Making Books Beautiful

This past week I’ve been laying out the print edition of my book Firebrandt’s Legacy. This is my collection of space pirate short stories that were assembled with the help of my Patreon supporters. If this is the first you’ve heard of my Patreon, you can still join in the fun at http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers. Typesetting might sound like drudgery to some people, but I find it an enjoyable job. Also, over the last few years, I’ve learned that I can often tell the difference between an indie or self-published book and a professionally published book just by looking at the care given to the typesetting. Here’s an example of two pages I typeset in the re-issue of my novel The Solar Sea.

I’ll draw your attention to a few things I did in this typeset, some of which might be more obvious than others. I picked a chapter title font and a header font that was similar to the font my cover designer used on front cover. This helps to build a sense of uniformity throughout the book. The first paragraph, and every paragraph after a break, is flush left. This gives a nice, professional appearance to the typeset. I also used a drop-cap at the start of the chapter. That’s the oversized T on the first word. In each section break for this novel, I used an oversized asterisk. I chose that character because it actually resembles the solar sail in the novel. In my anthology Kepler’s Cowboys, I created a character for breaks that resembles the Kepler Space Telescope’s CCD array. In Firebrandt’s Legacy, I use a  skull-and-crossbone wingding because the book is about space pirates.

Also, in the example above, I center the page number on the bottom of the chapter’s first page. After that, the page number and either the author name or the book title appear on the top of the page, with the page numbers on the outside edge. The book title appears on the right hand pages, while my name appears on the left hand pages, except for the first page of a given chapter. One of the least obvious things in the photo is that I use a font other than Times New Roman. To me, TNR is a bit tight and compressed for comfortable reading. However, you should also avoid going too far from a basic TNR-like font, otherwise, you risk looking unprofessional again. I encourage you to look around at fonts and find one that suits your particular taste. Just be aware that some fonts are proprietary and you may need to buy a license to use them.

Now, there are no hard and fast rules about how these things should be done. I came up with my layout after looking at lots of books and deciding which elements I liked best. I recommend that you do the same for your books and come up with a style that you think works well. The important part is to be consistent and pay attention to the things that all professional publishers do. For example, the book’s title page should always be on a right-hand, or odd-numbered page.

I do my book layouts in Adobe InDesign. There’s a fairly steep learning curve and Adobe products can be expensive and I can understand that both of these elements may be daunting for a lot of indie publishers. However, I have found that once I’ve developed a template I like, it’s easy to apply and modify that template for other books. That said, even if you lay your books out in Microsoft Word, you can make a nice-looking typeset book. However, you should be aware there is something of a learning curve in figuring out how to make your layouts look the way you want them. I don’t recommend skimping on that learning curve.

In point of fact, the thing most readers will notice is the quality of your writing and how well the book is edited. By all means, you should do everything in your power to get those right before you start typesetting the book. That said, once you’ve invested the time in making the best read you possibly can, don’t you think it’s worth packaging it in a way that’s attractive to the readers?

If you want to check out some of the books I’ve typeset, I recommend the following. You can order the books at your favorite retailer or follow the links to go to my publishing company. Remember, beautiful books make great holiday presents!

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Supporting Indie Publishing

By necessity, big publishers can’t provide a platform for every writer whose voice is worth hearing. They simply have a limited number of books they can publish. Also, over time, big publishing has been reduced to five media companies with an obligation to their stock holders to maximize profits. This limits the number of risks they can and should take. These two facts limit the number of new and diverse voices that can share their creativity.

Indie publishing allows an outlet for those voices. The term “indie publishing” has evolved over the last few years to incorporate self-published authors, authors with boutique presses, and small press authors. It’s a little misleading because they’re not all the same. However, they all provide the opportunity for more voices to be heard.

Self-publishing literally allows anyone to publish a book in print or electronically. That said, it probably still favors voices of privilege since they’ll be the ones who have money for the best covers, editing, and advertising, plus potentially more free time to do the work of getting the word out. Small presses vary greatly but there are a lot of them out there. The best will provide editing, covers, and at least some marketing.

Indie publishing keeps authors from being forced to accept the publication terms of the big publishing houses. While it’s true the big publishing houses pay advances up front, and arguably pay more per book than small presses, the pay can still be surprisingly small. At least anecdotally, I know writers who stick with the big five and yet sometimes barely make ends meet. Indie publishing provides a possible alternative outlet for authors to supplement their pay. When authors do well with indie publishing, it provides some pressure for the big five to offer better pay to compete.

The limited number of publishing venues is a small problem compared to the tiny number of retail outlets for books. By far, most people discover books by visiting bookstores and we only have one major brick-and-mortar retailer in the United States, Barnes and Noble. Shelf space at Barnes and Nobles is limited. It’s not uncommon for me to go into Barnes and Noble and have difficulty finding even current, big name authors with big publishers.

The challenge is how can readers find and support good authors, working through small presses and who self-publish. The usual recommendation is to leave reviews in places like Goodreads and Amazon. This is good, and it’s incredibly helpful.

Some public libraries and local, indie bookstores will host events for authors. I have attended wonderful events at the Branigan Library in Las Cruces and at stores such as Bookmans in Tucson, COAS in Las Cruces, and Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans. If your library or bookstore hosts such events, please go and meet the authors. Talk to them, find out if what they write is to your taste. If it is, give their work a try and then follow them online. If it’s not to your taste, please don’t write off small press or self-published authors because of one or two bad experiences. Go to the next event and meet different authors until you find someone you like.

In the genre world, there are science fiction, steampunk and comic conventions. Some of these provide venues for indie authors, either on panels or in the dealer’s room. If you like hearing from indie authors, make sure to send your feedback to the convention committees. If they hear that people like hearing from indie voices as well as the most popular authors, they will often make room for those indie authors.

Indie publishing provides a platform for new and diverse voices. I won’t try to convince you that all those voices will be ones you want to hear or even great voices, which is true of any media. But if you look, you will find the gems. I encourage you to seek out the gems. Leave reviews and visit authors at stores and events. There’s some great stuff out there, just waiting for you to find it.

Den of Antiquity

Today is the release day for an exciting new anthology I’m proud to be part of called Den of Antiquity. This anthology was dreamed up by members of an online writing community I belong to called The Scribbler’s Den, which is part of The Steampunk Empire. The project was curated and edited by the group under the direction of Scribbler’s Den member, Bryce Raffle. Volunteer members peer reviewed the stories and other volunteers proofread the book. I’m writing this just as I finished reading the book in a breathless rush and I have to say, I think it turned out well. It was a lot of fun to see the worlds dreamed up by my fellow steampunk writers and people I’ve come to think of as an online family over the last year and half.

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Here’s the blurb from the back of the book:

    When one thinks of a den, one tends to think of comfort. A cozy room in the house—a quiet, comfortable place, a room for conversation, reading, or writing. One doesn’t tend to think of high adventure, dragons, vampires, airships, or paranormal creatures. And yet, that’s just what you’ll find in these pages. Stories of adventure and mystery! Paranormal, dark, and atmospheric tales! The fantastical and the imaginative, the dystopian and post-apocalyptic, and everything in between! So settle in to the coziest room in your house, plop down into your favourite armchair, and dive in to the Den of Antiquity.

    Featuring stories by Jack Tyler, E.C. Jarvis, Kate Philbrick, Neale Green, Bryce Raffle, N.O.A. Rawle, David Lee Summers, William J. Jackson, Steve Moore, Karen J. Carlisle, B.A. Sinclair and Alice E. Keyes.

My story in the anthology is a brand new Clockwork Legion story. Someone has taken one of Professor Maravilla’s mechanical jackalope harvesters and turned it to evil purposes, robbing banks. Can Marshall Larissa Seaton stop the machine before it absconds with all the gold in the New Mexico Territory? Be sure to read Den of Antiquity to find out! What’s more you’ll get a lot of other great stories as well.

I loved the fact that this anthology spanned the world, had protagonists of many different social classes, and really showed the diversity that makes steampunk a wonderful world to play in as a writer. Not only were there vampires, dragons, and airships, but paranormal investigators, dinosaurs, superheroes and gods. Some stories depicted worlds I’d enjoy living in, others not so much, but I general enjoyed making the acquaintance of the characters inhabiting those worlds and whether you’re an ardent steampunk or new the genre, I bet you’ll agree.

Proceeds from this anthology will be donated to help disaster relief, because even though we’re writing about the most comfortable room in the home, we recognize that people going through a disaster no longer have comforts.

You can order Den of Antiquity at the following online bookstores: