The Journal, Friday, 9/11: Going On the Cheap

Up right at 2 this morning. Again, by 3 a.m. I was writing. That’ll work. The retraining continues. I’m noticing I seem to have less self-discipline the older I get. Is that how it’s supposed to work?

No walking today. With over 7 miles two days ago and almost 6 miles yesterday, I’m taking a day off from walking.

Okay, got a lot of writing done today as well as a cover for “Finding Harold.” It will be the story of the week for next Monday.

That’s really about all that happened today. Since the topic is so long, I’ll curtail the rest of this.

Topic of the Post: Going on the Cheap
Don’t do it. There. End of lecture.

If you’re a writer and if you’re serious about your work and if you want others to take you seriously, invest in your product (your writing, your cover, your book).

You can invest the time to educate yourself and the money in professional programs so you can create your own eformatting and print layout and ebook and print covers OR you can invest money in paying professionals to do those things for you.

What brought this up?

I recently was privy to see a complete and utter piece of literary garbage that was (from the front matter of the book) “printed with the Espresso Book Machine at The University of Arizona Main Library.” I kid you not.

I can’t say whether the author believes his book has now been published by the U of A (it hasn’t) or what. Maybe he uses the service because it’s free. I don’t know. What the “Espresso Book Machine” turned out was so terrible, I won’t even do the few minutes’ research to find out what it costs, whether it’s free, or anything else about it.

What I will tell you is this: Garbage in, garbage out. Even if your writing is excellent, if the formatting of the document you feed into the maching looks like garbage, what you get back will look like garbage.

Here’s my brief review. Remember, this is all formatting stuff, stuff that could EASILY be fixed if the person who formatted it had only cared enough about his final product to take his time.

The Table of Contents — The title of this page (Table of Contents) was in the same font, same size, and same attribute (normal, not bold, etc.) as the listing below it. Capitalization of titles varied within the TOC and from TOC to actual story. The TOC itself was hokey. First was the title of the story, then a space, then the word page (yes, lowercase) and then a span of pages, for example 3-16.

Overall Layout of the Book — The inside front cover (apparently) was the only title page. The title was at the top, the author’s name was near the bottom, and a page number was at the center bottom. (The title page should not be numbered.) There was no publishing information on the title page. (Usually the publishing company name and city is displayed there.)

The next page was the copyright page. It stated the year of copyright, but failed to mention in whose name the book is copyrighted. Seriously? The formatter skipped a line and inserted a dedication. Skipped another line and inserted permission for teachers to reprint parts for classroom use. (Yeah, that’s gonna happen.) Skipped one more line and added a simple disclaimer. Then skipped a few lines and inserted a brief paragraph blaming the Espresso Book Machine for this travesty, although that isn’t how they put it. Oh, and lest we forget, the copyright page is numbered page 2.

Page 3 is the previously discussed TOC, and the first story began on page 4, a recto. Later in the book, some stories began on the verso (left page of an open book, as they should) and some on the recto (right page of an open book).

Finally, on most pages the text began at the top of the page, but on some it began one or two lines down. The same spacing discrepancy appeared at the bottom of many pages.

Titles of the Stories — The titles of the stories were the same font, font size and font attribute as the body of the stories. (Usually the title is bold attribute and/or a larger font size.)

As I mentioned in the section on the TOC above, the titles of the stories varied with regards to capitalization.

The position of the titles at the top of the page also varied. Some were left justified and some were centered.

Apparently no standard was applied. The key for good and efficient formatting is standards. They can be your own, but you have to have them, and you have to apply them evenly throughout the work.

The Body of the Stories — The body of the first story was double-spaced with no extra spacing between paragraphs and with the first line of paragraphs indented. It would have been perfect if it were single-spaced. (Remember, this is for a print book.)

Hyphenation obviously was not turned on. As a result the text is broken with rivers of wide white space running diagonally through the text.

All of that is from page 4 (beginning of the story) through the first full paragraph on page 8. After that there was an extra space between that paragraph and the next. Then it returned to no spacing after paragraphs until page 13, where the anomaly happened again.

Then it continued normally again until page 17 where the anomaly occurred twice in a row. The story ended suddenly without any sort of signifier such as “The End” or a series of asterisks or “Go Away.”

The second story was formatted differently. It was left justified, single spaced, with a space after each paragraph, and without first-line indents. Great for a blog post. Pretty good even for some nonfiction print applications. Not so much for a story in a collection of short fiction.

The third story was formatted the same as the second, except in some places it looked as if there was no space between two paragraphs.

The next several stories were formatted the same as the second and third, with no first-line indent, block paragraphs, left justified, and a space between paragraphs. Except sometimes there were two spaces between paragraphs.

This truly was an ugly, ugly book.

Now again, to be fair, the Expresso Book Machine is ONLY a machine. It was not at fault for this piece of literary garbáge. Whoever formatted the Word file for the author was at fault. The author should fire whoever laid out this travesty, immediately and with prejudice. Even if it was the author himself. Or maybe especially if it was the author himself.

Do you understand? If you put out a piece of garbage like this, it won’t matter how good the writing is because the reader won’t get that far.

So as I wrote at the outset, when it comes to downgrading your own work by going on the cheap, don’t do it. There. End of lecture. Again.

My Current Challenge and Goal
Before October 1, I will write at least 30 new short stories, one for each day in September.
To satisfy the challenge, these have to be actual short stories, meaning they have to be over 2,000 words. If I write anything shorter than that, it will count on my numbers but not toward the challenge.
Stay tuned.

Today’s Writing
Finished the Harold Nickel story, then got a good start on another one, so I’m a happy camper.
Fiction Words: 3858

Writing of “Harold Nickel’s Last Dime” (short story)
Day 1…… 2327 words. Total words to date….. 2327 words
Day 2…… 2002 words. Total words to date….. 4329 words (done)

Writing of “The Old Jenkins Place” (short story)
Day 1…… 1856 words. Total words to date….. 1856 words
Day 2…… XXXX words. Total words to date….. XXXX words (done)

One thing about these stories — I just have to write them. I don’t have to rush to slap a cover on them and publish them. All of that’s going to come later, although I will pick one each week to be the story for that week. At the end of the month if I’m successful in my challenge I should have 40 publications: 30 individual stories, six 5-story collections, three 10-story collections, and maybe one book titled The Stories of September.

Total challenge stories for the month…… 2 (Goal is 30)
Total challenge words for the month…… 8668
Total fiction words for the month………… 10258 (1590 on Wes)
Total fiction words for the year…………… 475299

3 thoughts on “The Journal, Friday, 9/11: Going On the Cheap”

  1. Dear Harvey,

    The Espresso Machine is notoriously “off.” Yet, there’s no telling what shape the manuscript was in to start with, and the Machine has no guidelines.

    I recently printed the second edition of “Publishing: A Survival Guide” with some updated data. Included in it is some advice on formatting. Since you commented on inconsistencies and design flaws, I’ll include a partial bit of my additional comments on formatting:

    A Note on Formatting, for eBooks and Print Books:
    A good e-formatting job is a must. Otherwise your book will read well on some devices and look like hell on others. There are also no shortcuts to the tedious process of doing it right. Letting CreateSpace produce your Kindle book is also a mistake. They copy your formatted for print text and upload it directly (and charge you for doing it too!). It will not read well, even on all their Kindle devices.

    About Print Book Layout: Most DIY jobs look that way.* Most cottage industry layouts look amateurish too. Crowded type and crowded pages are a turn off. The human eye has a limited tolerance for deviation from certain design parameters. If something looks “off,” it won’t be read, no matter how wonderful your story is. Certain type fonts read more easily than others: not all 10 pt is the same; not all 11 or 12 pt type is the same. Certain type requires special leading (that’s the space between lines of type); others require kerning (spacing of the letters themselves). The bottom of the page should be even throughout (except at end of a chapter). A well-designed page involves both justification and kerning to avoid a “river of white.” Paragraphs are indented 0.25” or 0.3”, never 0.5”. Page numbers should be aligned properly; also odd on right, even on left. Never add an extra space between paragraphs unless it’s a scene break. Each extra space will stop the reader. Headers and footers should never appear at the start of a chapter or in the front matter. Fiction, unless the chapters are titled, never has a Table of Contents. That’s another DIY dead giveaway. Beware the self-designed (“your favorite photo”)* cover. Study well-designed books, from front matter to back cover. Your print book is your finest and best marketing tool. You wouldn’t want a sloppy business card, would you?

    *Harvey–I’ve seen some real doozies lately, by folks who should know better.

    Keep up the good work. I love your cottontail photo too.


    • Thanks Michaele, for this more in-depth tutorial. Of course you’re absolutely right. It’s also important to keep a style sheet for your books, stories, etc. so you don’t have to completely reinvent the design every time. In my novels, for example, I use Georgia 10 point font with line spacing set to 1.15. My first line indents are always 0.15″. I don’t use chapters at all but divide what would otherwise be chapters with a series of three spaced asterisks, etc. The point is, once you fine-tune your design, save it to a personal style sheet so you can readily apply everything to your next book. The trick (and the pain) is that fine-tuning process. (grin)

  2. I’ve seen something similar. The author was previously trad pubbed, so he SHOULD at least know by sight how a short novel should be formatted. Instead, the indie book of his that I looked at is 8.5×11 and formatted like a manuscript – double spaced, 1″ margins, the whole works. Where did I see it? In the “local authors” section at Hastings in Sierra Vista. $20. Needless to say, even though the story sounded interesting (from the back cover blurb), I didn’t buy the book. I’m not paying $20 for a manuscript.

    Learning to DIY is a huge learning curve, but it’s definitely worthwhile for authors on a budget. For those who can’t or won’t learn to do things so they look professional, they really need to hire those tasks out that they don’t want to do/learn themselves.

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