Tag Archives | Equine Tapestry

Adventures in self-publishing

(I am cross-posting this from my horse color blog, since it explains why things have been so quiet here – and might stay quiet for a little while longer.)



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 and 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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Unexpected things


You will never guess what I am!

I started getting requests to write a book on horse color shortly after I started writing articles on the subject, but I didn’t take the idea really seriously until after I began doing seminars at BreyerFest in 2001. My husband co-authored a physics textbook a few years later, and I began teasing him that surely my obscure interest (horse color) was more marketable than his (optical physics). I am still not sure about that, but his publishing experience did convince me that I was too used to controlling my images and text to work with a publishing company. The growth in self-publishing options, particularly print-on-demand, and the belief that I probably knew the market for this kind of book better than most publishers, decided it for me.

The book I truly wanted to write didn’t seem feasible at this point. I needed high-quality color printing, and while the prices have come down a great deal in recent years, they aren’t yet down low enough. I thought that producing an in-depth book on color identification at a reasonable price was still a few years off, so I thought perhaps a smaller scale project might be a good way to “learn the ropes” of self-publishing. What I had in mind was a book that expanded on the information provided in my breed color charts. Those charts have always been abbreviated, both in the scope of the breeds and the colors themselves (new colors have not be added over time). They also don’t give any background or clarification on the information. That information has always been in my notes – in my rather infamous “color notebooks”.


These are just a few of the sheets from a few of the notebooks. After almost twenty years, there are thousands of pages – and still they represent only a fraction of the accumulated information.

I thought I could produce a book with a brief outline of the colors and patterns currently known, and then present each breed with a narrative of what colors were present in the gene pool. I envisioned a handy reference book that could fill in what the charts did not tell. Since it was not designed to explain horse color, but merely to tell the story of horse color in the different breeds, it could be printed in black and white.

So that was the plan – a handy reference book that could be written in time for a June deadline (making the first copies available at BreyerFest 2010). Along the way, a lot of unexpected things came up.

The horses’ stories got longer. I’m sure my friends would point out that this is common with the stories I tell! But I am laying some of the blame with technology.


I’m a better-known individual than my pony friend up there, but you might not know what I am either!

When I started work on the book, it was important to me that it be as grounded in fact as possible. I knew that many breed ‘purists’ weren’t going to like some of the information I had, so I wanted to be on solid ground with what I wrote. But more importantly I didn’t want to simply repeat what previous volumes said about a given breed. Having read countless horse books, it is rather striking how most simply reword what some other author said on the topic – and sometimes even the rewording is pretty minimal! I thought the least I could do was confirm information with first sources.

This probably wouldn’t have changed the scope of the book, except that technology meant that I had access to a lot more information. I already have an impressive amount of information right here in my own library, but in the last few years many registries have gone online with their databases. Most of the American and British databases are restricted to members of the various breed societies, or are only available on a subscription basis. Smaller countries, however, have proven to be a lot more open. This, paired with Google Translate, has allowed me to tell the stories of many obscure breeds more fully.

The other important bit of technology were sites like Google Books and the Internet Archive. Projects like these are scanning older texts and offering them as PDF files for downloading. In the case of Google Books, there is a powerful search engine that sifts through not only titles, but the text of books and periodicals. Fortunately for me, the formative years of selective breeding in horses is the time leading up and the time just following the turn of the last century. It coincides almost perfectly with the books aging out of their copyright protections. Having access to so many contemporary texts from that time (and being able to quickly search them for specific subjects) has allowed me to better understand the earliest times for many of these breeds.

The downside has been that the book has become unexpectedly large, and is taking an unexpectedly long time (not to mention eating up an enormous amount of my attention). This stopped being a “quick reference” long ago, but I am even more enthusiastic about telling the tale. I think that here, nearly a century in to selective breeding of animals, is a good time to record these stories and give some idea of the sweep of history involved. It is my hope that by showing how things really were, perhaps those of us who love horses can see more clearly how to proceed in the future. It just won’t be done in time for this year’s BreyerFest.

Oh, and the two horses pictured are some of the unexpected things I have discovered while writing. The black pony is – believe it or not – a Haflinger. He wasn’t just any Haflinger, either. He belonged to the Emperor of Austria, and was pictured as a “typical example” in a nineteenth century treatise on horse breeds. The grey horse is a Hackney. While I knew the color had once been present in Hackneys, I wasn’t aware there were breeders focusing on the color so late into the twentieth century. (It is, as best I can tell, truly lost now.)

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