Solving a Basic Book Formatting Issue

My process when writing a book is, I think, unusual. Very early on, I move from raw text to content formatting, creating chapters and moving to a desktop publishing application (I’m currently using Adobe InDesign). This approach helps me with my visualization of what the book is going to be.

It also serves to remind me of when I have fundamental formatting problems. As long as I’ve been working on the Riviera Project in InDesign, I’ve had a big issue; the body text display with my chosen font was simply too wide, both for legibility and looks. I know I’d have to fix this, but I wasn’t sure how.

Sometimes it just takes looking at prior art. I decided to page through a few of the many single-marque books I own for ideas. After viewing quite a few, I found inspiration from the interesting and enjoyable Camaro: Fifty Years of Chevy Performance, written by Mike Mueller and published by Motorbooks. In particular, the layout for the text in the chapters on the various Camaro models and generations seemed close to what I’m looking for.

The new base layout

I saved a new version of the Riviera Project and went to work. Essentially, I divvied what had been the basic single-column page into three even columns. I then set the body text to the two inner columns, with photographs, graphics, and tables aligned to the outside.

At this point, I’m happy with the fundamentals of the new base layout, though I’m sure I’ll refine it further over the next few months. It’s definitely more legible than it was and the new text alignment is visually freeing up the graphics and tables.

Overall status for the Riviera Project as of mid-August 2019: 29,000 plus words over 97 pages with 15 tables and 53 photos and images.

Spending Some Time With the Actual Subject

I’m off this morning to do some true primary research for the Riviera Project. By total coincidence, the Riviera Owners Association’s annual International Meet is in Gettysburg, PA this year. That’s only about two and a half hours away, so it seemed fairly apparent that I should make the time to attend.

Page from 1999 Buick Riviera brochure
Page from 1999 Buick Riviera brochure

The meet’s organizers are expecting over 100 Rivieras by the time everyone who has registered arrives. From the early photos posted on the meet’s thread on the AACA forums, I can already see six out of the eight generations represented—the fourth (1974-1976) and fifth (1977-1978) generations have yet to make an appearance.

I see this as a great chance to immerse over the next two-and-a-half days. I’ve made some acquaintances on the ROA portion of the forum, but there’s nothing liking talking to folks in person—and, of course, seeing the cars.

Learning New Layout Skills

Like I have with all my books, I’m laying out the Riviera Project in Adobe’s InDesign desktop publishing software. I find that in many ways InDesign behaves in ways I understand, so I’ve stayed with it over the years.

Adobe InDesign icon

Recently, I decided to make a fairly significant change to the chapters that cover the separate generations (in my opinion, there are eight, though you can make a legitimate argument for seven) of the Riviera. I had been integrating the options available into the body text, but that’s getting clunky and won’t be easy to read. So, I’ve decided to put the options lists into tables—one for each year.

I’ve learned a lot of InDesign by struggling with it. In the case of tables, I decided to commit a little time on the front end and use some training. I’m fortunate to have access to LinkedIn Learning (formally, so I took Diane Burns‘ excellent course. Two hours and 38 minutes later, I feel like I’ve got the basics down.

Brochures: Important and Also a Lot of Fun

1963 Buick Riviera brochure cover.
Front cover of the 1963 Buick Riviera brochure, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochure pages.

As I work on the Riviera Project, some of my more important primary sources are the brochures Buick published between 1963 and 1999. These brochures give me many things including specifications (though sometimes these are inaccurate or imprecise) and equipment (though sometimes this is inconsistent or misleading).

I think the most valuable feature these brochures offer is context. You get to see what features Buick was emphasizing for each model year and what they thought was important to their potential buyers. In the brochures that cover the entire Buick line, you can sense the Riviera’s place within the range. Some very draft text from the Riviera Project about the 1967 model year is instructive:

Front cover of the 1999 Buick Riviera brochure, linked from
Hans Tore Tangerud’s wonderful
lov2xlr8 website.

Buick brochures made significant mention of safety for the first time since the Riviera had been released. Four-way hazard warning flashers were now standard—a year in advance of the federal deadline. Brakes got a lot of attention; the Riviera now had a dual master cylinder system, the number of fins on the aluminum front brake drums were doubled, and the power brake vacuum booster was larger. Finally, front and rear seat belts were now standard equipment, with shoulder belts optional for the driver and one front passenger.

Rivera Project, late April

Aside from being valuable as source material, these brochures are also a lot of fun. I must confess that I especially enjoy the ones I’ve purchased in physical form—there’s something about opening a 68-page full line brochure from 1975 that someone has lovingly preserved for over 40 years.

Working On Consistency In Terms And Words

One of the things that I try to do—even though some readers may not notice or care—is to be consistent throughout any single book with how I describe things. In doing this, I’ve needed a lot of help from my long-suffering editors, but recently I’ve been trying to get at least a little out front of them.

Fairly early on in my Riviera Project, I’ve settled on a few guidelines. First, if the term is a trademark or brand name (like Turbo Hydra-Matic or Soft-Ray), I will spell it exactly as it was spelled in period descriptions. This decision makes things a little interesting sometimes as spelling didn’t always stay consistent—for example, I’ve seen Turbo Hydra-Matic, Turbo Hydra-matic, and Turbo Hydramatic in various General Motors materials.

Two Riviera-specific pages from the 1969 Buick prestige brochure,
linked from the Old Car Manual Project‘s amazing brochures pages.

Handling other more generic terms is different. I’ve got to make some judgment calls—an example is “air bag” versus “airbag,” where Wikipedia and NHTSA disagree (the AACA’s general forum leaned heavily toward the one word form). I think “blackwall” versus “black wall” is an easier decision, though my grammar checkers do not like blackwall. There’s also deck lid/decklid, roof line/roofline, trunk lid/trunklid, and name plate/nameplate—and I’m sure there are some more.

Decisions, decisions, decisions …