Can Word be used for book layout?
Well, of course.
Hah! Anyone who follows this blog would not expect that answer from me, but the truth is: who’s stopping you? Go for it.
But you’ll need to understand the trade-offs.
On the upside, you will save money, at least initially. Just about everyone has access to Word, so there’s no need to go out and buy new software. Probably you used Word to write and correct your manuscript, and you feel quite comfortable using it and confident that you’ve developed some level of expertise over the course of writing your book. And you’ve read that you just need to do a bit of formatting, perhaps feed your file into a template, and then print it to a PDF, and upload it to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).
That’s all true.
But here’s what you need to consider:
Your book will look like you’ve formatted it yourself. Discerning readers will know right away that something is “off.” Self-publishing has lost much of its negative image, as long as the end product doesn’t look self-published. But if a book is poorly formatted, it screams “self-published” and readers are still leery of paying money to read something that is so obviously self-published. Unless it’s free. So, if you’re planning on giving your book away or limiting its distribution to family and friends, go for it. If you are planning on your book competing in the book marketplace, don’t even think about it.
Be honest. Page design is not your forte. If you want to learn about page design, you might reconsider after reading this article about page layout basics. The article talks first about the “book block.” Open any professionally designed book and you will notice that, for the most part, the text and illustrations all fit within set margins. If you put a ruler across the page, you’ll see that, with the exception of some pages that contain illustrations, tables, charts, or complicated lists and multiple headings and subheads, the text lines up across both pages. Accomplishing this feat takes a lot of time, patience, deep knowledge of the software, and an understanding of how to tweak the format while staying within the parameters of acceptable page design rules. And yes, it’s important that you stay within these parameters so as to insure the best reading experience.
There’s formatting your page. Then there’s getting it to the printer. Unless you print the pages yourself on your inkjet and take them to Staples for photocopying, you will need to send a file to an offset printing company or a print-on-demand (POD) company such as IngramSpark or KDP. They have very specific requirements. Read this helpful blog post from IngramSpark, which includes a print file checklist.
Purchasing design software and/or Word or InDesign templates help, but can’t compete with professional design. InDesign provides you with much more control over the format, if you understand the rules of page design and how to use the software. Templates come with preformatted styles that make it easier for you to determine the look of your pages (font, type size, line spacing, etc.). However, they can’t help you stay within the book block. Word doesn’t have the necessary tools to make fine, invisible adjustments to the text, and even with InDesign, if you don’t know how far to go with these adjustments, you can create a mess. In which case you won’t save money because you’ll need to hire someone to fix the mess. Design software and templates do not come with the training and experience of a book designer. You can buy a hammer and a box of nails, but that won’t make you a carpenter.
Despite what you’re sold, it is not going to be easy. Self-publishing companies that provide templates for free typically don’t provide much assistance. A couple of how-to documents and some FAQs. They depend on you giving up so they can sell you their design services. Trustworthy websites that sell templates also provide how-to booklets, videos, and a help line. Doesn’t that make you wonder why?
What is your time worth? How many hours will you spend fiddling with your book? How else could you use that time? Instead of spending hours (and yes, you will spend hours) on formatting your book, take that time and apply it to the myriad other tasks that are integral to successful book publishing, such as building your author platform, learning about effective use of social media, writing a dynamite back cover text and author bio, starting a blog, and understanding how to market your book.