Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Making rules, breaking rules, changing rules, changing minds


One of the great joys of being a writer and publisher is the freedom to do what I want.

I can pick a book's subject, title, length, price, cover design, page size, fonts, margins, paper color, publication date, everything--even spelling and punctuation.

George Bernard Shaw avoided possessive apostrophes, James Joyce used dashes in place of quotation marks and e. e. cummings shunned uppercase letters.

A self-publisher can fight against pet peeves, rebel against the constraints of tradition, try to start traditions--and willingly risk the slings, arrows and snickers of critics, readers and competitors.

My first self-pubbed book came out in the fall of 2008. It's now the summer of  2010. I've just finished book #10, am nearly finished with book #9, and have written and formatted nearly 70 pages of book #12--which was started last weekend.

In my first two books I fought tradition with fervor and naivety.
  • It had always seemed stupid to me that the first pages of books had no numbers ("blind folios"), and were followed by pages with Roman numerals, which were followed--eventually--by good old Arabic numbers. In my first two books, there was a familiar "1" on the bottom of page-one.
  • I didn't like the spaces surrounding em-dashes. I thought that by attaching the dashes to letters they united only specific words, not complete thoughts; and I wanted to unite thoughts. Most book publishers shunned the spaces but the New York Times used them. I followed the Times style.
  • Speaking of the Times, in my first book about publishing, I put the The in The New York Times in italic type because I considered the "The" to be part of the paper's name. This policy led to abominations like "the The New York Times bestseller list." (Actually, that was just a theoretical abomination. I never allowed the "double-the" to be printed, which resulted in inconsistency.) In my next book about publishing, I treated the "The" as an ordinary word. It is not ucased (journalists and programmers know what that means) or put in itals. (Anyone should be able to figure out what ital means.) Unlike the New York paper, the Los Angeles Times does not include a "the" in its nameplate (official logo at the top of page-one). The LA paper, founded in 1881, is 30 years younger than the NY paper. I changed my rule and decided to follow the example of the younger, presumably hipper, west-coast medium when referring to the old "gray lady" published in the east.
That points out another great joy of being a writer and publisher: the freedom to change my mind.

Not only did I change policy on "The," I modified both my rebelliousness and my adherence to tradition in other style issues.
  • Starting with my third book, I had blind folios in the beginning, followed by Arabic numbers.
  • Books 9-12 have no spaces surrounding em-dashes. I now think that this style looks just fine and don't understand why it bothered my before.
  • I originally decreed that I would use serial commas in serious books but not in casual books. The newer books have serial commas only when needed for clarity or when I want the reader to pause.
  • In the first books I used numerals for numbers starting with 10 (i.e., numbers composed of multiple digits). Starting with book #11 (or maybe it's really #12), I spell out ten and even eleven. Many other books do this. I would not spell out "eight-million, four hundred, fify-six thousand, two hundred and twelve" or "nineteen eighty six." But when a number is reasonably low and part of normal text or, especially, part of dialog, I spell it out. I continue to use numerals when they have a more "number-like" function, like he ignored paragraph #14
  • I've always been troubled by the "headers" on the tops of book pages. They are an ISPITA (Industrial Strength Pain In The Ass) to set up and have dubious value. Many books have the book title, chapter names and even the author's name up at the top. Frankly, this seems pretty stupid. Do readers need constant reminders of the title of the book they are reading? If a reader forgets, couldn’t he just look at the cover? Despite the lack of logic, I kept up the tradition until around book #8 (I've lost track.) 
  • In my early books I boldfaced and underlined URLs (web addresses) so they'd look more URL-like. Unfortunately the underline masks underscores which can be part of a URL. I ditched the underlining in later books, but kept the URLs in boldface.
As a writer and publisher, I am also free to reverse my stand on issues of language and culture.
  • I have often (online and on paper) bitched about vanity publishers calling themselves "self-publishing" companies. Word usage changes over time. Radio Shacks are not shacks which sell only radios. "Don we now our gay apparel" has a different connotation than when the lyric was written. The term "self-publishing company" seems to be acceptable to most people, so there is little point in continually knocking my head against a brick wall. I've even written a book that grudgingly acknowledges the term.
I may change my mind again in the future.

A self-publisher can do that.

1 comment:

  1. so is it ok if you right a book coniuing from anther and maybe then 1 day publish it

    ReplyDelete