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.

Resurrection Bay

This weekend I’m at Phoenix Comicon. If you’re anywhere near Phoenix, you need to get down here and check this out. This is a huge event featuring many fabulous writers, artists, and TV stars.

In the meantime, I have learned that my friend Jim Chandler has just published his first novel. Jim has been a regular contributor to Tales of the Talisman Magazine and I have been pleased to watch his career grow over the years. If you can’t make it to Phoenix Comicon, go buy his book right now. If you can make it to Phoenix Comicon, see you soon. Buy Jim’s book as soon as you’re back home!

Without further ado, here’s Jim to introduce you to his debut novel, Resurrection Bay.


Resurrection Bay

I’ve always loved stories that explore time. If there is an additional aspect of the strange or unexplained, I’m all in. I believe that there is much more to our universe than we commonly perceive, and that some people are more tuned in to phenomena that most of us ignore. I’ve traveled to many places that seemed to me to have a different, magical energy to them. And perceptive people have told me that my house is occupied by friendly, happy spirits.

One of my favorite stories has always been Somewhere in Time. The hero commits to the belief that he is in fact no longer in 1969, but 1912. The power of that belief makes it so, and a wonderful love story follows.

When I was first married, my wife believed that I would stay around for a few years, then leave. That’s what she believed from experience that most men do. But we just celebrated our 30th anniversary. I meant it when I made the commitment. It has been important to me to prove to her that I’m one of the good ones. The idea for my book grew from those roots.

Does all love eventually fade? If someone were to say, “I will love you forever,” what would it be like if he really meant it? What is the power of our devotion? Could it be strong enough to overcome the constraints of time and space?

My hero commits to his love and his devotion is unshakeable.

I finished the story in 2007, and sent it off to a NYC publisher. Never heard back. Not even a form letter of refusal. So I sent it out to another publishing house and waited the year they require to consider. At least I got the letter from that one. I even joined Romance Writers of America to learn more about the genre.

I worked on my writing skills, and submitted a bunch of short stories. You can find my work in Tales of the Talisman. Each time the book was away, the story kept pulling at me. Maybe the reason it didn’t sell was that it still wasn’t done. It wasn’t quite right.

I lost my job and went into long-haul trucking to keep from losing the house. Kept working on the book. On a run through California, I picked up a hitch-hiker who inspired a re-work of one of the main characters. Sarah wasn’t right until I put a whole lot of Jess into her. Wherever Jess is today, I hope she reads this and feels my gratitude for our short encounter.

That seemed to be the catalyst the universe wanted. After that revision, I decided I loved the book. This was finally exactly the story I wanted to tell, and I was ready to send it out again.

But I was discouraged by my earlier attempts. I wanted it out there at last. I didn’t want to sit around and wait while my manuscript sat on someone’s desk, under a pile of other manuscripts. So I kept it for another year, without doing anything. Counter-productive? I sought advice, and David Lee Summers pointed me to www.smashwords.com.

It wasn’t difficult to reformat the book for the E-publishing upload, and it didn’t cost me a dime. It’s exciting to be able to watch as people check out and download Resurrection Bay. I have a lot of control. As of today, the book is available at Smashwords. If you want to find it on their website, turn off the adult content filter. It’s a paranormal romance, so of course there is material that is not suitable for under-18’s. The direct link for the book is: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/315193

By the end of May, you will be able to find it lots of places. Smashwords distributes to Sony, Apple, Epub, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and several others.

I would be happy to trade ideas and hear criticisms of the book. Another cool thing about e-publishing is that if I’ve made a big error (hard to believe after ten years of working on it), I can make a change to correct it. I guess I’m going to have to finally get a blog site, Facebook, Twitter and all that. For now, if you pick up the book and want to talk about it, you can send me an e-mail at jim.r.chandler [at] att [dot] net.