Monday, May 2, 2016

I prefer to write books, not just piles of words

For much of the 20th Century, writers composed both flops and masterpieces on 8.5 x 11-inch sheets of paper. Later they used word-processing software that emulated the same size and shape.

  • Most authors have a specific word-count in mind, such as 70,000 words, as they write their books. (Apparently, the average book has 64,500 words.)
  • But, as the owner/operator of my own tiny publishing company, when I'm working on a book, I usually have a specific page-count and price in mind, such as 350 pages and $15.95. Each piece of paper costs me money.
And rather than just spray words onto my monitor, I set up MS Word for the actual page size of my book (usually 6 x 9 inches) and correct margins, and start writing a book.

By viewing actual pages, it's much easier to judge my progress, and to know if chapters should be chopped or stretched or shifted, and when illustrations should be enlarged, reduced or moved around.

Just this morning while examining the new paperback version of my bestselling Internet Hell, I discovered an awkward, unattractive two-page spread. This would not have been apparent if I viewed just one-page-at-a-time or didn't have the proper left-right sequence. (In the book business, a left page is "verso" and right is "recto.")

I lowered the photo of Dick Cavett and the text on the recto page to better align the facing pages.

TIP:  I always insert a temporary left-hand "page zero" ahead of the real right-hand "page one" so I can view pages as realistic two-page spreads, instead of onesies, or with left-right-reversals.

This is not very important if a book is all-text (or an ebook), but if you have photos or illustrations or tables, it's important to view the spreads as your readers will see them, to avoid graphic disasters.

I was copyeditor on my college newspaper in dreadful Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and often had to trim text to fit the page.

After college I was assistant editor of High Fidelity Trade News in Manhattan, and had to do the same thing.

Later I worked for advertising agencies and had to write to fit the available space (or available time for commercials). I couldn’t tell an ad client to spend thousands of dollars extra to buy an additional page or 30 more seconds to contain my precious words.

If my background was in writing fiction or web pages or reporting for NPR (with no limits of space or time) my book production style might have evolved differently.

There are many different types of workflow for writers. Writers whose words will be formatted by others may work very differently than diehard D-I-Yers like me. But, if your end-product is a book, consider making one from the very beginning.

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