We’ve received some questions about exactly how the Skolion process works. So strap in for this tour of how Yolandie Horak’s A Study of Ash & Smoke was made
1. Author Writes a Book
Every book starts as a twinkle in an author’s eye.
For A Study of Ash & Smoke, it started as a TV show about deadly viruses, with an added splash of renaissance history, simmered together with a healthy dose of steampunk. It began its life as The Physician’s Apprentice and was written in just six week, but it would still be a further five years in the making.
Yolandie is what they call a “pantser”, meaning she tends to fly by the seat of her pants when writing. With an emphasis on the fly. (Did we mention she wrote the whole novel in six weeks?) The first draft is an act of passion, then it gets edited, and edited, and edited. (The opposite of a pantser is a plotter – someone who plots out every scene before they start writing. We have a few of those in Skolion too!).
2. Book gets sent to alpha readers
Beta readers are the test subjects of the literary world. They read through a draft and tell the author anything that doesn’t make sense or feels wrong. Most authors use a team of these readers before a book goes to a professional editor to make sure that it’s in the best possible shape. This is called the “alpha reader” team.
In Yolandie’s case, A Study of Ash & Smoke went to Yolandie’s cousins and a few friends in the alpha stage before she first sent it for editing.
3. Book gets edited
Yolandie had a hard time with her first editor (who only had a cursory glance at the manuscript) and she ended up in Nerine‘s inbox as an editing client.
Nerine started with an assessment round that looked at big-picture aspects, like plot, characterisation, and offered broad-strokes suggestions that Yolandie could apply for herself.
With each subsequent editing round (there were about five or six editing rounds in total) Nerine increasingly began to look at the finer, mechanical elements, such as sentence structure, and cleaning up the text, line by line.
“So much usually changes at the earlier stages that it makes sense to concentrate on the copy editing once we’re happy with the structure,” Nerine explains.
About half way through this process, Nerine was so impressed with Yolandie’s perseverance and willingness to take feedback that Nerine invited her on board as a member of Skolion, meaning Nerine would assist her free of charge. At this stage, Cat also stepped in for a round of feedback, and she helped Yolandie bring out the steampunk setting among other things.
4. Cover gets designed
Tallulah designed the cover of the book and it went through quite a few iterations.
“I always wanted to design book covers as it brought together two of my passions: art and books. While I do now have a little cover design business, Yolandie’s cover was one of the very first I did.”
Yolandie had a good idea of what she wanted: something minimalist that involved stained glass. Yolandie shared a Pinterest board of ideas.
From this board, they came up with a stained glass circular portal as the main feature of the design and the colour palette – purples and pinks to match the Mantle featured in the book.
Tallulah drew the outline of the stained glass mosaic in Illustrator.
“At the time I wasn’t into watercolour painting, but I knew Yolandie was, so I asked her to paint me some strips of colour in the palette we’d decided on. I had a hunch that they’d look like stained glass when cut up.”
“Then I created the stained glass in Photoshop by cutting out pieces of the watercolour swatches and layering them under the mesh I’d created in Illustrator. The file ended up having about 300 individual layers! Yolandie also provided a watercolour painting of a skyline, and I used enlarged versions of her swatches to create the background.”
“Fortunately, Yolandie was still busy with revisions at this stage and so there was no deadline!”
Next, they added the main character, Cara.
“Once again I asked Yolandie to send me references and then I drew Cara from that.”
Then it was time to put it all together!
This was what it looked like with the original typography.
“By the time we decided to change the name, I’d learned a bit more about typography so I kept the illustration but adjusted the type to look more genre appropriate. Trends had also changed towards larger, more-dominant, type.”
But there was still something missing.
“Noticing a trend towards borders and pen and ink illustration on New Adult covers, I asked Cat if she could please draw a boarder that looked like hair that we could use on the cover (since hair plays a big part in the plot of Ash & Smoke). Cat and I had recently discussed using a hair motif on one of her own covers, so I knew she’d do a great job and she did not disappoint.”
Here’s the final cover:
5. Book gets sent to beta readers
After editing is complete, the book gets sent to another round of test readers.
Yolandie worked with Cristy in this round, as well as a group of non-Skolion readers.
Cristy and the beta readers gave feedback about the novel, and Yolandie gave a few final tweaks to the storylines because of their suggestions.
6. Interior design
Masha took on the interior design of A Study of Ash & Smoke.
When it comes to formatting a book, the designer has more control over the print copy than the ebook. With an ebook you don’t even know how big the page will be, because a person might read the book on a phone, or a kindle, or even on their computer screen. So you don’t know where the page breaks will be. And while you can specify the font it’s not a good idea as people often prefer to use the default font that’s set on their e-reader.
With print you can specify absolutely everything, down to the exact spacing between every single letter in the book. More choice means a lot more work, and more chance of things going wrong too!
Masha does her print layout in InDesign. This is what a book-layout-in-progress looks like:
“Notice the list of paragraph styles on the right. Those control the look of all the different sections of the book. Yolandie designed the title page herself, so all I had to do was add the author name and the copyright information.”
This is what the layout of the print version looked like when Masha imported it into InDesign, just a bare bones layout that kept the formatting that had already been specified in the Word file:
It uses the default font, Calibri, and with the indents, italics, and chapter headers already in place but really nothing else.
“With a novel, you really want to match the typeface to the genre and the tone of the story. Calibri fine for business documents but not for this book, which is a steampunky fantasy. For that you need a touch of elegance, slightly old fashioned but not stuffy or overly formal,” says Masha.
“Yolandie allowed me choose what I thought was best, and in the end, after some false starts (Arvo was one of the options I chose to let go) I settled on Bookman Old Style. A lovely, rounded, friendly typeface. For the chapter headings we decided to use the typeface that was used for the cover: Artisan.”
“For the chapter decoration, I cropped out a section of the braid illustration that had been done for the cover design. Initially I made that far too dark, which made the design seem top heavy. These were set with “bleed”, which is the term used when an image goes right to the edge of the page.” The final result was this:
Notice the drop cap, the large capital in the first line. “That is a fancy touch I don’t often get to do on an interior layout, but seemed appropriate for this book,” Masha explains.
The first capital is set in the typeface “Cinzel”. Also notice the small caps that follow it, which balances that big drop cap letter.
“Then followed the long, long task of tweaking all the details which makes the book look polished and professional. Setting the paragraph indents, the line spacing, looking for ‘widows and orphans’, awkward looking too-short sentences or single words appearing at the bottom or top of a page. And many other small tweaks and changes.”
Yolandie created two maps, which had to spread across two page, without losing too many details in the “gutter”, the center of the book where the pages come together. Masha also added some tiny symbols to act as scene separators. These are sometimes called “fleurons”.
Scene separators aren’t just decorations, but act as a visual clue, that a scene in the story has ended and a new one is about to begin.
The ebook design was significantly easier. This is what the bare-bones e-book looked like when Masha imported it from the Word version:
This version could be published just as it is, it’s perfectly readable on an e-reading device, but it wasn’t very clean or user friendly. Masha had to clean it, that is, strip out all the code that might cause the book to display incorrectly. Next, Masha had to ensure that each chapter opened on a new page. Masha inserted a table of contents with links to each chapter, and structured the book so that the e-reading devices percentage marker would show a reader’s progress accurately.
“This is the finished page layout, once I had added the chapter decoration image, and decided exactly how big the chapter heading should be, and how to space it out from the body copy text.” Notice the lack of a drop cap. You can create a drop cap in an ebook, but not all e-reading devices will display it correctly so as a compromise, Masha prefers to use a simple large capital.
“It was such a pleasure to work on this project. It allowed me to try out all the bells and whistles I don’t usually get to use,” she says.
7. The dreaded blurb!
It is a truth universally acknowledged that all authors hate writing blurbs. Yolandie wrote two versions herself and even hired some help to try to tweak it, then passed it on to Nerine and Cat and finally Tallulah. Between them, they managed to tweak the blurb to the point where it is now. Reducing 611 pages to a few paragraphs was not easy! The blurb is also essential for selling the book online, so it was worth putting every effort into getting it right.
“You’ll be amazed to discover how many grammar gremlins, dropped words and typos can creep in during editing rounds,” Nerine says. “Both editor and author suffer mental fatigue, and your eyes and brains have a tendency to skip over the text and gloss over often glaring errors.”
Laurie proofread Yolandie’s book after the book had been formatted for print, so she could make sure that nothing in the text went missing due to the formatting. She’d usually have made her notes in red pen on a printed version of the manuscript, but since the publishing timeline was so steep, she worked digitally in pdf this time.
Once she’d made her notes, she sent the file back to Yolandie, who applied the changes and sent the final file back to Masha for a final round of formatting.
“Proofreading is absolutely vital to the final product, because a proofreader comes in with a fresh pair of eyeballs, and is more likely to pick up glitches than those who’ve already toiled for hours on the novel,” Nerine explains.
Authors are responsible for publishing their books. In Yolandie’s case, she decided to go “wide”, which means that the book wasn’t exclusive to Amazon. Amazon offers self-published authors a number of incentives in exchange for exclusivity with ebooks, but it means that you miss out on revenue from the other stores like Kobo, iBooks and Google Play. Yolandie used KDP Print for the international paperbacks, and a local printer for the Canadian paperback. She is currently investigating hardcover options!
Most independent authors sell more ebooks than print books, so tend to focus on those.
10. Launch and marketing
A Skolion launch starts off with an email to our street team offering ARCs (advance review copies) of a novel. This way, some of the readers are finished with the book and ready to post their reviews on launch day. Tallulah is responsible for Skolion emails.
Since Yolandie was using StoryOrigin for her launch, she created a separate landing page for review copies and we only had to refer our Skolion ARC team to that link, where they could download whatever format of the ARC they desired. In the case of Ash & Smoke, this step happened before final proofing was complete, so Tallulah and Masha created a special ebook version that warned readers not to pay too much attention to typos!
On launch day itself, Tallulah sent out another email, this time to the whole Skolion newsletter mailing list announcing the launch. She posted across Skolion’s social media channels, changed all of the banners across the Skolion website and published a blog post about the book, which we asked all of the Skolion members to share.
As ongoing marketing, Ash & Smoke has been added to a sample pack of Skolion books that we give out to new reviewers who approach us. That way reviews can keep rolling in over time.
Here’s one of the banners Tallulah created for the site, which stayed in place until the Charon’s Song anthology was announced.
Hire a Skolie!
Everyone who worked on this book has their own book-related business, and you can hire them to help you out!
Find Nerine’s editing services here.
Find Tallulah’s cover design services here.
Find Cat here (editing and illustration, message her for a quote).
Find Cristy here (illustration and graphic design).
Find Masha’s book layout and design service here at Elegant Book Formatting.
Find Laurie’s proof reading services here.