Though I create eBooks and write about them extensively, I’m a classic bibliophile who loves to feel the subtle emboss of letters stamped on paper with metal type. I was rummaging through the garage and came across an old copy of The Progressive Road to Reading Book 2 by Georgine Burchill, William Ettinger and Edgar Dubs Shimer. Published in 1909 and reprinted in 1920, it was probably my father’s elementary school reading book. (See it on Google Books here.) It has me reflecting on what is undoubtedly the greatest achievement in publishing.
When I gave the book to my six-year old daughter, she was drawn to it immediately. It’s different from her other books. The paper is yellowed. The inked letters are not so perfect as the digitally printed ones in her paperback library. It’s filled with beautiful, engraved images printed with a color overlay. Some of the spelling conventions like “to-day” and “to-night” and “to-morrow” are clearly outdated. The line breaks in the type are strange.* It’s charming.
Here is the first of a series of occasional posts that explore the contributions of great typographers and typography books to the book designer’s art. Designers, writers and publishers will benefit from Beatrice Warde’s eloquent perspectives on the craft of typography, the power of type and the importance of the printed word.
“The Crystal Goblet” was an essay included in Beatrice Warde’s book of the same name—The Crystal Goblet: 16 Essays on Typography.
Beatrice Warde – Excerpt from a Lecture to the British Typographers’ Guild
Imagine that you have before you a flagon of wine. You may choose your own favorite vintage for this imaginary demonstration, so that it be a deep shimmering crimson in color. You have two goblets before you. One is of solid gold, wrought in the most exquisite patterns. The other is of crystal-clear glass, thin as a bubble, and as transparent. Pour and drink; and according to your choice of goblet, I shall know whether or not you are a connoisseur of wine. For if you have no feelings about wine one way or the other, you will want the sensation of drinking the stuff out of a vessel that may have cost thousands of pounds; but if you are a member of that vanishing tribe, the amateurs of fine vintages, you will choose the crystal, because everything about it is calculated to reveal rather than to hide the beautiful thing which it was meant to contain. Continue reading →
The self-publishing revolution is (aside from the Internet) the greatest thing ever to happen to freedom of speech and expression, but self-published books are widely stigmatized as poorly produced. Why? Because they almost universally are. Moreover, the declining standards of mainstream publishers do not justify the mediocrity of self-publishers. In fact, self-publishers will find a competitive advantage in applying basic book design principles to produce books that are comfortable to read and pleasing to the eye.
After all those hours writing and editing, why not produce a book that conveys your good taste, attention to detail and care? Here are some simple but powerful book design tips to help your book achieve excellence. Continue reading →
Book design is a lost art. Though book design discussions usually focus on covers, consider how much more time a reader spends staring at the text. An elegant book block is just as important. Decades ago, professional tradesmen practiced the fine art of typesetting. Today, book design is often executed (pun intended) by amateurs. As easy as it is to set type, many fine points of typography are commonly overlooked. Fortunately, for the design-aware, digital tools like Adobe InDesign make it possible to produce pages that aspire to the old standards of hot metal type. This is the first of a series of articles offering book design tips to help polish your pages.
Sacrificing comfortable margins is unfortunately a good business decision, even if it’s a bad design decision. As the book industry has grown, page margins have shrunk. Text is packed ever more tightly onto the page. Why? A big publisher may print 30,000 copies of a new author’s book. That’s a huge financial risk. If more text can be fit on each page, the print run uses less paper and less ink, resulting in huge savings.
Fortunately, self-publishers don’t have this problem because print-on-demand (POD) allows for the production of one book at a time. Using classic margins and printing a few more pages per book adds negligible cost while giving POD publishers a competitive edge. Continue reading →
There is a direct relationship between the number of sales you can expect from a book distributor and the value-added services they provide to publishers and readers. Publishers are best served to ally themselves with book distributors that do the most to earn their sales commissions and inspire customer loyalty. What do they offer in exchange for their cut?
Brick and mortar retailers generally demand 50% or higher commissions from publishers and therefore offer decreasing value. The idea that book retailers should make more money than writers and publishers do for wedging a tiny piece of merchandise spine-out on a shelf full of competing products is absurd, but the state of retail bookstores tells its own story. Publishers and readers have already switched en masse to online book distributors. Some physical retailers do sell eBooks, but it’s hard to justify going to a physical bookstore to buy one when you can sample books, read reviews and purchase them online. Selling eBooks at a bookstore is like selling DVDs of a stage performance at the box office. Continue reading →
I recently responded to an article on Publishing Perspectives by Andrew Pantoja that innocently advises self-publishers about sources for cheap book covers. It is technically easy to create your own cover; therein lies the problem. It’s also easy to sew your own parachute. I have seen successful covers made by amateurs but I’ve seen plenty of authors proudly displaying horrible design abortions.
Why hire a pianist for a wedding when you can get a digital piano cheaper? This same flawed logic is often embraced by do-it-yourself cover designers. It substitutes obtaining a tool for solving a problem. It’s even more embarrassing when the purchaser of the piano can’t hear the difference; a guaranteed room-clearer.
Graphic Design is not about making something “pretty” or even finding something you personally “like.” Design is a craft practiced by professionals who not only understand how to use their tools, but how to choose and mix typefaces, combine colors, achieve tension and balance, and avoid cliches. Graphic design uses text and images to solve a problem or achieve a goal. As with dentistry, there’s much to be said for working with a professional. Continue reading →
Comment: I see self-publishing as vanity publishing. There’s a reason there’s a traditional route; it really does sift out the crap. I may not be a published author, but I’ll be damned before I chuck in the towel to push out my writing through self publishing. I did not spend years honing my craft, get myself into all sorts of tight corners just to get my stories, and lose all those late night hours redrafting just so my work can get lost in the crowd.
My Response: I’m a proud self-publisher. Self-publishing is, by definition, not vanity publishing. I own all my own rights and my own ISBN numbers. My press is a legal entity. I also got myself into all sorts of scrapes to get my stories and I spend hours honing my craft every day, seven days a week. It’s 5:30AM as I finish this. I challenge any traditional press to exceed the quality of the work I produce.
Traditional presses do indeed filter out some crap, but to assume everything not vetted by a Big Six publisher is crap is the literary equivalent of racial prejudice. Major marketing vehicles like the New York Times Book Review serve only the upper crust of the publishing world, defining by exclusion who “the crowd” is. Continue reading →
It’s the latest big deal in publishing: Big publishers are being sued; accused of using the ‘agency model,’ to keep prices of eBooks artificially high. Amazon, the world’s largest bookseller, is complying but only offering agency terms to the Big Six publishers. But in spite of all the brouhaha, independent publishers don’t need to worry themselves about it.
Certainly, Amazon has well-founded concerns that if they don’t meet the terms of their largest suppliers, they could lose the right to distribute their eBooks. Not only would that be costly, it would dilute Amazon’s strategy for the Kindle; namely having the world’s largest selection of popular, desirable eBooks.
But small publishers—especially self-publishers—operate under an entirely different set of business conditions. While the judicial system referees the conduct of the publishing industry’s big players, other market pressures are more deserving of indie publishers’ attention. Continue reading →
Editing is one of the first hurdles you’ll encounter as an independent writer. Your fan club is your enemy. Encouraging friends who think it’s “wonderful you actually wrote a book” are not unbiased editors. A good editor will put your work under a microscope, analyze it to death and probably make you feel at times like any talent you think you have is imaginary. Good editors do encourage and offer praise for what works, but they’re relentless at tearing your writing apart and making you put it back together the right way. Editing is a grueling, time-consuming process and it’s a task that must be entrusted to someone who will give you “tough love.” We’re all too close to our own work to see the flaws and missing pieces, especially when the writing is fresh.
Poor editing is the number one complaint heard from critics of the independent publishing industry. Though the standards of mainstream publishing houses are overrated, I’ve read many indy books where spotty spelling and lack of polished prose present barriers to enjoyable reading. Moreover, our own well-crafted books get lumped into the “indy” category with this trash. Unedited authors sully the publishing waters for the rest of us.
I have discussed the idea of editing with other writers and heard the reply, “I don’t need an editor; I’m an excellent speller.” An editor is not a proofreader. Though the best of us require proofreaders, a story editor is someone who can comment on the work objectively. Is the story believable? Are there unexpected temporal jumps or unexplained threads in the narrative? Are the article’s assertions properly supported? As with affairs of the heart, it’s easy to understand the problems of others and difficult to acknowledge what we’re too close to see—and if you think writing isn’t an affair of the heart, you haven’t started your book yet. Get that third-party perspective. Continue reading →
Certainly, thesis writing is one of the purest forms of self-publishing which is why I’ve included this post here. In my work as a professor, I regularly encounter students who get “stuck” while writing their thesis papers. A good framework for developing, presenting and supporting a well-developed thesis reveals what to write, how to organize it and how to get it finished without a struggle.
First, it’s important to understand what a thesis is; many students don’t (and many institutions have difficulty explaining it). Two relevant definitions (according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary) are:
1 : a position or proposition that a person (as a candidate for scholastic honors) advances and offers to maintain by argument : a proposition to be proved…
2:a dissertation embodying results of original research and especially substantiating a specific view; especially: one written by a candidate for an academic degree