Nova & Vetera Editions

New Life for Forgotten Books

Work with What You’ve Got: Designing Books with Free Tools

While Nova & Vetera Editions are for readers, I’d also like to offer encouragement to self-publishers. That’s why from time to time I’ll discuss how I put these books together.

Free and Easy Book Production

One of the principles I started with was to work with resources freely available — not just the contents of the books, which combine works in the public domain with introductory essays (and occasionally additional notes) that I write myself, but also the tools I use to make a book, at every stage: editing, layout, typography, illustration, design, and production. I want to demonstrate that it doesn’t take money to make a book; if you have a computer and an internet connection, you are ready to get started.

I was already making books before I conceived of N&V Editions, so I started with the tools I was already using. In this post, I’ll discuss these tools and resources:

Sources for texts: Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg

Normally, I start with the Internet Archive, sometimes with a particular work or author in mind and at others I just want to explore. The archive contains digitized versions of films and audio recordings as well as books, but I always focus on the books — tens of thousands of books, digitized from dozens (maybe hundreds) of libraries across the U. S. and Canada, including university libraries such as the U. of Toronto or the University of California system and the New York Public library. Some of the books are hundreds of years old, but most were published before 1923 (the current cut-off for copyright in the U.S.).

Once I find a title that piques my interest, I’ll look at several editions of it, read prefaces, etc. to get a feel for the work and also the graphic treatment. I’ll usually download a couple of PDFs of editions that interest me and, if there are illustrations or other page ornaments that I might use, I’ll download the corresponding JP2 file as well.

Once I’ve decided to put a title in production, I need a text file. I can download that from the Internet Archive, too, but those text files are really raw, unedited results of OCR from page scans, which typically means quite a few typos, hard line breaks at the end of each line of text, headers and page numbers interrupting the flow of text, and other artifacts of conversion that will add to my work load. So my first choice is to look for a copy of the text online that has already undergone this basic cleanup, thanks to hardworking volunteers.

My go-to source for cleaned-up texts is Project Gutenberg, which offers thousands of old books cleanly edited and formatted in a variety of formats. Pretty often, I find that Project Gutenberg has already prepared at least one edition of the title I’m interested in (and have already downloaded as a PDF from the Internet Archive), sometimes even the exact edition I’m using as the base for my Nova & Vetera version. When I can, I like to start with the Kindle MOBI format, because I can send that to my Kindle for an easy read-through and then I can use Calibre to convert it to a Word document. Otherwise, I’ll choose the HTML version and import it into Word.

By the way, although these resources are freely available, I know a lot of hard work has gone into making them free to the public, so I donate to both Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg from time to time. And eventually I hope to pay a portion of the royalties from my N & V sales back to these organizations that have helped make my editions possible. I will note in each N & V edition the source of my raw materials, especially the text itself.

Editing: MS Word

To prepare text for layout, I use the version of Microsoft Word that came with my Microsoft Office 2016, which is what I use regularly in my editing business. It’s also a tool that most computer users have access to, either as a desktop application or a web app. You could use any decent word processor, though, and get the same result. I have some add-on tools that I use for editing to clean up text (Editors Toolkit, for instance) which speed up the process but aren’t essential. However, this kind of paid extra is really just a set of Word macros put together in a handy and attractive package, so an enterprising cheapskate who knows how to use macros could achieve the same end at no cost.

By the way, part of the text prep is building in hierarchical headers for easy navigation through the document. If I’m working from an HTML document, or a Word document converted from MOBI, there is probably already a navigational structure built into the document using hyperlinks, which can speed up the process. But if I’m working from raw text (TXT) I need to do that from scratch. So I do a search for the word “Chapter” and then tag each chapter title with an Heading1 or Heading 2 tag, which allows me to see the book’s structure in Word’s navigation panel. (If you don’t know what I mean by document navigation or how to use hierarchical headings in Word and are interested, I’ll write more about this at some point, so make sure you stay tuned.)

Page Layout: MS Word

Yes, I, know, there are better choices for layout (or “desktop publishing,” or DTP, if you prefer) and some of them are free (Scribus open source page layout application, for instance), but I know that these are a pain to learn if you are not already familiar with them. I’ve tried Scribus and it works as well as many paid DTP applications. I own three page layout programs: MS Publisher, Serif PagePlus X9, and Quark Xpress 2016. MS Publisher, which is included in many versions of Microsoft Office and therefore might be considered “freely available,” is unfortunately ill-suited to book design, because it assumes you’ll be using a desktop printer and therefore limits your options.

I first learned page layout and other aspects of what was then the brand-new field of desktop publishing back in the late 1980s and 1990s, so I spent years using professional layout software, from Xerox Ventura Publisher (back when WYSIWYG was a hot new thing) through several early versions of Quark Xpress, but I’ll admit that, for simple page layout such as that required for most books, I prefer MS Word, simply because I use it every day and could lay out a book with it in my sleep. I’ve been using Word for simple page layout since I set up a template for my doctoral dissertation in Word 97 (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth). However, most Word users (who still tend to use word processors like newfangled typewriters) will need to learn to use Word properly and be aware of its limitations in order to use it to lay out books, so I’ll be writing later about what I think is essential to know about page layout using MS Word.

If you want a dedicated page layout program — and I may use one for some N&V editions — then open-source Scribus is what you want. Under development since 2001, it’s available for just about any operating system you can imagine (including several I’ve never heard of) and it will do many of the things the high-end programs do. Certainly, it is more than adequate for designing and producing text-heavy books, and is also suitable for more complicated designs. If you know how to use Scribus, chances are you’ll never need to buy a page layout program.

Image editing: Paint.Net

That’s right, I use the humble Paint.Net (which probably wishes its inventors had worked harder to name it) for simple image cleanup. Here again, I’m not saying my choice is the best, but it’s what I’m used to and it usually does the job. For N&V projects, typically the only image manipulation I need is the ability to clean up and crop black & white illustrations (for book interiors) and perhaps, on images intended for book covers, to do a little color correction and perhaps knock out the background. So simple works.

On rare occasions, I might need to straighten a skewed image, in which case I’ll go with the GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program), a free image editing program which more expert image-manipulators than I say is as good as any high-priced Adobe product. I just know that it can straighten pictures easily and has more sophisticated masking tools that Paint.Net, so I use it occasionally. Chances are you have some free image editing software of your own — or can find web-based apps — that can do all you need for basic book design.

Image Extraction: IrfanView

As I mentioned above, the Internet Archive offers downloads of scanned books in a variety of formats, one of these being a JP2 file that includes each page as a separate image. These are the files from which I extract illustrations, printer’s ornament, ornamental drop caps, and various fancy doodads that I want to use in my books. Although JP2 is a kind of jpeg file, many ordinary image editing programs cannot open files with the JP2 file extension.

Good news: IrfanView makes it super easy to open JP2 files and scroll through to the page I want. Then then I just save that page as an ordinary JPG file and open it in to do whatever editing I need. As the program’s name suggests, it is an image viewer, not an image editor. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what all its features are, I just know it does what I need: to view individual pages in the file and save them as JPGs.

Typography: High Quality Free Fonts

Pardon me while I geek out: I love typography and I LOVE beautifully crafted free fonts. The problem is that there are a lot of truly ugly fonts freely available, as well as many professionally designed fonts illegally being given away for free. Since I do not want to encourage anyone to engage in internet piracy, I can recommend two excellent sources of professionally designed fonts, as well as carefully digitized versions of classic typefaces (if you’re interested in the difference between “fonts” and “typefaces,” leave a comment and I’ll write about that sometime).

First, I’ll mention FontSquirrel, a carefully curated collection of well-designed fonts that are free to use for commercial projects. This web site certainly is “free font Utopia.” Not only do they have a beautiful and fairly extensive collection of fonts you can download, the website is also beautifully designed, making it easy to search, test-drive, and download the font of your dreams. I’m grateful for learning about Fontsquirrel from Joel Friedlander, “The Book Designer,” who has been an inspiration to me in many ways. (His website is also a super source of info about all aspects of DIY book design.)

Whereas FontSquirrel is an excellent source of new free fonts, if you want digitized versions of classic (and retro) typefaces, go to 1001 Fonts. Here you’ll find not just 1,001 but thousands of good quality fonts. This massive collection can easily be filtered to show you which ones are free for commercial purposes (all are free for personal projects). The search tools here are not quite as handy as those on FontSquirrel, in my opinion, but they will get you into the ballpark of what you’re looking for, and then it’s easy to scroll through pages and pages of wonderful fonts until you find what you need.

Since I use quite a few old-fashioned looking fonts (particularly for cover design) for my Nova & Vetera editions, I have learned which typographers’ work I like best and find that I keep picking fonts from their collections. Some typographers who have uploaded lots of wonderful vintage designs that I really like are Dieter Steffmann, Peter Wiegel, and Nick Curtis.

While I’m mentioning typographers whose work I appreciate, I must mention Igino Marini, who has done some wonderful digitized versions of 17th century hand-cut type used at Oxford University Press during the days of when the Press was run by Bishop Fell. Marini is a civil engineer by profession, so these digital revivals of classic fonts were a labor of love, something I appreciate immensely. I’ll be using both some of the fonts and some of the printer’s ornaments in the IM Fell font collection when I bring out my “quasi-replica” edition of St. Peter of Alcántara’s Golden Treatise on Mental Prayer.

Font Management: MainType by High-Logic

Okay, maybe I don’t need more than 1700 fonts, but since that’s how many I have, I really need a good font management program. And, being both poor and reasonably patient, I was willing to try out about a dozen free font managers, and even a few free demos of paid programs, before I happened across High-Logic’s Main Type, which not only is free but blows all of the others out of the water (including paid options).

Actually, I probably had only about 400 fonts before I discovered Main Type — mostly of them fonts that came installed with Windows and a few others installed with demos of design programs — but even that was too many to keep track of in my mind’s eye, and Windows’ font viewer was not much help. And once I had this amazing free tool, Main Type, to organize them, I felt no inhibition about acquiring any new fonts that I could imagine using at some point.

Main Type is amazing, and the free edition is not “crippleware,” but a robust font manager. Even in the free edition, you can view & hide fonts, install and uninstall (up to 2,500 fonts altogether), tag and sort, scroll through entire glyph sets, and do a bunch of other things, all on the same screen, which is completely customizable. I could add nearly 800 more fonts to my current collection before I maxed out the capability of the free version. The paid version offers a few more things that, really, only professional designers need. One of these days, I’ll send High Logic some money, just because I feel guilty for using such a great product for free.

Cover design: Inkscape

If you want to do graphic design and you want to do it for free, you probably know about Inkscape, a professional-grade, open-source design application that does pretty much everything a book designer needs it to do. Like Scribus, it does pretty much everything its high-end rivals do, but it does them for free. Kind of a no-brainer. If I need an alternative for any reason, I can crack open my Serif DrawPlus X9, but I prefer Inkscape for almost everything.

Most of my book cover designs for Nova & Vetera are pretty simple in conception, combining a classic piece of artwork or illustration with a simple typographic treatment (here’s one example and here’s another). So I don’t require all the capabilities that even Inkscape offers. However, recently, I got a notion that it might be a good idea to have a high-end drawing program and I became quite taken with Serif’s beautiful successor to the old DrawPlus line, Affinity Designer (available for Mac or Windows). At $49.99, Designer is an amazing value, but honestly it is just too much design capability for me. After the free trial expired, I took my dazzled brain back into the cave with Inkscape and have been happy to do so. If I ever decide to “go pro,” though, I could invest in the full line of Affinity products: Designer, Photo, and Publisher for less than a $150.00. But then I would have to justify the purchase to myself by actually learning to do some of the amazing things these programs are designed to do. For now, I’m happy to keep it simple and keep it free.

PDF for Production: Nova PDF and Acrobat Reader

I use a PDF reader for at least a couple of tasks: as to view PDFs downloaded from Internet Archive for reference when clearing up typos in badly OCR-ed scans of old books, and for proofreading my own finished layouts of fully edited books, in the PDF that I’ll be uploading to my publishing platform.

If you’re publishing via print-on-demand, as I do, you need to be able to provide print-ready PDF files. While Word is capable of producing a PDF file, unfortunately (and inexplicably) it can’t embed Open Type fonts in PDFs, which can be rather limiting if you’ve already designed the book with Open Type fonts and don’t have an alternate way to make your PDF. One work-around is to use any of a variety of free web-based font converters to convert needed Open Type fonts to True Type fonts of the same name and substitute these TTFs for their Open Type twins in your Word document before you generate your PDF.

I was fortunate, however, a couple of years back, to get a free license for the standard version of Nova PDF 9, which gives me quite a bit of control over PDFs generated from documents of other formats. Nova PDF has no problem embedding Open Type fonts. Since the application was upgraded to version 10, there seems no longer to be a free version, although you can try it free for 30 days and, if you love it, it’s just $29.99 to buy a license for the standard version. I’m glad I can continue to use my copy of version 9 without upgrading, but if I ever needed to switch to a paid version, Nova PDF would still be my pick.

If you are using a page layout program rather than Word, it probably has good PDF export capability. But you’ll still need to proofread your PDF file before uploading it, and for that the free version of Adobe Acrobat Reader is perfectly adequate. I always check to see that my fonts are embedded properly by looking at the fonts tab in the document properties, Ctrl+D. I can zoom in closely to check small details of cover art or whatever, so Acrobat Reader is really all I need for proofreading PDFs and probably all you’ll need, too.

Book Production: Kindle Direct Publishing

If you’ve read this far, you probably already know that the only really free (and by far the easiest) way to publish a professional-looking print book is through Amazon. Until recently, Amazon offered print-on-demand book production through a subsidiary called CreateSpace, but CreateSpace has been phased out and Kindle Direct Publishing now allows you to publish both print and ebook (Kindle) editions of your book. They say you can upload the same file for both formats, but I never do that. I’m too picky about the details of layout and navigation. However, if you are publishing a print book directly from MS Word, KDP makes it very easy to offer a Kindle edition at the same time, which is nice.

KDP’s biggest competitor is IngramSpark, which has the edge in some ways, but Spark is not free: you must pay a set-up fee, pay for any corrections needed after you’ve uploaded your book file, and you must provide your own ISBN (which costs money). All those things are provided free with Amazon’s KDP, so you probably won’t be surprised to learn that Nova & Vetera Editions are available exclusively from Amazon (although, if anyone wants to order in bulk, please use the contact form on this website and I can make you a deal).

I have found that the quality of materials used in Amazon’s books is more than satisfactory and, although I always order a printed proof before publishing, I’ve never seen any production errors (although I’ve caught a few goofs of my own, such as fonts that didn’t embed properly). The paper for interior pages is not at all flimsy, and I have a choice of white or cream. I generally prefer the cream, for fiction and for reprints of vintage books, and the cream paper is slightly thicker than the white, which I like. I’ve tried both the gloss and the matte finish for book covers and find that I like them both. The glued bindings seem to hold up well, too, so I have no real quibble about the results of Amazon’s print-on-demand capability, which allows me to do what I aim to do: produce attractive, yet inexpensive, paperback editions that are a pleasure to read.

There you go — those are my tools of the book-making trade. What free tools do you find particularly helpful in preparing books to be printed? Let me know if I’ve missed any of your favorites!

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