The World’s Greatest Book

I’m Dave Bricker,transparent-charMFA: author, edi­tor, graphic designer, inter­ac­tive devel­oper, and 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

Writing Style: The Writer’s Guide to Powerful Prose

powerful-prose-post-imgCertain writ­ing style pat­terns weaken your prose and ren­der it awk­ward, generic, and imper­sonal. As we hike the writer’s path of never-ending refine­ment, we must learn to see pat­terns that were once invis­i­ble to us. Some of these pat­terns are revealed through the lens of expe­ri­ence; oth­ers are shown to us by edi­tors and friends. But until we learn to rec­og­nize these pat­terns, our writ­ing is likely to resem­ble the work of mil­lions of other authors.

The goal of The Writer’s Guide to Powerful Prose is not to define par­tic­u­lar usages as right or wrong or good or bad. When we speak, ideas pour instantly and spon­ta­neously from our mouths, but good writ­ing is not such an auto­matic process. Writers have the luxury—the responsibility—of edit­ing their ideas before shar­ing them. Writing style pat­terns become trig­ger points for con­scious deci­sion mak­ing. Could I use a bet­ter adjec­tive? Is my metaphor a tired cliché? Does my sen­tence work just as well with­out “that” in it? Or do I want to leave this sen­tence as I wrote it? Continue read­ing

How to Produce Audiobooks with Amazon ACX

acx-article-graphicThis arti­cle explains how to pro­duce and mar­ket a pro­fes­sional qual­ity audio­book using Amazon ACX. Through ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange), I was able to audi­tion voiceover tal­ent, choose a pro­fes­sional pro­ducer, review the work in progress, and make my audio­book avail­able through pop­u­lar audio­book­stores with­out spend­ing a cent.

The mar­ket for audio­books is cur­rently worth over US$2 bil­lion. Audible.com claims to offer over 150,000 titles. Split that cat­a­log apart by gen­res and even if you’re small fish, the end­less ocean of books avail­able in print or eBook form becomes a small pond. My book is one of only 5,936 books avail­able in the “Personal Memoirs” cat­e­gory. The same cat­e­gory on Amazon.com con­tains 92,014 titles.

As with any form of pub­lish­ing, a chasm exists between “get­ting your book out there” and pro­duc­ing a qual­ity, pro­fes­sional prod­uct. Reading your book into your computer’s micro­phone doesn’t cut it. Audiobook pro­duc­tion requires pro­fes­sional record­ing gear and tal­ent. A qual­ity audio­book has no dogs bark­ing in the back­ground, no air­craft fly­ing over­head, and no sirens blast­ing down the street in front of your house—and though this might sound self-evident, the equiv­a­lent hap­pens with self-published printed books all the time. Aficionados of audio­books can hear “ama­teur” the moment they sam­ple a self-produced audiobook.

Amazon ACX offers an alter­na­tive to DIY. This ser­vice con­nects writ­ers with voice tal­ent, mon­i­tors pro­duc­tion progress, and han­dles dis­tri­b­u­tion and payments.

I used ACX to pub­lish an audio­book ver­sion of The Blue Monk, my sail­ing mem­oir. I had the good for­tune to meet my narrator/producer in per­son when he sailed through Miami from the Carolinas. The video footage in this arti­cle shares our dis­cus­sions about audio­books. Continue read­ing

Writing Ergonomics: Avoiding Injury at Your Desk

broken-ropeThis arti­cle explores ergonomic solu­tions to writ­ers’ repet­i­tive stress prob­lems. As sta­tic as it may seem, writ­ing is a phys­i­cally demand­ing endeavor. I’ve spent decades sit­ting in a chair star­ing at a screen, tap­ping on a key­board. During that time, I’ve expe­ri­enced neck pain, shoul­der pain, elbow pain, wrist pain, fore­arm pain, and back pain—sometimes to a point where I ques­tioned whether I’d be able to con­tinue writ­ing, design­ing, pro­gram­ming, edit­ing, or any of the other computer-centric activ­i­ties from which I derive income and enjoyment.

Caveat: I’m not a doc­tor and this isn’t med­ical advice (insert cus­tom­ary legal dis­claimer here). If the com­mon­sense writ­ing ergonom­ics adjust­ments described in this arti­cle don’t work for you, see a physi­cian. Repetitive stress injuries can end your writ­ing career, and some injuries do require sur­gi­cal fixes. Continue read­ing

Inkitt.com’s “Darkest Place” Horror Writing Contest

inkittInkitt.com is an inter­est­ing new online plat­form where writ­ers post their best work and read­ers find sto­ries to engage with. Inkit’s free con­test opened February 2, 2015, and the hor­ror theme is, “You are in the dark­est place in the world.” Submit short sto­ries: blood-curdlers, spine-tinglers, skin-crawlers, and hair-raisers to share your writ­ing, scare read­ers, and win great prizes like Amazon gift cards, cus­tom note­books and mugs, and story covers!

Vote for your favorites at http://www.inkitt.com/darkestplace and sub­mit your sto­ries. You’ll find a chap­ter from my mem­oir already submitted.

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.”

Continue read­ing

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.
Continue read­ing

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.

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