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

Television Land: Avoiding the Editorial “We”

editorial-weAs sto­ry­tellers, teach­ers, and thought lead­ers, writ­ers must cul­ti­vate a skill for com­mu­ni­cat­ing with­out block­ing the spot­light, don’t you think? Now tell me, isn’t it annoy­ing when you’re watch­ing a movie and one of the char­ac­ters turns, faces the cam­era, and makes some remark to “the audience”—as if he’s in a live show and you’re sit­ting some­where in “tele­vi­sion land,” ready to cheer or shout advice? I’m sure you’ll agree that audi­ence engage­ment must be man­aged clev­erly. The Rocky Horror Picture Show pulled it off mas­ter­fully, but the edi­to­r­ial “we” has the poten­tial to ruin the rela­tion­ship between the reader, the nar­ra­tor, and the char­ac­ters in a book—even if the nar­ra­tor is the main char­ac­ter. Talking to the reader is fine (and often inevitable) but the edi­to­r­ial “we” implies a part­ner­ship that hasn’t been sanc­tioned by both parties.

Talking directly to your reader from the inside of a story is a bit like hug­ging a stranger. As warm and per­sonal as that ges­ture may be, it will likely be per­ceived as an inva­sion of space. Your book is about what you think. Your reader doesn’t owe you an opin­ion and even if she did, you can’t be “sure she’ll agree with you.”

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Kindle Unlimited: Will it Affect You?

kindle-unlimitedThe New York Times claims self-published authors are unhappy about Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited pro­gram, which uses an “all you can eat” model sim­i­lar to the one used by Netflix and Spotify. For $9.99 a month, Kindle Unlimited offers access to 700,000 self-published and tra­di­tion­ally pub­lished books. Publishers who par­tic­i­pate in the pro­gram earn less money in exchange for access to Amazon’s sub­scriber community.

But the prob­lem is not Amazon. More often than not, the prob­lem is unre­al­is­tic expec­ta­tions. Kindle Unlimited is a non-issue for most self-publishers.
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Tabs, Indents, and Margins: How to use the Tab Ruler

tabs-iconThis arti­cle explains the tab ruler found on every word proces­sor and type­set­ting appli­ca­tion. Understanding the sim­ple and ele­gant split ruler and tab func­tions opens up a world of for­mat­ting opportunities.

Digital type­set­ting and word pro­cess­ing inher­ited a num­ber of out­dated con­ven­tions from the type­writer. When pro­duc­ing a para­graph indent on a type­writer, it makes no dif­fer­ence whether you hit the tab key or type a few con­sec­u­tive spaces, but on a word proces­sor, those approaches cre­ate prob­lems as your man­u­script moves from edit­ing to final page lay­out. Though the “two spaces after a period” con­ven­tion was not descended from the type­writer as is pop­u­larly thought, con­sec­u­tive spaces are gen­er­ally con­sid­ered bad prac­tice in the dig­i­tal world. And though a half-inch para­graph indent (along with dou­ble line spac­ing) is per­fectly suit­able for man­u­script work, the typesetter’s con­ven­tion has long been to use an indent of one em (the width of a let­ter “m” in the ana­log world. In the dig­i­tal world, the con­ven­tion is to use the point size of the type­face, so if you’re set­ting 12-point type, your indent would be 12/72-inches or 1/6-inch). And yet, the old habit of repeat­edly ham­mer­ing the space bar to posi­tion ele­ments on the page persists—even to a point where cen­tered ele­ments are some­times left-aligned text pre­ceded by dozens of spaces. Continue read­ing

Bad Kerning and Signage Awards

bad-kerning-awardIntro­duc­ing the Bad Kerning & Signage Awa rds. If writ­ten lan­guage is a cor­ner­stone of civ­i­liza­tion, type abuse con­sti­tutes a crime against enlight­en­ment. These blem­ishes on the cul­tural land­scape dis­ap­pear all too eas­ily in the sea of flash­ing mes­sages, elec­tronic bill­boards, and shop windows—but once you start look­ing for them, you’ll see them every­where. Weak let­ter spac­ing, tacky font choice, stretched and dis­torted text, and gen­er­ally poor crafts­man­ship pol­lute our pub­lic spaces.

It’s time to protest! I’ll be col­lect­ing and post­ing exam­ples of some of the worst trans­gres­sions on this page. Feel free to sub­mit any par­tic­u­larly heinous exam­ples you’d like to share.

kerning1This one wins a Bad Kerning & Signage Awa rd—plus it deserves spe­cial hon­ors for exposed wiring, addi­tional irrel­e­vant sig­nage (“EQUAL”) on the elec­tri­cal box, and for putting that box on top of an attrac­tive cin­der block. I almost over­looked the col­li­sion in the word “C enter” between the n and the t and the clogged up blob at the top of the r because the spac­ing after the cap­i­tal let­ters was so dis­tract­ing. The hor­i­zon­tally stretched type on the sign beneath S klu C enter (“We have the THERMAGE”) is the per­fect accent.

Subscribe to this site to be noti­fied when­ever new exam­ples are posted.

Book Cover Design: Moving from Screen to Printing Press

ink-density-article-imgOnce you have your book cover design look­ing spir­ited and pro­fes­sional on your com­puter screen, how can you ensure that your mas­ter­piece will trans­late accu­rately to the print­ing press? Ink on paper is an entirely dif­fer­ent medium from pix­els on a mon­i­tor. Understanding how to adjust your book cover images to your printer’s spec­i­fi­ca­tions will make the dif­fer­ence between a cover that sings and a cover that barks. Using the cor­rect color space and con­trol­ling ink den­sity are key factors.

I cre­ated a sam­ple, low-resolution book cover design for this exer­cise. The imagery con­tains sat­u­rated col­ors, pho­tographs, and dark areas that con­tain sub­tle details—all poten­tial stum­bling blocks for pub­lish­ers who don’t under­stand the print­ing process.


Figure 1. Example Cover Design in RGB Mode

I set some body text on my orig­i­nal design so I could visu­al­ize my final result, but for pur­poses of adjust­ing color, I’ll strip it out. Adobe Photoshop is a remark­able image edi­tor, but it lacks sophis­ti­cated type­set­ting tools. If this was an actual cover, I’d leave the back cover text and the bar code out while I adjusted the images, and then add them later with a page lay­out pro­gram like Adobe Indesign or Quark. Please don’t set body text with Photoshop—ever. Continue read­ing

Page Layout: Illustrated Books and the Rule of Thirds

rul-thirds-article-imgThis arti­cle explores page lay­out strate­gies for books based on the Rule of Thirds. A grid sys­tem based on tra­di­tional guide­lines ensures har­mo­nious pro­por­tions and place­ment of objects on a page.

Page lay­out for books is gov­erned by a range of fac­tors. Trade pub­lish­ers ship­ping 30,000 copies of a title real­ize sig­nif­i­cant sav­ings by using smaller type, tighter lead­ing (line spac­ing), and nar­rower mar­gins. For them, aes­thetic sac­ri­fices are smart busi­ness. But indie pub­lish­ers print­ing short runs are free from the busi­ness real­i­ties of mass pro­duc­tion (POD pub­lish­ers often order sin­gle books made to order). Classic page lay­out strate­gies offer an easy way for the small pub­lisher to gain an aes­thetic edge over the trade.

I dis­cuss page lay­out in-depth in an ear­lier post, and Wikipedia’s Canons of Page Construction is an excel­lent resource, but though these arti­cles present lay­outs based on page divi­sions of 1/9, read­ers are left won­der­ing, why not 15ths or 8ths? Where did the idea of divid­ing a page into a 9x9 grid come from? The answer is found in a clas­sic for­mula: the rule of thirds. Continue read­ing

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?

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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.

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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