When I decided to publish the new FC books myself, I rather knew what I was getting into. Publishers, for all their flaws, do provide a lot for the writer. I’ve seen it, experienced it, and though I bitched about a lot of it at the time, I surely do miss it now.
Some of the services a publisher provides that are now on my plate: editing, copy-editing, fact-checking, cover art, and typesetting. (And this doesn’t even get into the marketing/distribution side of things.)
It’s that last one, though…typesetting. It’s a bloody mare’s nest of minutia and details. But its importance cannot be understated. I’ve done this before, but it’s always a surprise.
First, if you are going to do this, do yourself a massive favor. Buy a copy (not the online version, a hardcopy, so you can flag it and make notes in the margins) of a hardback version of the Chicago Manual of Style. There are other style guides you might want also (Gregg’s, NYTimes, etc.) but this one is my go-to reference. It’s absolutely comprehensive, it’s easy to navigate, fully-indexed, and (most importantly) it supports the use of the Oxford comma.
This book will help you answer all those questions like:
When dialog begins with an italicized word, are the quotes italicized, too?
Does the em-dash to inside the quotes or outside?
But the typesetting portion of my publishing process is more than just punctuation woes. It is painstaking and it demands a huge amount of concentration. It has to do with the entire look-and-feel of the inside of your book.
I spent a good hour last night just determining which font to use. I took two pages of formatted text, put them into ten different font candidates, and printed them all out. The text had dialog, italics, em-dashes, apostrophes, diacritical marks, and quotes within quotes. Once printed, I compared each candidate, one against the other, looking for stand-out problems, readability, and overall impression. I chose Bookman Old Style: it had the right kind of ascenders/descenders, had proper curly-quotes, was open and readable, and also had a slightly 19th century feel to it.
But there are a bazillion things to check when typesetting your document. Justification, pagination, open space where words don’t break properly line to line. Proper quotation use, indentation, italicization. Headers, footers, page numbers. Chapter headings, front matter, back matter, copyright notices. Blank lines at scene breaks, blank lines at sections of italicized text, blank lines at chapter starts.
I cannot stress the importance of this. It’s nasty, it’s nitpicky, it’s totally annoying, but if I do it poorly, I know my book will look amateurish and sad. I already know I am not a professional, and I do not have professional publishing software which handles kerning and other more esoteric elements. A professional will be able to pick out my book as “hand done” from ten paces. So, I’m not going for perfect; I’m going for something that is easy to read and that doesn’t jar the reader out of the story.
The last thing I want is for a reader to get kicked out of an action sequence because of a typesetting glitch.