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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Rowing the Galley

This last week, I made a first pass reviewing the so-called galley proofs of my novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt. I say “so-called” because it’s kind of an old-fashioned term and they’re not really “proofs” yet, since they’re still in a word processing format. This is my publisher’s term. I would call this more a pre-format review. Still, this has allowed me and my editor to make some of those last-minute tweaks, which I hope will make the book just right.

Crypt Galleys

The term “galley proof” goes back to the days of actually setting metal type in trays, which were called galleys. I’m guessing this was because they’re longer than they are wide and have raised edges, so at a glance they resemble flat-bottomed boats. The “galley proof” was the first print done with the type blocks set into the galley so an editor and writer could check that the type was set correctly. Of course, in those days, correcting type wasn’t trivial, so changes were limited to very small scale changes at the galley stage—correcting spelling or simple punctuation—nothing that would significantly affect the flow of the document because otherwise, you’d have to reset all the type on every page after the correction.

As you can see in the photo above, the digital world allows more significant changes at this stage. Things highlighted blue are some of my editor’s most recent changes, while I’m highlighting my changes in yellow.

To add ambience to this week’s activities, I was at work for a few days. This is monsoon season in Southern Arizona, which means storm clouds hug the mountaintop where the observatory I work at is located, preventing us from getting much science done as shown in the photo below.

Mountain Storm

Because of the weather conditions, I was able to get some work done on the galleys while at the observatory. As it turns out, much of the action of The Astronomer’s Crypt is set during a stormy night at an observatory. To make matters worse, my observer at the 4-meter was remote, meaning she wasn’t in the building. I only communicated with her via a Skype connection. So, I was all alone in a large building on a stormy night.

If that weren’t bad enough, there’s been quite a bit of construction going on in the building, so doors are propped open that aren’t normally and there are stacks of supplies and equipment where you wouldn’t normally find them. Sometimes I’d go down the elevator and I’d swear I’d see feet through the bottom of the elevator door as I passed a level, even though I knew I was alone in the building. I’d step out of the elevator and swear I saw a person standing beside me, only to find it was a stack of insulation. It perhaps kept me just a little too much in the spirit of my horror novel!

This week, I’m giving the book one more pass. I’m actually aiming to read a little more quickly to make sure there aren’t any large-scale continuity problems and to look for a couple of things that are nagging me even after I finished the book. After all, I want to make sure this version is just right when I send it back to my editor. Fortunately, I’m at home this week, so all the scares should come from the page alone, and not from the environment where I’m doing the work!