Archive for February, 2010

Guest Post: There’s More To Book Layout Than Meets the Untrained Eye

Monday, February 1st, 2010

By Michele DeFilippo, owner
1106 Design

Michele is a frequent contributor to many of the publishing lists and email groups, so, when I knew it was time to discuss design, I asked her to pitch in. Thank you, Michele!

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.
When we show customers the difference between their attempt at book layout and our own, 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 a current before-and-after example. IC_Book_Orig.pdf is the client’s attempt at book layout, and IC_Book_Designed.pdf is our design. (You may want to open or print both PDFs to compare the pages side by side.) See the difference? In addition to a much better look and the elimination of giant spaces between words in the original, professional typesetting saved 5 pages from the original’s 19 (more than 25%), thus reducing the client’s printing costs significantly.

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.

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.