The Forge Forums

General Forge Forums => Independent Publishing => Topic started by: David Berg on February 24, 2008, 10:14:07 PM

Title: page size questions
Post by: David Berg on February 24, 2008, 10:14:07 PM
I've just ported my game text (still being revised) into Adobe InDesign to work on some presentation issues, and I figure it might save me some hassles down the road if I finalize a page size early on in my layout work.

I am tentatively planning to publish via Lulu at first, and then if I think I can sell more than a handful of copies, talk to another printer later to get better per-unit prices.

Lulu has a couple weird page size options I am considering:
"A5" - 5.833" x 8.264"
"royal" - 6.139" x 9.21"
"comic book" - 6.625" x 10.25"

Does anyone have any idea if these sizes would be problematic (or cost me more) when dealing with subsequent printers?  I am not hugely opposed to doing the tried-and-true 6" x 9", but if there's no practical upside, it probably isn't my first choice.

I should also admit that I am largely ignorant of why an independent RPG publisher would pick one size over another besides "I just like the way it looks."  Perspective on that front would also be appreciated!


Title: Re: page size questions
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on February 25, 2008, 12:17:27 AM
This issue has many factors going into it, so there's not quick answer. For example, the reason I use A5 for the Finnish-language translated indie games we make is that A5 is a common size in Finland and familiar with Finnish printers, which makes it a bit cheaper than other options. These same factors wouldn't hold for you, however. Similarly I don't have to care about the rpg "standard size", as our publications are more likely to be found at a library or mainstream bookstore than a gaming store, considering how few of the latter there are in Finland.

Apart from that subjectivity there is the fact that a large reason for picking a particular book size is that you want to express the nature and use of your product with it: a small book is easy to transport and read everywhere, so it implies a product which you might want to read, but would not need to refer to so much during play. A large book might be large because it's easier to use for reference, or perhaps because it has pretty pictures and other aesthetic considerations on its side. A book might have a strange shape because it wants to just look different, or it might emulate some other form, like a comic book, in which case it makes sense to be the same size. My own zombie game, for example, is packed into a VHS cassette case exactly because the game purports to create movie-like zombie stories.

Your question about potentially problematic sizes for printers is a very good one. The standard answer is that a competent printer won't have any trouble with any size, which of course isn't that helpful if you happen to work with a non-competent one. Generally speaking, a small, cheap digital printer will prefer the standard sheet size, which in Finland is the A series; their cutting tools might not be very good, or their equipment might even be unable to print in other sizes. Of course, I couldn't tell you what are "standard" sizes for American printers, but I'd imagine that there would be some nigh-universal ones you'd expect anybody to be able to print. But apart from these potential problems with non-competent printers there shouldn't be much difference with different sizes; at most you'll have to pay slightly more for your book if the printer is forced to cut the pages with lots of paper loss because of the strange page size (which, as I mentioned above, is one reason for my sticking to A5 here in Finland).

If you have no particular preference for book size, I warmly recommend choosing some typical size. As a retailer I find it a bit annoying that often enough indie rpg sizes are all over the place, which makes stocking them a bit tricky. Pick some nice size that half a dozen other indies have already used, and the retailer will like you. (Not that I'd make my stocking decisions based on the book format, mind you.)

Title: Re: page size questions
Post by: Clinton R. Nixon on February 25, 2008, 03:37:50 AM

The "comic book" size is not uncommon, and most printers have it as a standard option. (Games currently using this size include Sorcerer and With Great Power. As for the two European sizes, I don't have a lot of information on that, but Eero's post seems to be on the mark there.

- Clinton

Title: Re: page size questions
Post by: Peter Nordstrand on February 25, 2008, 04:48:22 AM
Yes, the A series is one of the most common formats. In fact, United States, Canada, and parts of Mexico, are the only industrialized nations in which the ISO standard paper sizes (to which the A series belong) are not widely used. Or so I'm told.

The standard size for letters in many (most?) parts of the world is A4, and the A5 is half of that. However, historically A5 has been an unusual size for printed books, for various (good) reasons. Simply put, the pages are wide and give a static impression, and they invite the use of too wide text rows (too long rows are hard to read), or font sizes that are too large to read comfortably.

I suggest that you don't use A5, but pick a format that has a greater width to height ratio. Oh, and while Eero is right about most things, don't choose book size based on what you think would make retailer's happy.

Title: Re: page size questions
Post by: David Berg on March 10, 2008, 03:14:24 PM
Eero, Clinton, Peter -- thanks!  I'm leaning toward comic book size, but still pondering.

a large reason for picking a particular book size is that you want to express the nature and use of your product with it

I have a very fuzzy idea of how this works -- at first glance, it seems hopelessly subjective to me.  (Well, except for putting a movie-like game in a VHS box, that's just fucking brilliant.)  I'd love to discuss this further.

a small book is easy to transport and read everywhere, so it implies a product which you might want to read, but would not need to refer to so much during play. A large book might be large because it's easier to use for reference

That's interesting, my first thought was "portable = reference".  Is your point that, when finding a look-up table or some such, it's easier to flip through 100 large pages than 200 small pages?

or perhaps because it has pretty pictures and other aesthetic considerations on its side

I'm leaning large partly for the option of having a two-column page where (1) a reader-friendly (i.e. not too small) font size can wrap well in a half-page column and (2) pretty pictures can be big without needing to squeeze out all text.

I also plan to use some comic book panels from time to time in my play examples, so the comic book size might be apt in that respect.  However, my game is "serious" as RPGs go, and I worry that consumers' "comic book" associations will predispose them against such seriousness.  (Though maybe the "comics are just lighthearted kiddie fluff" attitude is finally nearing its overdue extinction...?)

Title: Re: page size questions
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on March 10, 2008, 05:29:05 PM
Expressing product nature with choice of medium
Consider the following examples in addition to my zombie movie game:
  • Ron Edward's It Was a Mutual Decision has the form factor of a small comic strip booklet, the kind that's bound on it's short side. I used to see this in stock compilations of newspaper comic strips like Garfield when I was younger, but more recently I've seen it used a lot for publishing short runs of artistically intricate strips that don't get to grow into industry monoliths (nowadays Garfield or Calvin and Hobbes is published in large album size). Combine the form with the art style, which is symbolic and resembles artful indie comics that eschew the clean line approach of classic newspaper strips, and you have a book that has a strong wibe of dramatically understated '90s indie comics for me.
  • A game designer here in Finland, Miska Fredman, published a scifi game in 2006 called Heimot ("Tribes"). His marketing was focused on the idea that this was the first large, modern roleplaying game of Finnish stock; this actually meant concretely that he copied the form factor and quality choices of American rpg publishers as they've been established during the last 15 years: his book has hard covers, the traditional rpg form factor, 300 pages, lots of layout elements on the page, ornage page headers and whatnot. The game is quite successful in capturing what it means to be a mid-'90s American roleplaying game, system and all. If it had a supplement every three months, it'd be perfect ;)
  • Ben Lehman's excellent Bliss Stage is a small paperback. I haven't measured it, but we did talk about how the game should be published in a manga comic format; it's quite close, anyway. As the game has a topic that's ripped straight off mecha anime, this is rather appropriate. The small size makes the book good for reading and less so as a reference, as I discussed earlier, which might work pretty well in this case; the game is going to require some sheets  anyway when you play, so those might as well contain the rules you might reference, so you never need to open the book at the gaming table. That's how it worked for me at the playtest stage, anyway, at which point I didn't even bring the pdf file to the sessions.
  • The definitive experiences for me, as regards indie games, were Paul Czege's My Life with Master and Matt Snyder's Dust Devils. The first has a very plain, simple, saddle-stitched appearance. It's not pocket-book small but it's not large, either; it's simply the "cheap size" and thin as well. The striking cover illustration off-sets the unassuming appearance and makes it look like you have to pay to own it. Dust Devils, on the other hand, has similar form factor, but it also boasts (the first edition did, anyway) comb binding, the mark of true amateur printing. Both of those books make it very clear that they are the work of design craftsmen who take their work quite seriously, for why else would they go to the trouble of publishing it...
  • Joshua Newman's Shock:, which is a big hit in Finland, has a form that I pretty much suspect has been chosen just to be different from others. It's not as wide and short as to be a top-bound booklet, but it's also not tall enough to resemble normal book orientation. It's pretty square, actually. Whether this ambivalency suits a person is hit or miss, but I find the combination with the orange cover rather striking and successfully futuristic, which suits the game's topic.
  • Primitive, by Kevin Allen, is another one of those indie aesthetic deals: it's as small as you can feasibly go, and bound with a sewing machine. The game looks really cheap, which is only partially off-set by the price, which could be less. The game's topic works for the brown paper, while the sewing is certainly different, although not particularly topical.
I hope these examples were useful.

Reference books
What makes a large book easier as a refererence is that you have more space for variability and illustrations, which makes individual spreads easier to distinguish at a glance for the person leafing for the right place. Likewise, you have more freedom to put each individual important thing on it's own spread, so that the reader does not need to turn pages while working with one specific subject. Having less pages overall helps as well, as does the ability to have more prominent navigation aids such as the page header. All these things combine to make it easier to leaf through a large book you're familiar with and find something quite quickly compared to doing the same with a small book. While I like Dead of Night for how it looks when you leaf through it before purchase, for instance, after playing it I'd say that it would have benefited greatly from being larger as far as usability goes. Things are difficult to find in the book, and while there's not many of them, the first session of play is difficult for that.

("Reference" here means a book that you look up things in, if that was not clear. It has to be friendly to random access output, in other words. Being portable doesn't really come to it when we're discussing a rpg reference you use at a gaming table.)

If you don't want to fight the war against perceptions, it's pretty easy to sidestep the comic book thing: just have captions below the pictures instead of word balloons, and people will, for contextual reasons, associate your work with high art instead of comic books. At least that's how it works around here. Of course that does not help if you wanted to have the illustration associated with comics in the first place.

Title: Re: page size questions
Post by: David Berg on March 21, 2008, 09:53:23 PM

Thank you so much for the examples!  That really helped open my eyes to the breadth of factors to consider here.  I think that I need to finalize a few larger decisions about my product's look before I can worry about page size.

My game may well be more accessible to D&D players (disgruntled ones, anyway) than to Narrativist Forge folk.  My setting, at least, is the kind of thing that a lot of D&D players like.  I am pondering presenting my game in accordance with the general "fantasy game" aesthetic.  I was wondering if you have any sense of whether a small-press black-and-white game (with a kickass color cover!) would benefit from resembling such "established" company or be more likely to get lost because of it.

I realize this may all be too hypothetical for feedback; I am fully prepared to accept a, "Gee, I dunno, I haven't seen your game!"  But if you do have an opinion, I'd love to hear it!


Title: Re: page size questions
Post by: Ben Lehman on March 21, 2008, 09:58:58 PM
Bliss Stage is sized based on a manga collection. Since manga collections actually vary widely in size, it's based on a particular manga: the Japanese edition of MARS. This is, believe it or not, pretty important to the game. I'm touchy like that.

But if you don't have an "oh my god! My game must be this size!" thing, can I recommend digest (8.5 x 5.5 - 9x6), "comic book," or good lold 8 1/2 x 11? That is, if you plan on printing your game in the US. In Europe, best to use an ISO size.


Title: Re: page size questions
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on March 22, 2008, 12:37:14 AM
D&D replacements have been published successfully in smaller sizes, but personally I'd recommend the usual 8x11 if your game has equipment lists, spell lists or any other reference-type materials. There's not much reason to be different-looking just to be different-looking. Being black and white is not that much of a drawback, either. You might wish to study the old Chaosium look if that's the kind of game you're making; looking distinctively like a BW Chaosium game can't be bad for the traditional market, insofar as layout goes.

Of course, other concerns might override the good ol' look. Modify to taste.

Title: Re: page size questions
Post by: David Berg on March 24, 2008, 07:01:27 AM
Thanks for the recommendations!

I do have price lists for gear.  I also have some one-page modular setting elements that could probably benefit from extra room for details.  I haven't seen any Chaosium stuff, I'll see if I can find some.  Thanks!

After looking through a ton of d20 products, I'm now leaning toward 8.5x11.  It seems very utilitarian, and I don't have any aesthetic priorities trumping that.

I noticed in my d20 perusals that the pages are a little wider and with more gutter space in the hardcovers, but it looks like the "content area" of the page is about the same as in the softcovers.  So I figure I can go ahead and define my content area before picking hard/soft... if anyone knows of some reason why this is a bad idea, please let me know!

I also noticed that "8.5x11" usually meant about 8.25x10.75.  Is that to be expected?  Should I leave extra margin space (beyond what I'd already leave) to account for that?