Things have changed so much in book publishing, that you must understand the new paradigm and why this means you must understand typography. Self-published authors must learn the art of communication with type. This is an excerpt from Writing In InDesign 2nd Edition which will be released as soon as possible. Here’s a link to the 1st edition
Writing within InDesign
Here I am again recommending a road less traveled by—not unusual in my life and work. Before the choruses rise up in defense of other workflows, let me tell you my reasonings. I fully recognize that most people write in Word. What these people do not realize [in most cases] is this simple fact starts their book under a great handicap. If they are publishing their own book, they are missing out on the best tools for communicating with readers.
Books are not entirely about words
Of course as a writer this may not make much sense to you. But hear me out. For years I have taught graphic designers that the content is all that matters. This has been a major fight because many designers never read the copy they design into books. This is still true now that graphic designers are responsible for laying out Websites, blogs, ebooks, and more. In the publishing world there is a real disconnect between the writers and the book designers. They are treated as two entirely separate skill sets. Most designers are of little help dealing with book design as a method of improving communication.
Most designers do not deal well with words,
many rarely read, few read for enjoyment
However, it is equally true to say that most wordsmiths do not deal well with design. Many do not have any idea how essential design and typography is to their efforts to communicate with their readers. Graphic designers [and this includes most book designers] are visual people, focused on how things look. Writers are verbal people and tend to be unaware of how the formatting and typography choices affect communication.
One of my major concerns as I started to write books in the mid-1990s was my experience in my classes of using published textbooks as examples of poor communication—both from the written side and the visual side. The examples are endless.
My pursuit of functional, reader-centered books has been fraught with trials. I was constantly bumping up against standardized procedures of traditional publishers which really made their books hard to read or use effectively. This reader-centered goal is so far outside the norm in publishing today that there is no room at all for an author who even cares about these things (except in this brand new world of on-demand self-publishing).
Let’s talk about some simple examples of this lack of concern for the reader
- Illustrations listed by number with no connection to the copy which talks about what is illustrated: Most traditional non-fiction publishers require this typographic horror. In many cases, authors are not allowed to even pick out the images because they are not considered professional enough to understand what is required of a graphic. But the result is illustrations, maps, charts, and photos—listed by number—which are often not on the same page (or even in the same chapter) as the content they illustrate.
Why bother to even have them?
Few readers will find them or take the time to look for them. The result is frustrated readership and readers who simply quit reading in disgust.
For fiction, it is equally bad to have an illustration or map which cannot be easily referenced by the reader. In my poor attempts at writing novels, I added maps where they were needed in the copy to help the reader understand what was going on a little better.
- Heads and subheads generated by designers: In many cases over the years I spent as a graphic designer, I wrote all the subheads, developed all the lists, wrote all the captions, and even wrote most of the headlines.
I developed them out of a need to help direct the reader through the copy I was formatting. The author commonly had no clue that they were desirable or necessary. I wrote them as a service to the reader. But I was a real minority as mentioned. Many designers [and it may well be most designers] do not even read the copy they layout, as I said.
As a writer, you must be aware of these issues and realize that they are a primary method of clearing up communication with the reader. Heads, subheads, list design, and all the rest of the typographic tools are key elements of reader support.
- Page layout determined by fashion and visual concerns: Fonts are chosen because they look good. Layouts are determined by fashion. Columns, margins, sidebars and the like are chosen to stimulate visual interest and provoke excitement. Rarely are they use to help communicate the content more effectively, clearly, and accessible. Clarity and accuracy are rarely considered by a book designer.
The most glaring example of this is seen in the books where content is broken up into small pieces—supposedly to help people with short attention spans. We recently bought a book on creationism that is virtually unreadable. The gorgeous, fancy illustrations push the copy into bits and pieces that randomly appear out of the visual clutter of the pages’ backgrounds. My wife gave up on it.
But it goes much further than that. Here’s a quote from Wikipedia about the normal traditional editorial process (please force yourself to read it, I realize it is difficult to read):
“(Once) a decision is taken to publish a work, and the technical legal issues resolved, the author may be asked to improve the quality of the work through rewriting or smaller changes, and the staff will edit the work. Publishers may maintain a house style, and staff will copy edit to ensure that the work matches the style and grammatical requirements of each market. Editors often choose or refine titles and headlines. Editing may also involve structural changes and requests for more information. Some publishers employ fact checkers, particularly regarding non-fiction works.”
Notice that there is nothing in this process
about serving the readers.
The readers’ needs are not part of the process. It’s all about sales and the marketing decisions of the publisher. Textbooks are some of the worst examples of this editorial damage by traditional publishers.
In most cases they will not even talk to you unless you can convince them that you have a large enough following to guarantee enough sales to cover the costs. Once you’ve passed that hurdle, they will normally insist that you fit your content into their style—even if that style hinders your book.
In Writing In InDesign, I then take a brief look at this world of traditional publishing—that relic of the pre-digital, pre-desktop information age in which we live. In general, these traditionalists are extremely confused by what is taking place in the new digital publishing world.
As an on-demand, self-publisher you have a wonderful opportunity to break out of this trap and truly work on helping your readers.
What you need to have clear in your mind is simple
As an author it is your job
to enable your book to communicate well
In this day and age, readers need all the help they can get to understand what you are trying to say. Excellent typography is one of your most powerful tools to aid in this process.
Word cannot do typography—no word processor can.
You truly need to learn typography!
- Does book design really matter? (hackberry-fonts.com)
- Font design is a very small portion of typography (hackberry-fonts.com)
- Book Typography Part 3 What makes good fonts for a book (hackberry-fonts.com)
- Readability: the most important aspect of typography? (bergsland.org)