Thursday, March 11, 2010

Review: WestBow Press

Today, I’m writing a book review unlike any I have written before. Actually, I’m going to I’m reviewing two books and I haven’t read either one. As you may recall, some time ago, Thomas Nelson announced that they were entering the vanity press market, using the imprint WestBow Press. The first books out of that arrangement are making their way down the pipeline, two of which you can see here.

The first thing I noticed when they arrived was the size of the box. I arrived home and saw the box sitting on my front step. My first thought was that they had only shipped on of them. The box is the same sized box uses to ship individual copies of my novels. I opened it up and found both novels stacked neatly, one on top of the other. Both books have the dimensions 6” x 9”, a fairly standard size for non-traditionally published books. Publishing a book with that dimension simplifies the process when a book will be published both as a paperback and a hardback. One of the books is printed on bright white paper and has 135 pages. The other is printed on ivory paper and has 203 pages.
I looked for e-mail addresses for the authors, but I didn’t find them. I had hoped that I could ask them which publishing package they went with. I think it’s safe to assume they didn’t choose the same one because the covers are noticeably different. The one the The Faraway Land has what I’ll call the fifteen minute cover. It has a generic stock photo on the front, the title and the author’s name, with some text on the back. I’ll call the one for In the Unlikely Event the thirty minute cover. The photo on the front looks like it might have been taken in western Arkansas, which is where the story takes place. The image extends to the back and the title on the front has a little extra special treatment than the title for the other book. Also, there is a picture of the author on the back, adding just that much more work for the cover designer to do. The spines are disappointing. Place the books in a bookcase and all you will see is the title, the author’s name and the WestBow trademark, all on a dark, one color, background.
Upon opening the books and thumbing through them, the first thing we notice is that the text seems small. A point size of 9pt will give you a good approximation of the text if you are trying to duplicate it in Microsoft Word, but that may be a little too large. There are 41 lines per page with margins set at one inch at top and bottom, 0.75 in the gutter and 0.625 on the edge. But don’t let that put you off. It is approximately the same sized font that Thomas Nelson used for Eric Wilson’s Field of Blood. But his book was over 400 pages and had they used larger text it wouldn’t have fit within a reasonable number of pages. Robert Liparulo’s House of Dark Shadows, in contrast, has 26 lines per page, which you would duplicate with a font size of more than 13pt. Needless to say, WestBow Press has no intention of wasting pages.

Actually, that’s not true. Open the cover of both books and the first thing you see is a blank page. It isn’t just blank on one side, it is blank on both sides. After that comes the title page. In the back, you will find additional blank pages. Some of those may be explained away by saying they kept the page count evenly divisible by some number and the last page can be explained by the printing process. The POD printing company has some information that they need for their purposes, so they add one more page, that way, they don’t have to tell the publisher to add the information.
Overall, I’m not displeased with the interior design. The margins are at a comfortable place. The tops of the pages look nice. The page numbers don’t look cramped. The chapters all begin on an odd numbered page with no overrun from the previous chapter. There graphics highlighting the chapter titles and they aren’t the same for both books. I half expected that I would open both books and see the same graphics or none at all.
But the interior design isn’t without its problems. Aside from the unexplainable blank page at the front, the next thing we notice is that the book is numbered incorrectly. This tells us that though Thomas Nelson puts their name on the copyright page, the book itself is not up to the quality standards of the company. According to the Chicago Manual of Style, page one is to be the beginning of the text. It’s a little more complicated if we’re dealing with a second half-title, but we aren’t, so we can simply say that for a novel the beginning of the story should be numbered page one and anything before that should be numbered with roman numerals. Thomas Nelson did this correctly in House of Dark Shadows as well as in Field of Blood. In both cases, the story begins with a prologue. The first page of the prologue is numbered page one. The Faraway Land and In the Unlikely Event also have prologues, but they are not treated as part of the story. Instead, they are treated like a preface and numbered with roman numerals, which will do nothing but encourage readers to skip the prologue, which I have heard many readers do already.

I have also noticed by thumbing through In the Unlikely Event that some of the text is indented incorrectly. We can probably blame that on the author, but its actually the typesetter’s responsibility to check for things like that and not just dump the text the author gives him into the book.
My overall impression at this point is that I would not want to publish a book through WestBow Press. I realize that there are limits to the services they can offer for a reasonable price, but when we hand our work off to someone else to publish, we hope that they can produce something better than what we can produce on our own. The weak cover design along with the quality problems in the interior is enough to make me question spending so much money to get a book into print. I hope that Thomas Nelson will do something to improve the quality of these books. They may not be able to do anything about the covers. They may not even be able to do anything about the odd appearance to the indenting, but they can certainly educate the typesetter on how to number the pages. We can only hope.

Pick up Book Cover Design Wizardry: For the Self-Publishing Author today.

From the Mailbag

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail message from someone who had ordered one of my books, but had not yet read it. From that e-mail, I learned that this person was a student learning English who had a class requirement to read an English novel. After that, I received an e-mail asking several questions, which I happily answered. I also posted the answers. Today, I am posting the latest e-mail:

Dear Timothy,

I enjoyed reading and studying your book. I had learnt a lot of new English words and phrases during my reading. I loved all the characters in the novel they were easy to follow and down to earth. The character I like most is Sara’s father Mark Dawson. The way he treats, teachs and raises his daugther is admirable. He listens to her and always try to do his best. My favourite episode with him is when Mark and his daughther go out to the restaurant after visiting the bookshop and meets the waitress. He teaches Sara some important lessons that may help her in the future. My personal opinion is that every working parent can identify himself with Mark.

Many episodes capture my attention. The one I remember most is went Sara was printing out Ellen’s profile from her father’s computer. It made me say hurry up, hurry up.

The characters’ belief (Sara, Mark and Ellen) gave me comfort throughtout the reading. Their simple but effective prayers made them more practical and sensible.

I loved Searching For Mom. Your writing had been a blessing in improving my English and I had learnt important lessons for life by reading your novel. Thank you for aswering all my questions.

You are a good writer and I can gladly recommed Searching For Mom to anyone who wants to read a good comtemporary fiction novel.

I wish you the best in the future.

L. J.

Needless to say, I love getting letters like this, especially from people who don’t know me from Adam. It’s letters like this that keep us going, even if the money doesn’t. And this is the type of letter you hope for when you put your e-mail address in the book.