Generic descriptions are telltale signs of lazy writing. Add color to your writing by replacing overused and boring words.
It's such a nice day today.
He's very bright.
My dog is really funny.
Bill is a good soccer player.
Shari is in a bad mood today.
I received some happy news in my mailbox.
Barbara was sad to see Jim leave.
These words are commonly used in speech; they’re close-at-hand when we need a description on the fly. But unless a writer is intentionally emulating informal speech, these words make watery, vacuous, and weak additions to written prose.
Indie publishers are everywhere and so are indie bookstores, but apart from their names, the two have little in common. “Independence” is a feelgood concept, but it’s often presented without any reference to that which a publisher or bookstore is independent from. Therein lies the difference. Does “independent” really mean anything in today’s publishing world?
Independent publishers are independent from the Big Six publishing establishment, but not being affiliated with six entities isn’t much of a distinction. For publishers, independence comes with a price. After writing, indie publishers must work independently with editors, designers and printers. They must make their own arrangements with distributors of print and ebooks. Perhaps most importantly, they must independently assess whether books they have a great personal stake in are viable products. Indie publishing isn’t better or worse than traditional publishing. There’s much to be said for having someone else push your manuscript down the long road to bookstores and there’s much to be said for cutting out the middleman and keeping creative control over your work.
Indie publishers generally sell books to niche audiences in lower volumes. They usually offer one or just a handful of books. Unlike big publishers, they aren’t able to circulate and promote hundreds of books until they find a blockbuster that pays for all the ones that don’t sell, but they are often positioned to make a profit with very low sales volumes.
Use of Small Capitals—uppercase characters designed at lowercase scale—is one aspect of writing and book design that isn’t taught in grammar school. We all know every sentence begins with a capital letter and ends with a period. We all should know that writing in all capital letters is the typographic equivalent of shouting—a “capital” offense.
A Small Capital (or “small cap”) is a specially designed character—not a regular capital letter scaled down to a smaller size. Word processors and even some typesetting programs reinforce the abuse of small caps by offering a “small caps” shortcut that scales down the uppercase letters to match the height of the lowercase characters. A real small cap is different from a full-capital letter in subtle but important ways.
This article explores proper use of capital letters, explains the difference between big caps and small caps, and offers book design tips to help you manage abbreviations, names, directions, chapter starts and other typographic challenges. Many thanks to author and typographer Dick Margulis for editing and fact-checking.
The notion of real publishing as opposed to self-publishing and the stigma surrounding it is obsolete. I have no objections to traditional publishers but every one of them started off as a “self-publisher” with a first book. I have pretty much stopped referring to myself as a “self-publisher.” I produce and market books like anyone else in the business.
Real Publishing vs. Vanity Publishing: Self-publishing is often confused with so-called “vanity publishing.” If you pay someone like XLibris or iUniverse to publish you, you are not a publisher—and neither is the company that claims to be your publisher. Vanity presses take zero risk on your book. They make money producing it and they take a piece of the cover price as a royalty, double-dipping at your expense. If your so-called publisher has not made an investment in your work, they are not a real publisher. Real publishers invest in books, pay royalties when there are profits and incur losses when sales don’t match projections.
Many authors start down the publishing road believing that printing books is the same as printing money, only to be disappointed by low returns and the amount of work involved. This guest article by novelist, poet and songwriter Richard Geller responds to advice offered by marketing luminary Seth Godin who suggests indie publishers should lower their expectations. Geller proposes different ways to measure success. Printing books is not the same as printing money, but for creative writers, printing books may give rise to something of even greater value. Changing expectations and lowering them are two different things.
In his insightful blog, Seth Godin offers two separate lists of marketing tips for writers. I want to reflect a bit on what he has in the number-one position on each list; they’re closely related:
On the other hand, a book gives you leverage to spread an idea and a brand far and wide. There’s a worldview that’s quite common that says that people who write books know what they are talking about and that a book confers some sort of authority. (2006)
Any comparison of the number of books published versus the number of authors making useful amounts of money at it is damn sobering stuff. Seth Godin certainly has his facts straight. The odds are definitely against you achieving anything that resembles business success.
I have, however, a question about lowering our expectations. Does the unlikelihood of ever realizing material success or fame from your writing mean you should lower your expectations? Or should you, instead, adopt different sets of expectations—aligned with marketplace realities—that are high nonetheless?
I particularly like this section on dashes, hyphens and dots because it goes beyond typographic aesthetics to explore how we can communicate more effectively as writers. The subtle intricacies of hyphens and dashes affect all authors whether they typeset their own books or not. Knowing how to punctuate correctly empowers you to control emphasis and handle challenging sentences that contain parenthetical asides, omissions or incomplete thoughts. Here, good typography is an extension of good writing.
Many writers are unaware that the simple dash comes in several flavors. Because dashes are often used as alternatives for other types of punctuation, they are explained here in context with the marks they substitute for.
Discussion forums are a powerful medium for promoting your book, your art or your business. Facebook, LinkedIn and other communities are a major source of traffic for blogs and websites, but whether you post directly or embed links in responses to others’ posts, make good forum etiquette a priority. There are important rules to play the forum game by. Break the rules too many times and you’ll lose your community.
I posted a link to one of my blog articles on a discussion group’s board. Though I generally get positive, relevant responses, one reply went something like this:
Response:Why not post a profile on [my site]? This is a free site for writers, poets, photographers and artists. You can advertise and sell your work for free. Make sure you include a link to your site so others can learn even more about you and purchase your work. Please help us spread the word in your vast network of connections, it will inevitably be one more piece of the pie to maximize your exposure.
My Reply: Did you even read the article? It’s considered good practice to participate in a posted discussion rather than change its topic. It smells like canned lunch meat in here.
I’m Dave Bricker,MFA: speaker, 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.
Though this blog will no longer be updated, the hundred or so articles in the archive offer a valuable reference library for writers, publishers, and designers of all sizes. Enjoy your publishing journey.
When you’re finished browsing here, please check out my new storytelling project and blog at http://storysailing.com
Part 3 of Book Design Basics explores better ways to present numbers on your pages. Numbers (called figures) look simple at first glance, but they present interesting typesetting challenges. Many digital typefaces offer several number styles but few designers know what they are or how to use them properly.
If you got to class late, Read Part 2 of Book Design Basics first to learn about optical margins, paragraph formatting and spaces.
Numbers (figures) come in four primary categories. Though they play a very small role in the text of an average novel, numbers still have an important effect on the appearance of your text. Tables, menus and recipes use numbers in different ways than text set in paragraphs. There are two figure styles: Oldstyle and Lining. Each comes in two flavors: Proportional and Tabular. An understanding of their differences allows your numbers to communicate clearly and effectively. Continue reading →
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.