When I gave a presentation about book design to the Federation of BC Writers on January 24, everyone asked for a copy of my material. I wasn’t prepared for giving handouts for more than 70 people, so I promised I would post it on my blog. I have taken my outline and turned it into a three part series about Book Design Inside and Out.
The Most Common Features Inside Your Book
The difference between professional design and amateur design shows up in the interior. Many self-publishers don’t realize that is it just as important as the cover. Pick up a book and flip through it. You may not realize that it appeals to you or turns you off, but it does.
Always remember that your book is competing against the big publishing companies. Some have professional designers on staff. Others contract out to freelancers. In either case, they are all pros who have learned the craft of book design. If you want your book to share shelf space, you have to create an interior that is as good as theirs.
One of the things I most notice when I look at a book is the margins. With self-published books, they are usually not large enough. Small margins mean there is not enough white space on a page. When you read a book, don’t you like some white space? Well, so does your reader. White space is aesthetically pleasing and actually relaxes the reader. Part of the problem with small margins (and I have seen some as tiny as 1/4″) is that self-publishers have been told it will save them money if they minimize their page count by reducing margins. Trust me, these tiny margins only save pennies on the whole book. If you have to resort to scraping pennies, then maybe you should rethink self-publishing completely.
The good news is that there is actually an industry standard for margins. The smallest margin on the page is the gutter, or inside margin. But make sure it is not so small that the words are actually falling into the gutter. Your reader won’t be happy to break the spine of their book to be able to read all the text. The combined margin on the gutter should leave enough white space to make it comfortable to read the text. The top margin is larger than the gutter margin, the side margin is larger than the top margin, and the largest margin is on the bottom of the page.
Front and Back Matter
This is the term for everything inside the book that brackets the text or actual story. In my last post I included the list from my handout Design Features of a Book. Now I want to clarify some terms that independent publishers often misunderstand.
The Foreword is written by someone else. If you write history or non-fiction, it should be someone known in that field.
The Preface is written by the author. It’s your opportunity to tell the reader why you wrote the book.
The Introduction is information the reader needs to understand the book, but that won’t be found in Chapter One.
One of the most important pages is the Legal Page or Copyright Page. At the top of the page should be the copyright symbol © followed by the year the book is published and the author’s name. The publishing company does not own copyright, only the creator of the work. This line copyrights your book in North America, Europe and Asia. Add “All rights reserved” below the line and your work is copyrighted in South America. Most publishers include a blurb about people can’t do with the written material. You can copy that part from any book in the library. Interestingly enough, there is no copyright on the copyright blurb.
This page needs to include the book’s ISBN and CIP (Cataloguing in Publication), country where the book was printed, and publisher name and address. You may also want to note the designer or printer on this page. As to how you want this page laid out, again look at books in on your bookshelf or in the library for ideas.
A book interior needs to be formatted. We don’t recommend using this feature in your work processing program like Word. Although the tools are there, they are primarily intended for academic layout. MS Publisher was not intended for books, but it works very well on all the marketing materials that you will need to promote your book.
We use a professional program called InDesign. Other programs are Adobe PageMaker and Mac’s Quark. These are complex programs and there is quite a learning curve to be able to use them well. I always recommend that my clients hire a professional to format the interior of your book. Often the cover designer has these skills or may know someone else who does. If you try it yourself (or worse, give it to your teenager to do) you may end up with a mess that will impede the sale of books.
There is nothing sadder than a writer investing so much time and money into self-publishing a worthwhile story only to have it languish in their basement because of flawed design. Follow the basic rules of the industry and you should not have that happen to you.
My next post will be about formatting ebooks.