I started reading a new book recently; the author writes well and has an important message. However, it’s very hard to read, because the rest of the team let him down – badly!
I’m referring to the editor, designer and publisher. The editor displayed a woeful ignorance about paragraphs. Such literary legends as H.W. Fowler and William Zinsser cautioned against long ones. In his classic book, On Writing Well, Zinsser advised: “Keep your paragraphs short. Writing is visual – it catches the eye before it has a chance to catch the brain.”
Earlier, Fowler, known as “The King of English,” had cautioned: “Paragraphing is … a matter of the eye. A reader will address himself more readily to his task if he sees from the start that he will have breathing-spaces from time to time than if what is before him looks like a marathon course.”
A marathon course indeed. On page after page, there’s wall-to-wall copy, in paragraphs 20 to 30 lines long. It repels the eye, rather than attracts it. Strike 1!
As for design, forgive me if I get a bit technical. In the world of print, typefaces (or fonts) fall into two basic categories, called “serif” and “sans serif.” Serifs are defined as “the small finishing strokes on the end of a character.” For example, look no further than what you’re reading here. “Sans serif” faces (Helvetica, Arial, etc.) omit those finishing strokeses).
There’s an important reason why virtually all magazines, newspapers and the vast majority of books use serif fonts in body copy: they’re easier to read. The others are fine for headlines, subtitles, photo captions, etc., but, in large blocks of copy, they’re harder to read. In this book, there’s not a serif typeface in its 200+ pages. Strike 2!
Had this been a self-published book, that might have explained its flaws. But here, we have a well-known reputable publisher. I’d be thrilled to have it publish my books, so I’m shocked that it accepted such poor work from both editor and designer. Strike 3!
Writer beware! Your work isn’t over once you’ve completed your manuscript. In this case, it appears to have been this author’s first book. He’s in a different profession and may have simply left the production process to others. But whether or not you’re on an unfamiliar path as you write your book, don’t assume the other team members know best. Some second and even third opinions can help you hit a home run.
Don’t ever forget: No matter how great your message may be, it MUST be readable!