Thank Mike Cane for this rant.
I’ve read a few self-pubbed books lately. None of them were egregiously horrible in the design department and a couple of them were even fairly decent. And frankly, after I converted them to digital and put them on my ebook reader, it wasn’t an issue at all. But let me take the opportunity today to piss off everybody right up front and then we’ll get to the good stuff.
1. If I hear one more word out of self-pub haters that someone self-pubs because she sucks as a writer– Oh, wait. I hear that all the time and move along on my own business. Nebber mind. You go ahead and keep doing what you’re doing, Mr./Ms. Author, because obviously it’s working for you. (Note: I saw the writing on the wall for me when an editor said, “We love it and it’s well written, but we don’t know where to put it.”)
2. If I hear one more word out of proudly proclaimed self-publishers that no one can typeset anything in MS Word and make it look right, I’ll scream. Yeah, I have seen your books and yes, like you, I can tell who did and didn’t use Word for typesetting. Yes, you proud InDesign/PageMaker users, I can tell that you (or the interior design person you hired) used InDesign/PageMaker. How can I tell? Because you (or the person you hired) suck at InDesign/PageMaker. I cut my teeth on PageMaker in J-school, so I know what it can and can’t do and how well you have to know it to do it right. GIGO.
Design, people. Design is the first reason independent publishing gets no respect. If a reader can’t get past the design, doesn’t matter how good the writing is or isn’t.
I’m not going to worry about discussing cover art today, because, well, I can’t speak. I winged that and after about a year and sixteen different covers, I had enough skills to put this together:
CLICK TO ENLARGE
So let’s talk about interiors, shall we? In this I have a wee bit of knowledge, but mostly it comes from J-school.
In my opinion, there are a few basics that should be fairly commonsensical but I’ve seen violated as of late:
1. Don’t use Times New Roman 12 pt single spaced. Please. Pleasepleaseplease. Pwettypweeze with sugar on top. (And as a personal favor to me, don’t use Garamond or Palatino Linotype, either. Ask Lulu to please add some more fonts to their repertoire you don’t have to embed OR learn how to embed your fonts, but then you wouldn’t need Lulu.) If you choose to use a sans-serif font, pick one that’s easy on the eyeballs like Calibri or Candara.
2. Justify your margins.
3. Don’t use 1/2-inch paragraph indent. Use something a lot smaller.
4. White space!!! You can get away with using a smaller font size if you make sure your line spacing is adequate.
5. Don’t put your headers on the chapter page break.
In my case, I had a 283,000-word book. I wasn’t going to be able to mess with font sizes much and still fit it all in one spine, which meant I had to do a couple of things I wasn’t happy about, but won’t do on books any shorter. One thing was having to make the font 11 pt. Because in Adobe Jenson, that’s really really really small; on the other hand, the line spacing is 14 pt, which, according to some typography books I’ve read, is a good ratio and I must say my eyeballs agree. The other thing was:
6. Start all chapters on the odd page, not the even. This isn’t a “rule” so much as simple polish. I couldn’t do it because of my page count. On the other hand, I haven’t read a book that stuck to this “rule” in so long I’m not even sure why I care.
Okay, so here’s an example from The Proviso:
CLICK TO ENLARGE
Let’s break it down.
1) No header on chapter page, and no page number, either.
2) Right margin justified.
3) 0.5 inch on the outside margin, but wider margin on top and bottom (not much, admittedly, but enough).
4) 0.2 inch paragraph indent.
5) Drop cap and first line small caps. It’s nice. It means you notice details. Neither of these is necessary, but it polishes without going overboard.
6) Nice line spacing = plenty of white space, or at least, as much line space as I could afford, given the length of the book and Lightning Source’s printing limitations.
So what’s my point?
If you are going to try to do these things yourself, learn what makes human eyeballs happy. Read the books. The one I lived and breathed by was this one:
Practice. Experiment. Study the way other books are designed (especially the high-end ones). Notice details. Take notes. Don’t be afraid to throw out your pet specs (the same way you shouldn’t be afraid to throw out your words that don’t work).
Independent publishing is a business just like any other business that sells goods to merchants, which makes it difficult enough for us in an industry that doesn’t do business that way and has a vested interest in keeping the status quo. But you know what? If the last week of handselling has taught me anything, it’s that the readers don’t care who published your book–unless it looks like an unprofessional job.
If they take one look at the book and ask to see it, read the back copy, then flip open the pages to read a little bit, and then whip out their checkbook (especially for a book this expensive), then you’ve done something right. If they aren’t intrigued enough to make it to the back copy, and then the first couple of pages, all the good writing in the world isn’t going to help you. They won’t know why they don’t like looking at it and they’ll care even less, but they will know they just don’t want to look at it.
Bottom line: Once you’re finished with the story inside, forget about it and concentrate on the visuals. The book is the art. It all works together in a symbiotic fashion. Don’t believe me? Ask all those authors whose publishers killed their sales straight out of the gate with a bad cover and bad back copy.
“We don’t know where to put it.”
I do. Right in the readers’ hands.