Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Publish and Be Published. How? Designing it.

Design matters. It affects how you distribute and promote your novel. For now, I’ll assume you’re publishing your novel on paper. Later I’ll discuss digital options.
Size. The fewer pages your novel has, the less it’ll cost to produce, and to post if you sell it mail order. Layout and font style/size can help minimise pages and weight but don’t sacrifice readability. Ten point is a minimum comfortable font size. While you may see yourself as working in the zine tradition, I don’t think the cut and paste layout works for a novel-length text. The two obvious choices of paper size are A4 and A5*. Each have pros and cons.
A4 advantages. Stapling is simple – twice down one side works. You’ll need use of a fairly hefty stapler, unless the copyshop does this for you. Formatting text can be done with ordinary word processing software, without worries about page sequence. Whenever formatting, leave a margin around the text of between ¼” to ½” to allow for copying and stapling. Check with whoever’s doing the photocopying. Some shops found an A4 novel awkward to display, but the format may have attracted more attention from customers than a standard novel because it was inevitably displayed face on.
A4 disadvantages. When the novel was in shops the covers often got tatty. As I don’t have a heavy-duty stapler, covers were hard to replace. Some shops disliked the A4 size. One refused to stock BCL mainly on the strength of this.
A5 advantages. This is closer to the size of a conventional novel so it may be easier to sell through shops. It’s also a popular size for zines, so may appeal more to zine distros*.
A5 disadvantages. Pagination* is tricky. In theory you can work out the correct sequence of pages for a novel without software, but I wouldn’t fancy it. I’ve just put together an A5 short-story collection using Microsoft Publisher. Publisher is crap. In future I’ll use some open source desktop publishing software I’ve seen at http://www.openoffice.org/. It can’t possibly be any worse.
A5 presents problems around thickness and number of pages. BCL was about 70,000 words long. On A4 it came out at 90 pages, ie 45 sheets of paper. You can fit less text in A5 format, and folding along the spine becomes hard with more than about 26 sheets, so an average novel would have to be done as 2 or more A5 booklets of 26 sheets each. This effectively makes it a serialised novel. Later I’ll discuss the pros and cons of serialization. Production costs will certainly be higher. A4 worked out at £1.62 per complete novel, an A5 2 part novel would’ve come out at £1.87. .
Paper. 80gsm paper is ok for the body of the novel, but use heavier paper e,g 100 gsm, for the cover. This saves wear and tear from browsers in shops and ham-fisted posties. A coloured paper cover is eyecatching and will show the dirt less when the novel’s been in a bookshop for weeks.
Cover design and content. Even fans of DIY culture are influenced by conventions of mainstream publishing in the way they decide about buying your novel. Selling BCL in person I was struck by the importance people attached to what was on the cover.
Artwork. Aim for a design that’ll make people curious about the story. It needn’t be slick, but if you’ve got mates with arty leanings, make the most of them. Believing that I’d sell most copies through my website I didn’t give the cover much thought. I bodged together a punked up version of Munch’s ‘The Scream’. It related to the narrative, but that would’ve only been apparent to people after they’d read BCL. Duh.
The Blurb. People expect to see some sort of blurb indicating what the story’s about. Fact fans, fill your boots; average bookshop browsers spend 8 seconds reading the front of a book and 15 seconds reading the back. The average back cover blurb is 75 words long. Up to 73% of bookshop browsers cited jacket blurb as a major influence on book purchasing. Try to give a sense of the story in a way that’ll hook the reader. Roadtest the blurb on friends who haven’t read the novel.
Quotations. If possible, include quotes from reviews on the novel’s cover. To most people you’ll be an unknown quantity as a writer, and they seem reassured by evidence that somebody, however obscure, has read your stuff and liked it. I’ll discuss getting your novel reviewed in the ‘Promoting it,’ section, but think about it at this stage as you’ll have to send dummy advance copies out to reviewers if you’re getting the novel copied commercially in a one-off run. I didn’t do this, but I laminated highlights of a review of BCL by Wred Fright of the Underground Literary Alliance, showed this to potential punters, and it sold the novel far better than my usual gabbled, tongue-tied sales-pitch.
Practical info. You’ll probably include some of the following.
Contact info; an email or postal address, or website. Publishing DIY style, you get more reader contact than with conventional publication. The easier you make this, the better it’ll be for your morale. People only make contact with good stuff to say, unless you’ve really pissed them off.
Copyright notice. A sentence saying the contents are copyright, your name, and the date they were written is enough. Legally even this isn’t necessary. It doesn’t matter if you’re using a pseudonym. If plagiarism worries you, send a copy of the manuscript to yourself by registered post. When it arrives, file it away unopened, in case of disputes. If you’re interested in a more flexible approach to copyright check out the idea of creative commons at http://www.creativecommons.org/ .

Price. Don’t put the ‘retail’ price on the cover. Shops and distros* may want to set their own price rather than using yours. You may need to cut the price you originally set, when you realize that you aren’t going to have to beat off potential readers with a stick. An altered price on the cover makes your novel look like damaged goods.
ISBN. There’s a numbering system publishers use to identify books and help bookshops and libraries to trace particular titles. Don’t bother with this. It costs around £60 to register with the ISBN agency and you have to take a minimum set of ten numbers. It’s wasted money. Wholesalers and libraries probably won’t stock your novel, and most shops will be buying direct from you. If you must ignore me, contact theISBN Agency (01252 742590). Strictly speaking, if you publish a novel in the UK, you should deposit a copy with the Legal Deposit Office at The British Library, Boston Spa, Wetherby, West Yorkshire, LS23 7BY, and supply 5 copies to the Agent for the Copyright (Legal Deposit) Libraries, Copyright Libraries Agency, 100 Euston St, London, NW1 2HQ. Legal penalties apply if you don’t do this, but if they ever caught and fined somebody, I’d eat my hat.
Company name. Don’t laugh. You might decide to present yourself as a company, although you’re publishing yourself. Some shops refuse outright to stock self-published titles, but might be persuaded if you convince them you’re a small press. To me, there’s something a bit hypocritical about evading the stigma of self-publishing by posing as a company. Any stigma only diminishes when people front up to who they are and what they do. If it’ll convince you, a recent survey found 97% of book-buying punters neither knew nor gave a toss what company published the book they’d just bought. In the end I compromised because I like naming stuff. So BCL was published by Self, Self, Self Publishing. The board of directors consisted of me, me, me. I never tire of that joke. Hmm. If you choose to name your publishing empire, Google it to make sure nobody’s got there first. You needn’t register as a company or any of that boring toss.
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