PUBLISHED AUGUST 2016
by Joel Friedlander, author & book designer
Editor’s Note: At Publishing University 2016, keynote speaker Kwame Alexander was discussing the impact on sales of his book after winning a John Newbery Medal, and he was asked by an attendee: “How do we get our books to be considered for these prizes?” His immediate reply: “Your books need to look like the books from the mainstream publishers.” Here, design expert Joel Friedlander offers some tips for putting books in print with a top-quality appearance.
Print books are still going strong, and even people who own laptops, tablets, and smartphones continue to buy them. Many authors who got started by publishing straight-to-digital e-books are realizing that there’s a big role for print books to play in their publishing plans.
But if you are a new self-publisher, you may not know how to get your book ready for printing.
Print books haven’t changed much in 500 years, and they are far more complex than e-books when it comes to preparing your book files because your pages need to translate to the physical world of book manufacturing.
With e-books, you’re converting your file from one format into another, then adding some cover art. But with print books, you have to know how they will be printed, who will be printing them, and that specific printer’s requirements. It also takes some experience with printing to know how the image on your screen will translate into paper and ink.
If you’re thinking about marketing your print books, they will need to look even better. After all, they’ll be competing with books from big publishers, where all the books are designed and produced by book publishing professionals.
Although I can’t teach you book design in one article, I can point out a few things to avoid so you don’t look like a complete newbie. It will give you a big head start on your journey to creating a good-looking, reader-friendly, market-oriented print book.
Newbie Mistakes to Avoid
One thing you don’t want to happen is to have your book “look” self-published. It doesn’t cost any more to print a book that’s properly put together and intelligently designed than it is to print a book that ignores book publishing conventions and looks like an amateur production.
Here are some newbie mistakes to watch out for:
- Getting your page numbers wrong—Remember that all the right-hand pages in your book, starting with page 1, are odd numbers. All the left-hand pages are even numbers.
- Not leaving blank pages blank—A blank page doesn’t need a running head, a page number, or “This page intentionally left blank” on it. In printed books, blank pages are just that—blank.
- Putting blank pages on the right—Your book should never have a blank right-hand page. Left-hand pages only.
- Forgetting the front matter—Don’t forget to include a title page, a copyright page, and a table of contents page before you start into the text of the book.
- Creating tiny page margins —Don’t try to save by reducing your margins to create fewer pages. This rarely produces a book people actually want to read. Leave enough space on the outside for the reader to hold the book, and on the inside (or “gutter”) so that the binding doesn’t swallow your text.
- Capitalizing improperly —Titles, subtitles, chapter titles, and subheads should all be title case, not sentence case (i.e., all words except short prepositions are capitalized).
- Avoiding full justification —You don’t really want your book to have “rag right” typesetting, where the right margin is ragged. Most books should be fully justified, which means that your page of type is a rectangle with all the lines (except the last line in a paragraph) extending from the left margin all the way to the right margin.
One of the big decisions you’ll need to make when it comes time to get your book ready for printing is: What fonts will you use? Here are some tips that will help you choose typefaces for your book:
- Readability—This is the most important criterion for your text font, the one that most, or all, of your book will be set in. Many designers feel that the most readable fonts are based on old-style typefaces like Garamond, Bembo, or Caslon. More modern versions include Minion, Adobe Garamond, and Sabon.
- Contrast—You’ll want a different typeface to use for chapter titles or part titles, and for subheads in nonfiction books. Combining a text typeface with a sans serif display face can add drama and subtle allusions to a specific era or style.
- Legality—Fonts are intellectual property, just like your book manuscript. Make sure you have the rights to use the fonts in a book by checking out the licensing agreement if possible. Most fonts that ship with software are licensed for commercial use, and there are reliable sites where you can download free, commercial-use fonts online.
- Appropriateness—You’ll want a text font for your text, and a display font for your title and interior display use. For an academic treatise, you don’t want your chapter titles in Comic Sans, do you? That wouldn’t be appropriate. If you can’t decide, have a look at other, similar books and mimic those.
As many authors have discovered, there are great guides on how your book should look right on your own bookshelf. This is one of the fastest ways to educate yourself about how books are put together and what might work for your own book. Concentrate on books that have been successful in your genre or category; a few hours absorbing seemingly minute details will give you a grounding in book design as it affects your kind of books. Make notes on the elements you like the best—you’ll use them later on.
Making sure your book is at industry standards will allow readers and buyers to concentrate on the content you worked so hard to create.
Joel Friedlander is an author, award-winning book designer, blogger, and creator of programs that train authors to achieve the impact their work deserves.