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What the New Year will bring


I finished sculpting this tile just as I began work on the first volume of Equine Tapestry. Little did I know that its title, “Inspire”, would be so appropriate for the next phase of my life. In the process of writing and publishing the book, I have learned so much, and met so many interesting people, that it would be hard not to be inspired! With that in mind, I wanted to give at least a bit of an update on what will be happening on the horse color side of things in 2013.

My original plan, once the first book was published, was to go back to the studio and finish the many projects that were set aside to focus on the book. I did not count on the fact that once out there, the book – and this blog – might take me in new directions. I am still working on finding the right balance between researching, writing and studio work. And amidst all this, the technology on the publishing side of things has been changing. I am far more accustomed to planning according to the pace at which ceramic technology changes – which is to say, not much at all! – than that of electronic publishing. Some of the limitations that determined my choices when I began work on Volume I are no longer there, while some of the other avenues that seemed so promising have proven to be less than they seemed. As a result, some of my publishing plans have changed.

Good News on Color Printing

The most common comment I received about Volume I was that people wished it was in color. When I began the project, my original printer offered color, but I was extremely disappointed in the quality and consistency of their color. Proofs that should have immediately been caught as being unacceptably off were common, while the cost was high enough to place the book out of the range for many readers. Issues with cost and print quality caused me to switch to a second printer which (at that time) did not offer full-color books as an option. While I would have liked to publish the book in color, the lack of it was designed into the book. Because so much of the book was about historical animals, many of the images were black and white from the start. I was confident that for the front matter, which had the color descriptions, I could select photos that translated well enough in black and white.

What I did not take into account was that the book, although written to talk about color in the context of breed history, would be the most current in a field that has been rapidly changing. The front matter, “Color Descriptions”, was just supposed to get readers on the same page so that when the different breeds were discussed, the colors mentioned would make sense. What many readers relayed to me was that the front half of the book was like a book within a book. It was also this portion of the book that the lack of color was most keenly noticed.

That was on my mind this past fall, when I found a printer that could provide full color at a reasonable price. At first I intended to just reissue Volume I in full color, but as I worked on the redesign, it really struck me how the compromises I made for the material to work in black and white no longer applied. Images that I had left out because they did not provide real information without color could be included. The temptation to include whole spreads of color images was there. Only now my limitation was not the lack of color, but the new printer’s page limits. And so a new idea took shape: a color supplement to the series.


So work is underway for Equine Tapestry: An Introduction to Colors and Patterns. This will be an expanded version of the front half of Volume I, with more detailed information, particularly on some of combination colors and the lesser-known variations that are either left out or only covered in passing in the first book. It will also be more extensively illustrated with full-color photos and illustrations.


The target is to have the new book available in the spring of 2013. Until I have a final page count, I will not have a price, but my goal is to keep it around $35.00.

What About the Kindle Version?

As many of you know, my original plan to work around the color problem was to release the book for the Kindle. Original tests done using my own Kindle made this seem like the most promising solution. Unfortunately I have never been able to repeat those same results since those early tests. I ran up against serious degradation of the photos and the captions, even though this was not an issue when I had tested them several months prior. Because all the translation is done through Amazon, and not in-house, I was at a loss for what caused the change. On the heels of that issue came the warning that Amazon had a surcharge for downloading image-intensive books that was passed along to authors. What seemed like an easy answer was less appealing than it originally appeared, especially given that there was going to be a significant learning curve for me to translate the book. As a result, the electronic version was placed on hold, at least for the time being.

That is not to say there will not eventually be an electronic version. I have been given some good leads on how to sell PDF downloads directly from my own site, which many have inquired about in the past. I have also been experimenting with the Apple-based iBooks as well, though I am not sure how widespread devices like the iPad are among potential readers. At the moment electronic formats are taking a back seat to getting files ready for traditional print, but if I can find a system that works for both me and for readers, I will move forward with it.

Other Projects

One of the most surprising aspects of writing the book is how often I am now asked to write. I still think of myself as a potter who likes to talk about horse color, and not truly a writer, even though I have been writing on and off for various publications for decades now. Those requests have gotten a lot more frequent in the last year, which in part explains the gaps of silence here on the blog. Even a prolific chatterer like me only has so much they can say, even about their favorite subject, on any given day! I hope to integrate these projects a little more seamlessly into my other commitments over the next year, though I suspect these interruptions will continue to some extent. I will link to published pieces as they arise.

One thing I hope to improve on the blog is a more timely response to submissions. At the top of this list is the Splashed White Project, which migrated over to my website, but has not yet been fully launched. I will also be working my way through my shamefully backlogged inbox, so if you get a reply after waiting forever, you will know why.

In the meantime, I wish all of you a happy – and colorful! – New Year!

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Talking about color – in black and white

One of the reactions I often get, when I tell people that I am working on a book about horse color, is disbelief that the subject can be covered in a black and white book. That is also one of my fears, when thinking about marketing the book. I have tried to be very clear that the book is not – and was never intended to be – printed in color. That would not work well if the book was specifically about color identification. To show the subtle difference in tone between the legs of a red silver in winter coat, and a flaxen chestnut, you really need color pictures. In fact, you need faithful reproduction of really good color photos for that to work. Horse color is a popular topic among horsemen at the moment, but it is still a niche publication. That makes it well-suited to Print-on-Demand (POD), but color reproduction in that setting is unpredictable at best.

But perhaps more importantly, that was not the story I wished to tell with this particular set of books. It is one I’d like to tell in the future, but these books are about the history of color in the different breeds. For that reason, a lot of the photos in the books are historical. They never were in color. In most cases, that doesn’t stop them from being useful. A silver dapple Friesian is still obviously different from the present Friesian color, even in black and white. Pattern progression and pattern variation charts, which are used extensively in the book, don’t require color either. Having written about color for decades now, often for small periodicals that did not have color capability, I knew it could work. I wasn’t really concerned about the lack of color affecting my ability to communicate the ideas in the book, but I was concerned about expectations. People expect a book about color to be in color.

For that reason I looked at a number of ways to use technology to include color images. Several people suggested including a CD-ROM with color versions of the images. That was not an option if I planned to depend on the POD company for distribution. Publishing a color PDF presented the same problem. Because I intend to return to my much-neglected ceramic work when the book is truly finished, having another company handle fulfillment was non-negotiable. I wanted readers to be able to order the book, and have it in their hands, while I sat in my studio cleaning greenware. That is where the quandary of what to do about those that really wanted color sat, at least until recently.

I didn’t have an answer for that problem, but I decided last summer that there would definitely be an e-book version. While I am at heart a paper book person, having a Kindle has made me a believer in those, too. Soon after I began typesetting the paper book, I began working on a second format so that the information in the print book (most notably the charts and illustrations) worked equally well in the electronic version. As I mentioned in this previous post (Adventures in Self-Publishing), in many ways that has proven easier than the traditional paper version.

And that brings me back to the picture at the top of this post. As I had speculated back then, a color Kindle is now a reality. Behind the paper copy proof are my original Kindle, with its black and white e-ink, and the Kindle Fire that I recently received for my birthday. The release of the Kindle Fire suddenly made a color edition not only possible, but downright easy. But perhaps even better, there is now a Kindle application for both the PC and the Mac. That’s the image on my Macintosh screen behind the two Kindles. Now you don’t even have to have a Kindle to read an e-book in that format. You can just download the free application (PC/Mac). Like the actual Kindle, and unlike a PDF file, it has the adjustable text. Here is the same page with different background settings – white, black or sepia.

The size of the text is adjustable, as is the line spacing. There are also options that aren’t found on the Fire itself. You can set the book into two columns, for instance. You can also stretch the image area to be as wide or as narrow as you like, and the text follows just like it would for a website.

It might not be a full-color book, but it appears to be a good solution until color printing becomes more reliable. So while the kinks get worked out with printing the paper book, I am working on formatting the electronic version. The only question now is which will be completed first!

(The lovely images of the buckskin Shire mare, Jolie, come from photographer Jeffrey Anderson. I was very tickled to get permission to include those and several more of her in the book.)

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Adventures in self-publishing


That’s the print test that arrived late last night. It came with some good news and some bad news.

The bad news is that I will not be able to get books printed in time for BreyerFest, which was my original goal. I knew that was probably a long shot because it was unlikely that everything would turn out perfectly on the first try. Technology has changed a lot since I was last involved in printing, but I was pretty sure that part of it was still the same. Things always go wrong at the printers. Always.

I knew I was looking at a lot of different quality issues, which is why I sent off a sample section to be printed. That’s what I am holding in the picture. (That’s why it is a small, saddle-stitched booklet, rather than a perfect-bound 430+ page book.) I did not know what to expect from the newer Print-On-Demand (POD) technology. I wasn’t even sure I would go that route, because some of the issues I had been told to expect gave me pause. Ideally I would prefer to go that route because I would love to hand off the fulfillment aspect over to another entity so I can return to the studio. Places that do that (companies like Lulu and Createspace) all use the same print-on-demand technology.

What I had heard was that that the color printing, which is used on the covers, leaves something to be desired. That one issue, paired with the still-high costs involved, is why this particular set of books are being designed in black and white. An expensive book with questionable color was a non-starter. I must admit that while it is not the same as offset printing, and I suspect their press wasn’t calibrated well (too much magenta), it wasn’t as awful as I had been lead to expect. It is the kind of compromise I expected with Print-On-Demand.  (And yes, I know… a book about color in black and white? I’ll talk more about that later in the post.)

But it was the black and white interior where I found the problems.

Oh, that won’t do at all!

Despite meticulously following the instructions for “best results”, many of the photos and illustrations came out too dark. I don’t need color to show how unusual the patterning is on the Hackney in that first photo, but I do need people to be able to see the pattern!

The same image using a wide range of level of curve adjustments

The remedy is to go in and tweak the problem images in Photoshop and print another test to determine which settings will work best. It still amazes me that this is actually economically feasible for a printing company, but it is apparently how it is done.

There was some good news that came out of my test, though. As I mentioned, these books are being printed in black and white. Part of that is the economics, but part is also the subject matter. As I have said before, these are not “how to identify you horse’s color” books. Until color printing becomes more accessible, that kind of information is far better suited to a place like this blog. Instead, these books are about the history of horse color in different breeds. In many ways, they are as much about the history of the different breeds as they are about color specifically. As a result, a large portion of the photos are already black and white because they are old. For some all we have are engravings (like the horse in the image above).

Those images are really important to properly tell these stories, but in many cases the image quality is really poor. Often the sole remaining image of a historical animal is the one that was printed in a stud book. Stud books were often printed fairly cheaply on paper little better than newsprint. For others, the pictures come from old periodicals or bulletins issued by agricultural departments. Those were the images that motivated me to print a test section, because I needed to know if they could be included. With modern pictures I have the option of contacting owners and photographers for an alternate, but for the historic horses often there is only one (bad!) image. If that one image didn’t work, I might need to formulate another plan. But ironically, the bad photos printed well. In some cases, far better than they should have! So while the fix for the dark photos is going to be time consuming, at least there is a fix.

The other great irony?


This was easier to do. When I first announced that there would be books, I had a lot of people ask if they would be offered as e-books or downloads. I said I would try, but I really wasn’t sure that I was up for a great technical challenge like that.

Oddly enough, getting the manuscript into Kindle format was really simple. In fact the biggest challenge wasn’t technical, but one of layout. How could I break down the charts and diagrams (like the one those sample homozygous splash overos came from) so that they worked with that kind of format? That is actually a lot more fun than figuring out levels and curves and file formats! And since I own a Kindle, it is easy to see exactly what my readers will get. I am also told that if I use color images, those devices that can do color will show them in color. That might be the answer for color publishing in the future. So yes, there will be an electronic version eventually. After I figure out how to make the less high-tech version work for me!

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