Saturday, January 2, 2016

Authors - Don't be afraid of 'Industry Standard'

There are thousands, hundreds of thousands of writers. In this age most have access to the internet. Authors can self-publish kindle books and have them live, available for sale, in less than 24 hours. There are millions of books for sale on Amazon alone. Millions of books both traditionally published and self-published.

Let’s just think about that for a minute – millions of books. So why make it any more difficult than necessary to get your book noticed? Do you react to the phrase, ‘industry standard’, as though it is the curse of mediocrity, insist on sticking to your guns and doing it your way? Bad idea. Your overall sales ranking is worked out against all the other books on Amazon. If you want readers to take you seriously as an author and to choose your book over all the others, you need be professional.

You invest your book with love and polish it with care before you publish it on kindle and in paperback format. But, before you hit that publish button consider your readers. Your readers want to engage with your story. They don’t want to be distracted by unusual white spaces or to develop a headache deciphering that fancy font you decided reflected your story.

Spelling, grammar, sentence structure, and all of the conventions of writing are not archaic rules designed to hem us in. They are tools, to make it easier for readers to focus on the story. They are also indicators to readers about the professionalism of the writer. Break the rules if you must, but don’t break them all, and try not to break any until you are well known. Here are a few main pointers to help make your book look more professional.

  • Watch those adverbs, they can be like mud around your readers’ ankles, bogging them down in wordiness. Words like ‘suddenly’ and ‘immediately’ are annoying when used too much, and they are lazy choices. Find better descriptive verbs instead, even if your favourite word is ‘suddenly’. I read a book where every action verb was preceded by ‘suddenly’, and by the time I finished the book I vowed that I would never use that word again.

  • Exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Don’t use them, or if you must restrict them to dialogue and be sparing. Exclamation marks and CAPS LOCK are distracting and annoying. Readers grow tired of what comes across as shouting all the time.

  • Double spaces at the end of a sentence. This is something that is hotly debated among writers. There are some who insist it must be double spaces and they are going to continue using double spaces no matter what. I can only say, no. Once double spaces were the standard, but now they are not.

In any case, if you type two spaces at the end of every sentence, and then you convert your book to HTML for kindle, all those extra white spaces will be compressed and your book will be published on kindle with only one space after each sentence. Please don’t tear your hair out finding ways to keep your double spaces. Books are no longer published with two spaces at the end of a sentence and have not been for a long time.

  • There’s a lot of angst about justifying your pages too. I don’t justify, because I’ve found that if I do I get a lot of strange white spaces when my manuscript is converted to kindle. Kindle justifies for me. Some hard copy books are not justified either these days. So for kindle don’t justify. If you want your paperback version to be justified do two versions of your manuscript. One with all the bits you need to do for smooth kindle conversion, and one with the settings you prefer for the paperback version. I have three versions of each book – kindle, paperback, and a master copy I use for any changes I make.

  • Stick to a plain, easy to read font. Readers need to commit to your story and your characters. Give them an easy font so they can immerse themselves in your world. Serif fonts are the ones that have a little line at the end of each stroke. They are easier to read because the individual letters stand out more and are easier for the brain to identify. Times New Roman (the font I am using) is serif, so is Garamond. Sans serif fonts are those without the little line – Arial, Century Gothic.

As you can see from the above examples, on the computer screen there is not a huge difference. For myself, I use Times New Roman because it is common, and easy to read. However I also use Calibri, which is a sans serif font. The recommendation is to use a serif font for the body of your work, and restrict sans serif to chapter headings etc. However, this is a bit outdated I feel, since sans serif is also considered easier to read on a computer.

With most authors having kindle versions of their books I think the way to approach your font choice is to make sure it is easy to read. Something like Edwardian script may be good for authenticity in an historical book, but is hard on the eyes after a while. You may have read that you should submit your manuscript to an agent or publisher using Courier New font because it is the closest to the old typewriter font. Don’t, it just makes you look like an amateur. No need to announce it before they have read a word.

The publishing world is changing rapidly and it is vital for all authors to keep up with the changes, not fight against them. To have your best chance at success as an author you need to be adaptable. So read as much as you can find on self-publishing, but be sure it is not too old. Even advice from 2010 is frequently out of date, which is another reason to read as much and as widely as you can. 

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