Photography

Tips for creating a book of photographs for sale on Amazon using Kindle Direct Publishing

I’ve now produced two books of photographs for sale on Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing, my newest being Square Photographs, which is available on Amazon here. It turned out great, with good, vibrant colors and excellent contrast. I thought I’d share with you some lessons that I’ve learned.

I’ll also share some tips on how to create a book for Kindle Direct Publishing. In short, you create and upload print-ready PDFs of your book’s manuscript and cover. I’ll share how I did that for Square Photographs.

Lessons learned

Premium color ink, 60-pound paper, and a glossy cover

First and foremost, when your book is entirely or primarily about photographs, choose the best paper and ink option available. Right now, that’s “premium color ink and 60# (100 GSM) white paper.” All other options will lead to low-contrast images and muted tones. The premium color ink and 60-pound paper option gives good contrast and tones, both for black-and-white and color images. Even if all of your photographs are black-and-white, choose this paper and ink option. This Help page at Kindle Direct Publishing explains the options.

This ink and paper option increases the book’s printing cost, which is why I listed Square Photographs at $15.99. If I had used standard color ink and 55-pound paper, the lower printing cost would have let me sell it for $9.99 and earn about the same royalty.

I chose black ink and 55-pound white paper for my previous photo book, Vinyl Village, available here; and for my photo-illustrated book of stories and essays, A Place to Start, available here. Image quality in both books was so-so. It mattered more in Vinyl Village as it was mostly photographs. But if I had it to do over again I’d publish Vinyl Village using the best paper and ink options for better image quality. It wouldn’t have increased the price so much that it would have been a barrier for most people who purchased it.

Next, I don’t think it matters much whether you choose a glossy or matte cover finish. Amazon’s Help page says that a glossy cover “makes black covers darker and artwork more striking.” I published A Place to Start and Vinyl Village with matte covers, and Square Photographs with a glossy cover. Vinyl Village‘s cover might have benefited from darker blacks. But otherwise, I was satisfied with the tones and contrast both cover options gave me. I slightly prefer the matte cover’s more dignified look.

Finally, if your book is under about 100 pages, don’t bother trying to put anything on the spine. The spine is the outside edge of the book’s binding, what you see when the book is on a shelf. Most books show the title, author, and publisher on the spine. Square Photographs at 80 pages has a spine wide enough to contain that information. However, Amazon wants there to be plenty of space on both sides of the spine’s text so that a slight variation in how the cover is cut and attached doesn’t cause the spine text to partially roll onto the front or back cover.

The first cover I submitted to Amazon for Square Photographs showed the title, author, and publisher (my Midnight Star Press imprint) on the spine. Amazon rejected the cover for not having enough margin above and below that text. So I shrunk the text as much as I dared and resubmitted. Amazon rejected it again. To shrink it any more would have meant text so small you would have needed a loupe to read it. So I deleted the text and resubmitted the cover, which Amazon accepted.

Tips for creating a book for Kindle Direct Publishing

To create a book for Kindle Direct Publishing, you upload two print-ready PDFs: one of the book’s manuscript and one of the book’s cover.

You start by creating a KDP account here and then clicking the Create button on your Bookshelf page. This Help page explains. You have to make a lot of choices, including entering the title, choosing the paper and ink, setting the book’s form factor (length x width), letting KDP set the book’s ISBN or using one you purchased separately, and setting your book’s price.

Creating the manuscript

You can create your book’s manuscript (a.k.a., the book’s content) in any software that lets you save to PDF. You can lay out the bucks for a professional page-layout tool like Adobe InDesign if you want. I created Square Photographs and Vinyl Village in Microsoft Word, as I already pay for a Microsoft Office subscription and I have very strong Word skills. If you’re skint, even Google Docs exports to PDF, and Google Docs is free.

ZIP file of KDP manuscript templates in English

KDP provides Microsoft Word templates for all of their trim sizes. You can download them here. You’ll get a ZIP file containing the templates. Choose the trim size you want. Inside, the margins are all set for you, including extra margin in the gutter, which is the inner margin where the pages meet the binding. You need a slightly wider margin there to keep your content out of the hard-to-read space near the binding. You can alter all of those margins if you want, of course.

If you use a tool other than Word, you’ll have to set your page size and margins manually. Be sure to set mirrored margins, so that your odd pages have the extra gutter margin at the left, and your even pages have the extra gutter margin at the right.

Then it’s just a matter of flowing your text and photographs into your publishing tool. Because I use Word, I create the content and arrange it on each page at the same time. Here’s what a spread (publishing lingo for a left-right page combination) looks like in Word.

After you finish the manuscript, save or export the document to PDF. Here’s how to do it in Word:

  1. Choose Save As from the File menu. The Save As window appears.
  2. In the box from which you choose the file type, choose “PDF (*.pdf).”
  3. Click the “Standard (publishing online and printing)” radio button.
  4. Click the More Options button. A window appears. Click the Options button. An Options window appears.
  5. Click the “Optimize for image quality” checkbox, if it is not already checked.
  6. Click the “PDF/A compliant” checkbox, if it is not already checked.
    Note: KDP recommends against saving your document in the PDF/A standard, but also requires that fonts be embedded in the PDF. The only way to do that in Word is to save it as PDF/A. KDP has accepted every book I’ve submitted that way.
  7. Click OK, and then click Save.

Here’s the same spread as Adobe Acrobat PC, the PDF viewer program, renders it.

Here’s what the same spread looks like in the printed book.

By the way, all KDP books must have a number of pages that’s divisible by four. If your manuscript’s page count isn’t divisible by four, KDP inserts blank pages at the end to round it out. If blank pages at the end bother you, make sure your content fills a number of pages that’s divisible by four.

Creating the cover

To create your book’s cover, there’s the easy way and the hard way.

The easy way is to use KDP’s Cover Creator. It’s free, so it’s the way to go if you don’t already own image-editing software like Adobe Photoshop and you’re skint. It’s also the way to go if you don’t have skills to use image-editing software. Cover Creator offers limited design options, and I don’t think they’re awesome, but they’re better than nothing. Read more about it here.

The hard way is to use an image-editing tool such as Adobe Photoshop or Corel Paint Shop Pro and a template KDP provides you. You should also be able to use a page-layout tool like Adobe InDesign, but I’ve never tried it to be sure. If you know how to insert images, create text areas, and move elements into place, you can create a cover.

To get a template, go here, make the selections that are true for you book, and download the ZIP file KDP creates. Inside you’ll find two template files, one PDF and one PNG. Use whichever one you want. Bring it into the software you’re using to create the cover. Here’s what the template I used for Square Photographs looks like.

This template is just a guide. You place your cover’s elements onto it, and when you’re done, delete the template layer. The back cover is on the left, the spine is in the middle, and the front cover is on the right. Notice the yellow area for the bar code – place nothing there that you don’t want covered up. KDP inserts a UPC bar code and your book’s assigned ISBN there.

The solid line is the cover’s boundary, but the red areas are the margin for error in printing. Your cover should go to the edges of the red zone. The dotted lines show you the area for the spine. Notice the red zone around the spine, and how tiny the space for text on the spine is. This is why I recommend not placing text on your spine for books with fewer than 100 pages, as I mentioned above in the lessons learned.

I used Adobe Photoshop to create my cover. I wanted to use one of the photos from the book as the main element on the front cover, so I inserted it and sized it to fit the front-cover area. Then I created the box that contains the title and my name. I filled the box with white, but then set the opacity to something like 50% so the photo behind it would bleed through.

For the spine and the back cover, I chose a color that complemented the front cover. I inserted the photo of the VW Bus, wrote the text below it, and put my vanity imprint’s information in the lower-left corner. I made sure the spot where Amazon would insert its bar code had nothing in it.

Here’s what the cover file looks like.

Here’s how the book turned out. Notice how the image above shows more tire tracks at the bottom than the printed cover does — that’s the effect of the red zone.

There you go! Let me know in the comments if I need to clarify anything, or add missing detail.

My new book, Square Photographs, is available now!

The Standard Edition is $15.99 at Amazon.com. Get yours here.

The Deluxe Edition, on premium paper and ink, is $24.99 at MagCloud.com. Get yours here.

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Film Photography

My new book, Square Photographs, is available!

My new book, Square Photographs, is available!
Get the Standard Edition (left) now on Amazon
Get the Deluxe Edition (right) now on MagCloud

My first cameras as a kid made square photographs. The first was a Kodak Brownie that took 127 film. The second was a cheap Instamatic knockoff that took 126 film cartridges.

Even though cameras for 126 film were hugely popular in the 1960s and 1970s, most cameras make rectangular photographs. The 3×2 aspect ratio is standard for 35mm cameras and DSLRs, while 4×3 is standard for digital point-and-shoots. Remember the 110 film format? It made images in the weird 10×7 ratio!

Me and Yashica-12

Since I cut my photographic teeth on the 1×1 ratio, shooting on the square feels like coming home. I’ve moved far past those basic cameras, however. I own two twin-lens reflex (TLR) cameras from the 1960s made by Yashica: the Yashica-D and the Yashica-12. These are well-built cameras with wonderful lenses that make images on medium-format film.

As you can see from the photo of me holding my Yashica-12, a TLR is a large brick. It’s hefty! It’s also sturdy. You could knock a sucka out with one if you swung it at their head. (But don’t do that.)

Up top you see the viewfinder cover flipped up. You peer down into it to frame your image, which renders backwards on the ground glass. It’s disorienting until you get used to it!

I’ve collected 40 of my favorite photographs I made with these two TLRs into a book. I titled it Square Photographs so that, as the British say, “it does what it says on the tin.” Next to each photograph I’ve written a short essay, meditation, or history. Here’s a look inside:

I made two editions of Square Photographs, a Standard Edition and a Deluxe Edition. I did it as an experiment. Let me explain.

When I published my previous photo book, Vinyl Village (info and where to buy here), I used Amazon Kindle Publishing for the first time. I wanted that book’s price to be easy to afford, and Amazon made it possible.

But I heard from a number of readers that they were very disappointed with the book’s image quality. I had chosen Amazon’s entry-level paper and ink, and it led to images of low contrast with blacks that looked dark gray. I thought it worked with the subject matter, but I heard it loud and clear: you expected better.

I still wanted an affordable edition of this book, so once again I turned to Amazon Kindle Publishing. This time I chose Amazon’s best paper and ink — and it turned out very well, with good color saturation, deep blacks, and good contrast. This is the Standard Edition, it’s 8½”x8½”, and it’s $15.99. It’s priced similarly at Amazon sites worldwide.

I published the Deluxe Edition through MagCloud, which specializes in printing top-quality photo books. The paper and ink are both a cut above. The colors are richer and the blacks are blacker. That costs extra, of course. The Deluxe Edition is $24.99 plus shipping. It’s also slightly smaller at 8″x8″, because that’s the square size that MagCloud offered.

Square Photographs. 86 pages, available worldwide on Amazon and MagCloud.

My new book, Square Photographs, is available now!

The Standard Edition is $15.99 at Amazon.com. Get yours here.

The Deluxe Edition, on premium paper and ink, is $24.99 at MagCloud.com. Get yours here.

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Personal

A shameless plug for my books

They say that you can sell anything you believe in. I very much believe in my writing and photography, as evidenced by my nearly 15-year-old blog.

Over the last few years I’ve begun publishing books of my writing and photography. I believe in my creative work so much that I want it to find a wider audience beyond the blog.

Yet somehow, I’d rather break all of my fingers than market, promote, and sell those books! It’s deeply uncomfortable for me.

Sometimes I force myself to do it. Like today. You may not know about the books I’ve published, and they’re all lovely. If you enjoy my blog, you will enjoy my books!

Exceptional Ordinary: Everyday Photography with the Pentax ME
2017, 8½”x11″, 44 pages, $12.99 on Blurb.com.

My first book set out to prove that exceptional images can be made with even the most ordinary 35mm SLR. The Pentax ME certainly qualifies as ordinary, with its middling specifications and features. Yet I’ve done some of my best work with this camera and the great Pentax lenses that mount on it.

Get it now at Blurb

Textures of Ireland
2018, 8½”x11″, 36 pages, $12.99 on Blurb.com.

Ireland is a country of color — especially green, in astonishing shades across its rolling countryside. Yet I shot black-and-white film all over that country, looking for light and shadow. What I got was a set of images with such texture that you want to touch them. When you do, you’ll be surprised not to feel the textures in your fingertips, as if they were pressed into the pages in relief.

Get it now at Blurb

A Place to Start
2020, 6″x9″, $14.99 paperback, $9.99 e-book, $7.99 PDF, on Amazon, Apple Books, Google Play, and Leanpub.com

When my always difficult marriage finally ended in a brutal, protracted divorce, it nearly crushed me. I started writing as a way of processing everything that happened. I published my writing on this blog and let friends and family know. This blog was a place to start building a happier life. This book collects the best stories and essays from the blog’s first two years. They’re ordinary stories of an ordinary life, well told.

Get it now at Amazon in paperback and on Kindle (also UK, Canada, Germany), Apple Books in e-book, Google Play in e-book, or Leanpub in PDF and e-book

Vinyl Village
2021, 8″x10″, $9.99 on Amazon

The modern American suburban subdivision is all about cheerful homes. But so many of them are built to a minimum standard and it shows. I take an unflinching look at one such neighborhood in central Indiana in a photo essay that strips bare its banality.

Get it now at Amazon

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Photography

Announcing my new photo book, Vinyl Village

My new book is now available!

It’s a photo essay about the suburban neighborhood I live in — a vinyl village. That’s where the title comes from: Vinyl Village. It’s a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly from the point of view of many, many walks I took through the neighborhood studying it closely.

The book is available worldwide on Amazon:

If your country isn’t listed, go to your country’s Amazon site and search for Jim Grey “Vinyl Village”. If that doesn’t work, try the URL https://www.amazon.XX/gp/product/B09JJKG225/, where you replace the XX with your country’s domain.

I’m pleased to be able to price Vinyl Village at just $9.99. (It’s priced equivalently in other countries.) Publishing on Amazon is key to me being able to offer the book at this price. Amazon takes a much smaller cut than services like Blurb, which I have used in the past. I’ll write more about my experience publishing a photo book on Amazon in a future post.

– – –

“Vinyl village” is a pejorative term for the kind of suburban neighborhood I live in: curved streets filled with frame houses, all swathed in vinyl with some brick decoration. Generally, the houses are built to a minimum standard. They are up to code, but in the least expensive possible way.

But the book isn’t about construction standards. It’s about the way the houses are built to be attractive from the front, but the sides and the back are huge swaths of vinyl interrupted only by the occasional, randomly placed window. It’s also about how the houses are arranged on the land, revealing the vinyl-slathered sides and backs of dozens and dozens of houses and making private back yards hard to come by. Finally, it’s about the high-voltage power lines and the petroleum pipeline that run through, and the Interstate highway that borders it.

For a neighborhood that has this many challenges, it sure has no trouble attracting residents. Houses for sale here frequently sell the day they’re listed. It’s rare for one to stay on the market longer than a week. It’s because this neighborhood is the least expensive way to own a home in what is otherwise a wealthy suburb with well-regarded schools. Few of us get to live in our dream homes. We find the best situation our finances allow, and if we are fortunate, we like it well enough.

Come take a look at my neighborhood. It’s so quintessentially American.

More details, and how to get your copy, at Midnight Star Press here.

My photo essay book, Vinyl Village, is available!
Click here to learn more and get a copy!

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Blogosphere

The future of Down the Road

If you take my monthly newsletter, Back Roads, you read this a couple weeks ago. The main point of Back Roads is to give subscribers previews of what I’m working on and let them be the first to know when I publish a new book. I’m also a little more personal there than I am here. If this sounds good to you, sign up here!

On February 7 my blog will turn 14. When I started it, I had no idea where it would go or how long it would last. I wrote about whatever I wanted and hoped I’d attract an audience. I paid attention to which topics got the most interest, whether in pageviews or in comments. I wrote about those topics more, and l left behind topics that readers ignored.

My blog has had four phases over the years:

  • the “I’m not sure what I want this blog to be” phase
  • the “I hope to become Internet famous by writing about old roads” phase, which failed
  • the “I hope to become Internet famous by writing about old film-photography gear” phase, which is how I became best known, though it falls short of full Internet fame
  • a phase where I gave up on Internet fame and leaned instead into building community around the topics I’m interested in, which has succeeded

It feels like this blog could be entering its fifth phase. I don’t know what it is just yet, or what to call it. But I’m starting to lean harder into publishing books of my photographs and writing, and that has implications for this blog.

NO

My next book will be of photographs I made last summer around my neighborhood. I never wanted to live in a modern suburban neighborhood like this one. I’m a city boy through and through. But it made practical sense to move here when I married Margaret, as she was already here and it let her youngest finish at his high school.

Egad, but do these houses ever feel flimsy. Even a moderate wind makes my house creak and pop. In a strong wind, you can feel the house flex and twist, especially upstairs. It’s appalling.

But that’s not what my next book is about. Instead, I’ll show you what you see as you walk this neighborhood. From the front, every street looks fresh and cheerful — stiff neighborhood regulations ensure it. But walk this neighborhood, especially the main road that loops around it, and you’ll see that everything’s not so pretty. An Interstate highway borders it, bathing half the neighborhood in the sound of heavy traffic. A high-voltage electrical transmission line cuts through, its towers visible from most angles. A natural gas and a petroleum pipeline also cut through, creating wide gaps between houses. Houses back up to the main loop road; a low fence isn’t enough to obscure all the backs of those houses. Because of the way the houses are arranged, and because of the electric and gas lines cutting through, the backs of lots of houses are exposed. A private back yard is hard to come by here. From the back, these houses just look cheap — too few windows, huge swaths of vinyl.

I really noticed the beauty and banality of my neighborhood last spring and summer. I worked from home thanks to COVID-19, and to keep active I took walks and bike rides around the neighborhood. I brought cameras along to document what I saw. I felt sure there my photographs could be arranged to tell this neighborhood’s story.

Also, I want to work on another book of essays and stories culled from this blog. I don’t know if I can deliver both books in 2021, but both are on my mind.

I also have an idea for a book about how to use a blog to share your creative work, find other people who do similar creative work, and build a community. Who knows, I might slot that in before the next book of stories and essays.

Sometimes I experience a creative flurry and write a whole bunch of posts in a short time. That happened to me in November and December last year. By last Christmas I had written posts for this blog through my blog’s anniversary date. I wrote most of this newsletter on Christmas Eve!

Other times I burn out a little on creative pursuits. That’s happened to me this month. I had hoped to produce the photo book by now, but I’ve done very little.

I have only so much time to work on my blog and my books. I have a full-time job and a family. The more I lean into books, the less time I have for blogging.

For now, I’ll keep my blog’s six-day-a-week schedule. I know the world doesn’t hang in the balance of me publishing as often as I do. But when I publish this often, you respond with the most visits and comments. When I publish less, I get less of both. When I publish more, interestingly I don’t get more of either. Six a week is the sweet spot.

Besides, this blog is how most people know me. And I love writing in it. I can’t imagine stopping. But depending on how my budding publishing career goes, I can imagine writing in it less often someday. Or maybe I’ll be incredibly fortunate and end up like Mark Evanier and John Scalzi, who both write for a living and write in their blogs several times a day. Oh, probably not; I love what I do for a living and am not looking to change it. But it’s a fun dream.

I will keep writing about the same things. Sometimes I’ll publish something on the blog that I know will end up in a book someday.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!

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My book, A Place to Start, is now available on Google Play, for those of you who prefer to buy that way and read on supported devices! Click the button below to get started.

Get it on Google Play

It is, of course, still available at:

A Place to Start is now on Google Play

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