13 April 2011

That Looks Self-Published—Common Mistakes

Here’s a sneak peek at my article in Line Zero magazine coming out next week. While the most common complaints about self-published work reported by readers is editorial (poor writing, editing, proofreading), there are distinct production and design issues that make a book look amateurish. Here’s what I have to say about those:

  1. Flat, drawn cover art and bland cover typography. Photo art on covers sells books. Only in instances where the book is targeted to younger readers or has fantasy artwork should the cover not be photographic.
  2. Times or Times New Roman. Using default computer typefaces screams “Amateur!” At the same time, the typeface shouldn’t be different for the sake of being unusual. Select an appropriate, readable typeface. Popular professional typefaces include Garamond, Caslon, Baskerville, and Book Antiqua. Good san serif faces include Franklin Gothic, Helvetica, and Frutiger (not Arial or Calibri).
  3. Double spaces after punctuation and between paragraphs. You have entered the world of professional book typesetting, not blogs, web pages and software. The correct convention for spacing is single spaces after punctuation and first lines of paragraphs indented with no additional space between.
  4. Typographer’s punctuation. While most word processing and layout programs automatically convert quotation marks to “curly quotes,” it is not uncommon to see self-published works produced with typewriter quotes (") and apostrophes and double hyphens for em-dashes (—). Use the proper symbol for ellipses (…), not three periods.
  5. Expanded spaces in justified text. Use layout software that will maintain visually consistent spacing between words and letters rather than just spreading the space between words to get even line lengths. Good dictionary-based hyphenation is an aid to well-justified text. Also monitor widow and orphan controls to make sure that the bottom margin of text is consistent throughout the book and does not change in order to prevent single lines at top and bottom of pages.
  6. Rough or flimsy paper. Unless you are making a reputation for yourself in “pulp” fiction, your book should be printed on 60# white paper or better. Printing on coarse, low-grade, or flimsy paper stock will make your book look cheap and uncared for.
  7. Oddly sized book. While bookstore shelves are slowly filling with books in more and more sizes, the standard for trade paperbacks continues to be 6x9 inches, and for mass market paperbacks 4.25x7 inches.

You can read more about the mechanics of publishing in the new issue of Line Zero and see pictures illustrating a couple of common problems in both print and eBooks. I’ll also be speaking on this subject Thursday, April 21, at the PNWA Monthly Meeting in Bellevue. (http://www.pnwa.org)