Increasing numbers of authors all over the world are opting to self-publish: not just hopeful novelists and self-styled gurus with hideous personal branding, but also authors writing to promote their ideas, tell stories or describe events to the communities of people of varying sizes willing to read them.
Self-publishers are no longer seen as amateurs in search of fame: they are now recognised figures in the publishing world. Authoritative figures, professionals, scholars, researchers and even established writers are publishing texts independently that the publishing market would otherwise ignore, not because they are not good enough but for marketing reasons and due to the small profit margins involved. The publishing market does not always get it right, however, and sometimes the world of self-publishing can produce some real success stories.
If you have written a book and are thinking about publishing it, you’ll find some useful hints in this article on how best to prepare it to ensure you print a high-quality product.
HONING THE TEXT
To be interesting to potential buyers, a book needs to be written well. This does not mean it has to be amazingly original or Nobel Prize-worthy, but it must grab the attention of the public.
To achieve this, however, it’s not enough to simply have a good story to tell or to have identified the latest in-vogue topic: your book must also read well and be free of spelling mistakes, typos and poor word choices. Basically, it must be grammatically flawless and written in understandable language.
The editing stage, which incorporates various processes designed to check and correct your text, is absolutely vital.
The first thing to do is run a spellcheck. All word-processing software has an automatic spellcheck function that corrects, or at least flags, potential spelling mistakes.
The second stage involves looking at the sense and meaning of the content, and how it is structured and flows. A professional editor knows how to tackle these aspects well and can achieve great things simply by changing a few sentences around.
The third step is preparing the text for typesetting. Use the search tool in your word-processing software to remove double and triple spaces, correct apostrophes and speech marks and remove any colours, links, styles or other ‘clutter’ from the file, to make sure it is completely clean. This will be important when you come to import the text into the typesetting software.
There is a vast range of options available, including obvious suggestions like Microsoft Word, but for simple texts any writing software will do. I would recommend using an app that constantly saves the file remotely, so you never lose it and can access all your revisions; there’s a vast array of options here too, from Google Docs to more complex apps like Notice or Evernote.
CREATING THE BOOK: TYPESETTING
For a text to become a physical book, you need to typeset it, which means laying it out in the pages it will eventually have.
We’ll give you some advice on the software to use at this stage another time: the important thing to remember is that books have been printed since 1450 (the year when Johannes Gutenberg is widely accepted to have printed the first book with movable type), so we have had almost 600 years for rules and standards to form. It’s worth your while knowing these: books are one of the objects people are most familiar with, and making mistakes when putting them together can lead to people disregarding or even disparaging them.
A book comprises a collection of well-known, recognisable parts with their own terminology (which can vary from country to country); if you’re struggling to work out the difference between a heading, frontispiece, half-title, colophon, etc. and what they are used for, take a look online.
When it’s time to put your text into typesetting software, there are at least two things you need to have decided about the book: how many pages it will have and its format, i.e. its dimensions. One decision may influence the other, so it’s always best to have acquired a quote for the printing first, before doing any work on the layout.
Once the book is typeset, you’ll need to export it in PDF format for printing. Now all you have to do is wait for the boxes to arrive, open them and smell the freshly baked book smell!
That said, there are other pitfalls at this stage that can lead to a poor-quality self-published book.
The choice of paper is crucial: to save money, many people opt for coated paper, leading to pages with a level of glossiness, which feel unpleasant and reflect the light instead of absorbing it. Uncoated papers are definitely the best choice for book printing, while recycled paper or other, more refined paper types can also produce interesting results. Choosing a quality paper underlines the importance of the content and can enhance their perceived value.
The other thing to bear in mind is the cover: do you want it rigid or flexible, i.e. hardback or paperback? This is important not only because it can make the book seem more or less prestigious, but also because, for example, if there are few pages you may be better off with a hardback cover. Many children’s picture books have a hardback cover because, with typically between 32 and 48 pages, with a flexible cover they would bend and look very worn after just a few reads-through. A hardback cover increases their durability and means they can be displayed or stored upright.
ONE FINAL TIP
Because people have been producing books for many centuries, nobody is expecting your self-published book to be innovative or to revolutionise the world of publishing. Therefore, try to create as ‘normal’ a book as possible, following the established standards.
For a better idea, as well as searching the web (there are countless resources and articles for anyone wanting to self-publish a book), the best advice is to look at the books produced by the top publishers and try to uncover their secrets.
Examine the books on your shelves at home, go to the bookshop and flick through the pages to find those well-established rules, or sit comfortably in your local library and observe, study and take notes on what you see.
And last but not least, as the world’s best graphic designers will tell you, the structure and design of the book should not distract the reader’s attention from the pure joy of reading.