I've written several books ( see Active Nudists, Pro Perl Debugger, etc. ) already, using mainstream publishers, but The World Naked Bike Ride book is the first time I've published directly. It's been a lot of fun and a bit of a learning curve, both. The entire project was completed using fine open-source tools; gvim for writing and editing the text, Firefox for research,the Gimp for image manipulations, and the all essential Scribus for DTP, all running on SuSe Linux. Final printing was undertaken by Lightning Sourceusing POD technology. This book is a Scribus success story and if this helps to push the envelope still further with self-publishing under open-source, this can only be a good thing.

In particular, being open-source and very robust, Scribus was really easy to work with and, with chapter lengths below approx. 35 pages, even with several colour images on every single page, the response times were comfortable. I found the tool highly reliable and the only major headache I had was the PDF export, which is related to the PDF/X-1a:2011 format required. While I was usingScribus v1.4.1 (with no PDF/X-1a:2011 support, I was recommended to use v1.5.0 for the PDF export, however initially I had some difficulty as this file still appeared unable to satisfy Lightning Source's requirements, so for the first edition I took a different route. Some of the tortuous experience is described in the bugs mailing list Also, I discovered later, there is an open-source pre-flight tool which might prove useful for the next round of checks. For the first edition of the WNBR project, I managed to find one solution which worked cleanly for me. For the second edition, I used a different, slightly simpler approach using open-source Scribus tools only. As this might help others in future, I describe both procedures here in full.

Second edition - using a combination of Scribus 1.4.0 and Scribus 1.5.0 - both on Linux.

  • Install one of the following SWOP color profiles, as per Scribus instructions:
    • "U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2" color profile available from:
      • http://www.adobe.com/support/downloads/product.jsp?product=62&platform=Windows
    • "SWOP coated 5_240" as recommended on the Scribus mailing list:
      • http://wexfordpress.net/SWOPcoated5_240.icc
  • Use Scribus 1.4.0 to execute the DTP layout/s, and then:
    • Save the cover as a single sla file.
    • Create the book interior by combining all chapters) into a single sla file.
      • Do not use an external tool to combine the chapters.
      • Use the menu->page->import function to combine the chapters.
      • Save the resulting single book interior sla file.
  • Use Scribus 1.5.0 to export to PDF/X-1a:2011
    • Select Menu->File->Export->Save as PDF
    • The PDF export tabs:
      • General:
        • Compatibility: PDF/X-1a
      • Fonts:
        • Embed all fonts
      • Extras:
        • Nothing to do.
      • Viewer:
        • Document Layout: Single Page
      • Color:
        • Output Intended For: Printer
      • Pre-Press:
        • Bleed Settings: Use Document Bleeds
        • PDF/X Output Intent: Output Profile: "U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2"
    • Save the PDF/X-1a:2011 file
  • Upload the PDF/X-1a:2011 files to LSI.

First edition - using a combination of Scribus 1.4.0 on Linux and Acrobat 10 on Windoze:

  • Execute the DTP layout using Scribus 1.4.0
  • Export to PDF 1.3 directly from Scribus 1.4.0
    • Display for printer.
    • Use document bleed.
    • Convert all colours to CMYK.
    • Do not use any colour profiles.
    • Embed all fonts.
  • Convert to PDF/X-1a:2011.
    • Download the free trial Adobe Acrobat 10 on MS Windows, (thanks for the laptop loan, George!)
    • Open the Scribus PDF and save to a postscript file.
    • Open the postscript file with Adobe Distiller.
    • Save as PDF/X-1a:2011.
    • If distilling produces *random* failures with the following error:
      • "%%[ Error: invalidfileaccess; OffendingCommand: showpage ]%%"
      • The fix for me was to disable the Kapersky security application.
    • Finally, this should generate a succussful output log file with the content:
      • "no errors and PDF/X-1a:2001 compliant"
  • Upload the PDF/X-1a:2011 files to LSI.

In both cases, the resulting PDF will probably appear dark and contrasty, this seems to be a feature of PDF/X-1a:2011.

My experience with Lightning Source is not quite over yet, and while I'm very excited at the prospects for POD in the near future, I'd say their process could be improved with a couple of simple interventions. At the moment their extensive and largely very clear instructions are duplicated among several inconsistent PDF files which are not designed for online viewing. It would make for a far easier to understand service if they moved to a sensible HTML (link) based FAQ and documentation layout. The feedback (?) system is designed to offer very little to the hapless end-user, with PDF file uploads being returned with somewhat cryptic messages from the pre-media team. There's a world of difference between saying: "the PDF is rejected as non-compliant!" and the far more helpful: "the PDF is rejected as non-compliant BECAUSE ...". Furthermore there is very little in the way of a clear understanding of the process, one has to more or less guess what each status means and what is coming next - a simple flow-chart would do wonders here. Having said all that, overall Lightning Source service have certainly been professionally courteous and the person assigned to hand-hold my account has retained her cool even when my frustration levels "undulated" from time to time. I can easily imagine the system being much smoother when you've been through the mill once, and know how it works.

Finally, when I received my first full colour paperback of 160 pages and 250 photographs to proof, from Lightning Source, I have to say I was seriously impressed. Although the internal colour printing is not quite as sharp one could hope for, one has to remember this is not a "high quality photographic production", and that I am a beginner when it comes to direct publishing. However, there were no visible colour shifts and even widely different types of photographs, with ranges of contrast levels and colour content, printed very cleanly indeed. For a convenient way to print fairly complex books on demand, at a reasonable level of quality, and to have some measure of control over the process, the price and the distribution, too, I was very pleased with the final product. The DTP layout was completed with Scribus, I thoroughly enjoyed using the tool, am happy with the result and I hope you enjoy the result too. I certainly look forward to doing this again sometime soon.

With the benefit of hindsight, of course ;-)