Retrospective: Quiz series, Ancient Greece Edition

With this first book out of the way, it's time to look back at how the project unfolded and what insight came from it. I set out to create a quiz series to probe the waters and get a first product out of the door. The overall scope was already set, I now needed to settle on a theme, create the book content and assets accordingly, and figure out how to publish and distribute it. Easy enough! Of course, once I got started, I became less concerned about what to do and more focused on how to do it, and... I ended up tackling the project in the exact opposite order. That's what happens when you do reverse-engineering for a living!

My thinking was that the platform might dictate what process and tools to use, so I started looking into the publishing market first. I quickly ruled out established publishers, because they don't typically deal with new authors with an unproven track record, so I rounded up self-publishing platforms instead. As I saw it, they traded prestige for accessibility, and using them required more sweat equity and less financial commitment. It felt like a good fit. Usability, pricing, and royalty schemes all looked fairly similar across the board, but Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Amazon's self publishing platform, offered far and away the best exposure, given Amazon's dominance in the book market.

Digging further, KDP is well documented and provides extensive publishing guidelines and print templates. It also makes it easy to distribute both print and electronic copies which sounds great to avoid duplicating efforts, but comes with significant caveats. The most obvious one is the margining: the hard copy has to account for the gutter while the ebook doesn't, which makes for a slightly different layout. Another, more subtle one: the print version looks much better with high definition pictures (minimum 300dpi) and the absence of file size constraint encourages their use; on the other hand, ebooks can get away with less (92 dpi works in most cases) and are priced based on their file size, which is a clear incentive towards lower quality pictures. Considering the differences, my takeaway was that while both versions could use many of the same assets, they both needed their own dedicated process.

Now equipped with KDP guidelines and templates, I could positively say a word processing software was the only absolute requirement (MS Word, Google Docs, LibreOffice Writer, you name it). Of course, once you factor illustrations and book cover, an image editor also comes in handy; Photoshop is the gold standard, but I didn't care for the licensing cost. I knew of GIMP as the most full-featured free alternative, but the user interface never felt that intuitive to me; I landed on Paint.Net, another free alternative which offered a better balance of community support, user-friendliness and functionalities.
And true to my programming roots, I envisioned some automation. The nature of the project, essentially a collection of questions & answer, begged for the use of a template solution, rather than painstakingly designing each and every page. It's also something I thought had the potential to be reused. I figured the path of least resistance for a template system would be coupling MS Word with some light VBA programming.

With most of the questions around the deliverables out of the way, I started looking for theme to drive the quiz, ideally something familiar to facilitate the writing and enough of a differentiating factor, to make the book stand out and easier to market. Another consideration was illustrations since asset creation or copyrights could drive the costs up pretty quickly; if manageable, I was planning on working it out on my own. Borrowing inspiration from my nerdy teenage years, Greek mythology stood out and seemed to check all the boxes. I was already fairly familiar with the topic, and, more importantly, it had the distinct advantage of offering a very rich public domain. What wasn't clear to me, however, was its potential as a differentiating factor. So I headed to Amazon to find out what was already on the shelves. There was a lively offering in terms of quiz and trivia book, mostly indies, and either very broad themes (ex: general culture challenge) or  narrowly focused on niches, like a particular sports team or a classic TV show. In all this, Greek mythology was underrepresented, so I ran with this idea!

If you enjoyed these insights and would like to know more, feel free to drop a comment. And if you want to show your support, there's no better than to buy the book!


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