Support Shawn's writng with a donation

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

10 Ways The Self-Publisher Can Improve The Reader's Experience

Self-publishers overlook the reading experience when they design their books. What’s the reading experience? All the elements of a book that come together to make a book easy to read. Little things like fonts, illustrations, and page layouts can turn a memorable story into an enjoyable reading experience. When self-published authors focus on designing books that are as reader friendly as possible, customers are more eager to recommend them to others.

Here are ten areas self-publishers can work towards improve the reading experiences in their books:

Avoid small fonts Nothing aggravates readers more than having to read a page filled with little tiny letters in font sizes 10 or lower. Many self-publishers use these small fonts to condense pages and save money on short-term printing costs, but cost themselves long-term sales. A good size for fonts in a books interior are 11 for Garamond and Book Antiqua, and 12 for Times New Roman.

Avoid printing text in hard-to-read fonts Fonts like Arial and Courier New are frustrating for readers to sit through (and headache inducing) for long periods of time. When laying out pages, self-publishers should consider round serif fonts like Garamond, Book Antiqua and Times New Roman for blocks of text. These fonts are easier on the eyes and more comfortable to read during passages.

No white space Some self-publishers and POD companies try to reduce page counts by cramming paragraphs together. Again, this short-term attempt to save money on printing costs often cost a publisher long-term sales. Customers are more likely to leave a book with tightly packed paragraphs right on the shelf and buy a book that’s easier to read. Part of an enjoyable reading experience is giving the reader some room between the lines so they can rest their eyes and think about what they’ve read. If a reader can run a finger under the space between the lines, the page layout of the book has good white space.

Long rambling paragraphs This one can kill a book deader than disco. Nothing is more discouraging to a potential reader than spending an evening with a book filled with long blocks of dense text. Short simple paragraphs encourage readers to read more of a writer’s story and read it faster. Prose in a novel should be no longer than four or five lines. Seven to eight lines maximum. Any paragraphs longer than that should be chopped into smaller bite-sized paragraphs.

Too much detail Is it important to describe EVERYTHING to the reader? It’s not the writer’s job to explain everything. In a good story a writer gives the reader “just enough” detail to conjure an image in their heads and lets them make things up as they go along. Overly dense descriptions bore the reader and take them out of the story.

Good non-fiction has short paragraphs that state “just the facts.” This compels the reader to read more about a subject. If it’s not relevant to helping the reader learn more about the subject, leave it out.

Telling instead of showing A good story focuses on what characters are doing, not what they say. SHOWING is ACTIVE and describes what a character is doing NOW; this grabs the reader and gets them asking questions. Those questions give the reader an incentive to read more of the story and get the answers to their questions.

Telling a story on the other hand is PASSIVE and focuses on the action going on from a past tense. Telling a story leads to a flat dull reading experience that keeps the reader from asking questions and involving themselves in the story. Because the narrator is explaining everything to the reader, they have a harder time being drawn into the reading experience. Why should the reader look for answers in between the lines of the story when the writer is going to explain everything to them?

Awkward dialogue Oftentimes, dialogue in a writer’s head sounds great, but when read by other readers sounds clumsy. To avoid awkward and uneven dialogue, I read the conversations my characters are having aloud. By speaking my character’s lines I get a sense of whether or not it “sounds” like something someone would say in real life. If you find yourself stopping or struggling while trying so say your character’s dialogue aloud, then it’s bad dialogue.

Fancy fonts on a cover. Sure Vladimir Script looks great. Just not as the title of a book cover. For readers, fancy fonts are frustrating to figure out on a store shelf or on a computer monitor. If a reader can’t recognize title of a writer’s book is from six feet away, they’re not likely to pick it up. Before committing to a cover design, print out a copy of the cover and stand six feet away from it. If you can read the title from that distance, it’s a great cover layout. If not, it’s not working.

Covers that don’t tell a story. Most books are judged by the cover. Because most writers aren’t graphic artists, many don’t know how to create a single visual that grabs readers and tells their story effectively. In addition, budget issues often prevent self-published authors from being creative enough to tell a story in pictures that grabs readers. But there are a couple of ways to overcome this obstacle. A writer can find a great cover design for about $350 from a design service, or they can commission art.

If a writer wants to make their book stand out it’s best to spend a little extra towards a design that’s unique and distinct and will make their book stand out in the marketplace. A cover should be unique and distinct to a writer’s story, that’s why I don’t recommend using stuff like stock photos or clip art. I’ve seen too many stock images re-used for other products and even on other book covers!

Page counts that are WAY too long. Writers often think that War &Peace is 1,000 pages and Harry Potter is 900 pages so they can write books that are 500, 600 even 1000 pages long. WRONG! In the world of self-publishing smaller is better. There’s nothing more discouraging to a prospective reader than a long, dense book written by a complete stranger they’ve never heard of. Plus it’s frustrating to sit through a book that dense. A good length for a self-published fiction is under 200 pages minimum, 400 pages maximum. Nonfiction can go up to 500 pages if the subject matter is detailed and relevant. When it comes to self- publishing a title: KISS (Keep it Super Short) As a Self-published author, you’re trying to build a reputation with customers. Leave em’ begging for more!

1 comment:

  1. I've liked all your blogs, Shawn, but I particularly love this one because it's so close to home and so much needed as a reminder, even to an old hand like me.

    Trust me, I'm making a copy of this and keeping. You know I have a great library on self-publishing and most of the tips you've mentioned here are also covered in one of more of them. But your blog will serve me as a summary of what I need to look out for.

    Many more of these and I'mm going to suggest you pull them together into a slender, thoroughly helpful book.