There’s More to Book Layout Than Meets the Untrained Eye


1106 Design

February 27, 2011

We’ve heard the question many times, “Should I layout the interior of my book myself?” Seems like a no-brainer. You have word processing software. You know how to set margins and choose a typeface. You even know about books that describe the process (written by folks who are not trained in typography by the way). So why shouldn’t you layout your own book?

Of course you can and should use your word processing software to write your text, but interior design and formatting are best left to people who do this for a living. Why? Because there are a lot more details involved in page composition than you’d think.

For starters, word-processing software does not have the sophisticated hyphenation and justification controls that professional page layout software does. This results in tight and loose lines that are unsightly and that distract the reader. And even if you were to buy page layout software, there is a very steep learning curve. It’s a mistake to assume that no knowledge of typography or design is required to use it effectively. As the saying goes, “Owning a hammer does not make one a carpenter.”

There are several dozen conventions to be followed in book design that may not be perceptible to the reader, but when followed, they give your book a polished appearance. But it’s not only about knowing the rules, it’s knowing how and when to bend or break them on a case-by-case basis that makes the difference between an amateur layout and a professional one. These decisions must be made quite often when the words in the text don’t cooperate with the page geometry.

Quality typesetting has never been about the tools. Experienced typesetters rarely use software at the default settings. We adjust the settings for better results, sometimes paragraph by paragraph, line by line, and even word by word. Why? We were trained to see the difference between “so-so” type and great type.

For what it’s worth, only beginning self-publishers consider using a word processor for page layout. Established publishers wouldn’t think of producing the text in this way. They know that experienced book designers bring real value to the table, offering creativity and aesthetic judgment that only comes with training and experience.

Here’s a before-and-after example. Seven Principles for Happiness (Before) is the client’s attempt at designing the title page.  Seven Principles for Happiness (After) is our design (The title changed along the way). (You may want to open or print both images to compare the pages side-by-side.) See the difference? The “before” example looks something like a book, and the author, who eventually became our client, thought it was just fine…until he saw our “after” version. This wasn’t an isolated occurrence. When we show customers the difference between their attempt at book layout and our own every day, they are usually blown away. They’ll say something like, “Wow! I thought my layout was just fine. Now I see how bad it really is!”

Here’s another example. Compare this page from Fat Loss (Before) with Fat Loss (After), which shows how a designer can improve the look and functionality of a table in addition to making the page more appealing. Not only does the “after” version look better, but the overall design improvements that we made saved pages and reduced the author’s printing costs substantially. So, design isn’t just about decoration (as Steve Jobs once said); it’s about printing efficiency too!

It’s been clinically proven that quality typography improves reading comprehension. More importantly, an amateur job won’t satisfy the distributors, reviewers, and book retailers, the “gatekeepers” of the book industry, who will immediately spot a beginner’s efforts and reject your book as “self-published.”

Many people think that converting a word-processed file to a PDF is all the printer needs. That’s true. But it’s not all that YOU need. Printers won’t turn away a PDF that was made from a word-processed document. They’ll print your book because that’s what they’re in business to do. Their success is measured in how many books they print. Your success, on the other hand, is measured in the number of books you sell.

(As an aside, a POD company WILL turn your book away if the PDF doesn’t meet their exacting specifications! Working with a professional designer who knows these specifications can save you time, money and stress.)

Your book design, inside and out, establishes your credibility in the eyes of the buyer. Buyers may not be able to pinpoint exactly what is wrong, but without a professional interior design, your book will not measure up to those that are professionally prepared. For the success of your new publishing endeavor, we hope you’ll give this issue some serious thought, and choose an experienced book designer to give your book the professional look it deserves.

1106 Design works with authors, publishers, business pros, coaches, consultants, speakers . . . anyone who wants a beautiful book, meticulously prepared to industry standards. Top-quality cover design, beautifully designed and typeset interiors, manuscript editing, indexing, title consulting, and expert advice. All available from one convenient source. All offered with our most important service, hand-holding. Attractive pricing choices to fit almost any budget. Prompt, personalized service. Satisfaction guaranteed. We’ll take better care of you and your book than any “self-publishing company.” How may we help you? Email us using the Contact Us page.

You may like these

What Does a Book Editor Do, and Do I Need One?

What Does a Book Editor Do, and Do I Need One?

Thanks to all the disparate information available online, a question that should have a straightforward answer can quickly become complicated. “What does a book editor do,” “what are the different stages of editing,” and “how can I find editors” are a few questions...

read more
Author Story: Stuart Fabe

Author Story: Stuart Fabe

Stuart Fabe is the author of ten novels, including his six-book Clay Arnold series, The Write House, Kindred Spirits, and his most recent novel, Given Names. The Write House was a project intended to help Fabe develop new characters and research early aviation in WWI...

Book Launch Party Ideas

Book Launch Party Ideas

You’ve completed the arduous but rewarding process of publishing your book. Congrats! Why not host a book launch party to welcome your book baby into the world? Book launch parties are unique in their focus, but above all, they’re still parties. Even if your primary...

Author Story: James Pace

Author Story: James Pace

In Mother of Exiles: Interviews of Asylum Seekers at the Good Neighbor Settlement House, Brownsville, Texas, James Pace documented what is happening on our Southern Borders, giving voice to thousands of desperate people fleeing their homelands. James Pace was inspired...