Friday, March 30, 2012

Some Do Do's

I can’t believe I am posting another blog so soon. Up to now, my blogs have come out rather sporadically. But tomorrow morning early,  I will be giving a talk in a break-out session at the 2012 Biennial Writers’ Conference presented by the National League of American Pen Women (Honolulu Branch). 

Part of my talk will center on what I posted earlier today, but another part will be to discuss a few simple rules for those considering self-publishing. These rules don’t have so much to do with how to write or illustrate a children’s book. Rather, they have everything to do with layout and design. After all, if you are going to self-publish, make the book look as professional as you can. People will judge your book by its cover, the type you use and the layout . . . then they’ll get to your beautifully crafted story.

Here are my Do Do’s. One for picture books and one for chapter books. My advice: keep the layout simple and do do these things.

10 Do Do’s for Picture Books

1  Pay attention to the rhythm of pictures and words.

There are three basic layouts: words on pictures, words below pictures, words following pictures: If you choose the first layout, put the text in the same place on each page. If you choose the second option, vary the rhythm according to the story.

2  Make sure that your story is evenly distributed through your book.

You can always tell if a book is well-done, if there are the same number of words on each page. This is not a must, but it helps bring order to the book.

3  Keep all of the pictures the same size and make them all either full bleed or with a margin.

4  Trim your story to as few words as possible.

Picture books work because the pictures tell the story as much as the words do. If the book looks word heavy in the layout, it is probably not well-edited. Let the art do the heavy lifting.

5  Make your story look as though it were written in free-verse.

My feeling is that a picture book is a poem. I don’t mean a poem that rhymes, but a poem in the sense that it is a slice of life, a poetic look at some one, some thing, some event. If you think that way, your book will have few words and the pictures will do the work of telling the story. And, if you break up the text so that it looks like a poem, you are inviting the reader to treat your work as poetry.

6  Consider the sound of the words.

This has nothing to do with layout--at least in printed books, but in digital books, where a voice can be recorded, this is extremely important.

7  Use difficult words.

Again, like #6, this has little to do with layout, but in the digital world, where the reader can tap a word and the definition comes up instantly, it makes no sense whatsoever to limit the vocabulary. In the past, teachers and educators put a stranglehold on books. Each book had to meet a grade-level standard. No more is that the case, as far as I am concerned.  A first grader can tap on the word and find out what it means, hear how it is pronounced just as easily as anyone else. What’s so hard about that—unless you enjoy dumbing everything down.

8  Make sure everything is accurate and fully researched.

In the digital world, not only can a reader tap on the word to find out what it means, but the reader can search the word or group of words on the internet….instantly. If your facts are wrong, even the first grader will know it. If not the first grader, the teacher or the parent.

9  Make everything consistent: words, colors used, layout.

Take a good look at books by Chris Van Allsburg and William Joyce. They both have a brilliant sense of color, and, their designers were meticulous, insuring that their books hung together as a whole. This point number 9 is a summary of all I have said above.

10  Go to the library and check out as many different looking books as possible.

Finally, take a look at these books. Match each one with the points I have made above. Some will match up; others will not. Make a note of the variations.

10 Do Do’s for Chapter Books

1 Be generous with margins and consider the following rules when laying out a page.

The standard POD chapter book measures 8 inches tall by 5 inches wide. Use these margins.
Why be generous? Because a few pages added to a POD book don’t add to the cost, and for a iBook, page-count doesn’t matter at all.

2 Be generous with the leading (the space between the lines).

I would say that 14 point type with 18 point leading would be fine for a children’s picture book. Remember that in an iBook the point size is irrelevant. The reader can change type size to fit his or her own needs.

3 Indent the first line of the paragraph as much as the width of the capital W of the font you are using. 

If you make the indentation too wide, you will throw everything off balance and make reading difficult.

4 Start the first paragraph of each chapter about a third of the way down the page.

5 Make a classical title page such as this with everything center-justified
In 1818, this title page was made about the typography of Giambattista Bodoni [1740-1813]. Why not copy its simplicity? 

6 Get someone to check grammars, speling; and punctuation

I know you know about this, but the problem is with books, long ones, there are bound to be mistakes. Proof reading and editing is a must. Spell checking programs can’t distinguish between there, their, and they’re, for example; so read everything over and get a proof-reader. As far as the grammar is concerned, you must find someone who is qualified to make judgements about the way you write.

7 Check and double-check the facts in your book.

This is just good practice, but, in the case of ebooks, absolutely a must. The reader can instantly check up on you by searching the words or phrases in your book on the web.

8 Justify the entire text.

Ragged edges make for a ragged look and feel. Paragraphs, if short, won’t look like paragraphs.

9  Choose two fonts only: one for the titles of the chapters and the title page, and one for the text of the book.  

Be conservative. If you choose a font that is too wild or quirky, the book will be difficult to read. Choose a classical font: Garamont, Caslon, or Palatino. Stay away from Times. It is overused. The choice of font is irrelevant for ebooks. The reader gets to choose the font. 

10 Make everything simple—even the cover.

 What Bodoni did with the title page, you could do with the cover. You don’t always need an image. I would rather see a well designed cover without an image than one with a poorly drawn image that is as confusing as it is amaturish. Book covers are important, but don’t be scared. Simple ones can be powerful.  Here is a book cover for a recent book [The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon]. It is very much in the style of Bodoni.

And one last word of advice:  Be innovative—with your next book.

The eBook Tango

A logo I have designed for the Children’s Literature Hawai‘i Conference this coming June, 
in which I’ll talk about my tango with ebooks and PODs

By now I had hoped to have several print-on-demand books [POD’s] available on Amazon and an equal number sitting on the digital bookshelves of the Apple bookstore, but I do not. Not yet, anyway.

It turns out that POD’s don’t quite measure up to my standards of what a children’s picture book should look like and ebooks are just too darn hard to make.

First POD’s. These are quite simple to make. By this, I mean, once you have done the writing and the illustrating and the book designing, it is but a tap of a button, if you are using Adobe InDesign, to turn what you have created into a press-ready PDF and send it off to either CreateSpace []or Lightning Source []. Within minutes, or so it seems, either company will send you a paper proof of the book, and, depending on how much you want to pay for shipping, you will see your proof in a matter of days. It is simple and cheap. 

CreateSpace charges about $10. LightningSource: $75. Unfortunately, the results are pretty dismal for both. They both use the same presses. The colors are not always bright. CreateSpace uses cheap, thin paper, and both companies won’t let you put any words on the spine, which seems ridiculous to me. How will a person find the book on a home bookshelf let alone at a public library?

The results for chapter books are more encouraging. In fact, the whole POD way of making books is actually geared for making books with lots of words. Because that is the case, and because the technology just doesn’t meet my standards, I’ve put my dozen or so books with CreateSpace on hold, believing that things will get better rather soon. 

In the meantime, I have turned to making electronic books. I have looked at Kindle and Nook and iBooks. Only iBooks shows real possibilities for me as a picture book maker. The colors are bright. There is more functionality, because after all, the iPad, on which you have to view the iBook, is a mini-computer, while Kindle and Nook are simply screens for viewing static pdfs. 

iBooks does have a catch, however: it is pretty difficult to turn a book you have created into an epub document. An epub uses html coding and makes a mini-web page out of your book. It is the coding that is difficult. Adobe InDesign will turn your book into an epub document in the blink of an eye, but the results aren’t always what you might expect. Pictures show up in odd places in the iBook. Sentences can end up anywhere. This is because iBooks are not really made for picture books….unless you understand the present functioning epub formatting. 

It turns out that there are two kinds of iBooks. One in which the text and pictures flow as you turn the digital pages. The other is one in which the formatting is fixed. It is the fixed formatting that you must have to make a picture book work; otherwise, pictures and text get separated in weird ways after they have gone through the epub meat grinder.

You have several options at this point. You can learn html coding and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and all of the other necessary codes to turn your book into an epub. You can hire someone like Telemachus Press ( ) to do this for you for a small bag of money. Or you can use some of the software out there which claim to be able to turn your book into an epub. 

The best software I have found—and one of the cheapest—is a little app for the iPad called Book Creator []. It is only $5. With it, you can design pages, put text on top of pictures, and do a fair amount of things before the little thing runs out of steam. For example, you can’t use italics and roman in the same sentence. You can’t put pictures on top of pictures and you are stuck with only three different book sizes: square, portrait, and landscape. Still, you can do a lot. Check it out at the website mentioned. There’s a simple video to watch. After you see the video, you’ll have a million ideas of your own. 

The one nice thing about Book Creator is that it is DRM-free. DRM means ‘digital rights management.’ I don’t pretend to understand all of the legal ramifications of DRM, but I understand that if you use software that is not DRM-free, you may run into problems down the road. You may not be able to sell your books in all of the venus you would like. 

iBooks and iTunes have come out with iAuthor
This is really cheap software, but it is not DRM-free. If you create something with iAuthor, you can only sell what you create as an iBook. Apple is not the only one doing this. Many companies that claim to help you out have DRM clauses. Unless you are a lawyer, I’d be wary of giving any of my rights away.

Even so, in order to sell books for the iPad, you have to sign an agreement. I signed the agreement which contained some pretty scary stuff about rights. Why? Because either party can break the agreement with a 30-day written notice. I figured that was fair. After all, when I sell through iBooks, I come away with a 70% share. See if a legacy publisher will give you that much. And with a legacy publisher you sign everything away.