I posted last week about the dangers of allowing your ebook to degenerate into a Website. After all, “An ebook is just encapsulated HTML & CSS.” It was basically a plea to design your ebooks in InDesign. I missed making my core point. I wasn’t saying that code geeks cannot design ebooks. I was saying that most coders are not designers, but technicians.
One of my commenters (Tom) suggested that writers are just as bad as coding geeks when it comes to design. His suggestion was that I should always encourage writers to hire designers to put their books together. His comments do have some merit, but they miss the point of my focus. I have to say that (like coders) designers are often just technicians who do not help the creative processes. A creative person can be a writer, an illustrator, a designer, and/or a website developer. On the other hand: writers, illustrators, designers, and developers are not necessarily creative. Often they are simply technicians involved in producing the output of the creatives.
Writers are also creatives
This seems to be the basic misunderstanding. Writing is a creative activity—as is designing. Coding normally is not (though it can be). It seems as if the very nature of coding drives most creatives nuts. In almost all cases, a web developer or ebook coder requires creative oversight. The sad fact is that many designers are technicians who also need creative oversight. The question that divides is:
“Is it your job, or is it your passion?”
Many designers want the world to believe that the old paradigm of “design as an extremely difficult and rare technical skill” makes them essential in any process. I must confess that I used to believe the same thing because that was my job for a couple decades. However, this ignores the new reality of the self-publisher. The paradigm of desktop publishing has blown that out of the water.
Writers publishing their own work is part of the new renaissance of desktop publishing
Maybe my background allows me to see things not commonly noticed. To me it seems obvious (and has for decades) that the new paradigm of desktop publishing adds publishing and book design to the creative toolkit of the artist. Just as obvious is that fact that desktop publishing adds professional formatting, book design, and publishing to the creative toolkit of the writer.
This was what got me so excited in the 1980s. I saw that I could take my art and publish it—all from my desktop. I remember the excitement of working as the designer and art department of a small quick printer in the early 1980s when they purchased their first “printing quality” Xerox. That thrill of discovery grew when I started teaching commercial printing in the 1990s and realized that I could produce printing plates directly from my computer. Then in the mid-90s came Fontographer and I could break free from the limitations of the archaic type founderies. By the ’97, I was teaching from PDFs distributed online.
In 1994 a large traditional textbook publisher asked me to write a book on digital publishing for them. I had to produce the PDF for printing it as they had no one who could do what I needed for the book. Now I was hooked.
Writing & publishing a book is a wonderful creative experience
Since then I have dedicated my life to developing my skills as a writer, designer, and publisher. My feeble efforts have proved conclusively that writing, formatting and publishing your own book is a creative process that makes painting a canvas, carving a sculpture, or any traditional fine art process pale in comparison. It’s hard to explain what a joy it is to write and produce a book where I wrote all the copy, designed all the fonts used, set up the formatting for the book size I chose, and published it. Finally, I’ve found a creative outlet I can sink my teeth into.
So, in response to Tom, I agree that many authors need to consider hiring a designer to produce their book. It is equally true that many writers need to hire a coder to produce their ebooks. But it is not the best way.
InDesign is a tool that can be used well by writers
In fact, my newest best seller (for me) is Writing In InDesign. It takes the same attitude as my other best seller, Practical Font Design. That idea is simple. Fine artists are no longer shut out of the typographic, printing, or publishing process. Fine artists and writers have similar personalities and interests. I can say that as a fine artist who has become a writer, as a fine artist who became a graphic designer, as a fine artist who became a font designer, and as a fine artist who became a book designer and a self-publisher. The creative process is the same. All that has changed is the power of the tools used to produce my art.