Big Book, Small Book: Product Development for Authors (1)

This blog post continues yesterday's post about how to think about a new book product: which physical size and dimensions should the book have?This blog post describes some of the questions that an aspiring author may think about, to be able to successfully start his new (printed) book project.

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OK, so here I am. I know what my book is going to be about, loosely speaking. But how do I take it from a loose concept to an actual finished product? How do I transform my ideas into actual pages and chapters?

What’s My M.O.?

First of all, I think it’s important to note that everyone has their own way of doing things. I am not saying that one necessarily should stick to one’s current process; but I definitely am saying that one should go ahead according to one’s own “internal” MO (Lat. modus operandi), one’s own preferred “working style”. (And this may take some trial and error to figure out).

It’s a little bit like “writing style”: What is your “writing style”? What is your “voice”, as an author? Well, it’s an ongoing discovery. You can’t find out what it is until you have done it. So you need to keep writing in order to filter out those things that you don’t like, and simply let those things that you do like stay put.

What’s My Book Product?

But “MO” is one thing, and “product” is another. So what I am going to focus on today is to think about my book project. I am NOT going focus on “the how”, but rather on “the what”. This is one of the most crucial parts of the whole process as an author.

So what I’m saying is simply that you have to know what you are trying to make, before you make it. You have to have some sort of “image” of it. The problem is just, if I haven’t even started yet, how can I have “a feel” for what it will become in the future?

Well, if you have done a lot of writing previously, like I have done, then it’s less of a problem. For you know that you always have a blank page until you start typing. So you just have to type a little, and there you go. And then it’s just to start editing it (in different ways), to “finish it up”, so to speak.

Function

What I like to do, in terms of “honing in on” a book project is to talk about its function: “How is it going to be used, by my readers?” So it’s not about “What book should I be proud of having written?”, or “What book will make me the most money?”, or ” What book will make me most famous? “. Rather, for me at least, the question is: “What kind of book would be nice for a reader to buy and read?” or “What kind of experience do I want him or her to have?”

And the answer to that question is: “I want the reader to feel ‘at home’ when he is reading my book.” Of course, this may sound extraordinarily vague or abstract to some of you; but let me try to find some examples of this.

First, it’s important to note here that I am talking about printed books. I am not talking about Kindle, or PDFs, or anything like that. I am talking about a physical product.

I don’t like reading e-books myself, so I am not going to prioritize that right now. For, as I see it, an e-book is, in terms of the production process, a “degeneration” (or “simplification”) of a “real” (printed) book. So if I just have a beautiful “real” book (i.e. a physical, printed book), I can always redesign it (i.e. “simplify it” by conversion) to a PDF or a Kindle product later on.

This is not to say, however, that I completely stop thinking about Kindles and PDFs. No. I do have those formats lurking in the back of my head. But I am not focusing on them. At least not right now.

Portability

In this time and age when people almost always are carrying around a mobile phone (on top of everything else that they are bringing with them when travelling), portability of a book is of supreme importance. So my book must be very portable.

But, you might say, why should my book be so portable? Isn’t 6×9 inch the standard for “good books”? Isn’t that what we mostly see for books on the New York Times Bestseller List?

Yes, I think that’s usually what they do. Having checked the ten first books on the two first rows (representing five fiction books and five non-fiction ones), only one book came out slightly smaller: the “Talking to Strangers” title by Malcolm Gladwell.

But one feature that these books have, that I do not want my book to have, is “a lot of pages”. Having “a lot of pages” is not, in my opinion, an attractive feature of a book. Not only is it physically heavier, it is also mentally more taxing to cope with.

Of course, for novels there may be some readers who just love carrying around their newest 983-page book on the subway every day; but for non-fiction readers, I think the average reader would prefer something much more portable.

How Does it Feel?

The best thing to do, I think, is simply to go to one of your bookshelves. Find the five nicest books you have, in terms of design (as opposed to “message” of the content). Find the most portable books. Find the books that you would love to read on the bus. Find the books with the nicest paper quality. Find the books with the right typeface. Find the books with big enough typeface that you can read more than page without getting a headache. Etc.

Thus, the overall idea here is that the feeling of it must be nice. It must feel good to hold it in your hand. It must feel good to read the text. It must feel good to carry it in your bag.

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman (Penguin)So when I go to my own bookshelves, I notice, for example, that a book like Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, is just too big. I mean, who would ever be interested in reading almost 500 pages on this subject, in that writing style? And with that small font? And we’re not even talking about a traditional trade paperback size (6 x 9 inches; or 15 x 22.5 cm), but about a smaller “pocket” Penguin book (5 x 7.75 inches; or 12.7 x 19.6 cm). So I definitely don’t want a product like that.

How to Do Things with Words, by J. L. Austin (Harvard University Press))Another book that I remembered differently than what I now experience it to be, is the How to Do Things with Words, by J. L. Austin. As it turns out, the book is rather small, as I thought. But not small enough. The biggest “offender” is the width of the book: it’s just like the previously mentioned Penguin book, namely too wide (5 inches; or 12.5 cm) to feel comfortable in my hand(s). Also, even if it feels much lighter and thinner than the Penguin volume, it’s still 168 pages, plus front matter and index). So that is also a product that I don’t want to use as a “template” size.

Let’s continue this “investigation” tomorrow!

Chris Bocay

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Copyright © 2019 by Chris Bocay. All rights reserved.

Last update: Wed 25 Dec 2019.

Cite as: Bocay, Chris (2019) “Big Book, Small Book: Product Development for Authors (1)”. Website: <https://chrisbocay.com>. Accessed: [today’s date].

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