Guest contributor: Erin Nicol

The making of Rhys Darby’s book: “The Top Secret Undercover Notes of Buttons McGinty”

When Rhys Darby’s manuscript landed on my desk, I was blown away by how unique it was. All of the illustrations and words were done by him! It looked like a child’s diary entry. Because it was so different, I had to break all the rules of book design. Everything (from the font sizes, to the line spacings) had to be altered to allow the right amount of negative space. The scary thing was, I only had a week to turn the whole thing into a fully designed book!

Recreating the illustrations

All of Rhys’s illustrations had to be digitally traced to make them into vector versions, and then converted into greyscale. There were 190 pages of illustrations!

On the left is Rhys Darby’s original illustration, on the right is the digital version.

The layout

Laying out the text and illustrations was challenging. I wanted to capture the look and feel of a diary, but I also had to make sure all the pages looked visually balanced. So there was a bit of tweaking to make the text and illustrations work together.

This was by far the hardest page to lay out. Look at how all the blocks of text are arranged differently on the page. A lot of twiddling around here:

Choosing the font:

Rhys had originally hand-written the story on a tablet, so Scholastic had the fun job of typing it all up. They wanted to go with a font that matched Rhys’s handwriting, so in the end they chose Gloria Hallelujah.

Font: Gloria Hallelujah

As you can see, getting the book out in time was a bit of a mission, but it was definitely worth it. I can’t wait to work on Rhys’s next book in the series.

Further information

This site gives just a quick overview of the self-publishing process. Please feel free to contact us if you are considering working with Smartwork. In the meantime, here are one or two very useful sources of information and contacts.

New Zealand Book Council ( A superb resource for NZ readers and writers – with a blog, podcasts, and information on courses, funding, residencies, festivals, community events and the Writers in Schools programme.

New Zealand Society of Authors ( The NZSA, like the Book Council, is an essential resource for readers and writers, with news of grants and fellowships, courses, etc. It will be able to provide much of the basic information self-published authors need. It provides three particularly useful and affordable guides (available as ebooks): Getting Published, Self-Publishing: A writer’s guide, and Digital Publishing Guide (Martin Taylor).

The Bookseller ( The Bookseller has for more than a century been the international go-to source for trade news.

Things to avoid

5 common things to avoid
when self-publishing your book

Select which of these statements apply to you…

1. I have designed my own cover.
danger_book3Many self-published book covers are sunk by their authors desire to embody all the symbolism on the book’s cover, but it rarely works out well.
  • Keep your cover simple.
  • One graphic that expresses the tone of the book with strong and legible type for the title.
  • Are you also planning an ebook?  If so how does your cover look when it’s as small as a postage stamp on a screen?
2. I want my book to be unique.
danger_book3There’s unique and then there’s awkward.
You need to be careful when choosing the size and shape of your book.


  • There are good reasons why books are standard sizes in both the number of pages and their physical size.
  • Printing costs, shipping costs bookshop shelf sizes, weight and shape for the reader to hold.
  • Choose the size for your book early in your decision-making process so you can brief illustrators and gain printing prices before getting too far down the track.
3. I am planning a road trip, so I’ll take my book along and sell it to the bookshops
danger_book3You need to spend some time thinking about who will buy your book, which retailers will sell it, and how you plan to reach these people. A road trip is not a good idea.


  • Distribution is something you need to explore before you think of spending any money.
  • What you find out might make a big difference in what you choose to include in your book and how it will look and what it will retail for.
4. I found a great image on the internet
danger_book3Using ‘found’ images is a bad idea for a number of reasons…



  • Photos that look great on screen only have 72 pieces of picture information per inch (ppi) of display space. This is fine for an ebook, but not for printing. To print you need 300 pixels per inch. So if you try to put your 72 ppi photo in your book it will look really fuzzy.
  • There is also copyright issues to consider. It’s amazing where a printed book can travel and who sees it. Make sure everyone who sees yours is happy with it’s content.
5. My mum is an English teacher
danger_book3Using friends and family to edit or proofread your book is a bad idea!



  • When a reader buys a book they are investing not just their money, but also their time.
  • It’s really important that you give them a good experience.
  • An editor is a critical reader and a lover of words. So much more than a proofreader. They polish and refine while checking for inconsistencies, facts, grammar and punctuation.
  • It’s a skilled profession and one that book reviews will pick up on straight away.

For further help on your self-publishing project, and a FREE 20-minute consultation - please get in touch with our friendly team of experts.



How much will it cost?

Book production is one of those black and white areas that directly reflects the time and money you have available to produce an end result. But don’t be fooled that it’s all bad. Some areas have more impact than others and knowing your market is vital when deciding how much budget you need to commit.

Your end goal will be a professionally produced book that reflects the time you have put into collating and writing the content. To do this you’ll need to work with a professional to understand all the book production jargon and work out which parts are important to your market. Also take advice and listen to suggestions on where your should start your project. There’s no point in spending money on designing a great cover without having first worked out how you are going to distribute and market your book

Editing and cover design are high priorities on the list of things to get right, but you’ll also need to work out which format is best and the print values you require.

As a ball-park figure, you’ll need to budget between $3,000 and $8,000 to be ready to go to market, but there are loads of variables so don’t be afraid to ask for full quotes and cost breakdowns up front and then work back to what is achievable on your budget.

For further help on your self-publishing project, and a FREE 20-minute consultation - please get in touch with our friendly team of experts.