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Self publishing tips, Part 1

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve posted here! I’ve been collecting some material for a book on computer-aided puzzle construction and publishing. I’ll get around to the book eventually, but some of the material probably has a relatively short shelf life, so I thought it would be good to put some of it in blog form, so here we are!

Since creating the Krazydad Discord community, a few months ago, I’ve had lots of great conversations with budding puzzle constructors and publishers. Several times I’ve had conversations about publishing puzzle books, and I often find myself sharing similar tips. I’ll share a few of them here.

My number one tip, if you are planning on self publishing puzzles is: don’t quit your day job! Puzzle publishing is something I do mostly for fun, and while I make a little money at it, it is definitely not enough to live on! In general, my impression is that the few individuals who are making a “full time living” at puzzles are not actually doing a whole lot of puzzle construction. They are “puzzle business” people, more so than puzzle making enthusiasts.

My second tip is to spend a little time educating yourself about book design and typography. I am not a designer, and especially not a book designer. But I have read a lot of books, and I can spot the difference between a book with shoddy design and good design. So can you, I imagine! As a budding publisher, it made sense to educate myself. I did this by purchasing, and reading cover-to-cover a few books on the subject. Some of the books I originally read on this topic years ago are now long out of print, but still super interesting (they include The Design of Books by Adrian Wilson, and Graphic Design for the Electronic Age by Jan White). There are definitely newer and much better books on the topic, but also, there’s nothing wrong with an out-of-print typography book! The basic principles of classic Typography and Book Design were as true in the late 19th century as they are now, so if you see an interesting looking book in a used bookstore, go for it! I also enjoyed the more recent Butterrick’s Practical Typography by Matthew Butterick (which you can read online for free!).

I have occasionally purchased self-published puzzle books (generally on Amazon) that commit a variety of sins. Most of these sins are invisible to the authors since they are ignorant of these details, but they may have a nagging suspicion that their book isn’t as nice as a professionally designed book.

These sins include:

1. Filling the page with as much text as possible, at the expense of readability. Lack of white space. Don’t let your desire to minimize the page-count (a cost issue) diminish the quality of your book.
2. Inconsistent padding and margins throughout the book, as if I am essentially reading a printed-out MS Word document (which is too often the case).
3. Too-narrow margins on the left and right sides of the pages, also at the expense of readability.
4. Failure to adjust for the difference between recto and verso pages (such as having wider inner margins).
5. Consistent use of “straight” quotes instead of “curly” quotes.
6. Poor font choices. I don’t recommend using system fonts like Comic Sans and Arial, intended primarily for screen display, for your entire book.
7. Misspellings (I’ve done this myself, fortunately these are easy to fix when you use print-on-demand!)

Ultimately, I would prefer it if my books look like they were typeset by hand, by Baroque monks, with custom drop-caps on each chapter, gold-tipped bindings, and beautiful multi-colored marginalia. I am not there yet, but that’s the dream. Every time I publish a new series, I get a tiny bit closer to that elusive goal.

If high quality design is also your dream, you should not be typesetting your book by preparing the document in Microsoft Word (or Google Docs or Apple Pages) or any word-processor that is more suitable for business correspondence, and instead you should be using desktop publishing software. I used to use Scribus (free) for this purpose, and I now use Affinity Publisher II (cheap). They are both great, but I find Affinity’s software a bit easier to use. The one-time cost of this software is well worth the increased layout control and potential improvement it will give to the look of your pages. There are other good options that I haven’t tried, like Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress.

I have a few things to say about the differences between print-on-demand on Amazon versus traditional publishing versus other forms of self-publishing, which I’ll leave to a follow-up post. If you have questions for me, feel free to put them in the comments!

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