Leather-bound, illustrated edition of Lord of the Fading Lands by C.L. Wilson

Photo of a leather-bound edition of Tairen Soul. It's in a red/maroon colour leather with gold foil and gilded edges.

In May I mentioned how I wanted to make my own special edition book. Well, I did it!!

To recap: this idea started when I read about someone else making their own special edition book. I became obsessed with the idea and set out to do something similar for my favourite series, Tairen Soul by C.L. Wilson.

What did I want to do?

First thing: what exactly did I want to achieve in terms of specs?

  • Leather-bound book with gold foiling
  • Gilded edges
  • UK royal hardcover sizing
    • The book has officially only been released as a small paperback, which meant I would have to reformat and reprint the book, as opposed to just rebinding an existing copy.
  • Full colour, full page interior illustrations
  • Possibly some black and white “inline” illustrations (not taking up a whole page)

Determining the viability of the project

After knowing what I wanted to accomplish, the next step was figuring out if I could make this project happen. That involved two things:

  1. Seeing if I could teach myself InDesign
  2. Seeing if I could find “suppliers” for each of my requirements:
    1. Printer
    2. Bookbinder
    3. Illustrator(s)
    4. A cartographer

Learning InDesign

I could have just hired someone to do this for me, but I wanted to have some sort of creative contribution to the project. The most feasible option felt like handling the InDesign work. So I set out teaching myself how to use it. (I did end up with more creative contributions in the end, but I’ll touch on that later!)

I decided if I couldn’t make InDesign work, I wouldn’t do the project at all. Luckily I got enough of a handle on it that I felt I could move forward!

Finding suppliers

I needed to both: 1) find people who could help me implement this project; and 2) determine what the overall cost might look like, to make sure it was something I was willing to pay.

I created a big spreadsheet of printers, bookbinders, and illustrators. I filled this out as I contacted people, noting things like:

  • Could they do the job?
  • What’s their availability?
  • What’s an estimated price quote for the work?

This was a lot of work and there were times I almost gave up.

Finding a printer and binder

Finding a printer was hard, because most of the options weren’t suitable for me.

I couldn’t work with one of those big companies that requires you place huge orders. So many companies would bail as soon as I mentioned I only wanted to print one book (and I don’t blame them).

I couldn’t work with on demand printers, because I wanted high quality paper, and I didn’t want a fully bound book. I wanted sheets that could be given to the bookbinder.

What I really wanted was a small, independent printer, but those are really hard to search for on Google, especially when you don’t need them to be local to you. Anywhere in the UK would suit me.

In the end, I actually found the perfect bookbinder first, and she referred me to a printer who’s local to her, and she works with often. It ended up being perfect to work with a printer and bookbinder who already know each other and have a relationship. The printer knew exactly how to give the pages to the bookbinder, etc.

Finding illustrators

I wanted full colour interior illustrations. Finding artists for this was also a long process and an extremely careful balancing act.

  1. I wanted artists whose artwork I really loved.
  2. But also for a price I could afford. (I wanted more than one illustration, so paying $1k+ per piece wasn’t possible for me.)
  3. But also from an artist who’s actually available and taking commissions. (Waiting was fine, but a lot of artists just close commissions with no waiting list when they’re busy.)

That’s insanely difficult!! There are a lot of amazing artists out there, but it’s hard to find people who can meet all three of those points.

Once again I was using the spreadsheet. I noted down every artist I was interested in, their portfolio, their price points, their availability.

In the end I picked two illustrators who were absolutely perfect for the job:

I booked both of them about 2-3 months in advance, which mostly set the timeline for my project.

Finding a cartographer

I wanted a cartographer to redraw the interior map, to use as the endpapers. I think the cartographer was actually the first person I found! I went with Rafal Zatwarnicki from New Horizons. He did an absolutely amazing job.

Photo of the endpapers on a book. The endpapers feature a full colour map illustration by New Horizons.
Map by New Horizons

The details on it are outstanding. He even drew me a little tairen!

Close up photo of the map, showing the "Fading Lands" region. There's a volcano in a mountainous region, and next to it is a tairen. (Large cat with wings.)

Going ahead

I did everything in parallel. I wanted to make sure I had all the pieces in play before committing. I didn’t want to commission a bunch of artwork just to find out later I couldn’t actually ever find a printer to make this work.

But once I had everyone lined up, it was all systems go!

While waiting in line for the illustrators, I spent most of my time on two things:

  1. Working on the interior formatting
  2. Working on black and white interior illustrations myself

Interior formatting

The interior formatting took a lot of time, and there was a lot of trial and error. My process ended up being this:

  1. Set up the InDesign document how I want it, in terms of margins, typography, etc. (I had this as one step, but this alone took a long time and I redid it several times!)
  2. I already owned the ebook (legitimately) and used Calibre to convert it into Word format.
  3. I split the Word document up by chapters (one Word document per chapter).
  4. Then import each Word chapter into InDesign (separate document for each chapter).
  5. Then fix each chapter.

Expanding on point 5… there was a lot of “fixing” involved. The conversion process wasn’t perfect, and as a result some of the line breaks in the document were messed up. So I basically went through the text line by line, comparing the InDesign document to my physical copy of Lord of the Fading Lands. I made sure the text was formatted the same way, line breaks were in the same place, etc.

Other than fixing glaring errors, there were also some stylistic fixes to be applied, to avoid things like orphaned words. Then of course every time I redid step 1 (change margins, font size, etc.), I also had to redo step 5!! (Lesson: make sure you’re committed to your margin and typography settings before formatting the whole book.)

Photo of the page of a book. At the top it says "Prologue" in large heading text, with a short poem underneath it. The first paragraph has a drop cap (letter "T" with intricate flower designs around it).

Black and white sketches

At some point I decided to make my own “sketchy” illustrations. Originally I thought about hiring someone to do this, but it was a lot harder for me to find someone who would do quick, fast black and white sketches, than a full colour illustrator. I actually have a background in digital art and drawing anyway, so I thought surely I could pull something together…

This decision ended up being the best one I made and really transformed this project into a whole other thing.

I used to be “an artist”. In middle school I got Photoshop for the first time and I was drawing my Neopets. This was my first foray into digital art. In high school I got my first Wacom tablet and drew fan art for video games (RuneScape, mostly). Back then my dream was to become a concept artist for video games!

At some point, I abandoned art in favour of web development. (I started coding when I made my own portfolio website to showcase my artwork, then never stopped.) I didn’t draw for 10 years.

But doing these black and white illustrations myself reignited my love of art! Once I finished the black and white sketches, I moved on to making my own full colour illustrations. I ended up including some of them in the final book!

This project was always a lot of fun, and was absolutely worth the expense paid. But rediscovering this love of digital painting really took it to a whole other level. I don’t think I would have found this hobby again if not for this project.

Designing the spine and cover

Designing the spine and cover of the book was actually an afterthought for me. I had originally hoped to just ask the bookbinder to go with some generic design using the tools she has available. But in August I visited her bindery and we talked a lot about options, colours, designs, etc. After that conversation I decided to properly design something myself.

I struggled with this because that kind of spine design work is not my speciality! It’s very different from the digital artwork I’m used to. In the end, I used a combination of some design tools I knew the binder already had, and something I mashed together using stock I purchased.

The mockup I gave her looked like this:

Cover design for the leather-bound edition of Tairen Soul. It features two lions in the centre, with a flower wreath around them.

I think it would have been cool to have someone do a custom design for me that also involved tairen wings (if you’re not famliar with the book: a tairen is a large cat — like a lion — with dragon-esque wings), but again, by this point I was feeling a little “finding people fatigue”.

Overall though I’m super happy with how it turned out!

A finished product

I started this project in May and it all came to a close six months later, on November 16th.

This book is everything I hoped and imagined it would be. It has 8 full colour illustrations, a full colour map, and 13 black and white sketches.

I’m already deep in planning the rest of the series (four more books!!). I’ll be doing a lot more of my own artwork for the rest of the series, but am still commissioning a few pieces (some of which are already done!).

Here’s a first look at some of the pieces by me:

And here are some of the commissioned ones:

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I'm a 30-something California girl living in England (I fell in love with a Brit!). My three great passions are: books, coding, and fitness. more »

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