Certain 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 →
This 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 →
As 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 Showpulled 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.”
This 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 →
This 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 9×9 grid come from? The answer is found in a classic formula: the rule of thirds. Continue reading →
Digital 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?
The 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.
Discussions 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, “But if 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.”
Page 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:
The 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 →
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 →