.

.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Bad news can be good for authors who'll PROMOTE, PROMOTE, PROMOTE


When I was in college in the 60s, I operated a slightly profitable business distributing anti-war pins. One said, "War is Good Business. Invest Your Son." Apparently 58,212 Americans were killed and 153,452 were wounded in the War in Vietnam -- plus about 2 million Vietnamese.

That's very bad news. Nevertheless, the war was good for arms makers, and for college kids who sold anti-war pins and bumper stickers.

 
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died in 2011. According to The Associated Press, "As macabre as it might seem, Jobs' death Wednesday will only add to the Apple mystique -- and profit. The iPhone, iPad, iPod and Mac will, no doubt, get a sales boost as consumers pay the ultimate tribute to one of America's creative geniuses. That could be especially true for the latest iPhone, scheduled to go on sale Oct. 14. The lines were going to be long anyway, but now there are bound to be even more people clambering for the iPhone 4S - the last device to be unveiled while Jobs was alive. It's a commercial phenomenon that has happened many times before, most recently when Michael Jackson's album and song sales rocketed after the pop singer died in 2009."
 
Simon & Schuster  moved up the publication date of its biography, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson from November 21 to October 24, 2011. The book quickly reached #1 on Amazon's overall bestseller list and is still high up on lists in three  categories. It has nearly 5,000 customer reviews, which is very unusual.













In my 1001 Powerful Pieces of Author Advice, I wrote, "Remember that the mere publication of your book is not usually sufficiently newsworthy to impress editors and writers. Only the most desperate small-town weekly would publish an article with the headline: 'Local Woman Writes Book.' Your news release needs a news hook. The hook is the main point of your release. It can be a theme, state­ment, trend or event on which you “hang” your news release.  If an important person just got married, promoted, fired, elected or killed, a book about that person should be newsworthy . . . ."

I certainly don't recommend that you murder someone you wrote about. But, if that person should die without your intervention, be prepared to take advantage of the promotional possibilities, like Simon & Schuster. Walter Isaacson was interviewed a great many times, and sold a great many books.

If you've written or are writing a book that ties in with bad news (or even good news), PROMOTE, PROMOTE, PROMOTE.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

It's dangerous to have an un-moderated blog or online group

Self-Publishing Review is a useful and respected online magazine. It aims to legitimize self-publishing. A while ago, SPR was scammed into carrying spam advertising for a seller of "Cheap Ralph Lauren polo shirts."

The posting -- which should have come from a person or company involved in self-publishing -- is from www.enjoypolo.com, and contains computerized nonsense text combined with links to the enjoypolo site. (Left-click to enlarge.)


Someone at enjoypolo apparently noticed that "Registering for this site is easy, just fill in the fields below and we'll get a new account set up for you in no time," and registered and quickly posted the crap. A Google 'bot noticed the crap and automatically posted it on my blog (which is hosted by Google's Blogger service), and probably on others. This automation added to the effectiveness and the annoyance of the spam scam.


If you operate an online forum, Facebook page, website or blog that is open to public comments, make sure that content has to be approved before it is published. Don't help the spammers.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Just because words have been published doesn't mean they should be believed


When words appear as text (on paper or online) they have apparent authority and truthfulness that is not implied when the same words are merely spoken.

The Internet and self-publishing have made it possible for anyone to say anything about anything to anyone or everyone. If the packaging is realistic, blatant bullshit can seem like gospel (assuming that you believe the gospel). If the phony message is powerful and gains supporters, it can spread like the gospel.

  • For about ten years I produced elaborate online hoaxes for April Fools' Day that fooled many who should have known better.
  • I have a website, 99 Buck Books, that is a parody of self-publishing companies. It is so well-done that it fooled at least one expert in the business.
  • In the 1950s radio raconteur Jean Shepherd (one of my literary gods) was pissed off about dubious bestseller lists. He motivated fans to go to bookstores to request the none-existent I, Libertine. The stores pestered their distributors for the book, which was put on the New York Times Bestseller list even though it did not exist. (To meet the demand, a book was actually published to make money for charity.)
  • PublishAmerica (Now reborn as America Star Books and probably the worst publisher in the world) was fooled into publishing deliberately awful books written to demonstrate that the company will print anything with no effort to evaluate or edit the material.
  • The false "news" published by The Onion and The Borowitz Report is done so well that several websites report on the people who believe the baloney. Onion suckers include folks on Facebook as well as journalists and politicians
  • [below] Unless you look closely and notice the abcnews.com.co deceptive web address, you might think that the 'news' is genuine. It's not.
 




















There is a big difference, however, between deliberate inaccuracy disseminated for humor or to make a point, and accidental inaccuracies disseminated because of ignorance.

Regular readers of this blog know that I frequently target people who provide bad advice or inaccurate information about publishing.

A while ago I read an elaborate comparison of three on-demand book printers.

Author Nick Thacker tells us that Lightning Source is "the printer of most of the material you’ll find [in] a bookstore at least here in the States." That's absolutely untrue.

Nick is also wrong in interpreting "LSI" to mean "Lightning Source International." The company uses "International" for its operations outside the USA. Inside the USA, the "I" is understood to mean "Incorporated."


I strongly disagree with Nick's description of Lightning's setup process as "frustratingly difficult" and "close to the worst thing in the world." I've used Lightning for multiple books with no trouble, and my IQ is several points below the genius level.

Nick also says that "if you’re here for price alone, you’re going to be happiest at CreateSpace. Lulu is close in price . . . ." When I last checked, the price for printing a 300-page 6-by-9-inch paperback was $4.45 from CreateSpace and $10.25 from Lulu. Sorry, Nick, but more than a 100% difference in price is not "close."



And, as long as in a critical mood, I'll point out that while Nick says his first novel is "professionally-designed," having "written by" above the author's name is absolutely not professional.

Those words may be tolerated on a fourth-graders report about Abraham Lincoln, but do not belong on a real book. The phrase is unnecessary. S
omehow people just assume that a name on the bottom of a book probably belongs to the author. Nick's phrase is like the silly signs on stores that say "Help Wanted. Inquire Within." What the hell would people do if the signs did not say "inquire within?"

Still being picky (and maybe pricky), I'll also point out that Nick's cover states that the book is "a novel." I HATE THAT DAMNED PHRASE. Dickens and Hemingway didn't need to point out that A Tale of Two Cities and The Son Also Rises were novels.

Sadly, Nick Thacker is not alone in publishing bad information about Lightning Source.

I had the misfortune to discover an online article titled "SELF PUBLISH/PRINT-ON-DEMAND: What They Don’t Tell You" by Alana Cash. Alana said she "taught writing at the Univ. of Texas and Jung Institute in Austin, Texas."


While Alana may be qualified to teach writing, she is NOT qualified to teach about self-publishing. She wrote that "Lightning (Barnes & Noble’s POD division) has a written agreement." Lightning Source is part of Ingram Industries. LS supplies books to B&N, but is not a division of B&N.

Another self-styled publishing expert wrote that Lightning is owned by Amazon.com. Ain't so, either.

I readily confess to personal imperfection. I don't know everything, but I know more about publishing than some other people who want to give you or sell you advice.

---------
Top image from http://www.know-christ.com/online-bible. Thanks.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Here's how to make your book fail


Recipe for failure:
  1. Publish with America Star Books -- probably the worst publisher in the world. (formerly PublishAmerica).
  2. Give your paperback an absurdly high price and not offer an inexpensive ebook.
  3. Publish without editing.
  4. Provide a sample of your crappy writing on the back cover and on the publisher's website.
  5. Provide no description or motivation-to-buy on Amazon.com.
RESULT: Zero reviews on Amazon, and likely zero sales, in five years.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Tiffany, Laozi and Picasso can help you make better books

“Negative space” may sound like a “worm hole,” “alternate universe” or another strange phenomenon encountered by the crew of a star ship. Fortunately, you don’t have to understand astrophysics to understand negative space, and why books need it.

In graphic design a “thing” such as a piece of text or a photograph is considered to be “positive space,” and everything else on the page (or screen) is negative space. Because most book pages are white, negative space is sometimes called “white space.” Even if your page is gray, beige, black or turquoise, any space where nothing else is, is considered to be white.

Negative space is not nothing. Negative space is important and has many purposes.

Negative space can seem extravagant and imply wealth and high class. Printed ads for luxury brands often have lots of negative space. Tiffany has used extensive negative space for many years. [below]


Negative space can help to establish a mood. Just as a billionaire’s estate may have hundreds of acres of “nothing,” a page or ad with abundant negative space can seem luxurious and elegant, while a page with tiny margins can seem as cramped as a slum apartment where 20 people fight for space to sleep and sit.

Another term for negative space or white space is “air,” and a new art director at an ad agency might be told by his boss, “Larry, we need more air around the graphic of the lawn mower.”

When you start a new design, whether it’s a book cover, an interior page, a tiny postage stamp or a mammoth billboard, all you have is white space—a blank slate (tabula rasa in Latin).

On a book page or cover, white space includes the tiny indents at the beginnings of paragraphs, the spaces between lines of text, margins, borders around photographs, blank areas between sections or chapters and even just patches of nothingness that a designer decides to provide.

Newbie designers and D-I-Y publishers tend to pack nearly every square micron with text and graphic images: “I paid for the entire cover, and damn it, I’m going to use it.” That’s not a good idea. Attractive covers and interior pages often use lots of negative space where there is nothing but the background color. In art (and life), “nothingness” can be something—something very important.



Chinese philosopher Laozi is credited with writing the following more than 2500 years ago:
Thirty spokes meet in the hub, but the empty space between them is the essence of the wheel.
Pots are formed from clay, but the empty space within it is the essence of the pot.
Walls with windows and doors form the house, but the empty space within it is the essence of the house.

Sadly, both amateur and professional publishers seem to strive to save pages, dollars (and maybe also trees) and the result is often awful.

Authors Kim Golombisky and Rebecca Hagen advise: “Beginners often make the mistake of forgetting to account for space. Too much space, and visuals and type get lost or don't talk to each other. Not enough space, and they start to fight with each other.”

White space provides “visual breathing room for the eye” and also provides contrast that highlights the positive space. Painters—and the people who frame their work—have understood this for centuries. Amateur book formatters should spend some time walking around an art gallery or even viewing the websites of companies that sell art prints.



[above] For example, Pablo Picasso created “Petite Fleurs” with ample white space around the image, and even the hands and forearms are mere outlines around white space to further emphasize the color of the flowers held in the hands. The folks at Art.com
 provide additional white space in the matte that surrounds the print in a frame. 

At the right/above, I show how the same-size artwork would look if Picasso and the framer removed the air supply. The lithographic print with ample air draws me in. The airless print pushes me away. Eyes—like noses—need air.

Just as the appearance of a picture is improved by having a matte within its frame, your text needs adequate white space surrounding it. Eyes—like noses—need air.

One of my basic rules of thumb is that the a book’s outside margins must be large enough to comfortably fit human thumbs without covering up any text or illustration. It’s really annoying to have to constantly re-position pages while reading through a book.




The sample books that Infinity Publishing and DiggyPOD distribute to impress potential author/customers have barely enough margin room for a child’s pinky—let alone an adult’s thumb. Some magazines, including Bloomberg Business Week, are guilty of the same sin.

Paper is one of the least expensive parts of publishing, and if a book requires 10 or 20 more pages to be more attractive and more comfortable to read, it’s a worthwhile investment.

While paper is not expensive, it’s not free (except for ebooks), so keep printing costs in mind while evaluating suppliers. Each page from Lightning Source or CreateSpace costs the same, but other companies have wacky price schedules.


With Infinity Publishing, a reader pays a buck more for a book with 129 pages than one with 128 pages and the author pays 54 cents more. Page number 129 is printed on a very expensive piece of paper.


Xlibris also has an inflated and weird “delta” between page ranges. A 107-page paperback book will sell for $15.99 and the hardcover will sell for $24.99. If you add just one page more, the price goes up $4 or $5. The difference in the manufacturing cost is tiny, and can’t possibly justify the difference in cover price.


The price for a paperback with 398 pages is $19.99 (just like the 108-page book), but, at 400 pages the retail price jumps four bucks to $23.99, and that price holds all the way to 800 pages.


Xlibris gives away 400 pages for “free,” but charges four or five bucks for one page!


Xlibris books are printed by Lightning Source, so the price per additional page is $.013 (or maybe even less if they get a discount).

---------------


This post is adapted from my new Typography for Independent Publishers .

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Publishers should not exhibit their ineptness for prospective customers to see



Satirical songwriter Tom Lehrer wrote, "Don't write naughty words on walls if you can't spell."

Mark Twain wrote, "I
t is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt." 

On this blog and in some of my books I have criticized publishing companies, editors and ghostwriters who 'fail their auditions' with websites and promotional literature that display terrible errors.

The latest entry in the sad self-destructive derby is Brighton Publishing. If its website was a book, it could be a text book about what not to do. Based on its site, I would not rely on Brighton to publish any books.

It's possible that the company's books are better than its website, but I doubt it. 


Brighton desperately needs a designer and a copyeditor. Here are some of the reasons why:
  1. It's terrible to use small type online, especially with serifs, especially in bold, especially on a colored background.
  2. The sans serif letters used for the row of links break apart.
  3. Centered type is OK for headlines, but not for long text.
  4. This is a web page, not an invitation. "Twenty-five" should be "25."
  5. "Years" needs an apostrophe after the "s" to substitute for the understood "of.".
  6. The space and comma after "including" should no be there.
  7. "IPad" should be "iPad."
  8. "Expresso" should be "Espresso."
  9.  Also, it's no longer new. Its importance has waned with the growth in ebooks.
  10. "Barnes and Noble" should be "Barnes & Noble."
  11. In "for sale to the public," "to the public" is superfluous. In fact, everything after "success" is superfluous."
  12. "In the publishing and printing industry" should be "in publishing."
  13. "And outlets where books are sold" is superfluous.
  14. The use of the serial comma is inconsistent. It should be used either always or only when needed. 
  15. The clause explaining who Ingram is would be better within em dashes than commas, because other items with commas follow. 
  16. Other pages are similarly bad. Be dubious of doing business with a publisher with an error- filled website.
  17. The company's press releases are pompous, with phrases like "proudly announces" and "is pleased to announce." 
  18. The description on the Brighton Facebook pages has huge, ugly gaps and says, "Brighton Publishing is a new publishing firm providing authors 21st Century options. We bring over twenty-five years of experience . . . ."  "New" doesn't go with a quarter of a century.
  19. Illustrations are missing from the timeline. 



Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Study Tea Party typography, and don't emulate it

Campaign signs produced by the major political parties are dull but usually follow traditional typographic rules. Teabaggers don't need rules, rulers or dictionaries.



(above) This sign shows an innovative mix of transitional, slab serif and sans serif type combined with freestyle spelling -- a favorite of teabaggers.


(above) Bagger Brain Syndrome is the inability to compose a proper sentence caused by abnormal cerebral pressure exerted by an ill-fitting funny hat. BBS also includes the chronic inability to maintain consistent uppercase and lowercase lettering.



(above) Bold, centered text and red margins are powerful. Consistent casing, proper grammar and proper spelling are intolerable to baggers.



(above) The uppercase "G" is nice, evocative of Dotum and Vrinda typefaces. The spelling and mix of cases are evocative of bagger stupidity. Also, the "morans" would need several brains, not just one.


(above) Sloppy but innovative. I never saw an "I-A" ligature before. However, the comma should be a period. 


(above) I don't know what Jesus would say, but I say the sign sucks. Uppercase and lowercase letters should not be mixed within a word, and letters within a word should be approximately the same height and not go downhill. Also, most ten-year-olds could draw better flags.


(above) This sign has consistent uppercasing -- but inconsistent underlining, a missing comma and very strange spelling. 


(above) This bagger shows effective use of multiple colors, marred by poor justification and insufficient linespacing under the last word. Also, the important, double-underlined word is spelled wrong, in keeping with bagger standards.


(above) The multicolored typography is powerful, but sloppy. Also, the nonexistent death panels will discuss "euthanasia" but will not be run by kids from India, China or Laos.


(above) The uppercase, bold and multicolored "NO" is very effective. Tucking the lowercase "u" under the uppercase "P" shows kerning uncommon in hand-lettered signs. Thanks to the sign, I am indeed concerned about big government taking my "pubic" options away. Would the Democrats not allow me to dye the hairs on my scrotum for Halloween and the Fourth of July?

If you'd like to learn about proper typography, read my new Typography for Independent Publishers.

 

---------------
I thank all the photographers, and the teabaggers who made the signs.


Monday, March 21, 2016

What can governments teach you about typography? Maybe nothing



America's walls and roadsides are filled with signs, markers and plaques noting official historic sites and other tourist attractions. 

Plaques are often cast from bronze. They can cost more than $1,000 and are expected to last forever. Sadly, the typography is often atrocious, with large gaps because the type is full-justified and hyphens are avoided. 

Amateurs can and should do better work.




There's more about typography in my new Typography for Independent Publishers. It can help you make better books.  





Friday, March 18, 2016

After two words, I stopped reading a blog posting that might've been useful



"Hey Peops!"
 
I am not a "peop" (or a "peep") and many years ago my mother taught me that "hay is for horses -- not for people."

If you are a "peop," not bothered by "Hey," and you care to continue, go to http://cheapindieauthor.blogspot.com/2010/11/implementing-your-marketing-plan.html 
  • Stifle the kiddie crap. If you want to be regarded as a professional writer, write professionally.
  • There have been just two posting this year. If you want to be regarded as a serious blogger and develop a following, write often. Try to write three or more days each week.
- - - - 
horse pic is stock photo from http://www.123rf.com. Thanks.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Sometimes professional designers produce amateur work

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I've often said that there is no point in debating aesthetics. ("Whatever turns you one," "Whatever floats your boat," "Do your own thing," "De gustabus non est disputandum," "Chacun à son goût" and all that.) However, ugliness is apparent to most people.



Some people who have the title of designer, architect, art professor or art director turn out major failures — like the Pontiac Aztek, above. A poll published by England’s Daily Telegraph put the Aztek at the top of the list of the ugliest cars of all time.



New Jersey’s Pulaski Skyway was called “the ugliest man-made structure in the world” — by my father.

The book below was named one of the ten best books of 2011 by the New York Times, and one of the best books of the year by at least seven other book review media. It was published by Random House and designed by Casey Hampton.

Sadly, even professionals working for big publishing houses forget to kern and condense or deliberately choose not to when they should. I fixed the first line of the title for them. I’ll let Random’s 'pros' fix the second line — if they care.

My new book, Typography for Independent Publishers, will help you avoid ugliness.




Friday, March 11, 2016

Go beyond blogging, tweeting and Facebooking. An author's platform can include an online NEWSPAPER

(just an example, not a real paper)

While I've been an author since 1976, my days as a journalist go back much further.

I published a newspaper when I was in junior high school in 1960, at the ripe old age of 14. I majored in journalism at Lehigh, where I wrote regularly for the Brown & White student newspaper. After college I wrote for lots of magazines and newspapers.

More recently I've concentrated on electronic journalism (i.e. my blogs), and books.

Even more recently (i.e., last week) I became a newspaper publisher once again.

Ironically my newspapers involve no paper. Unless someone chooses to print them, they exist solely online. That's very green, very quick and very inexpensive (or even free).


Paper.li provides a superb system for publishing an e-paper. You pick a subject (cheeseburgers, travel to Cuba, Mitt Romney, anything), pick a name, do a little bit of customizing and then POOF! -- you're a publisher. Robots instantly fill your paper with links to appropriate online news. You can add or delete news items and move items up or down on your pages.

The free version of the paper includes ads. I use the "pro" version which costs a mere $99 per year and allows me to include four ads for MY OWN BOOKS.

So, what should you publish news about? If you're a nonfiction author, you certainly could cover news related to your book(s). If you're a novelist or poet, you can simply pick any topic that you think will attract the eyes of people who might buy your books.

Because of the current heightened interest in politics, my first two papers are The Donald Trump Daily News and The Hillary Clinton Daily News.

Every morning I add some news and do a bit of tweeking. I then promote my papers on my own Facebook page, in appropriate Facebook groups and on Twitter. I have definitely seen book sales increase since my papers debuted.

Try it



Thursday, March 10, 2016

Authors need platforms. Do you know what a platform is? Do you have one?



“Platform” is a major buzzword in current publishing.

It’s not the same as a political party’s platform, or a supporting structure for an oil well, lighthouse or lecturer.


Think of it as a metaphor for a structure that will boost you up and make you visible to potential readers, sources of publicity and bookstore buyers.


Components in your platform include websites, blogs, business connections, social media, radio and TV appearances, quotes in media, online men­tions, speeches, articles, friends, neighbors, etc. Your first book is part of your platform and should help sell your later books.

  • If you are considering self-publishing, your platform is critical for converting people into readers. You have no publisher to spend money on making you visible. Listings on booksellers' websites and search engine links are not sufficient to generate sales and reviews. You must have a way to stand out and engage potential readers.
  • If you hope to get a contract from a traditional publisher, be aware that they want to know about the platforms of new authors. If your platform is unimpressive, your book -- no matter how wonderful -- may not be sufficient to do a deal.
(photo from http://www.lighthouse.net.au/)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Authors: are your ebook sales suffering because of a silly omission?

(above) While analysts' percentages vary, Amazon clearly has a huge share of the ebook market -- but it could sell more ebooks. So could you.

I talk to lots of readers online and in the real world. All of them are aware of ebooks. Almost all are aware of Kindles. Some have Kindles. Many who don't have Kindles think they can't read an ebook formatted for Kindles if they don't have a Kindle. 

They seem to think that the ebook business is like the old videotape situation where a VHS player could not play Betamax movies.

While there is still some incompatibility with less important readers, the simple fact is that books formatted for Kindle reading can be read on many kinds of devices. It's time for Amazon, authors and publishers to make that important fact known!


see http://www.DoAsISay.xyz

For the past few years I've been promoting the concept that my Kindle ebooks can be read on a PC, an iPad or other tablet, a Nook, a smart phone or other device.


Sure, it's probably good to publish in multiple ebook formats. But, just as many people think that the World Wide Web is the Internet and that Earth is the center of the Universe, there are people who think that "Kindle" is synonymous with "ebook."

Authors, if you can make potential readers know that they can read your ebooks without investing in additional hardware, you may sell many more ebooks.

You are free to use my statement: The Kindle ebook version from Amazon can be read on a PC, smart phone, tablet, etc. You do not need a Kindle to read a Kindle book.

I also point out that: 
Images may seem too small on a phone or small tablet such as a Kindle Fire. You should be able to enlarge an image by pressing on the image and then selecting ZOOM, or use a finger pinch-and-unpinch.

Monday, March 7, 2016

That backwards “P” can help you publish better books


The ribbon bar at the top of the Microsoft Word screen is very crowded. There’s a good chance that you’ve clicked on only a small percentage of the symbols and words up there.

Many of them won’t help you, but the backwards “P” can be very useful. It’s called a pilcrow, and normally indicates the beginning of a paragraph. 

If you click on the pilcrow icon, the text on your screen will change greatly, revealing formatting indicators for such items as spaces between words, and section breaks, as shown below.
The sample reveals an extra space before the word “spaces” that might not be visible on a normal page.

The pilcrow icon’s function will probably reveal problems every few pages that you would not have otherwise noticed and will help you make a better book.

While editing, you should take advantage of Pilcrow Power. However, the extra indications can be annoying and fatiguing during regular reading—so tap the icon to shut off Pilcrow Power when you don’t need it. Also, when PIlcrow Power is in effect, your document will expand and the page numbering will temporarily change.

(from my new book, Typography for Independent Publishers. It's an Amazon Kindle ebook, readable on many e-reading devices, including computers, tablets and smart phones. You don't need to own a Kindle to read it.)






Friday, March 4, 2016

Sometimes rules need to be broken. Sometimes type needs to YELL at readers.



Standard, ordinary, simple, basic, upright type is considered to be “roman”—with a lowercase “r.” It’s not the same Roman as in Times New Roman. You can use Times New Roman roman or Times New Roman italic.


Italic type can be considered to be the opposite of roman type and it leans to the right. It leans like the Leaning Tower of Pisaand Pisa is in Italy, where italic type originated during the Renaissance. 

Itals” have several purposes in typography. They can provide emphasis and can also highlight:
  •       uncommon foreign words
  •       technical terms
  •       book, magazine, newspaper, CD and movie titles
  •       TV series titles
  •     pieces of art, like The Last Supper
  •       important vehicles, like the Mayflower and Enterprise
Grammar Diva Arlene Miller provides a good rule about using italics or quotation marks: "In general, big things go in italics, and parts of things go in quotation marks."

Names of books (but not “Torah,” “Bible” or “Koran”) are often put in italics. There is much disagreement about what else gets the italic treatment. See Grammar Girl.

It’s common to use italics to introduce an obscure technical term like virgule, and then switch to roman letters later on in a book or article. If I am introducing a technical term that uses ordinary words, like “breaker head,” I generally use quote marks the first time. Sadly, I am not consistent about this.

For many years, before personal computers were common, text was underlined with typewriters that could not produce italic letters for emphasis. Graphics experts frown on the use of underlines in books and recommend italics instead if you need to call attention to a word.

However, sometimes an italic word looks too weak, or doesn't look right when it’s next to a roman word. Compare these two versions of text:


In the first example, “Real” looks stronger because it’s upright and there are no strange gaps between it and the adjacent roman words because of slanted letters. I think the underlined text is fine. Some traditional typographers probably hate it and will brand me as a heretic.

[below] I'm not the only heretic. Here are pieces of two book covers with underlined text. I published one of them




If you mix italic and roman type, be careful with slanted letters W, Y, K, and sometimes M. Look at “k W” below.


[below] Be careful if you have roman and italic letters on the same line. The italics may appear shorter because they ‘lean over.’ You can experiment with slightly enlarging the itals, changing the typeface or changing cases.


[below] Sometimes I use an underline to call attention to an actual (“physical”) word rather than to emphasize a concept.


With modern software and the huge variety of fonts, there is generally no need to use underlines for emphasis. When you underline a word, the line will cross through the descenders of lowercase letters g, j, p, q, and y, making an ugly word. I would hate to underline “regal” or “royal.” You can sometimes avoid the ugly problem by substituting a word that has no descenders (not always an option and you can’t alter a web address).

[below] The New York Daily News is a tabloid newspaper with a long tradition of YELLING at its readers. The paper uses lots of underlines, but cuts the lines apart to accommodate descenders and punctuation. I've never seen this technique on a book cover, but if you feel the need to create a book that yells, try it (but be prepared to be yelled at).



 - - - - 

This posting is adapted from my new Typography for Independent Publishers.