printers' blocks used for typesetting

Ebooks might be cheap to produce and distribute, but if you’re thinking about self-publishing you might still want to do a short print run or make your book available in stores on a print on demand basis. Readers still like printed books – they’re not going away any time soon! And even if you don’t plan to make a fortune selling them, hard copies can be a useful promotional tool. They come in handy for book signings, giveaways, special events and for sending to reviewers.

You want to see your book in print, so how can you make sure it looks professional? A self-published book doesn’t have to look self-published. The reader is going to be drawn to your book because of its striking cover design and outstanding blurb; they aren’t going to turn their nose up at it because it isn’t published by HarperCollins! Here are our top tips …

Don’t go too far out

First of all, it might go against the grain for you as a writer and as a creative person, but the world of publishing is quite conservative. If you’ve written a coffee table book, or a book about art or craft or design, then there’s definitely a case for making the physical product look or feel unusual in a way that reflects the content, but this is going to be expensive and require professional input on the design. If that’s your book, this is probably not the article for you. But if you’ve written a novel or a non-fiction book that’s ‘wordy’ rather than visual or tactile, read on.

The golden rule is: don’t try to be too ‘different’. You don’t want the look and feel of your book to get in the way of your readers’ absorption into the world you’ve created. If they’re going to admire something, you want it to be your writing skills, not the font you’ve chosen.

A good way to get started is to pick a book from your shelf, one that you enjoyed reading, and copy the design and layout. When you were reading it, you probably didn’t notice the fonts, line spacing, margins, page numbers and paragraph spacing. That’s good – it means the designer did their job well. That’s the kind of experience you want your readers to have.

Communicate with the printer

Ask your printer for their formatting guidelines – most will have something, even if it’s a just a basic list of dos and don’ts. Some may have templates you can use, which are really helpful. But bear in mind that, provided your file complies with their technical specifications, they’ll print whatever you put on the page. They won’t alert you if your text is hard to read or your coloured graph makes no sense in grayscale.

Don’t cut corners

Don’t be tempted to make the type too small or the margins and line spacing tight in order to fit it onto fewer pages and cut costs. If your book is physically hard to read, people just won’t bother, and it will turn readers off as soon as they open it.

Choose the right font

It might depend on the subject of your book – for example, a contemporary book about business may suit a sans serif font but ‘old style’ serif typefaces like Garamond and Minion are good choices for a novel. If you’ve written a non-fiction book, have a look at which typefaces are commonly used by published authors in your subject area. Which ones are easy to read and project a professional image?

Do your research

You might think that you know what a book looks and feels like – after all, you’ve read enough of them! But take some time to research publishing industry standards and make sure your book conforms to them, otherwise it will be obvious to professionals that your book is by an amateur. Pay special attention to the front matter and back matter (everything before and after the body of the book itself).

Give your book the professional touch

Make sure you’ve got a publisher name and logo, even if it’s just you acting as a ‘micro publisher’ for your own work. You don’t have to spend a fortune hiring a professional logo designer – sometimes just the creative use of one or two letters from a more unusual font can be enough.

Don’t neglect the spine – the publisher logo should appear there, towards the bottom, as well as on the back cover.

Use the appropriate program

If you’ve got Adobe InDesign and can use it, it’s a good program to use for typesetting. Word is great for word-processing but notoriously difficult to use for design. You might find yourself struggling with page numbering, alignment, justification, widows and orphans, random lines that won’t disappear, and all manner of oddities. InDesign is far better suited to creating a book. You can export your file as a print-ready pdf.

Know your limits

If you can afford it, get a professional designer to typeset your book for you – they will be able to get your book ‘looking like a book’ for you.

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