#IndieAuthorDay: From manuscript to book

Every writer waits with great anticipation for their book to appear. Turning those pages of words into a real book is not a majorly difficult operation. Getting from manuscript to book, though, does include some elements (keep this as a checklist) that you must do correctly in order for people to want to read your book and for sales to be recorded.

If you are among the lucky ones who have had a book published, this post may be useful as a refresher course. Or you may really not know what those stages of production and preparation entailed. I will keep this as simple as possible, because the process is simple and all writers should know about them. (There will not be a quiz.) The best thing a writer can do for their book is to think like a publisher. Here’s an outline of part of that work.

Every Book Needs a Cover

Yes, we do judge books both by cover and title. All book buyers are enticed by the beauty of covers as well as the typographic display of the title. The words themselves then have some meaning but it is the use of images, colors and typography that make a cover.

I like to use this example of cover production because it struck me how cover art can drive sales . Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance became a cult classic when it came out in paperback. The publisher used typography and color for a book cover that did not automatically suggest an image. But the study of which color (orange) sold best helped them to increase sales for what we might call today a hybrid story, which is still in print and still sells.

Manuscripts Always Need Work

No matter who you are, your pages need several sets of preparation before they can be made into a book. There is the need for design, the font size and type, to fit within the trim size of your book. How the page looks to readers is very important. And how well it reads. The process of the eye moving across the page is a skill we learned as children. We develop methods for reading that are standard for most of us. So, we don’t expect to read errors in spelling or grammar or punctuation or placement of words. In other words, we want that part of the reading process to be simple. Editors and proofreaders are in charge of that process for writers. They have the right and duty to question everything we have put on the page.

Front Matter

Among the more boring parts of book production is the writing of front matter. All well produced books have it. We were taught, when I entered publishing 40 years ago, that Front Matter included the Title Page, preceded by a blank page, followed by a half-title page (both recto pages, meaning on the right) with a verso page called the copyright page where all that wording, ISBN, basic book cataloguing data and date of publication were included. Generally an Acknowledgements Page followed that and a Foreword might be included. Then a Table of Contents. These are the bare bones of Front Matter and must be included in the page count for a printer or for the converter of e-books. This may be the last part a publisher does when assembling the pages of your manuscript but it too is looked at by editors and proofreaders.

Barcodes and ISBNs

We need these two. We need the barcodes on print books and an ISBN. We only need the ISBN for e-books. What are they and what do they do? First, they are a money-maker for an outfit called Bowker that sells them to publishers. Every publisher buys them and they use them to track the sales of books and to record them in Bowker’s Books in Print. Before Amazon and their book site, this tome was what libraries and bookstores used to make sure a book was available. In those days, Bowker offered a very different set of services than they do now. The bottom line now as then though is that without an ISBN, you cannot get your book distributed.

Author Photos, Author Bios and Back Cover Copy

Print books require a back cover which also needs to be designed. On the back cover, generally, we find these main elements. The bar code (which has the ISBN and price encoded in it), author photo, author bio and description of the book. I’d say the back cover gives an author the opportunity to present herself to potential readers in ways that will help to sell the book. On a different basis than what the front cover does, the back cover’s use of a photo, an author bio and description of the book can be a time to create the story of your book. How you will sell it and sell it to everyone you meet. This is a skill all authors should learn.

The Spine

No one talks about the spine of your book. But it is a good thing to know about. The spine obviously shows how thick your book is when it is displayed on a bookshelf spine out. That is how most of us display our books at home. And how most booksellers display books in their stores and libraries on their shelves too. That makes the spine an important, if often overlooked, topic to consider when designing our books. Usually, it displays 3 things: author name, book title and publisher colophon. While the first 2 seem self-evident and what our eyes recall, that colophon, the branding logo for a publisher, is usually found at the bottom of the spine. Publisher information is included in the Front Matter and on the Back Cover of your book, but the logo/colophon on the spine identifies the author with a specific publishing company and whatever mission that publisher has.

Page Counts Matter

My final comments about the manuscript to book process is this: the number of pages in your book matters. First, it matters for cost calculations. Whether printed or converted, costs are based on the page count. E-books are not as costly to convert as bound books are to print. But all those up front costs as are incurred based on the work I outlined above, are a fixed part of every book’s production process. Obviously, the longer the book, the more illustrations, photos or drawings, graphs included also increase costs, as well as paper weight.

Bound books can be printed on demand which is a more expensive and more environmentally conscious way to produce printed books. Large print runs, done on offset presses, require a different set of calculations because the unit cost of a book printed that way is much smaller. E-books are not printed but converted. The same PDF files sent to printers for bound books are sent to conversion houses for translation into MOBI files for Amazon and a variety, now, of ePub files for all other distributors of e-books for both individual and library sales.

I will say again to Indie Authors: The best thing you can do for your book is to think like a publisher.

Remember this: #GoVegan #ReadBooks

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