Two Book Design Templates: “Pulp” vs “Focus”

So the hard-copy version of Slave Labor is now laid laid out in Joel Friedlander’s Book Design Template called “Focus.” The result is pleasing enough and was not too difficult to achieve.

These tools really are just Word templates tricked out with margins and gutters appropriate to the trim size of your choice, with fonts for body copy and heads, alternating recto/verso running headers, and a set of “styles” commands that allow you easily to format body copy, the various heading levels, and details like italic and boldface.

Most of the templates allow you to create an e-book or a hard-copy (print-on-demand) version. To do both, you evidently import and format your copy twice, once to create the appropriate e-book formatting and once to do the hard-copy layout.

A few, however, are programmed so that you can switch back and forth, with the same layout, and extrude the e-book and the PoD layout. Once you’ve imported your MS and applied the appropriate Word “styles,” so the makers say, you can produce both an e-book version and a PDF for print in one swell foop.

Since I’ll want to do some of the upcoming gilded volumes in both formats, I decided to buy one of those. “Pulp,” on sale at a ridiculously low introductory price (none of these things will break the bank to start with…), looked like a good choice. After I’ve emitted all of Fire-Rider in e-book serials, I may (or may not) produce a print “collector’s edition” that will gather all the copy and artwork in one place. Pulp mimics a dime novel, with a small typeface and narrow margins that minimize the number of pages you have to print — good for Fire-Rider, whose length is best described as “epic.”

So I got this thing and decided to start with the diet/cookbook, using it as a kind of secondary-level “sandbox” project to expand what I’ve learned in self-publishing Slave Labor. This is a single book that I’d like to sell in both formats, since it seems highly unlikely to me that anyone would want to use their iPad, Kindle, or phone to follow a recipe in a messy kitchen. But…some people claim they do. WhatEVER.

By quittin’ time last night, I’d installed the four chapters on dieting and the first two recipes in cookbook section.

This provides an opportunity to compare the two templates — or, more accurately, the two types of templates.

Of the pair, I’d say I prefer working in “Focus,” the “premium” variety that allows you to do both an e-book and a print layout but apparently requires entering and formatting the copy separately. Its “styles” are easier to work with and better organized, and the layout for hard copy is much more appealing.

However, if you expect to do a lot of books and emit them in both formats, “Pulp” may be a better choice, despite some significant drawbacks. Time, after all, is money; the ability to enter copy once and have it suffice for both purposes represents a considerable advantage in that department.

Focus appears to create a much nicer print-ready product. The fonts (Cambria for chapter titles and Alegreya for subheads and body copy) are handsome and the layout is attractive. It’s also quite easy to use — assuming you have a very high level of proficiency with Wyrd. As usual, one has to deal with all the Wyrdnesses that come with that program, but the designers have done a good job of customizing the template to minimize formatting hassles. The styles are intelligently named, and they’re simple and intuitive to use.

The main grutch I would have is probably a Word 2008/Mac problem rather than a direct issue with the template: when you insert a section break (odd page) where a chapter ends on a recto page, the program does not consistently insert a break in such a way as to let you begin the next chapter on the next recto. So, to get from the resulting verso page to the desired recto page, you have to insert a page break as well as a section break. This doesn’t matter much in a PDF. But…hold that thought for a minute…

I have yet to see what a printer will think of the result, but we’ll know as soon as my designer converts Slave Labor‘s e-book cover to a 5.5 x 8.5 wrap-around.

Chapter opening on recto page, Focus“Focus” chapter opening, recto page
(Click on images for a better view.)

Focus 2 pages“Focus” two-page spread, showing margin, gutters, A-level head, bulleted block, running header

Moving on to Pulp: the 10-point Gandhi serif typeface prints out OK — it’s reasonably readable when translated to the page. But on a MacBook screen, it’s a pain.

For a print layout, one would ideally like to see the pages two at time, verso on the left side and recto on the right. Zooming to 150% will accomplish that. Increasing the zoom much above 150% will allow you to see only one page at a time. But even at 150%, the type when seen on a MacBook is pretty small and cramped. It’s not impossible to read, but it’s potentially eyestrain-inducing.

The styles are a little harder to use in Pulp than in Focus. There are a lot of them, and they don’t seem to be organized well. I found myself searching interminably for this, that or the other frequently used style, trying to figure out what it might be called. On Word’s 2008 version for the ribbon-aversive Mac user, it’s much easier to use Format > Style > Styles than to dork with the Styles drop-down menu. Even still, at some points I had to create the occasional new style to accommodate the book’s needs.

Admittedly, the template is designed for fiction, and I’m trying to make it work for a piece of nonfiction. Still. {grump}

One notable style that I had to fiddle with was for footnotes, which I had to use in the “diet” section of this book, by way of supporting some of the claims I allege. The footnote style wants to set type larger than the body style. That. is. exceptionally. annoying.

But okaayyy…if you know how to use Wyrd, it’s easy enough (sort of) to create a new body style for footnotes. But…if you have to build your own styles, why pay someone else to do it? {grump, crab} If you create a style for a graf with no indent based on the regular paragraph style (which should’ve been included, btw), you can use that for the footnote style, but of course it comes out the same size as the body style. For my purposes, that’s fine, but if the book were more formal, one might like footnotes to be set in slightly smaller type.

The template comes with at least two body styles. It’s unclear which you’re supposed to use. I selected the one labeled (normal), guessing that “normal” was…well, normal for this template. There’s also two variants of something called “balloon text.” Don’t know what that is and am not sure I want to know. Whatever it is, in my file it produces 8-point Tahoma. Gandhi is a serif typeface, so…what the point is escapes me.

Pulp defaults to lay out pages consecutively, whether or not you’re opening a new chapter or section. Thus chapters’ opening pages occur at random on recto or verso pages.

This does not thrill me.

Pulp chapter opening“Pulp” chapter opening, recto page

Pulp 2 pages“Pulp” two-page spread, showing margins, gutters, A-level subheads, footnote, running header

For an e-book, of course, you would not want to force section breaks for the purpose of starting a chapter on a recto page, because…well, there ARE no recto or verso pages in an e-book. You insert breaks to force the chapter title to appear on a new digital “page” (we might call that a pageoid), but these are all identical.

Identically ugly, we of the digitally unbaptized might suggest…but what can one say?

For my taste…ugh. I don’t care for a book layout that opens a new chapter on a verso page, in the manner of a magazine or a newspaper. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just inelegant.

But to make that happen, in Pulp as well as in Focus, you have to insert section breaks. And the apparent random workings of section break (odd page) seen in “Focus” hold true in this template. For e-book purposes, a lot of extra section and page breaks are going to be mightily superfluous. Yea verily, we could say they will dork up your e-pageoids!

Pretty clearly, if you want a print layout with a less cheesy flavor, you’re going to have to create the e-book first and then go back and insert section breaks to force the desired layout for print.

This will not double your total time spent on a given book project. But it surely will interfere with the scheme to do two formats in the time it would ordinarily take you to do one.

Given that some of Book Design Templates’s premium products are much handsomer than Pulp, it may be worth spending the extra time to input and format copy twice in a different design.

Maybe not, too. It would depend on how many books you’re cranking at any given time. I intend to crank a lot between now and the end of 2015. I think Pulp will do quite nicely for Fire-Rider, given the novel’s unseemly length. The small type and tight leading will save on printing costs, and of course the typeface makes no never-mind for e-books.

But for the other books? Well. The romance/soft-core porn numbers, which I hope to churn out in gay (heh…sometimes) abandon, probably need appear only in ebook fashion. Pulp will do just fine for those, except for the relative difficulty of using it. Focus is so much easier to use, though, that I may spring for an upgrade allowing me to use that template for an infinite number of bookoids. Also, I probably could use it for certain clients’ books — at least one current customer hopes to self-publish, and it would be convenient to be able to offer a rudimentary formatting service.

The Copyeditor’s Desk does have a subcontractor who formats e-books, but at this time he has so many clients of his own it’s hard to get the man’s attention. And he doesn’t do print layout. (Plain & Simple Press is the micropublishing imprint of The Copyeditor’s Desk.) Two graphic designers who subcontract to us both do very fine print layout…at very fine prices. Obviously I’d rather foist the work on them. But given a choice between doing the work myself at a lower (get-what-you-pay-for) rate and losing a client who won’t pay professional rates for graphic design, I just might take the former.

By the way, if you’re interested in using one of these templates for your own book project, remember to set Word to save every five minutes! Wyrd is given to sudden catastrophic lose-ALL-your-data crashes, especially if you’re working with tables or with anything at all elaborate or exotic. That’s why we call it “Wyrd.”

weird; comparative adjective: weirder; superlative adjective: weirdest

  1. suggesting something supernatural; uncanny.
    “the weird crying of a seal”

    Old English wyrd ‘destiny,’ of Germanic origin. The adjective (late Middle English) originally meant ‘having the power to control destiny,’ and was used especially in the Weird Sisters, originally referring to the Fates, later the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth ; the latter use gave rise to the sense ‘unearthly’ (early 19th century).

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