This article is the 9th article in my series on publishing. If you are interested in publishing, I’d recommend reading the whole series. If you aren’t interested in publishing as a topic, check back in February when I return to more general topics.
I wanted to take a moment and explore concepts of quality both from an author’s perspective, and a reader’s perspective, and look at how that might impact the overall product of your book.
Starting with authors, the primary concern that authors have when you mention “quality” to them is how the book is physically produced: Print Quality. As an author, when you send your book off to a printer to get printed, how do they physically look? Is the printing good? Is the printing faded or blurry? Is the book bound properly? Are the pages straight? etc. These are important questions. If a reader buys your book and the printer has messed it up, then the reader might mistakenly put that error on you. Rather than contacting the retailer and getting an exchange for a properly printed copy, they might just return it altogether and swear you off as a writer.
Short of hiring a book printer to print off a bunch of copies at once (which is impractical for most of us), there are only a handful of other companies that authors use for this. Of them, I have personally used Lightning Source, Amazon, and Create Space. Of these three, there are no real discernable differences in printing, from my experience. They use the same types of paper, the same binding process, the same cover materials. In fact, if I lay them out side by side, I can’t even tell them apart aside from the ISBN.
Yes, it’s true that sometimes printers mess up. It’s also a guaranteed certainty that you can’t control every aspect of the printing. Here’s the thing, while Amazon, Lightning Source, and Create Space all have internal printers that are capable of printing books, they all also hire subcontractors to complete the work in times where they are backed up and have a lot of orders to finish. You have no control over whom they hire when they do that. They might pick a printer who made a mistake. It’s happened before. It will happen again, regardless of who you pick. So, in that regard, my advice here is don’t fret so much on the printers themselves and instead focus on the printing costs and distribution options when making the selection. It’d be like me worrying if the Dodge Charger from car dealership A is as good as Dodge Charger from car dealership B. They’re still the same car made from the same parts and subject to the same types of defects. Instead, I should be worrying about payments and interest rates and how much that car is going to cost me.
I’m going to change gears and perspectives for a minute and talk about quality from the perspective of the reader. Depending on whom you ask there are some differing opinions about self published authors. Among readers, there is a split. Some of them believe that self-published books are just bad and don’t bother with them, while other people are willing to give them a chance. And, from my experience, the readers are justified in their split. I have read some works from people who simply should not be writing. Just because they can wrote novel doesn’t mean that they should. I’m not talking about subjective opinions of style or content, I’m talking about people who lack a basic grasp of vocabulary or grammar. They don’t understand how to write in consistent tense or voice. I am going to assume that you are not one of those people. But the point is that they exist. And they proudly flaunt their wares as “independently published”. And since you are also independently published, you can’t blame the reader for drawing the conclusion that your book is somehow the same as theirs. In their eyes you are guilty by association.
So how can you solve this problem? It’s a multifaceted approach, but a lot of it requires good marketing. A lot of that marketing includes delivering quality products. Sure, we’ve already talked about editing and other things like that, which helps quality. And next week we’ll talk about covers, which is a huge first step. But there’s another part of this equation where most indie authors fall short: Standards of Quality. In fact, I would wager that probably half of indie authors don’t even know that there is such a thing as Quality Standards in the publishing industry. And if they are aware, they probably can’t cite them.
A lot of people generally hit some of them by trying to mimic the way that paperback books are presented. But a large number of people also just cram the words onto paper and click “publish” without giving too much consideration for the standards. Those authors who do take the time to incorporate the standards demonstrate an attention to detail that says “I take my work seriously”.
A lot of indie authors don’t understand publishing terms like Recto and Verso or why it’s important to understand them. They don’t know what a plate is. In and of itself, that’s not a bad thing. At one point I didn’t know either. A lot of indie authors understand that some attention should be typesetting, but they don’t know what those considerations are. They print final books double spaced (which is bad), or their indents are too large (which is bad), or they don’t have their work block justified (the industry term for unjustified text is “ragged” – leaving your text ragged is bad). Of course, some indie authors already do all of these things and more, and to those authors, I salute you. But there are a lot of indie authors who simply never bothered to learn. If you are one of those authors, please, stop and ask questions. Learn. Don’t just cram stuff in a file and send it off to the printer with minimal consideration for layout and presentation.
So where does one find these standards that I speak of? You can find the standards here:
My books adhere to as many of the standards as possible. What are some of the less-obvious ones? Books are strongly encouraged to a have a half-title (aka: Bastard Title) in addition to the Title Page. And, the typeface of the title pages should match the Typeface used on the cover. Book spines should also include the publisher’s logo. (If you are an indie publisher, I would strongly encourage you to form your own publishing house – more on that to come in a few weeks).
There are a whole slew of things that belong on the Copyright Page. A few authors I’ve seen just have, simply: Copyright 2017 Author’s Name. This is woefully insufficient from the concept of publishing standards, let alone from a legal standpoint. A few people I’ve seen even smash the Title Page, Copyright Page, and Dedication Page all together into one page. Don’t do that. Never do that.
One thing that is a mystery to many people appears on the copyright page. It took me a while to figure it out: the Printer’s Key (aka: Number Line). If you look on the copyright pages of any published book, down near the bottom third of the page you’ll see a sequence of numbers counting down from 10 (usually). It looks like this:
This sequence indicates the printing of the book. For example, the presence of the 1 indicates that this is a book of the first printing. Things are a little different with Print-on-Demand publishing, but you can still treat it like a printing number. Suppose that you update the cover. A traditional house would then do a print-run for thousands of copies. Indie authors just make it available with the new cover. What should be done is to remove the 1 and display the numbers 10 – 2. This indicates a second printing (I’m not using the word “edition” here to avoid any confusion with non-fiction titles that may have different content). After the 10th printing of the book is printed, the printer’s key switches to 20-11, and so on.
I was discussing another item with my author friend, M. D. Thalmann (http://www.mdthalmann.com) and he was pointing out that although there’s not a defined standard anywhere for page type, there does seem to be a defacto set of parameters. Fictional works typically have cream colored pages and non-fiction works typically have white pages. I went through my personal collection of almost 400 books and I found only 1 single exception to this rule. Historically publishers used cream colored pages because they were cheaper to produce than white, so it kept printing costs low. However, images and illustrations would often bleed through the pages, which is why textbooks and other non-fiction titles were switched to white paper.
Have a Happy New Year everyone, and thank you for your continued support. I hope that 2018 is great for you. We’re going to continue our discussion about indie publishing into the new year by kicking it off with a discussion about book covers.