Marchbooks' Blog

October 12, 2009

Even The Prettiest Font Won’t Rescue Weak Prose

Filed under: On Writing and Publishing — marchbooks @ 4:48 pm
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Just a short post today. I received a children’s story from a member in a writing group I attend. A aggressively bold 16 point font screamed across an 18 page document. I had to laugh, because I can well remember making the same mistake when I started writing. I would painstakingly search through dozens, nay hundreds, of fonts looking for just the right one to display my lovely words.

Of course, I can see, did see the attraction. There are 50 million, fun and exciting, fonts out there (that’s not an exact count of course – I’m just saying that there are a lot). That does not mean we should use them. I don’t remember if it was a writing teacher, an agent or an editor who first broke the news to me, but the plain and simple fact is that you should keep it plain and simple. Any serious writer should stick to a handful of standard fonts.

It was not until I opened this story on my computer that I fully realized the rationale behind this. When I first opened this document, I have to be honest, I had no desire to read it. I felt as though I was being assaulted by this hard-hitting type. It took over 15 minutes of formatting and removing hard returns for me to reduce this 18 page document to six pages.

As a purely environmental point of fact, using three times the necessary paper to print your story is not a good idea. Sure, if you only intend that your work be read online, it doesn’t matter. In this instance, the writer wants feedback. The best way to provide feedback (at least for me) is to work from a hard copy, with a red pen. Many agents and editors still prefer to receive hard copies of submissions. Even on a computer, someone with anything less than a 20 inch monitor would spend all of their time scrolling back and forth because of the size of the font. If you want to dress up a one page poem with a font that catches the mood of your poem, have at it, but believe me, no one wants to read through your 5000 word story in a large, ornate font.

Looking at these unconventional fonts for long periods of time can cause eye strain. Imagine being an agent or editor; their desk is covered with manuscripts and they are all printed in a different font. How old would that get? I know, you want your manuscript to stand out – find another way.

Lastly, and I cannot say this emphatically enough, a fancy font will not compensate for bad prose and it will only distract from good writing. Do yourself a favor, stick to Times Roman, Garamond, Palantino, it doesn’t matter which but stick with a conventional font and let your stories stand on their own merits.

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October 3, 2009

If You’re Not Willing To Edit, You’re Not Ready To Publish?

I have been participating in an interesting discussion about self publishing

To self publish, or not to self publish, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…

It is a big question, not to be taken lightly. For some, this may be the biggest endeavor of your life. Fortunately for us, even if the big publishing houses have closed the door on you, fate has opened a window. That window is POD. Self Publishing is now available to everyone, but that does not mean that it should be availed of by everyone. If your intent is to simply dust off your old manuscript, run your spell check program (I’m sorry to say that some people even omit this step), generate a Word document and slap a generic cover on it before sending it the printer, do the readers of the world a favor and put it back in  your sock drawer.

That might sound a bit harsh, but I think the world needs a little protection from substandard prose. Ever since the Gutenberg press, mass marketing of books has been recognized as an excellent way to exchange ideas and share stories. Everyone has something to say, but not everyone is willing to invest the time and effort that is necessary to make their words palatable to the public.

As I am sure I have mentioned, there are a multitude of steps involved in publishing a manuscript, not the least of which is the editing process. Unfortunately, that is often the step that new authors seem to omit, or skrimp on. Believe me, this is not the time to be miserly, with your time or money, if your intent is to have your publication compete with those put out by the big boys.

There are traditions which have been passed down in publishing that no longer have the relevance they once had (large print runs, blanket return policies and inequitable royalty structures). Editorial practices do not fall in this list.

Every publisher should have the benefit of a twelve person editorial staff. Few of us do, but that does not mean you should throw up your hands and refuse to do the step at all. Your attempts may not be perfect. Things may still slip through the cracks, but believe me, your effort will be recognized and appreciated.


August 24, 2009

The Downside to POD

I always enjoy being devil’s advocate, even when the devil is me. Therefore, this entry is devoted to a counter argument to a previous post –  ‘POD – The Greener Side of Publishing’.

Many authors burn with the desire to see their words in print. Surprisingly though, not enough of those authors are willing to polish those words to a perfect sheen before sending them out into the world.

Editing is a lot of work. It is tedious, boring and worst of all, it keeps you from doing what you were born to do — write. You have already written the story. Now it’s time to move on to your next literary masterpiece, n’est pas? Proofreading is even worse. If an author does make an effort, beyond the cursory running of spell-check in their word processor, they will soon find their brain atrophying from the proofreading process. Their eyes will eventually begin to glaze over, sabotaging the author’s efforts by skimming over their undeniably perfect prose.

News flash – editing and proofreading are not optional if you desire to put your writing out there for public consumption. Unfortunately, authors do it every day. The evidence is everywhere. Go to any community writing site. and WritersCafe are my favorites. These communities are wonderful and an absolute must for any author who is trying to guage how the public will receive their writing, but throughout these sites, you will find an abundance of poorly written prose.

Admittedly, posting a short piece online is quite different from arduously preparing a book for print, especially when one purpose of that post is to garner constructive criticism of the piece. And, it is not my intent to be cruel, but let’s call a spade a spade. It is no secret when a writer is merely posting their words as quickly as they fall off of their pen. This is hugely inconsiderate to the potential reader. Sadly, this phenomenon, all too often, carries over into a writer’s self-publishing efforts. And, how unfair is that to the unwitting buyer of the product of this slovenly effort? Excuse me for saying so, but if I have laid out my hard-earned money to buy a book, which I do often and with enthusiasm, the very least I can expect is that I not have to stumble through a minefield of typographical and grammatical errors. I have no right to expect that this author be the next Hemingway, but I can expect that they have made every reasonable effort to produce a text free of obvious spelling and grammatical errors.

There seems to be an all too pervasive misconception, among new authors, that publishing is easy. Second news flash – not if you do it right. There is a reason why publishing houses are uber selective about which submissions they will accept. Publishing and promoting a book is a long, arduous and expensive undertaking (if it wasn’t there would be no reason not to publish everything that came across their desk). Publishing a book the right way is more than simply uploading a raw text file and encasing it in a generic cover. And, when that book does finally roll off of the presses, the lion’s share of the work is just beginning.

And there, my friends, is what I consider to be the downside of POD. This new technology has made it all too easy for anyone, with only a small initial investment and minimal effort, to publish their writing – thereby flooding the market with numerous substandard books. The result is a stigma that a diligent self-publisher must now overcome.

As with most new technology, with the good comes the bad. This is the downside of a wonderful, new, groundbreaking technology. It is surmountable, it just makes the job of the serious small publisher that much more difficult.

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