Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thoughts on The ... Technical digi-wigi -- c.anne.gardner

This past week, I was consumed by the nightmare that is Windows Vista, and so my thoughts on the craft got shoved to the back of my head. Next week, we can talk about love. This week, it’s a whole lot of hooha about operating systems and your life’s work.

Actually, I think most of the hype about Vista has been a bit overblown. I ain’t no IT specialist, but I really didn’t have much trouble at all. You see, whilst I was on vacation last week, my Frankenstein monster of a home computer decided to finally go tits up. No amount of new parts was gonna bring it back from the dead this time. So, off I went to buy a new computer. Now I am not a bells and whistles kinda girl, and I don’t want stuff I don’t need eating up my RAM, so I generally look for a stripped down model built for customizing. I ended up with a very nice Dell at a very nice price. It came with the operating system, antivirus protection, a nice HD monitor, and a free printer: the rest was up to me. On a side note: the husband wanted a Mac, but all my book software is windows, and our meagre usage couldn’t validate the cost compared to the Dell.

What does this have to do with self-publishing? Well, it’s all about digital files my friend -- good quality digital files. Years ago, I had the advantage of working in the digital/desktop publishing world for five years, and that afforded me all kinds of crazy knowledge with regard to digital files, specifically setting up files for press and digital printing. One of the things I hated about Lulu was that they made you load jpeg images for the cover files. Everyone knows jpeg images are compressed even at the highest quality. They are meant for web-viewing, not printing, so the quality of a jpeg book cover is noticeably compromised. You can do your own one piece covers and submit as PDF files to get around that. Most companies accept them, but some companies have file size limitations so be careful. Lightening Source and Createspace require distilled PDF files, and rightfully so, as this just makes for a better looking cover.

Here’s where Vista comes in. Some older programs will either not load at all on Vista or will load without certain features. My old Photoshop program was a total bust, but I have Microsoft Digital Imaging 10, which looks and feels like Photoshop and I like it better, so that was not an issue. My Word 2002 loaded just fine, and my web-design program loaded just fine. So far so good, until I got to loading Adobe Professional 7. The program itself loaded just fine, however, it could not configure a printer port for Adobe PDFwriter, and so couldn’t load the driver. This is a known issue and Adobe will not be issuing a fix.

What is PDFwriter, and why does it matter?

PDFwriter functions like a hybrid postscript printer/distiller all in one. One click PDF file creation and the specs are customizable. What you get is a nice super clean 1200 dpi cover file. You can create the PDF from inside the Adobe program without PDFwriter, but the difference in quality is astronomical to the naked eye. What to do, what to do. I could purchase Adobe 9, but it’s costly, and it’s a RAM hog. So I decided I would use a backdoor method, the same one we used in the early days of digital printing: the two-step postscript to distiller option. Now I just had to find and install a 1200 dpi colour postscript driver -- easier said than done. There is no way to know which of the print drivers offered in Vista are 1200 dpi without installing them and checking the advanced graphics options, so that is what I did. After 30 or so installations and test files, I remembered that some of our favourite colour machines back in the day were Tektronix and Lanier. Tektronix was a bust, all were 600dpi. Vista also offers Lanier print drivers, and I was able to find a 1200 dpi one and load it to the :FILE port. After that, converting quality cover files is a snap. Print from your program to that printer. It creates an eps file or encapsulated postscript file that you then use with Adobe distiller to distil a PDF to whatever specs your self-publishing company wants. Createspace and Lightening Source have very specific distilling specs, so check with your company about their file requirements. As for interior files, most companies want B&W PDF files distilled and downsampled to 300dpi. You would use the same process only this time you will select a black and white printer that can accommodate custom sizes. I like the Xerox Workcenter pro 90 myself as it allows for downloaded softfonts.

So for authors out there forced to convert to Vista, don’t panic, as Douglas Adams would say. Your old word and rtf files will convert just fine. I tested a whole bunch.

I will probably upgrade to office 2007 anyway, but as far as working on my in-progress books, it’s not urgent to make the switch at this point.

Of course, there are other PDF creation programs out there: CutePDF and a few others. I have never used them, and so I cannot vouch for the quality of the PDFs they create. That’s why I have stuck with Adobe all these years.

Edited to add: Well, I wound up upgrading to Office Professional 2007 because I got a software deal that was just too good. Anyhoo, my text files are fine, not a glitch, but my web publishing program converted my old files in a rather quirky way, so now, I have to redo and upate the entire website. Thank god I can do it offline. It was due for an overhaul anyway, but this is a good time to remind everyone to back up their old files, which thankfully, I did before conversion/upgrade.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

The art is Frontispiece to Frankenstein 1831 by Theodore Von Holst

3 comments: said...

You're certainly right about your points. It pays off to invest on the right technical stuffs. But first and foremost, one must consider the purpose or the need, and then he could proceed to trimming down options. I'm sure a lot of readers will find this post helpful and interesting.

Keep on writing, we believe in you.
You have the book...We have the Marketing Resources.

Jim Murdoch said...

Yeah, we had all kinds of problems. Luckily both our office PCs run XP so that was an easy fix. And the difference between them and our laptops is night and day as far as speed goes. I just don't have the time or I'd do away with Vista on mine I really would. There are times you'd think I was running an old 386 I can tell you.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Mine has been running super fast even with the vista, but it's a ram hog, no doubt about it. I bought a machine with a lot of power and we hardly have anything loaded on it. Just my book software stuff and the itunes.