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

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.

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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.

ink_density_cover

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?

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