Bottom Line It For Me, Baby Version (200 Words Or Less):
The series based on content from my how-to reference book on self-publishing, The IndieAuthor Guide, marches on. In the series, I present topics from the book to the extent of detail possible in a blog post. Note that I'm not covering editing, designing your own book cover, creating your brand or publishing to the Kindle here, since those topics are already presented on my website in the form of free pdf guides. I’ll include links to previous posts in the series here in the Bottom Line It section. So far, I've posted topics on Publishing Options, Rights, Royalties and Advances, What's the Deal With ISBNs And Bookstores, Choosing A Publisher , Getting Organized and parts one and two of DIY Formatting For POD. Today's post is A Word About Industry Standards.
Go On An' Run Yo Mouth, I Ain't Got Nuthin' But Time Version (Can't Promise It Won't Go On Forever):
You may have noticed that a lot of published books look alike in terms of layout and the Styles they employ, and this is due to ‘industry standard’ formatting. Each different “imprint”, or subsidiary, of a big, mainstream publisher will have its standard font, layout and sometimes even cover design. Rules and guidelines dictate everything from line spacing to header and footer height. About the only place you see much variety in the look of published books anymore is children’s books, in which more creative layouts and unusual fonts are still acceptable.
There are plenty of how-to books and articles out there admonishing indie authors to school themselves on industry standards, and strictly apply those standards to their self-published books in order to avoid an “amateurish” look. Not surprisingly, I do not share this viewpoint.
First of all, nobody but publishing professionals know the industry standards for book formatting. The general public may be aware that books from a given imprint all look sort of the same, but they don’t know or care why. The general public judges the professionalism of a book by the quality of its binding and cover, and the readability of its content. The average reader will not discard a book in disgust, exclaiming, “Verdana isn’t an industry standard font!”
Secondly, industry standards were established around mechanical typesetting, before the digital age began. In those days, each letter and character of text was carved into a tiny metal or wooden block, and the blocks were all laid out in a frame to create a massive stamp of each page of text to be printed. The entire frame could be inked and then stamped onto a page. Publishers and typesetters didn’t think of fonts as design elements, or experiment with different fonts, because the process of creating a whole new set of those tiny blocks was very expensive and time-consuming. Similarly, in the old days line spacing was built into the frames used to hold the tiny character blocks. Access to a variety of line-spacing options required a variety of different frames, and this was another expense to be avoided. When digital design came along a whole plethora of fonts and page layout options followed, yet the moldy oldies still dominate in mainstream publishing—not because of any inherent superiority but because mainstream publishers are used to them, and loathe to change.
Finally, as any graphic designer will tell you, fonts and layout can be used to convey something about their content. Anyone who’s ever chosen a font for a sign, greeting card, banner or scrapbook knows this is true. Not all fonts are appropriate for use in a book, because not all fonts are designed with easy legibility uppermost in mind. However, if you want to use Euphemia for your futuristic sci-fi book, Garamond for your romance, or Goudy Old Style for your circa 1880’s mystery, why shouldn’t you? If you want to use Bauhaus 93 just for the chapter headings of your 1970’s era chick-lit, why not?
Where your mainstream-published peers are stuck with boring Times New Roman and the like, as an indie author you can utilize fonts to enhance the reader’s overall experience. As long as the font is easy to read and not so busy or design-heavy that it will fatigue the eyes when laid out in paragraphs, there’s no reason not to choose a font that evokes the mood you’re after.
Similarly, your chosen font may be too small in a standard, 10-point size, or easier to read with line spacing slightly greater than industry standards dictate. Many readers find the usual 10-point, narrowly-spaced lines of the typical mass-market paperback hard on the eyes, but don’t really need a large-print edition. I generally work with non-standard fonts in a size larger than industry standard with 1.5 line spacing, and readers have specifically complimented the superior readability of my books. If you are publishing to an eBook format other than pdf however, you should only use HTML-compliant fonts.
Up Next: Build A Manuscript Shell