Author Topic: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks  (Read 1100 times)

Lex

Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« on: November 07, 2018, 09:36:16 AM »
I've only recently started adding symbols to denote scene breaks in my paperbacks. Just a basic *   *   *.

Anyway, I've looked and can't find a definitive answer for what to do when the scene break ends up at the very end or very beginning of a page. Leave it as is? Fiddle with the rest of the page spacing so the break ends up nestled between the text like it should be?

Example of the scene break occurring at the end of a page:



I'm wondering what the rule of thumb is... or if there even is one. I'd be especially interested to know if there's a consistent way trad-pubbed books handle this.
 

idontknowyet

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #1 on: November 07, 2018, 09:43:23 AM »
I don't know if there is one but there should be. Recently I've read a slew of books that have no scene break but a single extra space. It is a pain in the butt when you get one or two pages into the next one before you realizee its changed.  :HB  :evil2:  :rant
 

Maggie Ann

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #2 on: November 07, 2018, 10:09:19 AM »
Do you have widow/orphan control turned on? I would think that would take care of the problem.
           
 

Lex

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #3 on: November 07, 2018, 10:20:12 AM »
Do you have widow/orphan control turned on? I would think that would take care of the problem.

I think because the scene break ends up being its own paragraph, it isn't impacted by the widow/orphan control.  :icon_think: But I'm not sure, since right now I'm only fiddling with a dummy document. I'll see what happens if I play with one of my actual manuscripts.

Then again, if it can be controlled that way, it would inevitably end up at either the very top or bottom, right? And I'm still not sure which is more desirable.
 

Maggie Ann

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #4 on: November 07, 2018, 10:34:57 AM »
Do you have widow/orphan control turned on? I would think that would take care of the problem.

I think because the scene break ends up being its own paragraph, it isn't impacted by the widow/orphan control.  :icon_think: But I'm not sure, since right now I'm only fiddling with a dummy document. I'll see what happens if I play with one of my actual manuscripts.

Then again, if it can be controlled that way, it would inevitably end up at either the very top or bottom, right? And I'm still not sure which is more desirable.

Widow/orphan controls both the very top and the very bottom.
           
 

Llano

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #5 on: November 07, 2018, 11:59:47 AM »
If you are using a symbol as a scene break and it falls at the bottom or top of a page, leave it alone. It is absolutely correct.

Indeed, when using blank lines for scene breaks and the blank line appears at the bottom or top of a page, the proper solution is to substitute a symbol even though all other scene breaks are blank lines. This insures that the blank line doesn't fade into the margin, defeating the purpose of the scene break.

Although they are now almost universal in eBooks, three asterisks are rarely used in paper books by the major publishers. They are probably the worst possible symbol to indicate a scene break, for a variety of reasons. For one, asterisks sit near the top of the line, not the center, so they are never centered vertically. They are also just plain boring. Bullets and various other symbols are generally centered vertically and look better than asterisks.
 
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Maggie Ann

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #6 on: November 07, 2018, 01:36:51 PM »
Sometimes I'll use clip art themed to the story. It really stands out and there's no question that it's a scene break.

 :dog1:
           
 
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Lysmata Debelius

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #7 on: November 07, 2018, 01:53:21 PM »
What Llano said :)
It's not a problem.

I also don't use asterisks for scene breaks. There are some quite nice wingdings (little stars and circles etc) that work very nicely.

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Maggie Ann

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #8 on: November 07, 2018, 11:39:07 PM »
What Llano said :)
It's not a problem.

I also don't use asterisks for scene breaks. There are some quite nice wingdings (little stars and circles etc) that work very nicely.

Wingdings is a good idea. I used to be able to find good clip art in Word, but now everything is copyrighted. I like to use flourishes, so I've ended up copying the ones I've used in the past.
           
 

Lysmata Debelius

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #9 on: November 07, 2018, 11:42:32 PM »
What Llano said :)
It's not a problem.

I also don't use asterisks for scene breaks. There are some quite nice wingdings (little stars and circles etc) that work very nicely.

Wingdings is a good idea. I used to be able to find good clip art in Word, but now everything is copyrighted. I like to use flourishes, so I've ended up copying the ones I've used in the past.

...just don't do what I did and accidentally set an entire paragraph of text as wingdings  :icon_eek:
Luckily I spotted that before exporting the file :)
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Lex

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #10 on: November 08, 2018, 02:47:43 AM »
If you are using a symbol as a scene break and it falls at the bottom or top of a page, leave it alone. It is absolutely correct.

Indeed, when using blank lines for scene breaks and the blank line appears at the bottom or top of a page, the proper solution is to substitute a symbol even though all other scene breaks are blank lines. This insures that the blank line doesn't fade into the margin, defeating the purpose of the scene break.

Although they are now almost universal in eBooks, three asterisks are rarely used in paper books by the major publishers. They are probably the worst possible symbol to indicate a scene break, for a variety of reasons. For one, asterisks sit near the top of the line, not the center, so they are never centered vertically. They are also just plain boring. Bullets and various other symbols are generally centered vertically and look better than asterisks.

This is great. Thanks!
 

She-la-te-da

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #11 on: November 09, 2018, 10:00:59 PM »
If it's at the very bottom or top, I try to adjust the text so it has at least a line or two either side. I use a symbol other than asterisks, too. Asterisks are okay in ebooks, because you have to pay delivery charges and if you have lots of scenes, it will add up quickly. But in print? Yeah. Put something pretty there. :D
I write various flavors of speculative fiction. This is my main pen name.

 

My Dogs Servant

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #12 on: December 03, 2018, 05:12:22 AM »
Another solution is to use all caps or small caps for the first few words of the first line of the new scene. This way there's no mistaking it and you don't have to deal with a scene break and a page break coinciding.
 

David VanDyke

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #13 on: December 03, 2018, 06:45:05 AM »
A tiny formatting tip:

If it's only a time break--say, when sticking with the same narrative voice, perhaps between sleeping and waking, a single empty line will do.

It's only if you change narrative voices (perspective from a different character, what is often mistakenly called POV) do you absolutely need a dingus (I think it's called), the three asterisks.

Keeping this rule in mind has allowed me to reduce the instances of the dingus.
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Marigold

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #14 on: December 19, 2018, 07:17:50 AM »
If you are using a symbol as a scene break and it falls at the bottom or top of a page, leave it alone. It is absolutely correct.

Indeed, when using blank lines for scene breaks and the blank line appears at the bottom or top of a page, the proper solution is to substitute a symbol even though all other scene breaks are blank lines. This insures that the blank line doesn't fade into the margin, defeating the purpose of the scene break.

Although they are now almost universal in eBooks, three asterisks are rarely used in paper books by the major publishers. They are probably the worst possible symbol to indicate a scene break, for a variety of reasons. For one, asterisks sit near the top of the line, not the center, so they are never centered vertically. They are also just plain boring. Bullets and various other symbols are generally centered vertically and look better than asterisks.

         :goodpost:
 

bardsandsages

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #15 on: February 08, 2019, 07:35:14 AM »
They are also just plain boring. Bullets and various other symbols are generally centered vertically and look better than asterisks.

I would argue if you are noticing the graphics of a scene break that much, there is something wrong with the book other than the graphics used in the scene break. Grin

I don't think in my life I have ever even noticed other than if something seemed gaudy or too big. Asterisks, bullets, squiggly lines...I don't notice them. Be consistent with whatever you use.

I've been using asterisks in print for almost 15 years because they are clean and neat and don't require extra work. This is the first time I have read of someone complaining about it.
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RPatton

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #16 on: February 08, 2019, 09:32:38 AM »
I've been using asterisks in print for almost 15 years because they are clean and neat and don't require extra work. This is the first time I have read of someone complaining about it.

If Jan Tschichold says one or more asterisk (centered) is an acceptable scene break (at least according to Penguin's Composition Rules), I don't see a reason why not to use an asterisk.

"If a chapter is divided into several parts without headings, these parts should be divided not only by an additional space, but always by one or more asterisks of the fount body. As a rule, one asterisk is sufficient. Without them it is impossible to see whether a part ends at the bottom of a page or not. Even when the last line of such a part ends the page, there will always be space for an asterisk in the bottom margin."
 

Llano

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #17 on: February 08, 2019, 09:56:09 AM »
In a survey of 200 books from major publishers in the past 20 years:

25 had no scene breaks
42 used one blank line
73 used two blank lines
2 used one asterisk
3 used three asterisks
5 used a rule (line) or 30-dash
1 used a line of periods
10 used one or more bullets (round or square)
14 used fleurons
7 used other types of ornaments
2 used Roman numerals
 
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Llano

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #18 on: February 08, 2019, 10:11:49 AM »
If Jan Tschichold says one or more asterisk (centered) is an acceptable scene break (at least according to Penguin's Composition Rules), I don't see a reason why not to use an asterisk.

"If a chapter is divided into several parts without headings, these parts should be divided not only by an additional space, but always by one or more asterisks of the fount body. As a rule, one asterisk is sufficient. Without them it is impossible to see whether a part ends at the bottom of a page or not. Even when the last line of such a part ends the page, there will always be space for an asterisk in the bottom margin."

That might have been true when Tschichold was designing books for Penguin 70 years ago, but not for the past few decades.

 

bardsandsages

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #19 on: February 09, 2019, 12:07:40 AM »
In a survey of 200 books from major publishers in the past 20 years:

I don't know what survey you are talking about, but that would reflect 10 books a year. Considering the hundreds of thousands of titles produced annually, that would, by your own "survey" mean that thousands of books from major publishers still use asterisks.

It really doesn't matter WHAT a person uses for scene breaks so long as it is clear to the reader and consistent throughout the book. You want to use asterisks? Use asterisks. You want to use bullets? Use bullets. You want to use pictures of your cat? Use pictures of your cat (people love cats!). Whatever you use, it must be clear, neat, and consistent. If it is those three things, the reader should not even notice.

When a publisher does their job correctly, all the stuff we angst over SHOULD be invisible to the reader. I am an avid reader (I am also a judge for the Ben Franklin Awards, so I read critically) and in all my years I have never noticed what graphics were used by a publisher for scene breaks...UNLESS it wasn't clear it was a scene break and I had to stop and determine it was a scene break.

My opinion is that function always trumps form. I don't particularly care when reading a book about fancy drop caps, or whether the font is 11 or 12 pt, or or if the line spacing is single or 1.1 or 1.2, or if the indent is .25 or .30. If everything is clear and consistent, it is invisible to me. I'm just enjoying the story. Give me "boring" formatting all day long so long as the story is phenomenal and I can't wait to turn the page.
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Llano

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #20 on: February 09, 2019, 01:42:10 AM »
The survey is my own. The 200 books were selected from thousands as representative of the state of the art and examined in minute detail for elements of book design from major publishers. The idea is to determine what major publishers (who use professional book designers and typesetters) are doing in their books in order to steer self-publishers away from eBooks printed out on paper, which is what nearly all of them are currently doing. The 20-year period was selected because that's when the final break from phototypesetting to digital typesetting occurred, meaning that self publishers now have exactly the same fonts available to them as the major publishers and can produce paper books virtually identical if they so choose.

Major publishers don't use single, 1.1, or 1.2 line spacing and they don't use .25 or .30 paragraph indents, but many self publishers do. There's a difference and it affects the reader, however subtly. Paper books from major publishers have evolved over 600 years of trial and error by giants in their field. Paper books from self publishers have evolved from word processing and web pages and it's painfully obvious.

I choose the artistic giants over the nerds at Microsoft and Amazon.
 
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Bill Hiatt

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Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #21 on: February 09, 2019, 02:25:19 AM »
I'm with Julie on this one. I read books for the content, not for the layout. If the layout is unclear or irregular, I notice it. Otherwise, I don't. Absent a comprehensive study of reader behavior, common sense would suggest that most readers are that way. One can easily argue for a subtle effect, but where's the evidence for it?

Your willingness to check out scene breaks in 200 books is commendable, but to me, the data looks as if there is no "one format to rule them all" in traditional publishing. The plurality of books in your survey used two blank lines, but that's only 36.5% of the total. There appears to be a wide spread among the other alternatives.

To me, the twenty-five books without scene breaks would probably lead to a lack of clarity--unless scene breaks weren't needed. Not every writer makes jumps in POV or time during a chapter. That particular statistic can only be interpreted in the context of the content of the book, not in isolation.

Are there a lot of poorly formatted self-published books? Sure. Would imitating trad formats be a good idea? Probably. But trads don't do exactly the same thing, and as I've said, I think regularity and clarity are the keys. Particularly if the content of the book is good, readers are not going to care much about anything else. 


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Tom Wood

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #22 on: February 09, 2019, 02:36:18 AM »
I have a somewhat complicated need for two types of scene breaks - though usually not both in the same chapter. For a big scene jump in both time and space, a text icon (*** or ### or whatever) with a blank line above and below seems to work fine. There are some scenes that happen in different places but at the same time, and I jump back and forth as the two scenes converge. For those, a single blank line seems to work best.
 

Llano

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #23 on: February 09, 2019, 03:15:15 AM »
I have a somewhat complicated need for two types of scene breaks - though usually not both in the same chapter. For a big scene jump in both time and space, a text icon (*** or ### or whatever) with a blank line above and below seems to work fine. There are some scenes that happen in different places but at the same time, and I jump back and forth as the two scenes converge. For those, a single blank line seems to work best.

While not common, this occurs in a fair number of books, especially long books with long chapters. Some handle it with one or two blank lines and an initial, or drop, cap, and/or small caps or different font lead-in (similar to chapter openings) for the major breaks, and a blank line or ornament for lesser breaks. Sometimes Roman numerals are used for major breaks, and something else for the lesser ones. When reading books like this I sometimes have to flip back a few pages to catch on to the concept, but I catch on fairly quickly.

 

Llano

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #24 on: February 09, 2019, 03:45:06 AM »
I'm with Julie on this one. I read books for the content, not for the layout. If the layout is unclear or irregular, I notice it. Otherwise, I don't. Absent a comprehensive study of reader behavior, common sense would suggest that most readers are that way. One can easily argue for a subtle effect, but where's the evidence for it?

Which is exactly the point--readers have certain expectations based on what they have read before. Why make up your own rules when you can study what has gone before and emulate that?

There actually are comprehensive studies of reader behavior relative to type style, point size, leading, line length and more. The best-known of them is now some 60 years old. I'd love to see one as extensive today when at the last generation or two has grown up reading from a screen and not paper.

Quote
Your willingness to check out scene breaks in 200 books is commendable, but to me, the data looks as if there is no "one format to rule them all" in traditional publishing. The plurality of books in your survey used two blank lines, but that's only 36.5% of the total. There appears to be a wide spread among the other alternatives.

Again, exactly my point. There is no "one format to rule them all." Most used two blank lines. Why? Because the book designer pulled that out of thin air? Because someone on the Internet told her it was the best, or only way? She did it based on the hundreds of thousands of books that had gone before and the collective experience of those who designed them.

There's actually not a wide spread among the alternatives. It's a fairly small spread, but each serves its purpose. The way a book designer handles scene breaks is different for a book with 30 chapters and 40 scene breaks than one with 30 chapters and 300 scene breaks. It's also different for a book with 100 chapters and five scene breaks. The more scene breaks you have the more subtle they should be. Ten large ornaments on a two-page spread is likely to take a reader right out of the reading experience, as would ten, or thirty, asterisks for that matter.

It's also different for sci-fi, space opera, historical fiction, thrillers, romance, etc. A fleuron that might work well for romance would probably be out of place in a military thriller, and the opposite for a gun. Some ornaments have hidden meaning that may only be recognized by a few readers, but that's better than a pound sign, unless that itself has meaning.

Quote
To me, the twenty-five books without scene breaks would probably lead to a lack of clarity--unless scene breaks weren't needed. Not every writer makes jumps in POV or time during a chapter. That particular statistic can only be interpreted in the context of the content of the book, not in isolation.

Those were books without scenes. Most of them had lots of short chapters, but some were simply the author's style--normal length or long chapters with no need to break.

Quote
Are there a lot of poorly formatted self-published books? Sure. Would imitating trad formats be a good idea? Probably. But trads don't do exactly the same thing, and as I've said, I think regularity and clarity are the keys. Particularly if the content of the book is good, readers are not going to care much about anything else.

Sigh.
 
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RPatton

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #25 on: February 09, 2019, 05:36:10 AM »
Particularly if the content of the book is good, readers are not going to care much about anything else.

There are actually several studies that disagree and disprove this statement.

Readability and legibility are the most important factors, almost immediately followed by being invisible to the reader. How a book is formatted is incredibly important, it's just not a conscious endeavor. Readers will put a book down or not pick it back up because of the formatting. Just as readers have an expectation for the content of the story, they also have an expectation for the way a book is presented. Deviate from those expectations and a reader has to work twice as hard (if not more) to get through a chapter, much less an entire book.

I jumped into the discussion because I happen to not mind asterisks as a scene break, and I happen to think the fact that Penguin has kept so much of the original composition rules in tact says more than current samples. Using an asterisk is part of my personal style guide that I use consistently. Llano doesn't like it for several reasons and is firm in his belief that there are better options available. However, to say that how a scene break is formatted really doesn't matter because all the reader cares about is content, just isn't an accurate statement.

Context matters even more than content. If the context is obvious and distracts the reader, the content won't matter.
 
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Llano

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #26 on: February 09, 2019, 05:54:26 AM »
I came across a couple old books (pre 1960) that used a single star as a scene break. I was curious about why a star. On further examination, they were set in Bembo, where the asterisk is a star.

In Stanley Morison's book, A Tally of Types, each chapter is set in the typeface being discussed in the chapter. All the asterisks, however, are stars, probably from Plantin, the type used for Morison's introduction. I have no idea why he did that, but it made me smile.

 

bardsandsages

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #27 on: February 09, 2019, 06:08:19 AM »
Context matters even more than content. If the context is obvious and distracts the reader, the content won't matter.

To be clear, this was my point. Be clear and consistent with what you do. If the presentation is clear and consistent, then it won't matter if you use X's, asterisks, bullets, lines, or the tears of your enemies. If your format is all over the place, then the reader won't be able to read the story.
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Bill Hiatt

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Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #28 on: February 09, 2019, 06:15:14 AM »
Particularly if the content of the book is good, readers are not going to care much about anything else.

There are actually several studies that disagree and disprove this statement.

Readability and legibility are the most important factors, almost immediately followed by being invisible to the reader. How a book is formatted is incredibly important, it's just not a conscious endeavor. Readers will put a book down or not pick it back up because of the formatting. Just as readers have an expectation for the content of the story, they also have an expectation for the way a book is presented. Deviate from those expectations and a reader has to work twice as hard (if not more) to get through a chapter, much less an entire book.

I jumped into the discussion because I happen to not mind asterisks as a scene break, and I happen to think the fact that Penguin has kept so much of the original composition rules in tact says more than current samples. Using an asterisk is part of my personal style guide that I use consistently. Llano doesn't like it for several reasons and is firm in his belief that there are better options available. However, to say that how a scene break is formatted really doesn't matter because all the reader cares about is content, just isn't an accurate statement.

Context matters even more than content. If the context is obvious and distracts the reader, the content won't matter.
I recall your reference to these studies in the past, but I'm not sure the point you're making them is all that different from the point I was making. (Then again, perhaps we're all just misinterpreting each other. It sounds as if I misinterpreted LLano earlier.)

I've never denied the importance of readability and legibility. We all agree those are crucial. I've also endorsed the idea that format should be unobtrusive to the reader. On that I think we all agree as well. I was reacting to what I thought was an argument that everything should be done according to a particular trad pub formula. Llano was obviously arguing for certain trad pub usages, but in the context of flexibility (adapting to particular situations).

All of that said, do the studies actually say that content doesn't matter if the format is distracting? I don't know about you, but I'd rather read a poorly formatted book with a great story than a well-formatted book with a bad story. (I've struggled through some badly formatted trad ebooks because I wanted the content.) Obviously, as writers, we want to have both elements working for us. I'm not trying to deny the importance of formatting. I am suggesting that, assuming it's clear and unobtrusive, the exact specifics may not be crucial beyond that.


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bardsandsages

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #29 on: February 09, 2019, 06:20:27 AM »

There actually are comprehensive studies of reader behavior relative to type style, point size, leading, line length and more. The best-known of them is now some 60 years old. I'd love to see one as extensive today when at the last generation or two has grown up reading from a screen and not paper.

Yeah, any 60 year old study is going to be bad on its face, as that was when things were still done with actual typesetting and the styles and point sizes were determined by equipment capacity.

Even a decade ago, the difference between offset printing and print-on-demand meant that certain formats were determined by HOW the book was printed, not any special readability per se. (disclosure: I work in contract packaging and our company uses offset and litho presses as well as POD machines.)  Reader expectations have traditionally be set by machine limitations.

For example, the "mass market paperback" size. People will SWEAR there is some magical, wonderful reason for this that involves it being the perfect size to fit in a bag or carry over trade paperback size. It is all nonsense and revisionist thinking to justify the continued use of a size that no longer makes financial sense. The mass market size is a product of cheap production value.  Go look at old mass market paperbacks (or even those produced by big publishers today). The paper quality and cover stock is cheaper. The size was created to get the maximum number of books off the press using the cheapest paper possible to control costs. That was it. Had nothing to do with magical perfect size for a beach read. It was a production decision based on cost controls. Trade paperback size cost more because the machine produced fewer pages per sheet.

In POD, there is no difference in cost because the production process is the same regardless of the trim size. So using a smaller size only INCREASES your production cost because it pushes up your page count, and you pay by the page for POD production.

My point is, what you may be seeing from those old studies isn't some "reader preference," but the result of reader programming based on what the publishers were already doing do to the limitations of the equipment at the time.

There are readability issues between screen and print that a formatter should take into consideration. But it is important to differentiate "stuff we've always done this way because the machines only worked that way" and "what is the best option TODAY for what I am trying to do?"
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Bill Hiatt

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Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #30 on: February 09, 2019, 06:24:11 AM »
I'm with Julie on this one. I read books for the content, not for the layout. If the layout is unclear or irregular, I notice it. Otherwise, I don't. Absent a comprehensive study of reader behavior, common sense would suggest that most readers are that way. One can easily argue for a subtle effect, but where's the evidence for it?

Which is exactly the point--readers have certain expectations based on what they have read before. Why make up your own rules when you can study what has gone before and emulate that?

There actually are comprehensive studies of reader behavior relative to type style, point size, leading, line length and more. The best-known of them is now some 60 years old. I'd love to see one as extensive today when at the last generation or two has grown up reading from a screen and not paper.

Quote
Your willingness to check out scene breaks in 200 books is commendable, but to me, the data looks as if there is no "one format to rule them all" in traditional publishing. The plurality of books in your survey used two blank lines, but that's only 36.5% of the total. There appears to be a wide spread among the other alternatives.

Again, exactly my point. There is no "one format to rule them all." Most used two blank lines. Why? Because the book designer pulled that out of thin air? Because someone on the Internet told her it was the best, or only way? She did it based on the hundreds of thousands of books that had gone before and the collective experience of those who designed them.

There's actually not a wide spread among the alternatives. It's a fairly small spread, but each serves its purpose. The way a book designer handles scene breaks is different for a book with 30 chapters and 40 scene breaks than one with 30 chapters and 300 scene breaks. It's also different for a book with 100 chapters and five scene breaks. The more scene breaks you have the more subtle they should be. Ten large ornaments on a two-page spread is likely to take a reader right out of the reading experience, as would ten, or thirty, asterisks for that matter.

It's also different for sci-fi, space opera, historical fiction, thrillers, romance, etc. A fleuron that might work well for romance would probably be out of place in a military thriller, and the opposite for a gun. Some ornaments have hidden meaning that may only be recognized by a few readers, but that's better than a pound sign, unless that itself has meaning.

Quote
To me, the twenty-five books without scene breaks would probably lead to a lack of clarity--unless scene breaks weren't needed. Not every writer makes jumps in POV or time during a chapter. That particular statistic can only be interpreted in the context of the content of the book, not in isolation.

Those were books without scenes. Most of them had lots of short chapters, but some were simply the author's style--normal length or long chapters with no need to break.

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Are there a lot of poorly formatted self-published books? Sure. Would imitating trad formats be a good idea? Probably. But trads don't do exactly the same thing, and as I've said, I think regularity and clarity are the keys. Particularly if the content of the book is good, readers are not going to care much about anything else.

Sigh.
OK, I'm not sure whether I misinterpreted you or not. I reread your original post, which seems to be arguing for a relatively inflexible rule (don't use asterisks). In the post quoted here, it sounds as if you're arguing for a much more situational approach, with which I basically agree. It sounds as if we all agree that irregularities in layout, distracting features, and lack of clarity are all problems. Those matter. Whether someone uses two blank spaces (the choice of only a little over a third of the formatters in your own study) or some other scene break method that works in the context, however, seems to me to be a much less significant point.


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RPatton

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #31 on: February 09, 2019, 07:25:58 AM »
To be fair, there are some current studies out there specifically about readability and legibility. One question people are trying to answer is whether conventions are based on readability or whether conventions are conventions because that's what readers have come to expect. In other words, is Baskerville Original more readable in large bodies of text than Mrs Eaves because it's a more readable typeface or because readers are used to seeing Baskerville? (The studies are leaning to a combination of both.)

How the words look on the page plays just as much of a role as what words are on the page. We just don't realize it because for the most part, interior book designers do an amazing job of delivering readable text to the reader. There are a lot of variables when it comes to readability, including someone's education and measured intelligence (different studies have used different measurements). So while Bill is willing to slog through a badly formatted book, there are readers who won't. Why turn those readers away when making better choices (based on conventions and consistency).

However, unlike Julie, I strongly recommend against using images of cats unless your book is about cats or the central theme is cats. And even then, I'd lean towards the blood of my enemies.   Grin

 

Llano

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #32 on: February 09, 2019, 08:27:02 AM »
OK, I'm not sure whether I misinterpreted you or not. I reread your original post, which seems to be arguing for a relatively inflexible rule (don't use asterisks). In the post quoted here, it sounds as if you're arguing for a much more situational approach, with which I basically agree. It sounds as if we all agree that irregularities in layout, distracting features, and lack of clarity are all problems. Those matter. Whether someone uses two blank spaces (the choice of only a little over a third of the formatters in your own study) or some other scene break method that works in the context, however, seems to me to be a much less significant point.

I personally don't like asterisks as scene breaks (although I use them in eBooks because they have become the standard there and using something else might have unexpected results depending on the eReader), but my main point was that asterisks are rarely used by major publishers in paper books. If people want to use them fine, but that makes them an outlier. I later presented an actual count from my own survey regarding what major publishers actually do use, but that was dismissed because other people have read more books therefore my survey is wrong.

We apparently do agree on the situational approach. My list of what is used does not reflect the situation--I didn't bother to filter books by genre, for example, and didn't exhaustively research to determine why they used scene breaks--change of POV, time, space, universe, head hopping, whatever. But those things do matter when deciding what to use. By far the most common, either one or two blank lines, tends to work for all situations, where the other options might do with a bit of thought before slapping something in.

Asterisks are used overwhelmingly as scene breaks in eBooks (and manuscripts), and, like dot-dot-dot instead of an ellipsis, people seem to think that makes them the standard in paper books. Nothing could be further from the truth.
 

Llano

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #33 on: February 09, 2019, 09:08:34 AM »
Yeah, any 60 year old study is going to be bad on its face, as that was when things were still done with actual typesetting and the styles and point sizes were determined by equipment capacity.

It actually holds up pretty well, although all of the typefaces tested were Monotype and don't include many types used today, such as Sabon, which had not yet been designed. Of 19 typefaces tested, Bembo is #3 for the literary group. It's pretty close to that today. Imprint was #1, but I doubt many people today have ever even heard of it. Bodoni was #19 for the literary group along with most of the other moderns. Bodoni still gives me a headache. Overall the oldstyle faces were most popular among the literary group, followed by transitional, with moderns at the bottom. Interestingly it was almost the opposite for the scientific group, but that may be because there were more modern fonts with extended character sets for scientific and mathematical typesetting so that's what people were used to seeing.

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Even a decade ago, the difference between offset printing and print-on-demand meant that certain formats were determined by HOW the book was printed, not any special readability per se. (disclosure: I work in contract packaging and our company uses offset and litho presses as well as POD machines.)  Reader expectations have traditionally be set by machine limitations.

For example, the "mass market paperback" size. People will SWEAR there is some magical, wonderful reason for this that involves it being the perfect size to fit in a bag or carry over trade paperback size. It is all nonsense and revisionist thinking to justify the continued use of a size that no longer makes financial sense. The mass market size is a product of cheap production value.  Go look at old mass market paperbacks (or even those produced by big publishers today). The paper quality and cover stock is cheaper. The size was created to get the maximum number of books off the press using the cheapest paper possible to control costs. That was it. Had nothing to do with magical perfect size for a beach read. It was a production decision based on cost controls. Trade paperback size cost more because the machine produced fewer pages per sheet.

We are in complete agreement here. I suspect mass market paperbacks continue to be printed because they fit the racks in airports and other non-bookstore locations. Supermarket racks near the checkout tend to hold a bit larger sizes, from the TV Guide and Readers Digest days. I came across an even smaller mass market paperback in Walmart. I haven't done the math but I suspect it's to get more pages on a sheet. Maybe the Chinese built a new press and a paper mill to turn out huge paper. I loathe mass market paperbacks although I used to buy them occasionally for airplane reads. I picked up a few for research recently and was reminded just how much I loathe them. In some cases I have a hardcover, trade paperback, and mass market paperback of the same title. The price printed on the book has little to do with the production cost. Like so many other consumer products, they charge what the market will bear.

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In POD, there is no difference in cost because the production process is the same regardless of the trim size. So using a smaller size only INCREASES your production cost because it pushes up your page count, and you pay by the page for POD production.

This should be shouted from the rooftops to self publishers. Although some authors have a valid reason for picking a trim size, I suspect many use a smaller size because it makes their novella look like a real novel.

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My point is, what you may be seeing from those old studies isn't some "reader preference," but the result of reader programming based on what the publishers were already doing do to the limitations of the equipment at the time.

The generally accepted standard number of characters per line for fiction is 65-70, or two and a half alphabets, which is 65 characters. Lots of writers of books about typesetting quote it, but nobody seems to know where it came from. It's recorded as one of the items tested in A Psychological Study of Typography, the book I referred to above, but I suspect that's simply what people have become accustomed to. I've actually counted characters per line in several incunabula and they are pretty close to 65. If those early typographers had used 80 that would probably be the standard today, because that's what people would be used to.

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There are readability issues between screen and print that a formatter should take into consideration. But it is important to differentiate "stuff we've always done this way because the machines only worked that way" and "what is the best option TODAY for what I am trying to do?"

Absolutely. The average self publisher has tools at her disposal today that typographers and book designers could have only dreamed of having just 30 years ago. Self publishing a book then was a major, and expensive, undertaking. Today we can not only do it for nearly free, but we have incredible tools to use. We don't have to use an asterisk because it's on the font--we can use a beautiful fleuron from another font, or draw our own and make a font.

 

dgcasey

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Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #34 on: February 09, 2019, 07:31:47 PM »
I usually have fewer than ten scene breaks in a novel, but when I do, I like to put a little effort into them. Now, for ebooks, I don't do anything other than four ~~~~ centered with an empty line above and below. That's all.

But, for my paperbacks, I tend to have a little fun. My last novel dealt with demons and Templar Knights. So, my scene breaks were a string of six (if I remember correctly) Templar crosses, again centered with an empty line above and below. I also used ornamental drop caps at the beginning of each chapter.

I sometimes wonder though, are ornamental drop caps overdoing it a bit, considering it's just a paperback?
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Cathleen

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #35 on: February 10, 2019, 05:04:49 PM »
I've always hated drop caps--they slow down my reading. I've never understood why people go to so much bother to put them in. Just an FYI from a sample size of one. :)
 

Tom Wood

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #36 on: February 10, 2019, 10:25:43 PM »
I've always hated drop caps--they slow down my reading. I've never understood why people go to so much bother to put them in. Just an FYI from a sample size of one. :)

Make that two!

It's the typesetters reaching into the text and making themselves a part of the story.
« Last Edit: February 11, 2019, 12:29:37 AM by Tom Wood »
 

RPatton

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #37 on: February 11, 2019, 01:08:55 AM »
I've always hated drop caps--they slow down my reading. I've never understood why people go to so much bother to put them in. Just an FYI from a sample size of one. :)

Make that two!

It's the typesetters reaching into the text and making themselves a part of the story.

It actually goes back to the illuminated pages and has nothing to do with typesetters and everything to do with conventions based on traditions.

For the most part, readers don't really care what's on the chapter opener page as long as they meet with expectations.  Drop caps (or raised caps or a line of small caps) act as a signal announcing it's a new chapter to the reader. Readers are more distracted when there aren't any signals at all.
 
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Bill Hiatt

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Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #38 on: February 11, 2019, 02:10:51 AM »
I've always hated drop caps--they slow down my reading. I've never understood why people go to so much bother to put them in. Just an FYI from a sample size of one. :)

Make that two!

It's the typesetters reaching into the text and making themselves a part of the story.

It actually goes back to the illuminated pages and has nothing to do with typesetters and everything to do with conventions based on traditions.

For the most part, readers don't really care what's on the chapter opener page as long as they meet with expectations.  Drop caps (or raised caps or a line of small caps) act as a signal announcing it's a new chapter to the reader. Readers are more distracted when there aren't any signals at all.
Yes, I've never met anyone who had a particularly passionate response to drop caps one way or the other.

I always use some first-line indicator, just as you suggest, but out of curiosity, wouldn't the chapter title (and the extra space surrounding it) also be a sufficient signal by itself? And in print books, one also has the chapter beginning on a new page. It seems as if that would make determining when a new chapter began relatively easy.


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okey dokey

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #39 on: February 11, 2019, 02:29:31 AM »
This is a very good discussion.
But -

Amazon is taking control of our layouts which we spend time fretting over.
Since Amazon is paying us for the number of pages consumed by the reader, we are seeing our work Amazon standardized:

- size of the font

- how much white space between lines and paragraps

- width of our margins

etc etc etc

Will Amazon eventually ban drop caps, or extra space between scene breaks, because they do affect page count.

There is some good discussion here. But Amazon is affecting how we format our books. Which could make this discussion moot.


 

RPatton

Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #40 on: February 11, 2019, 05:07:41 AM »
Yes, I've never met anyone who had a particularly passionate response to drop caps one way or the other.

I always use some first-line indicator, just as you suggest, but out of curiosity, wouldn't the chapter title (and the extra space surrounding it) also be a sufficient signal by itself? And in print books, one also has the chapter beginning on a new page. It seems as if that would make determining when a new chapter began relatively easy.

Yep, the space between the top of a page is a signal as well. However, chapter openers don't have to start on the recto page. It's one of those "rules" that isn't a rule and never has been. Pull out any trade book printed in the last 50 years (or even older) and you'll see examples of both. What you will see is consistency with brands. I have some early Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys and what page the chapter starts on depends on the branding of that edition.

This is a very good discussion.
But -

Amazon is taking control of our layouts which we spend time fretting over.
Since Amazon is paying us for the number of pages consumed by the reader, we are seeing our work Amazon standardized:

- size of the font

- how much white space between lines and paragraps

- width of our margins

etc etc etc

Will Amazon eventually ban drop caps, or extra space between scene breaks, because they do affect page count.

There is some good discussion here. But Amazon is affecting how we format our books. Which could make this discussion moot.

While I get why you believe that. I think it's less about Amazon and more about self-publishers not bothering to learn more about laying out a print books. In the end you see a lot of bad habits being repeated, including too tight line spacing and small margins.

There are actually some formulas to help find a good starting point for font size and line spacing, but you have to dig around to find them. Binghurst recommends no less than 1 1/2 alphabets and no more than 2 1/2 alphabets per line, I go with 2, which gives somewhere around 55 characters per line, but that means adjusting the font size to fit those alphabets on a line. Then, once you get a font size, you can figure out a leading to use and adjust it so it looks better. But it wasn't easy to find that information and I had to keep on falling down the rabbit hole.

There's an entire group who insist Georgia is good for print, but it was specifically designed for screens and everything that makes it look good on screen makes it not the best choice for print.

If self-publishers take the time to learn best practices and conventions for print, a lot of those bad habits will go away. There are typefaces out there are are specifically designed for large bodies of text but also designed to conserve space. You don't have to scrimp on font size, leading (line spacing), or margins to save on pages and print costs.
 

Bill Hiatt

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Re: Fussy question about scene breaks when formatting paperbacks
« Reply #41 on: February 11, 2019, 09:20:17 AM »
This is a very good discussion.
But -

Amazon is taking control of our layouts which we spend time fretting over.
Since Amazon is paying us for the number of pages consumed by the reader, we are seeing our work Amazon standardized:

- size of the font

- how much white space between lines and paragraps

- width of our margins

etc etc etc

Will Amazon eventually ban drop caps, or extra space between scene breaks, because they do affect page count.

There is some good discussion here. But Amazon is affecting how we format our books. Which could make this discussion moot.
The discussion is mostly about print, not ebooks. Also, even if KU didn't exist, a lot of what happens with ebooks is controlled by the end user, who can adjust font size and some other variables. They can also decide to refuse publisher fonts--which means it's probably better to let the ebook go with the default font, anyway. It's also probably better not to use drop caps, which don't always degrade well on older devices (or if the user rejects publisher font). Other alternatives work better in those scenarios.


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