Creative Experiment #1

I’ve always had a strange obsession with stationary. Growing up in the 80s, I spent a lot of time in stores like Arcadia and local book shops admiring the many bright colored journals, notebooks, and pens. As the world of desktop publishing grew, I would sit at home with the Paper Direct catalog and dream of ways to use all of the cool papers. I know, it’s weird but true. I am obsessed with paper products.

Knowing that, it should be easy to see why my latest creative pursuit is connected to journals and notebooks. The last month or so I have been having fun with creating custom print on demand journals using Adobe Express and Kindle Direct Publishing.

Graphic Design is My Passion

Drawing of a rock saying "you rock."

Ok, not really but I have always enjoyed designing things. It is a soothing hobby for me to create graphics and images. You can read more about it in my posts about using Adobe Express to create Micro Fiction, building visual literacy skills, or any of my 30 tech tools in 30 days posts about graphic design tools. I enjoy design and playing with design tools. So, as my husband and I were thinking about possible side hustles, we came across a variety of folks talking about how to make money selling low content books on Amazon. My interest was piqued. For me, this was less about the possibility of “passive income” and more about the joy of creating silly graphics, using my photography and design skills all while indulging my long held obsession with stationary.

The Process in a Nutshell

Creating a journal or notebook is fairly simple.

  1. Find a cover template for the size and type of book you want to create. (I got mine from A fantastic resource for anyone interested in self publishing.)
  2. Create a cover using design software of your choice. More on that below.
  3. Layout the interior pages.
  4. Set up an account with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).
  5. Set up your book and upload the content on KDP.
  6. Proof.
  7. Publish.
  8. Sit back and let the sales roll in. (Still waiting for that to happen.)

In this post, I’ll go a bit deeper into the tools I used and a few things I’ve learned along the way. If you want to check out my line of notebooks and journals, you can visit the HotPinkTech Press Author page on Amazon.

The Tools

There are not a lot of tools needed to get started with this project. You really just need graphic design software and access to images or other graphical elements. Please be sure you have the usage rights to all of the images you use.

Designing the Cover

There are a wide variety of graphic design tools out there. One of the most recommended tools for creating journals and notebooks is Canva. Canva is a free web based graphic design tool that helps you create some really nice graphics. I’ve used it. It’s easy to use and has a huge library of elements and templates to help you get started. However, if you read my blog at all, you know that Adobe Express (formally Adobe Spark) is my tool of choice. Recently they have added several features, including new AI tools (more on that in a future post) that have added to the functionality of the tools. If you are an experience designer and used to more powerful tools, Adobe Express has a few frustrating flaws but overall, it is really easy to layout some very nice looking book covers.

Screenshot of notebook deign using Adobe Express.

When laying out the books for KDP, templates are your best friend. The right template will tell you exactly what size to make your graphic and include all of the bleed, trim and margin information. I use to generate my templates. They have a KDP cover generator that is simple. Enter the size of the book you want to create including cover type (paperback or hard cover) and number of pages. It generates a template that you can use a guide when laying out your book cover. The service is free but you might want to drop them a donation.

To use the template, I uploaded it into Adobe Express, created a project to the specified dimensions and began layering my elements on top. Be sure to delete the layer in your final version. I’ve used this method to create 120 page and 370 page paperbacks and 370 page hard covers. Works really well.

Laying Out the Interior Pages

The first few books I created were simple interior pages. Mostly blank pages with a graphic in the corner. Initially, I was using Adobe Express to create both the cover and the interior pages. The simple interior pages were easy to eyeball. For the Thinking and Drinking 365 Day Journals, the spacing was a bit more complicated. To give me more control with margins and spacing, I moved into MS Word. Stop cringing. I had a template and it was my only choice. You can download Word templates from KDP. This is helpful if you are doing more that just a simple page. However, shifting to MS Word took away some of the creativity of my layouts. That is something I am going to continue to explore as my interior pages get more complicated. See the samples below.

Line interior page

Sample Interior Pages

To put the interior together, I used Adobe Acrobat. All of the books I’ve created have repetitive interior pages. Some have 120 lined pages while others have 365 pages of the same layout. Setting the page up in Word and then assembling the full book in Acrobat is really easy and gives you a ton of flexibility.

All in all, graphic design software, such as Canva or Adobe Express is really all you need. The others are more about what you need to improve your work flow.

Publishing the Book

Picture of a hard covered pink book titled "Thinking and Drinking."

For me, most of the fun of this project is in designing the books. But, there is something very satisfying when you hold a real life version of that book in your hands. Kindle Direct Publishing has made this process easy. I was able to set up a free account and publish my first notebook in one afternoon. The website is intuitive and easy to navigate. It’s filled with tools and resources to help you. The most difficult part of the whole process was deciding how to categorize and price the final book. Do your research. I would also advise purchasing a proof of your first book. You only need one. The proof will let you see how all of your digital work translates to a real honest to goodness paper notebook. Once you set up your book in KDP, you can order a proof before you complete the publishing process. In about 10 days or so, you will get the first copy of your book (marked, “Not for Resale” of course). I have to admit, I was more than a little excited to hold it in my hand.

If your proof looks good – it’s time to publish. Hit that button…and then wait. It takes about 72 hours for your published book to be reviewed. If it passes, it will be published. I’ve had several books kicked back to me to make changes. The first two were because they contained blank pages. Your interior pages cannot all be blank. You need to have something on the interior. That is why I created the simple lined interior pages above. I also got a book kicked back to me because I used the word “Journal” in the title. This apparently is against the site guidelines. Before you get started, be sure to read through the publishing information and directions. Very useful and timesaving information.

One thing I like about sing KDP is all of the tools. I manage all of my books on my bookshelf. I can create both paperbacks and hard covers of the same book. Which is cool. And I can use the reports to keep track of sales. Again, the site makes this all very easy. You can also order author copies of your books at cost. This is helpful if you want to sell them on your own or give them as gifts. (Yes, my loving family. you are all getting notebooks for Christmas. You’re welcome.) These copies are the real deal. No “Not for Resale” printed across the front. A real live honest to goodness paper thing that looks pretty legit. I mean, the kid in me would have been pretty stoked to find these in Arcadia next to the Duran Duran posters.

Picture of two journals with unicorns.

What’s Next?

The next phase of this whole creative journey is to learn more about how to use the marketing tools to get my products noticed on Amazon. I have already set up my Author Page so my fans can follow me and be notified when I release a new book. (Some day, right?) There are a variety of tools in the site to help you market your books. I’m looking forward to experimenting.

So, what’s next. Well, according to the “experts” I sit back and let the sales roll in. Really, I’m not holding my breath. This is more for fun than anything else. But, I am enjoying the process of creating journals that I might actually use. I just created a series of 365 day journals call Thinking and Drinking. What do you drink while you think? Now you can write about it. Also – big news…as of the day this post was published, I have sold one notebook!!! I am very excited. Yes, it was probably my mom who bought it but a sale is still a sale. Yay!

So, if graphic design is your passion or if you are just a stationary obsessed 80s kid like me, try your hand at making and publishing your own notebooks and journals. It really is easy and fun.

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