The following scenario is familiar to every book designer. As happens quite often, I received a call from a prospective client who had just finished writing her book.
“I’m brand new at this,” she admitted. “I’m not even sure what questions to ask, but your site feels very welcoming, and your promise of hand holding is exactly what I need.”
I thanked her for the kind words, assured her that most of our clients were new to publishing, and that we’d be happy to guide her every step of the way. I assured her that we would recommend only services that were needed, and we would never “upsell” services that were not necessary, as many “self-publishing companies” do.
After learning that her manuscript had already been edited by a pro, and that her goal was to sell books on Amazon in a very crowded genre, I recommended book cover design, interior layout, and proofreading. I told her an index probably wasn’t necessary, given that her book was divided into 10 lessons, but in its place a detailed table of contents might be useful to the reader.
So far, so good. Then she uttered the words that send book designers everywhere over the edge: “I layed out my book in Word, 6×9, and it came out to 365 pages. It looks just fine, and I don’t want to spend that much money for you to design and typeset it. Would you look at what I did and let me know what you think?”
“Sure,” I said. I braced myself for the promised email with her “layout.”
When it arrived, I was not surprised to see that every single rule of book design was broken. I couldn’t find even one aesthetically pleasing element in the book, and except for the page size, it looked exactly like a manuscript.
The text was set in 12-point Georgia, with 1.5 line spacing, and it was not justified.
Quotations and their accompanying citations, an essential element of this self-directed Bible study guide, were set exactly like the surrounding text and difficult to find.
Chapter titles were bold, but the same size as the text. They were placed at the top margin, not moved down on the page, a standard technique that gives the reader a visual cue that a new chapter is at hand. No extra space was added between the chapter title and the first paragraph of text.
There were many instances of double spaces between words and I found half a dozen typos in just a quick scan though the document. Clearly, this book needed more proofreading than had been done to this point.
I sent an email with my assessment to give the author time to think and respond.
“You’re about to make a terrible mistake,” I wrote. “A very common mistake made by self-publishers.”
I explained that if she went forward with this Word layout (assuming it could even be printed) that reviewers and retailers would immediately flag her book as a homemade job and reject it out of hand.
I added that reviewers on Amazon would deduct stars for the typos and the difficult to read text, and that this would affect sales.
Last, I explained that this homemade layout would cost her extra money for every copy printed, because a typesetter would choose a more efficient font and adjust the line spacing to reduce the page count considerably.
I attached samples of similar books we had designed to demonstrate what a well-designed book interior looks like, took a deep breath, and hit the send button.
I’m delighted to report that this story has a happy ending; the author ordered interior design. I tell this story because for every author I convince, there are probably hundreds of others formatting their book in Word right now, and someone has to stand up for the book buyer.
Don’t you feel betrayed when a company uses a pretty package to entice you to buy a poor product? I do. When authors wrap a good cover around a poor interior, they’re committing the same offense. How many times can this happen before buyers conclude that books are not worth the risk?
It wasn’t so long ago that book buyers could count on a well-researched, well-edited, beautifully designed and carefully printed book for their money. Do we really want to change that expectation?
And what about the ambitious new publisher, whose high hopes are dashed when the bad reviews on Amazon start rolling in? Too many self-publishing “gurus” are teaching new authors that it’s OK to abandon traditional publishing standards. I think there’s something terribly sad about that, and I hope you do, too.
Excuse me while I talk to this author about proofreading…