So, you have a manuscript that you're happy with, be it riveting fiction or informative nonfiction. It's in your word processor, safe on your computer's hard drive. Not! If you haven't been backing your manuscript up on floppy disks, now's a good time. I've lost count of the number of tearful clients who tell me that their hard drive crashed and they lost everything - years of work just gone - and they have to scan the hardcopy back in: time-consuming, expensive, error-prone, and just plain unnecessary.
So, let's translate that unformatted manuscript into a book.
Book design can render an outstanding manuscript into an unreadable mess or turn a so-so manuscript into a thing of beauty. The purpose of book design is to enhance the manuscript, to clarify the content, and provide a powerful vehicle for transmitting the author's ideas and intentions into the mind and heart of the reader. And as with the actual writing, presenting pleasing design to the reader is all-important.
Watch browsers in bookstores. They examine the cover, front and back, and then flick through the pages to get a "feel" for the book. And "feel" is the operative word: it's an emotional reaction to the book's design. Compare a book of poetry with the IRS' tax codes to feel the difference.
What constitutes good design? Like style, good design is impossible to define, but you know it when you see it. Research other books and discern what about them appeals to you for your project. Note book size, margins, page headers and footers, etc. and how they make you feel.
Unless you have a really different book, such as a little "thought for the day" piece, stick with one of the three standard sizes: 5" x 8", 6 x 9, or 8" x 11 inches. Print presses are set up for these sizes, so the printer's bill will reflect this. The choice between 6 x 9 and 5" x 8" inches is easy. The extra you pay for the larger size is trivial, but the result stands taller on the bookstore shelf, giving a "more book for the money" feeling.
Running the text too close to the edge of the page gives a book a "cramped" feeling and detracts from the reader's pleasure in reading your work. The worst offense you can commit is running the type into the binding margin so that the reader has to crack the spine in order to finish the line.
For a typical 6 x 9 book, the outer margin should be about 0.75 inch and the inner margin about one inch (to give extra room for binding). The bottom margin should be 0.75 to one inch, and the top margin at least an inch (to give room for the page header).
Headers typically contain information such as page numbers, book title, and chapter title. A common practice is to place book title on the left pages and chapter title on the right. Unless there's a good reason to do otherwise, page numbers should always appear on the top outer corners or bottom center. Don't make the reader hunt for this vital information. You can embellish the header with a subtle graphic decoration, but don't get carried away. Few things turn readers off faster than an "over-designed" book. And never put a header on the first page of a chapter. It competes with your chapter title.
Again, choice of typeface can enhance your words or kill them dead. Always use a "serif" typeface for your body copy since it's much easier to read. Serifs are those tiny projections added to letters that give them personality and readability. The Times typeface and its variations (you're reading Times New Roman right now) is widely used in newspapers, but more character-rich or playful serif faces are out there. Use a contrasting serif or "sans-serif" typeface for chapter titles and section headings. The choice of typeface for these is where your creative flair comes in, so stay away from plain sans-serif typefaces such as Helvetica or Arial. There are hundreds of more pleasing alternatives.
Type size is measured in points, and an inch contains 72 points. Therefore, 72-point type is one inch high, and 36-point type is half an inch high. For the typical trade paperback body text, stay between 11 and 12 points for the best compromise between readability and conveying information. Of course, if you're aiming at the children's market or the senior market, you can go larger.
Type size is only half the story. How far apart should the lines of type be? In the old days, typesetters would add lead strips between lines of type to separate them; hence, the extra space between lines was called leading. The rule of thumb is to add an extra twenty percent, so that lines of ten-point type would be 12 points apart, and 12-point type would be 14.4 points apart. In your computer program, you can add more leading to give a more airy feel, or reduce the standard leading to pack more text on a page (with care!).
If you're in doubt, typeset the same paragraph with a variety of sizes and leading and ask your friends for feedback.
How should your paragraphs be aligned? Options for alignment are left-aligned (ragged right), centered (ragged left and right), right-aligned (ragged left), and justified (flush left and right).
Use left-aligned for casual pieces such as flyers and brochures. Promotional copy and poetry often benefit from center-alignment, while formal pieces such as books are usually justified. With justified text, remember to turn hyphenation on in your computer program, or you will find ugly spaces appearing between your words.
A major question is whether your word processor is adequate for laying out a designed page. A few of my clients have been brave enough to try, and have found that a hairdryer works well for getting the tears of frustration out of the keyboard. My advice: don't even think about it.
There are countless page layout programs on the market around the $100 mark, such as Microsoft® Publisher. In just a few hours, you can be producing fine-looking pages that work well if you are going to be producing camera-ready pages for the printer. Here, the printer photographs your pages to make negatives for the printing process. The problem is that the quality is only as good as the quality of your laser or inkjet printer.
The alternative to sending camera-ready work to the book printer is to send them a disk containing your computer files. This way, your book benefits from their top-of-the-line equipment - essential if you've included photographs or graphics.
If you want to send your electronic files to the book printer, or if you need true professional layout muscle, you must use high-end software such as Adobe® PageMaker®, QuarkXPress® or Corel® Ventura. The bad news is that this software lists at about $900, and costs about $600 via mail-order discount houses. Powerful software such as this also has a long and steep learning curve if you want to use it correctly. Also, muscle like this requires an equally powerful computer to run it.
Daunted by many weeks of learning the software, many self-publishers contract out the typesetting. In this case, expect to pay $4 to $10 per finished page, depending on how design-intensive your pages are and how hungry the contractor is for work. By using an experienced professional, you can rely on the finished job being readily accepted by the book printer.
If you plan to publish several books, however, you might be better off buying the software and suffering the pain of the learning curve.
The old proverb, "a picture's worth a thousand words" is never truer than in nonfiction books. For example, in The Divine Blueprint, which I recently ghosted for Robert Perala, we used many photographs of crop circles and Egyptian temples for tremendous visual impact. We also included several extraterrestrial drawings and writing in various languages. The photographs and drawings had to be scanned into computer files and then placed on the page using PageMaker. In the section on sacred geometry, I created several diagrams using CorelDraw, a powerful graphics program. Again, if you're not skilled with high-end software, this can be a time-consuming and frustrating process - another candidate for contracting the work out.
Even fiction can benefit from illustration, such as maps for added realism, or artist's sketches of how you visualize the principal characters.
Next time, we'll talk about your number one marketing tool: the book cover.
Tony Stubbs is a freelance writer, editor, publishing consultant, and desktop publisher living in southern California. He is also the author of An Ascension Handbook. He can be reached at (909) 672-6115 or <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
This is the third in a six-part series on getting your book published, written by Tony Stubbs exclusively for The New Times. Please send SASE for any reprints desired.