N is for New Skills


The thing about deciding to publish my books myself is that, well, there’s an awful lot to learn in order to do that properly. I mentioned earlier that I was surprised that drawing should be something I’ve gone back to since embarking on this process. I was expecting to have to learn other new skills, but … well, expecting isn’t the same as doing.

I’ve more or less got a handle on GIMP, by which I mean I have successfully created a few things to my moderate satisfaction, but there’s a lot more to learn and to practice before I move out of the ‘beginner’ region. Then, as a result of frustrations with some aspects of that, I bought a drawing tablet. I think this will solve the problems I had with the drawing + scanning + GIMP process I was using before (drawing directly in GIMP using the mouse alone was really not working for me). However, it is yet another series of new skills to learn and practice before I can even get into the region of mastering them sufficiently for my purposes.

That’s just the mechanics of digital art. All the skills that go into cover design are ones I am in the process of learning, too. I am building off skills and interests I already had, and it’s fun, but it’s still a lot of work. And there’s a lot of room to get distracted by reading instructions, guides, advice, theories, not to mention actually looking for tutorials on specific subjects. (How do I draw a straight line in GIMP? How about if I want to import just an image from another file? How about if I want a different font? Wait, how do I find the Font folder on my computer?)

Although my cover is not finished, I decided I would take a bit of a break from it to move to the interior layout and design elements. This is an area that, curiously, I have a bit more experience in. Not because I’ve ever done this before, but because I took all the courses on manuscript studies I could while I was in graduate school. It’s funny to think that my course on codicology, where I measured things like the width of spines and the number of lines on a page, the size of an illuminated capital, the layout of columns and where things were rubricated or underlined, how quires were put together, what scripts were used and where, should come in handy now that I’m sitting in front of my computer trying to design a book. I am ever-more admiring of those medieval monks — just as writing my dissertation made me incredibly glad to have a computer to do my footnotes for me. Laying out footnotes by hand requires exceptionally skilled design.

So too does modern book design — the more I dabble in it, the clearer that is. I don’t think I’d embark on anything more complicated than a novel with a moderate number of choices to make. I bought a pre-made template to be used in Microsoft Word to get a sense of what’s involved on the technological level, since measuring the width of margins and so forth with a ruler in books I like (while useful) only takes one so far. Looking into that template, I shortly discovered that I’d been using Microsoft Word all wrong all the years I’ve used it — I should have been using styles (something I’d never even heard of before!) to go between italics and roman type, between headings and the main text, and all that sort of thing.

Cleaning up the formatting mess that is my manuscript has been challenge number one of this part of the process. It’s not so much that it’s difficult, as that I didn’t even realise it was something to do until now. Now that I’m learning I am going to set up templates for myself to use in future, so that I don’t have to do this at the end. I am using styles for my work in progress, although it’s still in Microsoft Word and will still need to be changed before I actually get it ready for publication. The bought template I got is useful for its purpose, but I have to say it doesn’t have everything I want in a printed book, mostly because it’s a stripped-down template intended to be used for both print and digital formats at the same time. When I got it this seemed like a great idea (plus it was on deep discount, as it was a new product), and I think if I didn’t want to invest the time and energy into learning the skills of book design it would be exactly what I needed.

But you know what? I’m really enjoying learning the skills of book design. I love seeing how I can use modern tools to do what I learned about in codicology. I love the fact that I can design my book as well as write it. (The obvious next step, of acquiring an actual printing press, is not one I’m going to do any time soon. Maybe one day I’ll make limited-run hand-bound edition (with fancy paper!) — but that is not for right now.) I got the free trial of Adobe InDesign this morning, and am going to see what I can learn to do with the professional software. More new skills, but fun ones.

And this is without even mentioning the ones to do with smallholding …


2 thoughts on “N is for New Skills

  1. That is some ‘new skills’ achieved Victoria! Congratulations! You must have the patience of a saint. It all sounds hugely creative. My son is an animator and I know he uses Adobe Art and various aspects of it and has a tablet etc. He formatted my last book when I decided to make it an e book and my contract with the publisher came to an end. I’m hoping he’ll do the same for WIP. What is GIMP?
    Thank you for this post.
    Garden of Eden Blog


  2. Well, I can’t say that I’ve mastered them — I’m very much a beginner. Just enjoying the process.

    GIMP is basically the open-source (free) version of Photoshop and related image manipulation software. I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more I could do with it than I’ve managed to figure out so far, but the learning curve is pretty steep.


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