Saturday, January 12, 2008

Publish a Book

A man once confided to Truman Capote: "I have a great idea for a novel—all I have to do is become a writer." Capote responded: "And I have a great idea for brain surgery—all I have to do is become a neurosurgeon."

Typesetting—really artistic typesetting—is like driving a car with everyone in the car looking at a GPS, except the driver. The passengers see where the driver is going, but they can't really see what the driver sees. When they finally look up and see the breathtaking view atop a high crest, they suddenly understand why they took an off-road to get there. Almost everyone thinks they'll be happy with $20 headphones until they try $250 headphones... and then they never look back. Typesetting is an art, and finding balance between the letters on a page is not as easy as most might think.

The look and feel of written words are my world. A book set in the right font, with precisely enough leading (space between lines) and tracking (space between letters), with no objectionable hyphenation breaks and no orphans or widows... such a book is like an exquisite melody delivering lyrics. As we all know, the medium can have a dramatic effect on the message.

Now, see if you can connect the dots:

I've been a writer for over 20 years, an editor, a typesetter and graphic designer for over 17 years, with a brief stint as a journalist to throw in the mix. I once hand-made small 20 page books of collected poetry for my friends in New York. I've even solved—on my own—how folio pages should be positioned on a printing press paper sheet so the book's pages will be numbered correctly when folded and cut. I'm the guy who moves a piece of type 1/1000th of an point because I don't like its proximity to another piece of type. And I write. A lot.

With those diverse skillsets, the natural conclusion is apparent: I should be a publisher. I've always had it in the back of my mind to publish a book. Not necessarily my book, mind you, just a book.

But books are serious business. You can't embark on publishing a book willy nilly. To return to our metaphor, you can buy $20 headphones, but if you know how great $250 headphones are, wouldn't you want to buy the $250 headphones?

I decided, then, to publish my own writing as a trial run to iron out the kinks. Perhaps I would continue publishing my own material, perhaps not. The idea was to learn the process. So I chose my two years of blog posts as fodder for my first published book. Here was my final design (this is only a chapter page):

Looks easy, but it wasn't. To create that page, I had to first make the Style Mockup, a road map for all design choices during production. Publishers never show the public how much work goes into creating their own style mockup. I agonized over my style mockup for weeks to fine tune it. But why would I go to all this trouble for my own book? Because you don't write a symphony, even your own, without using sheet music:

With the newer print on demand technology, more cost-effective ways exist now for self-publishing than ever before. And with online vendors like Amazon to level the playing field, anyone can compete now with the big publishers.

So if you have a book idea which you want designed nicely—i.e., not the usual Microsoft Word doc in Times New Roman, but something that actually might be sold at Border's—contact me. If I have time and the book interests me, then we could be publishing your book sometime this year!

(And yes, that means using real bar codes and ISBNs, and dust jackets, etc.)

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