Book formatting fun

My brain has been full of neurology and neurobiology and neuropsychology for quite a while, now. And it’s nice to take a break and focus on something as straightforward and objective as making sure that all the 10.5pt Caslon540BT fonts got changed to 12pt Constantia. I’m sure it doesn’t sound thrilling to everyone out there, but to me, it is. Read on, if you’re of like mind — or at least intrigued about why something so “dull and dry” would invigorate me.

Beloved Distance Formatting Choices
Beloved Distance Formatting Choices

I took a break from reviewing and editing this morning to figure out some formatting issues. The font I had chosen originally for its nice look turned out to be too fine and faint in print. The printing didn’t translate well, and the headings actually got changed to smaller fonts than in my original, so that’s no good.

My brain has been full of neurology and neurobiology and neuropsychology for quite a while, now. And it’s nice to take a break and focus on something as straightforward and objective as making sure that all the 10.5pt Caslon540BT fonts got changed to 12pt Constantia.

I’m sure it doesn’t sound thrilling to everyone out there, but to me, it is.

There’s something very fulfilling about coming up with the right font. Setting the right margins. Finding a visually pleasing balance between a chapter heading, a leading quote, and the text. Tracking down all the improperly indented first paragraphs… resetting styles… making the often difficult choice between italics or bold or a combination of both.

Each font handles things differently. And how things look in print is often different from how they look on the laptop screen. So, it’s always important to get a proof copy up front, to make sure your vision carries through to the finished product.

Print-on-demand can be tricky stuff. They can replace your custom fonts with their own. They can trim your pages so they have a different margin than you want. All in all, the technology and techniques have come a long, long way, since I started in it, back around 2000 (or thereabouts). And the improvements have been great. So that’s a relief.

Of course, when you’re putting your own work out there, it adds to the work at the end. Probably the most problematic thing is how distracting it can be, when you start thinking about formatting before you’re done writing. Then again, as you’re writing and choosing your images, you have to keep in mind how the whole book is going to flow, not to mention how it will affect the overall presentation and ultimately cost. My 150 pages in the smaller font has expanded to nearly 200 pages with the larger font. I’ve shrunk the spacing of the text so it’s more compact (but still readable), and I’ve adjusted the page margins a bit. Another 50 pages to print will add another $1 to the production cost, so I have to consider that, as well.

Choices, choices. Tradeoffs galore.

Okay, I’m done thinking about formatting stuff. I need to run to Lowes to buy some home repair supplies. And later, I’ll get back to my reviewing.

It’s good to take a break. And it’s even better to know when to get back to work.

Last two poetry books updated – now on to Strange Bedfellows.. and beyond

woodtypeOkay, so that’s done.

I just updated the last two poetry books I published. It’s not difficult – just a lot of attention to detail. Changing half of your name, and then updating everything accordingly, can get a bit eye-crossing. Especially if there are ebook versions, as well as print versions. I still haven’t decided what to do about the ebooks. The name will have to change there, as well.

Just when it seems I’ve gotten everything fixed… I find something else. So, I check, and check, and double-check. Especially because I’ll be publishing to Amazon and other international distributions, which means I need to ensure everything – but everything – is pristine and perfect. Once you put an ISBN to something and publish it via international distribution, you’re locked in. So, you have to make it count.

Again, it’s eye-crossing.

But now, it seems it’s all set.
waterline-coverparadise-cover

I’m digging into Strange Bedfellows, now. From a logistical standpoint, the work is more painstaking, because the file is bigger and takes longer to save. Plus, it’s chock full of images, which now and then have a tendency to shift around on the page – and then throw off the page count. Fortunately, I’m working in Open Office, so the file formats are the same (No M$FT Word for me, thank you very much). Plus, Open Office file sizes are a lot smaller, so there’s less drain on my finite system resources.

And that’s always nice.

If you have the proper tools, you can do amazing things. And if you practice good attention to detail, you can really create some professional-looking products that anybody would think are commercially produced. That’s one of the benefits of having worked in publishing before — both print and digital. You pick up tips and tricks, plus you develop an eye for the kind of detail that goes into creating quality materials.

Some people think that you have to have access to money and contacts and resources, in order to produce professional-looking books. On the contrary, I’ve been doing “guerrilla” publishing since the 1980s, and some of my “amateur” works look just like what you’d find in the bookstores. If you have the desire and you keep at it and you set your sights high –and never give up till you create exactly what you want — great things are possible.

If there’s one thing I’d want people to know about putting their own writing out there, it’s that. What I said above. I’ve come across a lot of people who have either had a sour-grapes attitude (“Well, of course you made something nice – you work for a big company and have access to their equipment!”), or a sort of resigned approach (“I don’t need anything fancy, just some copies made up at the local office supplies store.”)

I disagree on both counts. First off, my books don’t look great because I use my employer’s stuff. I don’t. I’ve figured out how to either use what little I have very creatively, or I found a way to get access to the equipment I needed on an occasional basis. You don’t need to have constant access to a full-feature printer, to crank out a handful of poetry chapbooks. You can mock everything up at the local library, print it out for 10 cents/sheet, and then take it to your local copy shop to create the finished product.

If you want to publish full-length books, you can do it for free at Lulu.com. They have everything you need to publish a full-length book with a nice-looking cover, and it won’t cost you a think to set it up. You can do the pre-production work on the computers at your local library.

As for “keeping it simple” and going with a bare-bones approach… It’s so straightforward, and so possible, to produce a really nice-looking work on your own, that there’s really no reason to do without good design. All you need for inspiration and guidance, is a trip to your local bookstore or library, to see examples for best-practices in book design and layout. And then you just copy what they do.

It’s really quite simple. But a lot of people make it hard in their heads.

Far more important than expensive equipment or professional publishing skills, is a keen sense for detail and what makes a published product look — and feel — great. Once you’re clear on that, everything becomes a lot clearer.

Now… on to updating Strange Bedfellows.  I’m writing a new foreword, as well as a conclusion. The story, on the surface, reads like an eco-warrior treatise about the hazards of modern living. But beneath it all, there’s more… so much more.

And there will be more to come about that. Soon.