So You’ve Written a Book.
Part 5 (of 10)
Last session we were talking about the back-matter and the cover for your book. In order to really get the idea of how important these two items are, you were going to go down to your local Barnes&Noble or other favorite bookstore and wander the aisles for a bit. So—what did you see? (By the way, did you happen to buy about ten copies of that world famous novel,SANCTION? Yeah, I know. It’s my book. But, you can’t blame me for trying, can you?)
I know what you saw. Thousands upon thousands of books of every genre, size, color, etc. But, did you see them, or just the spine as it poked out at you? If your book was going to be there, where would it be? Would it ever be seen by casual lookers? Did you see hundreds of books where you couldn’t read the spine because it was so dark or cloudy, or the type was so funky it couldn’t be read? Maybe type that was so close to the cover color that it didn’t stand apart? Remember trying to hold your head at that 45 degree angle (90 degrees would have been better) while you were trying to walk and read at the same time? I bet it was much easier to read all those spines that way, right? WHY WOULD YOUR BOOK GET NOTICED IN ALL THAT?
Go back and read lesson four in this series to see what I stressed on the subject of the cover and the back-matter. The first thing that is going to get noticed about your book will be the cover, whether it’s spine out or face out in the store, and if the cover really isn’t noticeable and attractive, or worse, if it’s de-tractive, it will not be seen. The cover, even just the spine, is what’s going to get someone to pick it up and at least read the back-matter, and that’s the next step on getting someone to open the book and scan some chapters and perhaps…
I was doing a book-signing some time ago and had placed a few copies of my book in some strategic (I hoped) places through the store as well as at the signing table. One spot was on the top shelf of a stand-alone spinning rack, about 5-1/2 feet off the floor. I was able to see it from where I was signing and watched three different people start by the rack, then turn their eyes up to the top shelf, stop and reach for MY book. They opened it and read a little bit. The point being, there was something on the front cover that caught their eye and got them to at least look. Granted, the book had the front cover out and not just the spine, but it caught them. One more little step toward getting a sale.
If you’re a new author, it’s not likely many people are going to be coming into a bookstore asking for YOUR book. They’re going to have to SEE it somewhere before they will ever have it in their hands. So, whatever you can do to make the cover as wonderful as possible, do it. Read the past lesson again on some ideas about this, and then go out and look at covers in stores from well-known authors. I’m holding Jack & Jill from James Patterson in my hand right now, and there’s no way you can miss that cover or the spine. The title is large. His name is large. Very clean. I’ve also got The Last Days by Joel Rosenberg, Split Second by David Baldacci, and Double Tap by Steve Martini. Each of them is very clean with good colors, solid, easily readable type, and the titles and names very evident. If you were looking for Steve Martini, there’s his name as bold as can be. Or Split Second—same. Bold and standing out. You can’t miss them. What were the books in the rack right beside these? Who knows. These overshadowed the others and didn’t give them a second chance.
Now it’s not likely your name is Baldacci or Patterson, so you won’t likely get noticed if your book is right beside theirs. But, the point is to get noticed, right? What was that I heard about “my cover’s good enough?” Want to think that through again?
And, if the cover gets the book picked up, will the back-matter get them to read a little, maybe even open the book for a look inside? Again, I watched the people who picked up my book that weekend do that—look at the cover, read the back-matter, open it for a quick look inside, and YEAH, come by for an autograph. What a thrill! But if the cover hadn’t caught them, would they have ever seen it?
Please, go back to that bookstore and do some research on covers and back-matter. Your book will only benefit from it.
Now let me jump ahead just a little bit and talk about your choice of publishers, editors and artists. It fits at this point, and we’ll cover some more on the subject later.
You are ultimately going to be choosing a publisher and they are going to have some variety of services they provide. Some will have a full editing staff, real graphic artists, knowledgeable type-setters, etc., and some will have some of these services available, maybe on an ala carte basis, and others say, “You bring it in. We’ll print whatever it is.” Of course, you will pay a very different price at each of these publishers based on which services you purchase. However, the point is YOU will need to be sure you are getting what you want to make YOUR book successful. I lucked out and got a terrific editor and a graphic artist that did a wonderful job designing the cover. I couldn’t have asked for more. The great part is that with both of them, I was able to talk back and forth with them, give my thoughts and ideas, look at their suggestions and get some re-dos, and was kept fully in the loop through everything. They stressed it was MY book, and they were just there to help me make it better, or the best.
You need to have this same thing done on your work in order to make it “the very best you can make it.” If you are really good at doing your writing, you might not need an editor, or perhaps just some minor editing. The same for your cover. If you are a graphic artist, you might be able to design your own cover. But, are you? Remember that “You bring it in, we’ll print it” statement? Remember those standard covers I mentioned in the last lesson where you basically fit your title and maybe a picture into their ready-made covers? Maybe those will work for you. If you have a very select niche market you are shooting for, or you’re only going to give your book to family and friends, or you’re only going to sell them at your church where everyone knows you, these truly do-it-yourself publishing efforts can work. But, if you are trying to get into the commercial stores and get sold…? Go back and look through that bookstore again and look at your competition. The very best we can make it.
Layout and Typesetting
The next stage you will go through is the setting up and putting together of your book. Layout basically means the style of pages, spacing of the lines, indenting, paper and color choices, the headings for the chapters, the choice of any graphics that make the type stand out, etc. Typesetting means just that—the changing of the type and style you sent the publisher—perhaps Times New Roman or Arial, 10-point size, regular line spacing, etc.—into a type-style that will be best for your book and that is common in the publishing industry. (Has anyone heard of ACaslan-Regular or Trajan-Bold fonts? I sure hadn’t.)
If you’ve chosen a publisher that has professionals in these areas, they will do most of the work for you and will make it the best possible. If your book is going to be in a large, hard-cover style or a trade paperback, sizes and styles will need to be different to fit best. But you will still need to make choices. I’ve read hundreds of books, and many of them were just plain hard to read. Type too small or text too light, lines too close together, margins too close to the spine so I had to bend the back of the book, and so on. When my book initially came from the layout/typesetting group, I found it that way—too small and too tight for my comfort. I was able to work with my group to get the type and line spacing made a little larger. They were willing to work with me, and the book, in my opinion, came out better for it.
Again, the point? Make sure the book is what YOU want, even if you have to argue or fight for it. Now, obviously you can be foolish about what you want. Increasing the size of my fonts and line spacing added about ten pages to the book and made it cost a little more. Doubling the font size would have made it a 600 page book instead of 300 pages. Not realistic. Hopefully, your group is professional and will assist you in making all the best choices. But, it still comes down to YOU. Is your book the best YOU can make it? If you choose to self-publish your book (explanation later), YOU are going to have to make all these choices, maybe without any help from anyone. If you turn in a manuscript full of typos and punctuation errors, in Arial 24-point font, with regular, left-justified text and ragged right margins, with no page numbering, that is what is going to get printed. Is that what you want?
Again, if it’s going to just go to family and friends (My Life and Loves During My World Travels), whatever makes YOU feel good is what it should be. But, if you’re hoping for the next New York Times Bestseller and great sales reports from the bookstores, are you setting that book up to become that bestseller or…?
In the next lesson, we’ll finish up the basics of the actual writing and setting up of your life’s work and start to look at the types of publishers, editors, artists, and so forth. If you know of friends that might be thinking of writing something, tell them about this article and send it on to them. I know I’m just me and certainly no expert, but as I personally found out, ANY help was great help for a novice. Feel free to jump into the website and see some of the things I’m talking about: www.JimMagwood.com.
Care to comment? Write to me at JimMagwood.aol.com.
And visit the website at http://www.JimMagwood.com.
Also, drop in to The Author’s Inn, a site designed to showcase author’s works and connect them with readers. http://www.the-authors-inn.com.