It’s become easier to self-publish your book over the last few years, however, easier doesn’t mean that you should compromise on quality and book production. Just because you can turn out your book faster, create your own book cover online, and design your book in Word doesn’t mean you should!
The more people who self-publish their book and cut corners when it comes to editing, design, and layout, the more it cuts the overall credibility of self-published authors in general. That’s why it’s extremely important to publish a professionally designed book, thereby, eliminating the doubt that your book isn’t worthy of a traditional publisher. When you publish quality (over speed to market), your readers and target market will see that you took the time to produce something worthy of print.
By the time an author gets to the layout portion of their book production, they are typically becoming quite fatigued with looking at their manuscript. At this point, they simply want the book DONE. When authors take on the role as layout designer, they most likely haven’t considered all the various knowledge, skill, and know-how that comes into the layout process. Working with a professional layout designer can save you a lot of time, and quite frankly, embarrassment. You the author don’t need to also become a designer.
Here are some of the most common mistakes we see in the self-publishing world when it comes to layout design:
Most authors are readers. They’ve likely read dozens, if not hundreds of books over their lifetime; that knowledge gives the assumption that they know what it takes to design a book layout. Ironically, most authors have never even noticed all of the possible design elements that go into a book. You don’t notice them, because they are done professionally and your brain passes right over them. It is only when something is out of order that our brain really notices it. When a reader picks up a self-published book and the design elements are inconsistent with the traditional publishing world, people notice. Therefore, it’s best not to make assumptions about all of the possible design pieces that go into a book. At the very least, do a consultation with a professional so they can help you identify what design elements would work best in your book. Some things you may never have noticed include, does the chapter start with a large letter (called a drop cap)? Do all chapters start on the left or right side of the book or do they rotate? Is there a table of contents for your genre (generally table of contents are not in fiction or memoirs)? There are too many elements and assumptions to list, but overall, do your best to research books specific to your genre to see what is current and on trend.
Font choice is extremely important. Fonts that look great on your computer or are a favorite font you use in your marketing or adverting, don’t always work well on the interior of your book. While it doesn’t matter as much as to whether you choose a serif or sans serif font, what matters is the legibility and the spacing of the letters. Cleaner fonts make a more pleasant experience for the reader. Typically font sizes range from 10 point to 13 point, but this largely depends on the font itself. A 13 point font in Century Schoolbook is quite larger compared to a 13 point font in Times New Roman. The font choice should also match the cover design and feel for the book. For book topics that are a bit lighter in nature, I like Avenir or Century Schoolbook. For heavier or more serious book topics, I tend to gravitate towards Adobe Garamond or Minion Pro.
Margins and spacing.
When I first started designing books several years ago, the biggest mistake I made was in spacing, both in the spacing between the lines and the margins. Whenever I peruse recently self-published books, this still seems to be the biggest challenge and a dead-giveaway that your book wasn’t professionally designed. While margins can vary depending on the size of the book and the content. For example, if you’ve written a 100,000 word manuscript, you may have to compromise on margins Then again, if you’ve got a shorter read (15-20,000 words), you may want larger margins to help with the page count. In general, you’ll want to have a .5” margin all around. You’ll also want to ensure the spacing BETWEEN the lines, which is called a leading, is set around 16. It’s not that you want your sentences double or single-spaced, it’s rather about setting a space between the lines. The leading can be as tight as 15 and as large as 18, depending on the font, book style, and content. Lastly, one of my biggest no-no’s when it comes to spacing is the extra space between paragraphs. For some reason, self-published authors almost always put this extra space in their manuscript. Paragraphs should flow from one to the next, there doesn’t need to be a space between them. (Grab the nearest print book you have and check it out to see what I mean.) Okay, and a bonus tip on spacing. Back when we first began typing, we were taught to use two spaces between periods at the start of a new sentence. Some people can’t seem to break this habit, but that extra space was designed for typewriters because the font didn’t give the eye enough room to breathe. Now, with computers, we don’t need that extra space. The fonts adjust and provide enough of a mental break that we only need one space between sentences. When I design books, one of the fixes I do to a manuscript is do a quick find/replace and remove all double spaces between sentences.
Headers and footers.
Another choice that may seem insignificant is your placement of headers and footers. You have the option of having them on the top, bottom, centered or right/left justified. You also have the option of what goes on there as well. Most fiction and memoir books have the author name and book title, and most self-help books have either the title and sub-title or the title and the chapter titles listed in their headers/footers. There are so many varieties of what’s possible here, take a look at other books to see what you like. I always give three design samples so people can see what these various header and footer options look like with their book and content, that way the author can make the best choice for their book and readers. When it comes to headers and footers, one of the biggest mistakes found in self-published books is including headers, footers, and page numbers on blank pages throughout the book. For example, if all of your chapters are starting on the right-hand side of the book, you may occasionally have a left-side page that is blank. That page should be completely blank, void of all headers, footers, and page numbers.
Whether you choose to hire a layout designer or attempt designing the book yourself, the most important thing you can do is to be consistent. Multiple eyes on the project help to eliminate inconsistencies. When doing your own layout, it’s not always easy to see what things aren’t matching up. Simple things like: do headers have a semi colon, do bullet point sentences have periods or not, etc., can make your layout feel incomplete when they are not caught in the design process. And remember, if you break a rule, it’s okay, as long as you consistently break the rule throughout the manuscript. While a layout designer isn’t checking for edits during this time period, they will be checking for formatting errors and consistencies.
Once your book gets to the layout process and you see your book in print form, it’s inevitable that new edits will pop up. Things just look different in print form than in a word processing document. Remember, once you get to this point, you’ll be so close to having a book in print. Stay the course and put out a quality book that you’ll be proud of and eager to promote.
If designing your own book seems doable to you, you can definitely give it a whirl. If all of this seems like too much of a learning curve and you’d like to spend your time on marketing, consider hiring a layout designer to give your book that clean, professional, and polished look. We’d love to talk with you to hear more about your book project. When working with clients, I make it a co-creative process and don’t turn out cookie-cutter designs. All designs are custom-made to your genre, topic, and to match your cover.
Andrea Costantine is a book designer with My Word Publishing and the author of six books. Andrea believes that having a book is one of the biggest accomplishments of an individual’s life, therefore is her passion to help them share their message, talent, and gifts with the world.