Designing the Book, Pt 3

I’ve been putting the finishing touches on our own print book this week, and I must say, it can be a punishing task if you’re not used to it. While I usually have no problem going through my checklist of items to do on a client’s book, on my own I find myself backtracking, asking myself if I did this or that… I’m a complete basketcase because it’s our book. Maybe it’s because I’m so close to it.

When I work on a client’s book, I have some distance, you know? I can look at it clinically and see the tasks that need to be done. With our own book, I’ve been looking at it so long (writing, editing, revising, formatting ebook, etc) that at times I don’t know whether I’m coming or going.

All that being said, I think we’re finally down to the wire. Getting Wenna to finish the print cover, and I’m writing the back copy. I’m happy with the interior… I’ve used Bookman Old Style for the text and Fertigo Pro for chapter headings. I’m very fond of that typeface. All the headings are in their proper places, I’ve counted out the blank rectos, and the page numbers are working. Don’t have wide white rivers running through my text, margins are set.

I’m almost to the point where I’m ready to begin all over again with another book. Of course, I’ve already been researching for a month or so. Gotta love historical novels with their reams of research. :)

Would you design your own book? If so, what was the most troublesome part for you?


Designing the Book, Pt 2

Last time we talked about typography. Today I’m going to talk about setting up a page and what to look for.

Margins… margins, margins, margins. If this is a new term for you, this is the empty space around the block of text on the page. There is a top margin, a bottom margin, and left and right margins. For an ebook, they can all be the same if you want. For print, however, you must take into account the binding of the book.

If you open a book from your bookshelf, you will see the pages are attached to the spine of the book. Open up a book and take a look at it. Do the words get buried in the spine? This portion of the page is known as the gutter. You don’t want your words to end up in the gutter. If readers have to practically break the spine of the book to read the end or beginning of a line, it hurts the book. Make sure that inner margin is large enough to accommodate the binding. In Word and many other programs used for book design, you can mirror your pages, so what is the inner margin of your left page is the same as the inner margin of your right page. This keeps the text in front of the reader, not wallowing in the gutter.

Now that you’ve got your margins set where you want them and the typeface chosen, move back away from the page and look at the print. You want to notice the black against the white. Can you see little white spaces running down your paragraphs between words? If they are so noticeable that they form “rivers,” you may need to play with your spacing. This is easier to do in programs like InDesign than in Word, because you can manipulate the leading and kerning of lines and individual letters. If you only have Word, it is even more important for you to choose a font with good built in letter spacing. Having white rivulets running vertically through your paragraphs can be very distracting for the reader.

Do you see why typesetting takes time? After all, you want your book to look its best. Most authors choose to hire a designer so they don’t need to worry about all of this. Can you blame them? Book design isn’t just slapping your book together and sending it off to the printer, and it never has been. With the ability to self-publish your own print book through Lightning Source, CreateSpace or Lulu, you’ve got to pay attention to these details if you want a readable book.

I know, it’s a lot to think about. As if the writing and editing wasn’t enough to worry about, right? But when you’re holding your book in your hand and it looks great inside and out, is pleasing to the eye as you read, and it tells an engaging story, you’ve got it all. Don’t stop too soon.

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How do you hone your craft? You write. It doesn’t matter if it stinks and you can’t spell. What matters is you keep writing. Some people find that picking a specific time every day works well for their writing. Others do better if they just let it flow when the mood strikes. Either way, keep writing.

Another thing that makes you a better writer is reading. Read as much as you can. Yes, there are some excellent books on writing… feel free to check some of our recommendations. Besides that, just reading your favorite fiction can help you be a better writer. As you read and write more, you’ll find that you can’t help analyzing a particularly effective sentence or scene.

Combine what you learn from your reading with your writing sessions. Can you describe a setting as well as you read in that last story? Pick a different setting and see if you can’t do just as well. Try it with an action scene, or with internal thoughts of one of your characters. Be honest with yourself. Was your scene as effective as the scenes you are trying to emulate? This takes practice. Obviously you don’t want to just rewrite the original scene. This is why I recommend changing the setting, action or thoughts.

Above all, write.

Don’t publish until you’re ready. Sure, put something on your blog and ask for feedback, but don’t publish a book until you are sure your writing is up to the task. When you do feel you’re ready, get the book edited. This probably won’t be after the first or second draft; it may take you several drafts before you’re ready to hand your baby off to another’s hands. Even I get nervous about handing my writing off to someone else, but I know it is necessary to hone and polish my message.

Sometimes I need to take my own advice and write. It takes time, it’s true. But unless you make the time, it won’t happen, and writing will remain one of those unfulfilled dreams.

So, write. Write some more. Revise it. When you’re happy with it, we’re happy to help you from there with editing, book design and formatting.