Thursday, November 18, 2010

Question from the e-mail - writing tip

This question came from author Elizabeth Egan-Cox, whose titles GHOST OF A CHANCE, THE GHOST FROM THE SHADOWS, and A GHOST MEETS AN ANGEL are among our best-selling books:

I just read your blog and was wondering...
I know 'scalable font' is a font type that has an equally distributed mathematical composition, allowing the font to be enlarged or decreased is exact increments, thus always maintaining ratio to proportion... which seems as if it would be ideal for publishing. However, that not being the case with all publishing format techniques, could you explain (in your blog), with one or two examples, glitches scalable font has caused for you and Shelly in creating the paper-bound books.



A scalable font is one where the letters are different widths. In a non-scalable font, like Courier, for instance, each letter takes the same amount of space. Just another of those typesetting jargon misnomers that leads to mis-understandings. So to use the method I gave yesterday, you'd have to set your font to Courier, and your margins at 1 inch, then look at the number of pages counting at 250 words per page.

The counting method I outlined is a way of counting space, rather than actual words. That way, the publisher knows approximately how many lines of type he or she will end up with. Spell check or Grammatik counts the actual number of words used and, usually, that's a close-enough figure, but on some books it can hand you a surprise. If something is 90,000 words that will usually come in under 300 pages of print and 300 is the cut-off point for costliness in production.

The glitch can come if a book has lots of short chapters and dialog. As I explained yesterday, one word of dialog can take up a whole line of space on the page and should count as 10 words or 60 spaces overall. For typesetting purposes, a word is five letters and a space, or six spaces. With computer typesetting, the programs can solve some of the problems for us and we have learned to deal with others, but still surprises can and do crop up in production.

When they do, Shelley and I are faced with the problem of how to fit a spacier book into the amount of pages we have available -- 300 or less, or we have to raise the price to a figure that will send sales down. I have seen a 50,000 word book, one with lots of one-word dialog back and forth, come it at 298 pages and if it had been longer we would have been in real trouble having signed a contract already.

We can raise the price of the book, and will be doing so on future works as production costs have risen. But that can cost us in sales as well and we don't like to do that.

We can reduce the type size to fit more words per page, that's true. But it makes the book more difficult on the reader's eyes and the pages less inviting to look at. So we only do that for books that offer us surprises and for which we have already contracted. We are often forced to say no when we are offered good work, just because of the length. We try, always to aim for an inviting and readable product and choose our typeface and book design to further those ends.

This is why some e-editions have 497 pages, while the paper book comes in at 298 and gives you a squint. We apologize for that, but it's the best we can do.

That never happens with your books, though, Elizabeth. They are eminently readable both in writing style and presentation.

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