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PUBLISH AND BE DAMNED

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So you have written a book, a work of historical importance, a novel – maybe something a little more whimsical, or arcane. Let’s face it, the chances of finding a publisher who is willing to risk any of his working capital on an unknown author, who is going to need a huge amount of publicity to get his work, however good, to fly, is pretty slim. So the next possibility is to publish yourself.

There are any number of concerns out there on the web who will be ecstatically happy to handle your manuscript (hereinafter referred to as MS), thump it into some sort of shape, print the finished product on the first paper that comes to hand, put a lick of glue at the back of the textblock and slip it into a softcover not of your own choosing. For payment, naturally, that is you pay, and they will deliver a product which you can proudly exhibit on your bookshelf and try to persuade friends and others to buy – or not, as the case may be. Alternatively you can do it the hard way, and come away with a book that will, at least for a short period during this time of immense changes that happen in every field you can imagine, make you immortal. Let’s start with subject matter of your MS. If you have a chunk of change burning a hole in your pocket; you are certain you won’t need it to buy a child a new motorcar, or a Zimmerframe for yourself – why, then you can pretty well do as you please, since the object is not to make money. Ordinary mortals have to keep an eye on the budget – therefore the cardinal rule number one is: find a need for a book, and fill it with your effort. Figure out a marketing strategy. Don’t just ‘think’ Exclusive Books, PNA or any of the other large chains are going to do you that favour. They won’t, ordinarily. Don’t aim too high; a modest print run is wiser in our small local market, and printing a second impression should you be successful, is a better option. We will have to return to this later when considering costs. So let’s imagine you have you MS about as ready as you think it’s going to be. You have proofread it three times and ironed out all the typos, spelling mistakes and errors of fact. WRONG. Get someone else, preferably a person with professional proofreading skills to repeat the exercise. I’ve never yet heard of anybody being able to pick up all of the mistakes of their own making in print. Be prepared to pay for this invaluable service, it’s worth it. Once that has been done you are ready to actually do a virtual desktop publishing job (DTP) providing you have any sort of a computer and one of a whole raft of MS-Office lookalike programmes at hand. What you need to do is to pick the size of paper you want (Hint: don’t get too fancy, it costs money to print a book on non-standard sized paper) By this time you will probably have approached some printing firm, you have intimated to them that you want to print en edition of roughly so many books, and generally they are only too happy to help you along on this question. Follow their guidelines, and set up a blank file, having unlimited pages, printed two-up next to each other, as would happen in a book and that is the first step. Next come margins. There are supposedly certain conventions which expound the dogma that the top margin must be a certain size (relative to the height of the page) while the bottom margin should be that size plus/less a percentage; the inner margin of the left hand page should be another size, and the outer margin on the same page yet another size – which is a mirror image of the right hand page. During the past sixty years I have seen them all, and I can tell you when a layout pleases me, and when it doesn’t. That’s about it. I hate to waste paper with huge margins and tiny blocks of text; the obverse applies. Make sure the text is comfortable to read without needing x-ray eyes to see the end of the line as it disappears into the gutter, as the middle part of the book is named. Spacing is another point to be considered. Single spacing is hard on the eyes; it makes it difficult to keep your place. Double spacing always makes me think the author ran out of material for his book and wanted to make it look more important than it is. So round about space and a half would be fine; but one can play with the finer points of that on a computer. Closely allied to spacing is the font. Yes, I know there are all sorts of really charming Elizabethan, Gothic, Papyrus etc fonts, but all of these get tiresome to read in a full-length book. Stick to a nice simple font like Times New Roman or Garamond, in a size between 10 and 12 points, preferably something with a serif, so the letters don’t look too naked. While we’re on the subject of fonts, you can adjust the character spacing as well, but since you are hopefully going to justify your text both sides; leave character spacing out of the equation if at all possible. Crowding too much into a space again makes it difficult to read – not the sort of thing you want to do to your customer and best friend. It can be used in things like appendixes or indexes, when you are pushed for space, and if you squeeze your text a little, cut down on font size and line spacing, you can easily save yourself a page or three, which means your book will finish off with roughly the required number of pages divisible by 32 (known as a signature, or gathering). Alternatively you might have to wield the figurative red crayon and cut down on your verbosity to get a snug fit. You are now ready to get your computer to grab your entire MS, copy and paste it into the prepared format. Voila, we have a putative book.

Now you’d like to illustrate your book

If your artistic talents are that way inclined, do your drawings, etchings or watercolours, scan them at the finest resolution you can get, shrink them to the size required and cut and paste them into your textblock at required intervals. If you want a talented person to do the artwork for your book, choose someone who will have empathy with you and your work – and choose a person you can afford. If you want a lot of photos with little blocks of text here and there, you are entering dangerous waters. To get a good balance is not that easy, numerous books look like a dog’s breakfast after such efforts. Most publishers pay book designers hefty fees to apply their particular talents to that task. On the other hand, you can always take the easier route and put a batch of ‘plates’ here and there in a book, consisting either of single images or several per page – but it is the old-fashioned way of doing things. Just be 100% certain that the colour photo you are about to adorn your book with is of the highest quality – like with proofreading, get a second opinion. Nothing spoils a good book as easily as a rubbish photo. Full-page illustrations should all face in the same direction if in landscape format, ie on either left or right hand page, the top of the picture is on the left, so you don’t have to turn the book this way and that when reading. There is an alternative format if one wishes to include a lot of illustrations in that aspect, by turning out an ‘oblong’ book, in which the hinge is on the short side. Remember that this format is usually most difficult to store on shelves, though. Now let us consider the 'prelims', those free endpapers, half-title, frontispiece, title page, contents, preface, dedication etc. Most modern softcovers, don’t have endpapers; many don’t have half-titles; that is a matter of individual taste. However, many self-published books start off with the title page, which often does not contain much information. You need at least a title; then possible a more explanatory sub-title in slightly smaller font underneath that, and below this the author’s name and possibly the illustrator’s as well, if that person has played a significant part in the book. Somewhere near the bottom of that page, one or both of the following should appear: a date of publication, and the name of the publisher, if there is one. The verso of that page should carry the following information, especially if you have published it yourself: Published by John Citizen, Pofadder, South Africa, (possibly a contact number or e-mail address, and the date should be reiterated and the edition should be stated, eg 2008 1st Edition. Then a few lines further down centred for easy identification you need an ISBN number, which you can obtain by phoning Ms Margaret Kupido at the State Library in Pretoria (in South Africa). The same person will then send you a sheaf of forms to complete in which you describe your book, and which also tells you that you have to send off copies of your work, free gratis and for nothing to all the holding libraries in the land – that’s about 8-12 copies. On the bottom third of that page you affirm that you are the owner of the intellectual rights of the work, unless you have included quotes or passages from a previously published work, in which case you had better have that author’s permission in writing that you may use the passage, and you acknowledge that they have graciously given you their permission. Most self-publishers have had some help from altruistic friends, authors or publishers – so it is only proper to thank them in print under the heading of ‘Acknowledgements’. Then underneath that you might like to add a dedication to some person for some reason. A page of contents is usual, but avoid anything that lists Chapter 1, Chapter 2 etc etc (which I have found in a surprising number of professionally published works), rather, the contents page should be descriptive to give the prospective reader a foretaste of what is to come. You might like to do the same with your illustrations; but while they will assist the bookseller and cataloguer in a hundred years time to decide whether the book is complete, it is mostly not done in modern publications. Your prelims may or may not be included in the pagination of the book, but beware – printers have been known to make a hash of it by starting the numeration of pages from the free endpaper onwards! I know from experience. Now let’s look at the rear of the text. Your story has come to an end; all the t’s have been crossed and the i’s dotted. Not so fast. If your book is a factual one, which seeks to enlighten the reader in any field whatsoever, then it needs an index. Indexing is a dreadful, repetitive job for people who have special skills; so it is best left to them. You might have used a lot of foreign words – in South Africa, Afrikaans words creep in and if you are going to have foreign tourists reading your work – well, then you’d better explain yourself with a glossary at the end of the book. If you have leaned heavily on the writings of other writers, it is useful to give a full list of the publications you have used. There is a format for this, easily learned by perusing a reputable book which has such a bibliography at the end. These last few items are one place where you can scrimp on the size and spacing of font and lines, as people tend to search for one or two words, they don’t get tired from reading large quantities of tiny font. Just one thing left to do – list the fact that you have appended an index, a glossary and a bibliography at the front of the book on the contents page. Almost all factual books on historical and other matters have footnotes at the base of the text here and there – mainly to explain something or to give a reference as to where a fact was found. Your computer programme should be able to handle it, but it can get a little tricky. Pre-set the size of the font one or two sizes smaller than your main text, and you can even use another font to make it quite obvious that the reader has strayed out of the main narrative. Footnotes can also be added in a bunch at the end. This means you have to read the book with a finger stuck in the textblock further on to be able to access a footnote when you need it. I find that irksome, but tastes may differ; you can never please all the readers, so you might as well please yourself. Often a book will need a map to enable the reader to follow the action or to place a locality. You can’t just photocopy a map from the nearest atlas, as that image belongs to someone. No, either you have to get stuck in and draw the thing yourself, scan it, put in the required placenames by hand or per computer programme, or once more you have to hunt down some talent and pay them a commensurate amount for doing that small thing for you. It’s your choice.

Right, so now we have a textblock in the rough, so to speak.

At this stage you need to make a final decision as to what paper you want to use. Get samples of everything that the printers offer. Decide whether you want a glossy, dead-white, or something a little more organic. Print on a sheet; both sides so that you can check whether the paper is opaque enough to prevent the print on the other side from showing through, check the quality of the printing on the weave with a magnifying glass to see if it has broken up unduly. On the other hand does the printed sheet look grey? Then you almost certainly have a really poor print job on paper that owes more of its existence to a mine than a tree. You need to decide whether the illustrations need a special paper, for instance dead white high-gloss for photos, unless you are going for sepia shades of black and white on a yellow or light beige, or whether your drawings look at home on the same grade of paper as your print. Whatever you do with your colour illustrations, get a proof which also states what paper is going to be used, so that you can check that the innate colour of the paper doesn’t alter your tones in the final appearance of the pictures. Decide on the weight of paper to use – find out if it is available in the correct quantity right now. The paper has been chosen, now the nice person from the printers must tell you exactly how thick your book of xxx pages with yy plates and two maps is going to be, because otherwise you won’t be able to proceed with the next step. What about a cover? You have a firm idea of what you want your cover to look like. Wonderful! You have taken a stunning photo ten years back, which you would like to use for a dustjacket/cover. Or you are one of those gifted people who can actually do their own artwork. Converting an image into a book-cover is not a job for an amateur. To get the titling correctly spaced, the spine labeled, the blurb aligned properly on the back or on the flaps of the dustjacket – all of these are once more in the preserve of the specialist graphic designer. You’ll pay dearly for the service, but at least you will have a real idea of what your effort is going to look like before you go and throw some real money at it. If there is any chance that the work will be sold at any jacked-up emporium, then you’d better go on-line and buy yourself a bar-code that can be incorporated on the back cover of the book – it makes it look more professional and easier to sell to the big boys, if you should get lucky. Again you have to decide on the weight of paper or board, as it is called, to use on the covers. Now you speak to your friendly person at the printers. You enquire about the options. Get an idea what it would cost to produce the textblock in different quantities, say 300, 500 or 1000, find out what the difference in cost would be for a ‘perfect-bound’ versus a sewn book. You will be surprised how much cheaper it gets the more you print. Then get a quote for what a softcover binding would add to the cost; alternately explore the cost of having your publication machine-bound in hardcover, with a dustjacket added on, or with a laminated cover. Now the expense starts to climb. Most people bail out at about this stage and decide they can only afford to publish a softcover. Why not? The world is full of softcover books; it won’t hang over you like a criminal record if you go that route. There is one way out of this financial dilemma. Tell the printers that you will not pay for any overruns (you’d be surprised how inaccurate these people can be, 10% more or less is nothing to them), but offer to take a set number of textblocks without covers off them, say 20-50. These you can then hand over to a friendly bookbinder, who can hand-bind them at great expense, and which you may present as priceless heirlooms to family and friends or sell them as de-luxe editions at a hugely inflated price. Are we ready to go? Not by a long stretch ! You now get a ‘proof’ of the cover, printed exactly on the same sort of board, as they call the thick paper that is used. Tell them you want it laminated, or embossed, or not as your heart desires and your finances will allow – get a couple, just so that you can play with them. Let’s say you are happy with the cover. Now you request a proof of the book. This should arrive in loose sheets, and you apply yourself once more to ‘proof-reading’. It is almost guaranteed that you will find errors. Without any reason that you can fathom, your faithful computer has taken a dislike to the printer’s machine and between them they have decided to alternate fonts on even and odd pages, to kick footnotes into the middle of a page, your pagination numbers appear anywhere and your index doesn’t bear even the faintest resemblance to what you had given them. It happens. Deal with it. Use very bold red markers and point out exactly what is wrong, glue or staple on little scraps of paper bearing instructions and throw it back at your ever-friendly printer with a snarl. He won’t mind, because this happens all the time. He will then make the necessary adjustments and you will get another proof. You will (of course) have kept a photocopy of the previous proof so that you can now track down one and every amendment you have requested. You find that all is well and the printer has done his job – or has he? No, you start from the beginning and proofread once more, because it is equally likely that in fixing the previous batch of errors, he has now committed a few others. You send the results of your researches back to him and request (hopefully) a set of ‘galleys’, which nowadays actually just means a sort of final proof. Yes, you read through that one once more and eradicate that last misplaced comma, full stop or whatever – just look hard enough and you’ll find it. Most printers will want at least a deposit from you at this stage, and it’s not an unreasonable request; but do hold back 50% of the full payment until after delivery of the finished product to your satisfaction. Read your contract, know what you are letting yourself in for. Ideally it would now be best for you to find out exactly at which small hour of the morning your book will come hot off the press, and you insist that you wish to stand there while they run off your thousand copies at a breathtaking rate. That way you can pick up any major snarl-up as the first few books come off the press and are assembled. It’s not an easy decision to make, since it is heart-attack territory, and it is no guarantee that you will pick up an incipient problem in the dim light of the factory environment between all this lethal-sounding machinery. Hopefully you will be the proud parent of your own literary baby a few days later.


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