Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Word About Industry Standards

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


TypeAddict said...
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TypeAddict said...
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TypeAddict said...

Sorry, caught a confusing typo and deleted the first post. They don't give you much space in these little boxes, do they?

Verdana would be a poor font choice, because it's a sans-serif and probably anyone would notice a book set in a sans-serif font. The exception would be some coffee table books with lots of images or books where the font was used to create a more "artsy" feel. It would never be the right choice for a novel.

But, you're making a common mistake. You're assuming your book is going directly from the printer to the reader, and perhaps it is in your case, but more often than not, it would have to pass by reviewers (hopefully) and store owners or the sales team, and both would probably be aware of a crappy font choice.

Add that to the fact that most publishers are now crediting the font within the book copyright page or back cover, see blog post:
and it's a good idea to choose a good font.

I've never heard of fonts being referred to as "industry standards," that's usually a term reserved for the software. You can most definitely go with a wonderful, unique font, it just has to be designed well enough to reproduce properly and enable easy reading and compliment the content. All fonts are not created equal. It can take days to decide on the right font. If you work in a publishing firm, you'll have to produce castoff with many fonts, in some cases.

The industry standards have kept up with the times. For instance, the double space after a period in typesetting is no longer the rule. Software needs to export vector text properly to optimize clarity on reproduction and so on. It's all computerized these days...the tools of the trade, the formatting...everything.

There are very few "moldy oldies" dominating the publishing scene. It's pretty much dominated by the computer-age crowd, all using computers and computer software.

Not many mainstream publishers use Times to set books, that I'm aware of. That's actually a common mistake of self-publishers.

Times was designed specifically for the narrow columns of a newspaper and can create havoc (not to mention rivers) when set on your standard 60 - 70 character width.

Two fonts I'm seeing used a lot are Adobe Garamond and Bembo.

Type point size and leading, need to be chosen carefully.

Also, you skipped an era in the history of typesetting. The industry didn't go from using metal to the 1960s phototypesetting (using film) was introduced and that continued until the 1980s, when digital typesetting took over completely. That makes a good 44 - 48 years since metal was used so, it's not really possible these people are in any way dominating the industry.

TypeAddict said...

Oh, bless my boots, that first link to the indiamos blog should be below the second indiamos link. It was not intended to exemplify the importance of using sans-serif in novels. ;) I obviously can't work in these little boxes. Next time, I promise I will type out the post in Word and paste it in.

April L. Hamilton said...

You said -
"But, you're making a common mistake. You're assuming your book is going directly from the printer to the reader, and perhaps it is in your case, but more often than not, it would have to pass by reviewers (hopefully) and store owners or the sales team, and both would probably be aware of a crappy font choice."

If you've followed my blog, you know that my books *only* go direct from publisher to reader, because all my books are produced exlusively in POD or ebook editions, both of which are designed, formatted and laid out (including front matter such as the copyright page) by me.

RE: Brick-and-mortar chain store buyers/managers, I couldn't care less what they think (nor do I think other indie authors should) because of reasons detailed in an earlier blog post, Big Chain Bookstore Death Watch.

Also, I do have my books stocked in a local, independent brick-and-mortar store, and the owner/manager of that store said that to his eye, apart from the lack of a recognizable imprint logo on their spines, my books are indistinguishable from mainstream-produced books.

Since your username is typeaddict, I can only assume you are an industry professional, either in graphic arts, printing or publishing, so I'm not surprised you take issue with what I'm saying here. But remember, you have specialized knowledge that the average reader does not, and where you notice the minutiae of typesetting, font and layout choices, the average reader does not.

April L. Hamilton said...

typeaddict -
One more thing. This series is taken from my book, The IndieAuthor Guide, which is intended for indie authors like me who wish to produce and market their books outside mainstream channels. Nothing in the book is intended to serve as advice for those seeking mainstream acceptance or publication.

The indie author's position is that the mainstream system is broken, and has little to offer aspiring authors. They are only chasing after blockbusters and name recognition these days, so the time has come for us to take our work into our own hands just as filmmakers and musicians have done before us.

Zoe Winters said...

Great post...except... I don't think any mainstream publishers use "Times New Roman" It's considered one of those "amateur fonts."

I need to link you from my blog.

Zoe Winters said...

And...ack, if I'd read the other comments first I wouldn't have mentioned that again, lol!

April L. Hamilton said...

RE: Times New Roman, I've seen quite a bit of it in nonfiction stuff, like textbooks. Even if it's no longer very commonly-used by the mainstream, I think my point still stands---that mainstream authors have little choice in the fonts used by their publishers, whereas indie authors can utilize fonts as a design element in their books.

Moreover, we have the freedom to lay out our 'galleys' with more consideration for reader use and comfort than for cost-per-page. Freedom is a major draw. =')

April L. Hamilton said...

It occurs to me, I'm probably seeing fonts that aren't actually the official Times New Roman, but resemble it closely enough that to me, an ordinary person with no career experience in commercial typesetting, are pretty much indistinguishable from Times New Roman.

Anyhoo, whether it *is* Times New Roman or just *looks like* Times New Roman, it's boring.

Zoe Winters said...

You said:
Anyhoo, whether it *is* Times New Roman or just *looks like* Times New Roman, it's boring.

Me say:

LMAO, agreed! And you're right about textbook fonts being diff usually than fiction fonts. I was in fiction fonts in my head.