Lawrence F. Lihosit on “Self-Published Quality Format”

Self-Published Quality Format

by Lawrence F. Lihosit (Honduras 1975–77)

After extensive editing but before sending your Peace Corps Experience book to a print-on-demand publisher or printer, consider presentation. Your book will be on the Library of Congress shelf (as well as other libraries) for many years, representing a nugget of history-your experience. This book will aid our children and grandchildren to understand what this American experiment was like. Regardless of who prints it, why not consider quality befitting this role? Just as you did not embark upon a cheap tourist junket but an arduous trek perhaps inspired and most definitely sustained by true grit, this sort of unusual adventure deserves a like presentation.

The majority of books published are mass market paperbacks, tiny paperbound books printed with small letters on cheap paper. Although inexpensive, they are more difficult to read, fall apart faster and generally look like a plastic flip-flop. Your book should be more like a sturdy, fine, boot, built to endure.

Size & Paper
A trade paperback is the same size as a hardback book (6 inches by 9 inches), printed on a better quality paper (preferably not highly acidic) than mass market paperbacks. It is wise to choose a slightly off-white color such as ivory or cream since white paper reflects more light, especially when read outdoors. If your publisher offers, a paper with a visible weave or texture is very attractive. A 50 pound paper is a good choice.

After the cover, the second impression about a book is the moment you hold it and flip the pages. You may not even read but are unconsciously scanning the layout. White space on a page is the measure of worth and higher quality books have pages with more white space. This is true of top and bottom as well as left and right. The page should look like a framed picture with a bit more white space at the bottom than the top. A mass market paperback is smaller in size (4 inches by 6 inches) with smaller type (8 or 10 font) and has less white space so that the maximum number of lines on each page (lowering the number of pages). A typical mass market paperback has 1/4 inch of white space at top, 1/2 inch of white space at bottom and 3/8 inch on the right (unbound) side. The left side (bound side) always has a bit more which is called the gutter. A typical Trade paperback has 1 inch of white space at the top, 1 1/4 inch on the bottom and 3/4 inch on the right side.

Typeface (font size and type)
After 500 years of moveable type, we have become accustomed to seeing letters with stems and feet (Serifs). We also associate good writing with this sort of typeface. Whether your book is printed on metal plates or via computer (Print-On-Demand), both will employ computerized typesetting which means that you will submit an electronic version.  You will choose the typeface (font) and size. In Word, examples of fonts with Serifs include: Book Antique, Bookman Old Style, Cambria, Constantia, Microsoft Himalaya, Mongolian Baiti and Times Roman. Times Roman is recommended and used in this article. A 12 point size is used in hardback and Trade paperback. Fourteen point is reserved for the visually impaired. Do not mix fonts. Choose one and if emphasis is required, use italics or bold. You may also use a larger size (font) for chapter headings and subheadings, as is also done in this article.

Your home computer automatically affixes a distance between lines. For book publication, it is wise to request a specific distance (leading). A Trade paperback has either 1/8 or 3/32 inch leading. Anything smaller is difficult to read and larger appears like a double-spaced college paper.

Printers normally do not charge extra for the first 25 illustrations which include drawings, decorations, maps, graphs and photos. Your submission should be very explicit about what to insert, where and what size. Type these instructions in red so that the book designer does not miss them. Black and white images scan and print well. Pencil images often do not. Your printer or publisher will request a written statement that the illustrations are either not copyrighted or that you own the rights. It is wise to use the same lettering style for all illustrations.

DRAWINGS can be a very effective tool for further explaining a process or parts. Unless you were a serious art student or a professional artist, your Peace Corps sketchbook should probably be kept in a trunk. Hire a professional draftsperson and request that he or she create line drawings with a varying width. Accompanying words may be in a different style without Serifs. For instance, Arial is clear and offers three alternatives:  narrow, regular and black. One may also use italics and vary the font size. They may even wish to letter by hand, a vanishing skill. Drawings (that actually complement the text) should each be marked “Illustration” and assigned a number and title so that they can be referenced in the Table of Contents.

 DECORATIONS can also enhance the appearance of your book. Usually these are used to begin chapters. They may include uncopyrighted printer’s decorations or even original art work. Since they are usually small, it is wise to have clear designs in ink. Sometimes printers create this image in a grey tone, called screening. If you desire this effect, you must ask for it. Beware: the proliferation of many decorations looks amateurish. Use them sparingly.

MAPS are usually produced on a computer. If you have never made a map and want help, any university or junior college will offer classes in AutoCad and Geographic Information Systems (G.I.S.). Hire an advanced student on the cheap. Make sure your map has a scale of miles (or the letters n.t.s. which mean not-to-scale) and a north arrow. Line widths and lettering size should be varied so that it is easy to read. You do not want a map which appears like a bowl of spaghetti. Another inexpensive way to make a map is to use a photocopy machine to create a map at the size you want. Trace (in black ink) the features important to your book (cities, towns, villages, rivers, mountains, etc.). Using your computer, type those features and cut and paste them onto the tracing. Add the n.t.s designation, north arrow, title and an insert of a larger area. For instance, if your map is of Mali, most Americans have no idea where this is. In the upper right or lower left-hand corner of the map have a tiny map of Africa with a box showing where Mali is. Each map should be marked “map” and assigned a number and title so that they may be referenced in the Table of Contents.

GRAPHS are also usually made with the computer. They should be in black and white unless you wish to spend extra. Graphs should be marked “Figure,” assigned a number and title so that they may be referenced in the Table of Contents.

PHOTOS are meant to accent your text. Unless this is a photo album, limit the number of photos. They should be a full-page so that they are discernible and should have high contrast. Small grey photos are frustrating to the reader and detract from your book. Group photos are notoriously hard to make out. Use Photoshop to sharpen images, zoom and crop. Each photo should be marked as such and include a number and title so that it may be referenced in the Table of Contents.

Parts of the Book
Note on page numbers: right-hand pages are always odd, left-hand (backside) pages are always even. The following list includes many optional items. The order often changes slightly. For instance, a list of previous books by the author is sometimes printed up front and other times in the back. Should it be before the index or after? I have seen both. Likewise, there is no single method for pagination. Some of the newer books use Arabic numbers from the beginning, even for pretext inclusions like foreword, preface and introduction. Check your bookshelf and you will be surprised!

END PAPERS (optional) were once part of the hardcover. They cemented the cover to the actual book. Today, many Trade paperbacks include a blank sheet at the beginning and end as a form of decoration. It is a great place for noting dedications. No page number is placed on these sheets.

BASTARD TITLE PAGE (optional) is a right-hand page that contains the book title and possibly others books you have authored. No page number is placed on either front or (blank) backside.

TITLE PAGE is a right-hand page that includes the title, subtitle, author and book publisher. No page number is placed on this page.

TITLE PAGE VERSO is the title page backside, a left-hand page. It includes a copyright notice, the Library of Congress and ISBN numbers. It will include the publisher’s address and production credits. No page number is placed on this page.

DEDICATION PAGE (optional) is a right-hand page that notes anyone the book might be dedicated to. This is supposed to be short “To Mrs. Eades.” If you have a laundry list of people you wish to thank and explain why, write a preface. No page number is placed on either the front or (blank) backside. Some authors like to quote other books on this page. Is the quote really appropriate?

TABLE OF CONTENTS is a right-hand page. List all chapters with titles and the page numbers on which they begin. This includes no page number.

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS (optional) may be either a right-hand or left-hand page. It should include the titles, illustration and page numbers for drawings that actually compliment the text. If you included drawings for purely aesthetic reasons, they do not require numbers, titles and listing. This includes no page number.

LIST OFMAPS (optional) may be either a right-hand or left-hand page. It should include the titles, map and page numbers for all maps. This includes no page number.

LIST OF FIGURES (optional) may be either a right-hand or left-hand page. It should include the titles, figure and page numbers for all graphs. This includes no page number.

LIST OF PHOTOS (optional) may be either a right-hand or left-hand page. It should include the titles, photo and page numbers for all photos. This includes no page number.

FOREWORD (optional) is a right-hand page. This is written and signed by someone other than the author. This will include a page number in Roman numerals. Count each side of each sheet prior and begin this sheet with the next consecutive number on the bottom, center.

PREFACE (optional) is a right-hand page. This is written by the author and is usually short. This will include a page number in Roman numerals. Count each side of each sheet prior and begin this sheet with the next consecutive number on the bottom, center.

INTRODUCTION (optional) is a right-hand page. This is also written by the author and its purpose is to introduce the topic. For a memoir, this is rarely used. The folio will include a page number in Roman numerals. Count each side of each sheet prior and begin this sheet with the next consecutive number on the bottom, center.

TEXT begins on a right-hand page. This is the beginning of your book and usually begins with page number 1 on the bottom, center. If you have no foreword, preface or introduction, you might count all the prior unnumbered pages and begin numbering the text with the next consecutive number. All new chapters will also have page numbers on the bottom, center. All other pages usually have the page numbers on the top. Right-hand (odd) page numbers are usually on the top right while left-hand (even) page numbers are usually on the top left. Often, headers are used. Chapter titles might be placed. Sometimes the book title is repeated.

EPILOGUE (optional) may be either a right-hand or left-hand page. It is used to review what has happened since the book ended. For instance, if you served 40 years ago the reader might be interested if you have returned or what happened to your foreign friends.

APPENDICE(S) (optional) begins on a right-hand page. This includes explanatory materials like footnotes (by chapter), bibliography, glossary of foreign terms, lists or any information that compliments the text. If your book contains many foreign words and even if you explain them in the text, you may wish to include a glossary of terms to aid the reader.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS (optional) to people who helped you can also go near the end of the book if it is a simple list. This may be either a right or left-hand page. Remember: if you want to write a sentimental essay about your wife who brought you coffee late at night (cliché) and the paper salesman who always smiled (silly), write a preface. Usually only first time authors write this sort of thing.

INDEX (optional) begins on a right-hand page. Word now has a computerized index maker which can be extremely helpful. For a memoir, remember to include, people, places and even things. For instance, if you explain how to prepare an exotic food, mention it in the index. If you describe a special tool like a Latin American machete, list it.

COLOPHON (optional) begins on either a right-hand or left-hand page. It includes data about the book’s production; color and type of paper used, style and size of typeface. This page can be useful if the galley proofs include several blank pages at the end.

AUTHOR BIO (optional) begins on either a right-hand or left-hand page. It includes information about the author. It is not meant to be a full length biography but 200 words or less and usually describes events or actions that establish the author as some sort of authority. A typical blurb mentions place of birth, higher education, service as a Peace Corps volunteer (list country and dates) and how the author has earned a living. If past literary work has earned any recognition, describe it.

Book Dummy
Years ago, one would cut and paste an actual book lay-out, folding pages to create a book dummy for review and also to estimate the number of pages. Today, one can create an electronic dummy. Since the leading might vary a bit, the number of pages will not be exact but should be within 4 of the printer’s final copy. This is close enough to estimate a price.

To create a book dummy, copy another file of your book. Rearrange the margins: Top 2 inches, bottom 2.25 inches, right and left 2.25 inches. This will not replicate a gutter, but it will be close. Add pages numbers and any headings you desire. Electronically insert your illustrations.

If your printer works with plates, he or she will work in multiples of 8. Divide the total number of pages (including blank pages) and divide by 8. If there is a remainder, it means that the printer will have to add pages. Remember, each sheet is 2 pages. You may wish to add some of the optional pages to make up the difference. Otherwise, you will have a series of blank pages at the end of the book. If your printer is creating Print-On-Demand, he or she will work in multiples of 4.

If you are submitting to a Print-On-Demand company, they will supply you with submission standards. However, whether Print-On-Demand or your own printer, it is best to write down your special formatting requests. Note the font style and size, use of headers, use of drop caps, margins (white space), leading and placement of page numbers.

Within weeks, you will be sent an electronic draft version of the book, called a galley proof. Review this very carefully. Check everything: margins, leading, font type and size, headers, page number locations, the placement and size of each illustration. Sometimes, the errors are not obvious. Once, a galley included my production credits as if it were a dedication on a separate page.  Another time, the title page omitted my middle initial (although the cover included it). Almost all of my galleys had a font size of 11 point instead of 12. Take your time because once you accept it, further changes will cost you extra money and slow production. Make sure they followed your directions. If they did not, let them know now.

Lawrence F. Lihosit is the author of four books about or inspired by the Peace Corps including: Peace Corps Chronology, 1961-2010; South of the Frontera – A Peace Corps Memoir; Whispering Campaign – Stories from Mesoamerica; and Years On and Other Travel Essays


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  • Bravo, Lorenzo. When RPCVs ask me about self publishing their memoirs, I say, “Take a look at Lihosit’s books. They are models of quality self publishing.” I now have a guide to point them to. Many thanks.

  • Yes, self-published books can be as handsome as those turned out by regular publishing houses — or even better. I just received a copy of a memoir written by an English friend. I admired the look and feel of the book: great dust cover design, color pictures inside, lovely typography, good paper. When I picked up the book a second time, I thought, hummm, wonder who published it. The imprint was: Knightwrite LLtd. And the author’s name is Robin Knight. Bingo! But you’d never know the book was self published and, as Lorenzo might say, he was publishing it to last the ages on the shelves of the British Library. As well he should ’cause it’s a very good book.

  • Everyone contemplating self-publishing should read this and heed its advice. Too often the time consuming and detailed steps that make a self-published book first class are neglected in the ‘relief’ that comes with finishing the text. Do as Lawrence says, and make yourself proud!, .

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  • Wow! What a generous gift of expertise you are offering. I’m about to seek the Peace Corps imprint for my memoir and this information looks to be the answers to questions I haven’t even thought up yet! Thanks!

  • Thank you very much for the compliment. This is actually an excerpt from my book titled “Peace Corps Experience: Write and Publish You Memoir” which several Peace Corps groups panned favorably. The book is meant to be helpful for any former volunteer who wants to write and publish whether commercially or as an independent.

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