared not to like the result from KDP. If I do, that’s a win. But I’m prepared to use them as a proof copy. They offer the tallest page size that I’ve found, 11.69 inches.

The pages I’ve set up fit them almost perfectly when reduced to 91%. And so I will continue with my layouts at the size they are now. I have the type set, I have only to create and place art, which I can further reduce and plunk into an 8.5×11 template for IngramSpark if I decide to give them a try. I read that my preferred size, 9×12, is a standard size for children’s books. But I can’t find a publisher (who handles distribution) who offers that option.

I am worn out. I’ll return to my illustration: in Secret of the Siren Sands, Maisie plays the straitlaced Egyptologist Francilla Fortesque, and the wanton ancient Egyptian Princess A’iesha. Francilla, in her no-nonsense shirtwaist and sensible shoes, I load her down with cameras and satchels, that’s what’s neat about her. A’iesha, I’ve gunked her up good, stealing from Garbo, Pola Negri, any twenties-era vamp I could lay my hands on. Since all those photos were black and white, I’ll have to build my outfit from fifties-and-on images. But I’ve got my conception, my mock-up, and it’s super fun. When I get that new page done (I’ve added two pages) I jump to page 32. Everything in-between is complete.

I’ll leave you with Maisie dancing with Josephine Baker in Paris. In London she’ll be meeting the Prince of Wales! The kiddo from the cornfields of Kansas is flying high.


18 thoughts on “I need how-to advice (on publishing a print-book)

  1. Sci-Fi Lampoon Magazine is published in hard copy by Lulu. We’ve noticed no issues with the quality of text or of illustrations. But then, we’re a pulp fiction magazine.

    You might consider submitting your finished manuscript to a publisher of quality illustrated books. I know of none but if I were one, I would jump at the chance to publish Maisie in Hollywood!

    Liked by 4 people

  2. A few random comments:
    — it’s easy to set up your own publishing company. I have one for my consulting, and I expanded it to “The Business Group Publishing.” I then created an imprint for my sci fi books.
    — Bookstores view Amazon like the Deathstar to Alderaan.
    — Ingram is the best way to reach bookstores and libraries.
    — to minimize Ingram fees, join IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Assn.) They get discounts and freebies from Ingram. Also discounts on ISBN. Also a good source of info on your questions.
    — If you gat your books printed at a quality place, you can still sell on Amazon as a 3rd party seller.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Given the excellence of this work and the pitfalls of self publishing, have you considered an agent and/or a mainstream publishing house? I’m self-published (no art work, it is true) and I can tell you it is no piece of cake. Extremely time consuming with no guarantee of success. The author has to be willing to do it all or hire people to do it for her. On the face, the percentages look okay, but in practice, with over ten million books on Amazon (probably your major supplier), how would you find your market? I wonder what Joanna Penn would have to say? You have such unique and lovely artwork. Good luck!

    Liked by 5 people

    • mimispeike says:

      Thank you Shayla. I am asking questions on Medium.com, where several folks have discussed KDP and Ingram. One person is connected to a small independent press where I judge (they may not) that my work would fit in. But I am expecting to get the usual comment I get on my work … I have several storybooks written, all in my sophisticated voice, I can’t write any other way, it’s the way I think … I generally hear: who is this written for? Who is the target audience?

      I write intricate, arch humor dealing with child-like fantasy that I twist and turn until you (or at least I) almost believe it. I call my genre Animals-in-Pants.

      My characters often speak to humans, but do so very selectively, to emotionally needy individuals who find them a source of comfort. In this story I am a whacky old woman (that’s true as it can be) telling the story of a dear, departed friend.

      I gave up long ago on contacting agents/publishers. I’ve been writing my intricate stories for forty-plus years. I sent out queries and excerpts and mostly never heard back. I am prepared not to hear anything positive from Z Girls Press.

      My heart will not be broken when I don’t.

      Liked by 3 people

        • mimispeike says:

          My failed movie-star mouse, her life in a shambles, resorts to writing lesbian-mouse-smut to support herself. I find that charming. How many others will? I suppose I would be willing to change that detail, but that is the spirit of the piece. I am certainly not going to rewrite the character.

          (This is actually not far from what happened to the actress Louise Brooks, on whom my mouse is based.)

          Liked by 2 people

  4. Oops. Meant to go on. It’s not only young people who will love your stuff, it’s their parents. The popularity of comics and illustrated works is huge. Your work, quality-wise, is top notch. I think there might be a place for you in that world. There are children’s and art book publishers out there. I gotta tell you that forging a career solely on your own is extremely difficult and takes quite a long time. Not sure whether or not your queries were in this century but i do encourage you to give it a shot in 2021. I remember an editor telling me, early on, At some point, you have to decide whether you’ll write for yourself OR for the reader.

    Liked by 6 people

  5. mimispeike says:

    Louise Brooks, out of Hollywood for good, turned to high-price prostitution. That obviously wouldn’t work for Maisie Mulot.

    Desperate, Louise asked her friend William Paley for money. He sent her two-hundred dollars a week for the rest of her life. (Back then two-hundred dollars was good money.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • mimispeike says:

      I’ll try. But I think I’ll be dead before anyone signs me up.

      (Sigh) But I’ll try.


      Alright, I’ve found an agent who may take a look at my story. The site Agent Wish List (something like that) has dozens of agents listed, none of whom are asking for wise-ass animal adult humor paired with a paper doll. But if any of these folks is open to my thing it would be this one.

      She accepts electronic submissions. I am going to set up the front page of MyGuySly.com for Maisie in Hollywood, with my info, several chapters, and associated art. If she turns me down I’ll look for another prospect.

      And I’ll continue working on my layout. I’m trying out a new approach for 8.5×11, that will require additional pages but will allow me to have the figure at 7.5 inches tall, which is the size I would prefer to have her at.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I am generally not into fantasy (and not at all into paper dolls), but I do appreciate the combination of off-the-wall silliness with exquisite drawing and coloring.  The audience for Maisie may be broader than for your previous characters.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. mimispeike says:

    OK, GD, listen to this. I’m preparing a sample, three chapters, a synopsis, and representative art. If this doesn’t impress some agent I give up.

    My next outfit: Maisie has a tacky cowgirl outfit they made her wear for recitals in dancing school in Kansas. There was always a routine with cowboys. Either that or flower fairies. Miss Florinda had no imagination.

    Maisie has the outfit still. When she gets downhearted she pulls her cowgirl costume out to remind herself of the alternative: back to Kansas to teach at Miss Florinda’s Academy of Dance.

    I (the crazy old lady who’s telling the story) one Christmas had given her a tiny toy horse. When Maisie has too many martinis she suits up, climbs on the horse splay-legged on the floor, and sings at the top of her lungs: Don’t give me a home where the buffalo roam … (Home on the Range, written 1874, the official state song of Kansas since 1947.)

    She hates Kansas. No way is she going to give in and go home to Kansas.

    This paper doll outfit comes in two versions: with and without horse. I’ve got it mocked up, and it’s terrific. I found the perfect saggy beany-baby-style nag. I’m telling you, it works.

    A paper doll of a drunken mouse dressed Annie Oakley style on a bean-bag horse. Who isn’t going to be in love with that? If they’re not, I don’t want to know them.

    Liked by 2 people

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