Hardware and software

One of the many beauties of self-pubbing is the full control over nearly every aspect of the project that you retain. Want to put a picture of your pet dog on the cover? Go ahead! Think that a nice chapter-long section of stream-of-consciousness rambling from your protagonist is called for? Put it in! Decide that after all you want your battle-weary hero to give in and join the enemy she’s spent the entire book fighting against? Why not! The sky’s the limit as far as content goes, and structurally you have plenty of freedom as well.

It is on that point that I wish to spend a few moments this week. When we, as writers and as readers, think about books we tend to focus on issues related to the relaying of the information that we or the writer wish(es) to get across (whether fictional or nonfiction), and beyond that we only really give a thought to cover design; and even that often enough just as an afterthought. There is more that goes into the making of a book, however, and here I naturally mean the making of real books. To borrow a metaphor from the computing world, books are the hardware and their words are the software; although it is right and good to fret and obsess over the software, why not also consider the hardware? If we are truly interested in giving readers an experience that they can’t get elsewhere it is with this aspect that we may wish to start experimenting.

Areas open to innovation beyond the crappifying effects of just dumping the text into a digital format start with the cover but don’t end there. The book’s size, paper type, image use and method of such use, type font and design, headers, footers, endnotes, appendices, all lie within your range of choice. There are limitations of course (printers will only offer a small number of paper type choices or book dimension sizes), but there is also plenty of wiggle room within those limitations. Images can be made to bleed off the page or to stop within boundaries, the font and/or layout can be shifted however you’d like to any number of times within the text’s body, and the only thing you must include on the full cover (front, spine, back) is the book’s ISBN. Why on earth stick solely with the tried and true? Imagine reading a book where suddenly, completely out of nowhere, the text flipped and then flipped back. Or one character’s thoughts are presented at the top of the page while the character they are conversing with has their thoughts at the bottom of the page and in the middle of the sandwich is the actual dialogue they are engaged in. Or a book sized to fit into your pocket that is a series of images fantastically inappropriate for public display. Such disconnects heighten the experience of reading and are limited only by the creativity and boldness of their creator(s).

It helps with all this not to be (overly) motivated by money for what is new – really new – is often met with resistance. We here at DSB write for the love of it (which is one of the reasons our site is so wonderfully free of ads) but we realize that our day jobs afford us a degree of luxury in that regard that others might not have. Ours is an imperfect world, and the modern artist is only very rarely rewarded and more often used; practical concerns will always weigh in at some point. C’est la vie. Or, if you prefer, a finger in the air and the determination to express yourself come what may. Self-pubbing has made that possible, the rest is now up to us.

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One Comment

  1. Nick Cody
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    Artistically shaped along each step of the process, the products of our imagination are more and more under our control. It’s scary and good.

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