When I was a kid, I loved the idea of writing stories and stapling or lacing the long edge to make a book. Or punching sheets of paper and ordering them in a three ring binder. Or getting one of those clear report covers whose fold slipped into a rigid plastic spine. Anything to make a page turner.
Imagine my delight when I discovered print-on-demand. The POD revolution means that I can make an actual bound book, without resorting to staples or plastic covers. But a sampling of self-published books out there makes me think that a lot of authors don’t realize that writing a story and producing a book are two different things, involving two entirely separate, and not always compatible, skill sets.
Before I started editing a magazine, I spent a lot of time writing and very little time thinking about how manuscripts were transformed into print material. Discovering the design and printing process was like learning a whole new language that I didn’t even know existed. I had assumed, as many writers do, that my life would consist of feeding my manuscripts to publishers, who would turn out the finished book or magazine article.
Most writers I talk to still think that way – they have a manuscript, they want a book. When I mention fonts and formatting and paragraph styles, their eyes glaze over and it’s clear to me that these details are not what interest them.
But that’s ok, because in this age of self-publishing, there are a lot of ways that authors can make a beautiful book, and it starts by acknowledging that book making is more than content. It really is an art, one that involves the thinking of elements that have to come together to make the reading process itself a pleasure. A good book is aesthetically pleasing apart from the writing; even e-books have to be formatted correctly to provide a smooth reading experience.
The tools to make a book are available to anyone, but it’s a process that deserves care and attention, and as a self-publishing author, you should be enthusiastic about the details that go into it or find someone who is. Books published without attention to design are sad things, a high-tech equivalent of my shoelace-bound early manuscripts.