Any of you who have worked in a manufacturing setting or who have ever been responsible for any sort of quantity production of something know the meaning of Quality Control. Of course, it can be applied to any repetitive task where consistency is important. We all like to have quality in anything we purchase, and most of us–I would hope–take pride in the quality of our work whatever it might be.
When it comes to the publishing business, it’s no different. Naturally we expect any physical books we purchase to be of good quality and not to fall apart while being read. But many of us probably don’t realize that quality control goes on inside the book itself. Beyond the obvious editing to correct typographical and grammatical mistakes, there are other quality control aspects that most writers are not even aware of. Or at least we weren’t until we were given the ability to self-publish.
So, what am I talking about? I recently encountered a little gem of an article that made me appreciate (at little bit, at least) the work editors and publishers did in order to make print books look nice in print. Granted, e-readers are a bit more forgiving, and we certainly can’t control all of these formatting aspects simply because the text size is variable according to what the user wants.
Every author, self-published or not, should read this article. Only some of it applies to self-pubbed books because the page layout changes on different e-readers and with the font size.
***NOTE: The link below was recently reported (July 2016) as possibly being unsafe. The link was fine when I put it up, so it may have been compromised. I’m leaving the URL here for reference and I deactivated the link to it.
After you read it and wonder how to insert non-breaking spaces and hyphens, here are links to that for various version of MS Word.
Even Scott and I learn from these blogs. For example, I found that if I space ellipsis (…) properly ( . . . ), [Point 19 in the above article], I get bizarre behavior if the ellipsis falls at the end of a line, such as two periods one line and the third one on the next. Since I didn’t know how to avoid that, I simply omitted the spaces in between the periods. Now I know how to make mine look and behave the way they should.
Many of the initial batch of naive, newly empowered authors learned their lessons the hard way. They believed they could simply dump their masterpieces out there as if the act of self-publishing would guarantee bestsellers heaped with glowing praise.
In some of the chat groups I belong to, authors are now discussing things like editing and formatting. Your goal when self-publishing is to produce a book that is indistinguishable in appearance and quality from one published by a traditional publisher, from the cover design, to the blurb, to the text itself. These authors are slowly learning that lesson.
Other aspects of quality control involve breaking chapters at the top of a page, not in the middle of one, and putting in physical marks to break a scene. If you look at regularly published books, you’ve often seen only a blank line on the page for a scene break, although some put in a series of asterisks or other symbols. The problem with using a blank line is that when a scene break falls at the top or bottom of a page, it’s invisible to the reader, and could result in a confusing transition. Authors naively believe that the way they’ve typed the page is exactly how that page will look in the printed or electronic book). They forget that the font, font size, and line spacing will change where those scene breaks fall. Rick’s rule: ALWAYS DESIGNATE THE SCENE BREAK WITH SOME SYMBOL. Asterisks are standard. You can change or remove the symbols later, but if you put nothing in initially, it can be a time-consuming task to find those blank lines, and I can guarantee you will miss one or more of them in the end.
Are your characters’ names are spelled consistently throughout? If you have a character named Mathew, does his name appear as Matthew anywhere. Scott, in his current novel-in-progress, changed one character’s name. Knowing that he’s as anal as I am, I’m confident he didn’t miss any. Beware of simple search and replace. If you accidentally mistype “Matthew” as “Mathew” your spell checker won’t catch it because are recognized as valid.
Is the character always referred to in the same way? In a novel I’m reading now, the author called the character (we’ll say he’s John Smith) by his first name, but sometimes the author refers to him as Smith, and it wasn’t in dialog, where it might have made sense. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.
John thought that was sound strange, but he ignored it. The others, who didn’t seem to have heard it, kept moving. When Smith heard it again, the noise was louder. This time everyone heard it and went on alert.
I assumed that the author had originally referred to the character by his last name and later changed his mind, but he failed to make all the corrections. This is part of your quality control. An editor (I hope) would have caught and at least questioned this.
I’ll end here and hope I’ve given you some things to think about. I’m sure we’ll be visiting this topic again.