by Cathi Stevenson
Part of the Build Your Book Series for indie authors / self-publishers
A book that has been professionally designed will appear more polished and appealing to potential buyers. These formatting tips are not limited to the front cover of a book. There are many ways to enhance the look and readability of back cover text and interior layout.
1. Don’t make your line width too long. Many people assume the solution to too much text is to either drop the point size or extend the trim size or margins. This is not the case. No matter how much space you have, no line should exceed about 70 characters. After 70 characters, the reader has to blink and readjust his or her focus, then determine where the next line is and travel back visually to the beginning of the new line. Long lines make this a tiresome, frustrating task. No one will struggle to read your text.
2. Make sure you’re using the proper glyphs. A common mistake is to use the symbol for feet or inches when single or double quotation marks are required, and vice versa. Quotation marks curl or slant, while measurement symbols are straight up and down. All good quality fonts will offer both.
3. Know the difference between an em dash, en dash and hyphen and when to use them. There’s never any reason to have a double hyphen (–) when you really need an em dash (—). On a PC, the em dash can be obtained by holding down the ALT key and pushing 0151 on the numbers pad, to the right. The en dash is ALT 0150. Wikipedia has a good explanation of the types of dashes and when to use them here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dash
4. Drop caps can add style. Some people like the stylish look of a drop cap at the beginning of the back cover text, or at the start of a new chapter. It’s important these be neat and laid out properly, though. The bottom of the drop cap should sit on the baseline of the line it sits on. If you prefer a stickup cap, then it should align perfectly with the first line of text. The stickup cap is usually easier to create.
5. Small caps are another element that are often used and abused in book design. Some people like the look of small caps, and they can be a nice decorative element when used at the beginning of a section or for some headings and titles. It’s important you actually have the real small caps font, though. Most design and word processing programs will offer this option, but that doesn’t mean the font is there; They’re just “faking it” by making any upper case letters slightly larger. This can cause problems when creating a PDF for the printer, and it rarely looks good. If you enlarge a letter to fake small caps, the larger letter will be thicker, wider and look heavier.
6. Make your margins nice and deep. Remember, there has to be room for peoples’ fingers to hold the book. No one wants to be constantly moving his or her hands to read text. Also, if your interior margins are too tight, readers will be forced to open the book wider than the binding might allow, causing pages to fall out. These things all reflect on you as a publisher.
7. Don’t skip a title page. A title page can take on a life of its own and add value to a book. It doesn’t have to be just the title, either and it doesn’t have to be only one page. It can be several pages and include illustrations or decorative elements, title, sub-title, author name, publisher’s imprint, quotations, copyright information and credits for editors and fonts and the forward or preface. Chapter 27 in Marshall Lee’s Bookmaking: Editing/Design/Production (3rd ed., 2003) covers this subject very nicely.
8. Using a business name. If your company has a name, have your book designer create a little logo for it, if you haven’t had one created professionally. This can be done just setting the company name in a nice font and doesn’t have to be anything fancy. If possible, avoid using your own name as part of the business title, because this will tip off reviewers and bookstore owners that the book is self-published. Many people have preconceived notions about self-published books that are not very positive.
9. Make sure your black text is 100% black for a black and white interior. Some word processing programs and free PDF creators do not produce 100% black text, and books end up printed in 90% black or lighter. This can easily be checked within any layout or design program such as Adobe InDesign or Adobe Illustrator, as you work. If you’re not using the proper software there might be no way to check this. You can also preflight your file in Adobe Acrobat Professional to reveal this and other potential issues.
10. Working with the right colors. If you’re using Print on Demand technology (also called POD and digital printing), then it’s almost always a good idea to send the printer files formatted in the CMYK color gamut, even if the printer says it’s okay to send RGB. Switching colors “on the fly” from RGB to CMYK, even when a professional printer does it, often creates unexpected results, and not just with color; In some cases images can look pixilated or blurry after being switched from RGB to CMYK.