The World’s Greatest Book

I’m Dave Bricker: author, edi­tor, graphic designer, inter­ac­tive devel­oper, and MFA design edu­ca­tor. I help writ­ers turn well-crafted man­u­scripts into beau­ti­ful, high-quality books. My web­site offers straight talk for writ­ers about pro­duc­ing and mar­ket­ing excel­lent books, eBook tech­nol­ogy, book design, typog­ra­phy, writ­ing, lit­er­acy, and the pub­lish­ing business.

Thank you for read­ing. Enjoy your pub­lish­ing jour­ney and get in touch if you want help mak­ing your book excellent.

—Dave Bricker

Simulating the Appearance of Traditional Print

letterpress-text-mainDigi­tal typog­ra­phy offers capa­bil­i­ties that print­ers work­ing with hot lead type and wood type could only dream of. Digital type can be stretched and resized infi­nitely, jus­ti­fied within unusual bound­aries, or wrapped around almost any shape. And yet, tra­di­tional let­ter­press and wood type spe­cialty shops con­tinue to marry ink and paper. Their work offers a spe­cial, organic warmth that dig­i­tal type lacks. This arti­cle explores the dif­fer­ences between dig­i­tal and tra­di­tional type, and sug­gests tech­niques for sim­u­lat­ing the appear­ance of tra­di­tional print. Though it ulti­mately fails to reveal a magic for­mula for turn­ing pix­els into authen­tic printer’s ink, it offers insights into why that goal is so dif­fi­cult to achieve.

The best source for his­tor­i­cal infor­ma­tion is old books. Reading about tra­di­tional typog­ra­phy is nowhere near as valu­able as look­ing at it. Observe the inter­ac­tion between ink, paper, and time. I find old design books on eBay that typ­i­cally cost half of what con­tem­po­rary books do. My col­lec­tion goes back to the 1830s. Two of my favorites: The Art & Practice of Typography by Edmund Gress, (1917), and The Manual of Linotype Typography by William Dana Orcutt and Edward Bartlett (1923) are avail­able for online view­ing (click their titles in this sen­tence). These books offer insights into evolv­ing lan­guage as much as they do into evolv­ing typog­ra­phy. Above all, they inspire one ques­tion: Why doesn’t my type look like that?

Continue read­ing

Commatose: the Oxford Comma, or Serial Comma

cereal-commasThe Oxford comma, or ser­ial comma is a sub­ject of con­stant debate among writ­ers. Do we need that comma before the last item on a list? Even with­out a list, the comma is an impor­tant deter­miner of meaning.

Time to eat children.

A comma after “eat” will bet­ter sup­port your peti­tion for unsu­per­vised visitation.

Proponents of the Oxford comma (which include MLA, CMOS, and Strunk & White) regard the comma as a log­i­cal group­ing device.

The teams wore jerseys colored red, blue, green, black and orange.

Four color schemes or five?

The teams wore jerseys colored red, blue, green, black, and orange.

Continue read­ing

English Pet Peeves

blow-mindDiscus­sions of English Language pet peeves pro­vide an enter­tain­ing forum for the expres­sion of ire. In fact, if a “pet” is some­thing we cher­ish, and a “peeve” is some­thing that annoys us, “pet peeves” are what we love to hate. Here’s a col­lec­tion of com­mon English solecisms—guaranteed not to lit­er­ally blow your mind:

English Pet Peeves: Logic Problems

  • “I could care less.” – If you’re express­ing dis­in­ter­est, you couldn’t care less.
  • Every time I hear Paul McCartney sing, “In this ever-changing world in which we live in,” I cringe. Correct usage is “… in which we live.”
  • “The rea­son why this hap­pened is because…” — use either “why” or “because,” but not both.
  • The rea­son this hap­pened is because …

    The rea­son why this hap­pened is …

    To be picky, we can do away with “The rea­son” if we pre­cede the cause with “because.”

    This hap­pened because …

  • “Where’s it at?” — It’s at over there.
  • “Comprising of” – should be “com­pris­ing” or “com­prised of.” Continue read­ing

Fine Control Over Justified Text

justification_articlePage lay­out pro­grams like Adobe Indesign and Quark, allow typog­ra­phers to exert fine con­trol over jus­ti­fied text to remove gaps and “rivers.” The default set­tings pro­duce “pretty good” results—better than a word processor—but a few small tweaks will dra­mat­i­cally improve the spac­ing of your text. This arti­cle explains how to bal­ance hyphen­ation set­tings with word spac­ing, let­ter spac­ing, and glyph scal­ing to opti­mize the appear­ance of jus­ti­fied text.

My last “Book Design Basics” post dis­cussed the impor­tance of hyphen­ation set­tings. These should be adjusted to suit the line width and the pur­pose of the text. A long legal dis­claimer in small print in a nar­row box can often be set with­out regard to how many hyphens are required to pro­duce con­sis­tent spac­ing. Body text is likely to be a com­pro­mise based mostly on one group of set­tings. A short blurb on the back of a book cover should be poked and prod­ded until spac­ing and hyphen­ation are ideal. This arti­cle explains how to com­bine hyphen­ation and jus­ti­fi­ca­tion set­tings to achieve opti­mal results.

Disclosure: If you’re read­ing this arti­cle, you’re prob­a­bly work­ing on your own next book and don’t care about mine (sell­ing books to writ­ers is like sell­ing boxed lunches at a chef’s con­ven­tion). At the risk of appear­ing self-promotional, I’m using the blurb from my new book’s back cover as the exam­ple text. It offers a per­fect, real-world, one-paragraph exam­ple of how adjust­ing hyphen­ation and jus­ti­fi­ca­tion set­tings can turn so-so text into a har­mo­niously spaced, easy-to-read mes­sage, but if you feel I’m “slip­ping an ad into your drink,” you can bail out here.

Still with me? Good. Let’s look at the text in its “pure” left-aligned form:

justification_01_defaultThe spac­ing is ideal for the font (Adobe Garamond Pro) as it’s unaf­fected by jus­ti­fi­ca­tion set­tings; the spac­ing you see is the spac­ing designed into the type­face. Many peo­ple pre­fer left-aligned (ragged right) text for this rea­son, but oth­ers pre­fer jus­ti­fied text because of the neat, tidy way it fills its box. Continue read­ing

September Publishing and EBook Workshops in Miami

Dave Bricker—award-winning author, book coach, designer, and cre­ator of the PubML™ eBook platform—will offer two September work­shops in Miami, Florida.

The free “All About Publishing” work­shop on Tuesday, September 2nd cov­ers writ­ing, edit­ing, book design, and how to dis­trib­ute your book on pop­u­lar retail sites. Learn about copy­right, print on demand, ISBN num­bers, and how to avoid pub­lish­ing scams—everything you need to pub­lish an excel­lent book. Continue read­ing

Scam Alert: Editors Beware

scammerI was con­tacted by a not-so-articulate per­son who requested my ser­vices as an edi­tor for an arti­cle. I looked at his doc­u­ment and found a ten-page para­graph that needed plenty of help. I wrote a polite response explain­ing that this piece would be time-consuming and expen­sive to edit, but the author seemed intent on hav­ing me rewrite it. He read­ily agreed to my price, explained his 30-day dead­line and told me he’d send a check.

If this doesn’t sound sus­pi­cious to you, it should.

Pay atten­tion and stay safe.

Continue read­ing

Book Design Basics — Use Hyphens for Justified Type

hyphens_article_artHyphens are an impor­tant con­trib­u­tor to ele­gant, easy-to-read typog­ra­phy, espe­cially when text is fully jus­ti­fied as is the con­ven­tion in book typog­ra­phy. This arti­cle explains how jus­ti­fied text works, and how proper hyphen­ation improves the leg­i­bil­ity of your type.

Text jus­ti­fi­ca­tion works by expand­ing the spaces between words on each line until the evenly spaced words pre­cisely fill the width of the text field. Some typog­ra­phers hate jus­ti­fied text; they pre­fer the nat­ural spac­ing of the type to the arti­fi­cially expanded spac­ing, and they don’t mind the uneven right edge. A com­pelling argu­ment can be made that ragged-right (left-aligned) text is the most leg­i­ble, but a beau­ti­fully pro­por­tioned rec­tan­gle of text set inside the rec­tan­gle of the page is like­wise an engag­ing aes­thetic expe­ri­ence. Designers must bal­ance page lay­out con­sid­er­a­tions against the need to for­mat text that’s invit­ing and com­fort­able to read. Continue read­ing

5 Reasons Authors Should Be Reading the Classics

Thanks to K.M. Weiland for shar­ing this excel­lent guest post.

KMWeilandWhen some­one men­tions the phrase “clas­sic book,” what do you think of? That mam­moth copy of War & Peace you used as a doorstop all semes­ter in your junior year? That pile of Cliff’s Notes you bor­rowed from the library when­ever you had to write book reports? All the black and white movies you opted to watch instead of read­ing the books?

Many of us have neg­a­tive asso­ci­a­tions with clas­sic lit­er­a­ture, thanks to teach­ers who “forced” us to read these old books when we were in less-than-appreciative frames of mind. But it’s time to shake off the neg­a­tiv­ity! Not only are the clas­sics a trea­sure trove of won­der­ful sto­ries about our past, present, and future, they’re also a gold mine of learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for authors.

Ten years ago, I made the com­mit­ment to read all the clas­sics, and so far, I’ve worked my way up through the “H” authors (Hemingway and Homer are on my dig­i­tal shelf at the moment). I can­not even begin to tell you how much I’ve gleaned from this com­mit­ment, both as a per­son and a writer. I got to kick this exper­i­ment into high gear when I was asked to write Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic. Analyzing this mas­ter­piece of lit­er­a­ture, on more than just a super­fi­cial level, taught me more about writ­ing than has any other sin­gle read­ing experience.

Want to join the fun? Here are five rea­sons all authors should be read­ing the clas­sics: Continue read­ing

Author Pitch: The Blue Monk by Dave Bricker

davebricker-620x350Most eBook for­mats feel like they’ve been designed and coded by some­one who’s never read an eBook, let alone writ­ten one. Not only has Dave Bricker writ­ten nov­els and a mem­oir, The Blue Monk, but he has pub­lished them on his own plat­form. In this week’s Author Pitch, he tells us about what he’s done that war­ranted chron­i­cling and how that changed the way he lives his life.

—Read the inter­view on The Omnivore

Encouragement for Those On The Path to Better Writing

writer_mountainSo many writ­ers get dis­cour­aged. This stinks. I quit.

Others are over­con­fi­dent. They’ve always had “a gift for words” so they fail to sub­mit their prose to an editor’s scrutiny.

I recently shared an email exchange with an edit­ing client in which I gen­tly pointed out a flaw she’d missed. She thanked me for “not mak­ing her feel like an idiot.”

Learning to write well is like learn­ing to play an instru­ment; it requires prac­tice, deter­mi­na­tion, and a song inside that wants to express itself. Though you’ve been writ­ing and speak­ing your entire life, if you’ve never gone through the process of draft­ing and edit­ing a nar­ra­tive, you’re at the begin­ning of the long steep path to writ­ing well.

If you can com­mu­ni­cate flu­idly and flu­ently on a day-to-day basis, speak elo­quently at meet­ings, and orga­nize emails into cohe­sive para­graphs, it’s no stretch to imag­ine you’re ready to “sit down and ham­mer out a book.” But when your edi­tor takes your “fine work” and blood­ies it up with red ink, it’s just as easy easy to feel dis­cour­aged. All this time I thought I was a good writer! Instead I’ve been adver­tis­ing how incom­pe­tent I am with every email and office memo. Continue read­ing