Too much fun. For the past month I’ve been editing, formatting and proofing Raven’s omnibus edition Strong Mystery. The goal was to get it done in time for him to read from it at Gearcon, a Steampunk convention in Portland. He’s a guest author there. I wanted him to have physical copies to sell at the bookshop, along with his other series novel, Wind Dancer.
I’ve been coming home from work, having dinner and then sitting down again with InDesign. Later, once I’d printed it out, there seemed to be a couple weeks of redlining (marking the print out with a red pen) and fixing before it was ready to send to print. Happily, the copies arrived this week.
This week I’ve been transferring all the corrections to the Word files so I can publish to kindle. Just a few pages left and it will likely be up online tomorrow. In reading the three stories together, I realize once more what a terrific writer he is. The plots are tight, the murder mysteries play out well, and the magic system is believable. I can’t wait until he writes the next one.
It used to be that book design was a discipline where we had defined page sizes. For print, that is still the case, but how long will print be with us? When I design for print, I decide ahead of time what the size of the end product will be. It’s either 8.5 x 5 inches or it is 9 x 6 inches for a trade paperback. There are cases where I might want a different size (mini books for example) but 9 x 6 or 8.5 x 5 covers most of the cases. The margins get set predictably, with a large inside margin to account for the spine of the book. The Chapter headings start in a predictable place, and I can count on a page with 300 or 350 words per page. All those assumptions change when designing for electronic formats.
The largest change, for me, is the one in our mental model about how a book looks and feels. Instead of the design being in the hands of the producer, the choices about the ‘page’ move into the hands of the reader, literally. The person reading the book determines the font they want to see, the size of the font, the color of the page and even the brightness or contrast. It is the ultimate in user centered design experience.
There are things we can do to get in the way of the reader making their choices, but we should not do that. We need to get with the program, get onboard, and drink from the fountain of experience. There’s no putting this particular djinn back in the bottle. When we prepare our manuscripts for digital reflow, we need to be aware of the things that help our readers have a good experience.
Put a section break in the word document before the chapter titles. This means each new chapter starts at the top of a new ‘page’, just like it does in a paper book. This is familiar and expected, and is therefore comforting to a person reading the book. Starting a new chapter just a couple lines after the end of an old chapter fails to give the reader pause to notice that the subject has changed. If the subject didn’t change, I have to wonder why there is a new chapter at all?
Use chapter titles that are not too long. If they are long, they get ugly text-wrapping.
Use a maximum of 18px size for your chapter titles to avoid line-wrapping
Check that lists do not become tiny 2″ wide strips. Don’t indent them.
Remove the font tags before publishing to kindle OR use a kindle-supported font like Georgia
Consider putting some of the front-matter in the back of the book so a reader gets to the content as soon as they open at the title page
Put your back cover blurb right up front after your cover image so a reader can see it again before reading the book. Makes a real difference to how many people engage with your book after buying it
There are likely other things you can do to help make your book more reader-friendly in digital format, however, these are a good place to start.
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Some of the most important things I’ve learned over the past year of writing and publishing are
The first (or fifteenth) draft is not ready. It needs an editor.
There are many editorial passes (characters, plot, sensory, place, continuity, tone, tightening up, grammar, spelling, formatting, design)
A beta reader is worth their weight in gold. They answer questions:
What was unbelievable, in context of the story
What was confusing?
What did you want to see more of?
What was cool?
Follow the directions of the publishing house – if you don’t, it will not ever get past the mail clerk. Margins, font, spacing, cover letter, synopsis (1000 words max – some prefer 350-500), elevator pitch (Firefly = A western, in space)
The content of a book needs to (mostly) be in the same voice (1st person, 3rd person – it’s rarer than you’d think that it switches at all)
Research is important – tell the reader where/when they are, get the facts right, especially historical facts need to be accurate)
The story needs to be marketable – it needs to fit an exact niche
Sensory information is important (taste, sound, smell, touch, sight)
Characters have motivation, feelings, internal voices. Use them.
Grammar errors are one of the most pesky things to eradicate in the writing process. Scrivener doesn’t find grammar mistakes, and while MS Word is pretty good at finding normal passive errors, it fails to recognize idiom. Language is changing. Sentences can and often do start with ‘and, but, or, though’ in colloquial use.
If you’re like me, when you write the first draft you don’t pay any attention to the rules. Well, truth to tell, rules are hardly ever my best thing. I tend to think in fragments; that means some of my characters share this trait. Enough said.
Even in a blog, the sentence construction is not a slave to the Oxford English way of writing. Be a bit boring if it was. However, the unintentional grammar error is the bane of a writer’s existence. It’s just fine to break rules on purpose, so long as you know your purpose. Richard Morgan stood the grammar rules on their collective head in Altered Carbon. His more stream-of-consciousness writing included sentence fragments much of the time. None of that made it difficult to read. Instead, it made his protagonist much more sympathetic. So how do I find those errors in the editing process? I have a few tips and tricks to share.
Walk away from the writing for a couple of days to give yourself some distance
Print it out and keep a highlighting pen handy to mark the pieces to come back to
Read it out loud to a friend. The tongue will trip over phrases that aren’t quite right
Do an editing pass with track-changes on
Try turning it upside down – for those of us who can read that way, the comma and grammar errors jump out
Do an editing pass just for dialog.
Use Find / Replace to fix issues like quote plus period (“. wrong) rather than period plus quote (.” correct)
Write with a manual of style handy – look up stuff that you know you get wrong
Replace instances of passive voice (often uses words that end in y) with active voice (often ends in ‘ed’)
Relax about it. No matter how many times you edit, someone will disagree with your choices
I hope some of these prove helpful. Please share the tips and tricks you have found work for you.