A recent social engagement brought to mind the importance of a professional book layout. My wife Jill and I went to a wedding at a very prestigious “club” here in San Francisco. My wife looked gorgeous as always, and I wore a light gray English wool suit that seemed suitably low-key.
When we walked in the door I realized that I “hadn’t received the memo” because every one of the hundreds of men in the room was wearing a tuxedo.
Needless to say, the next couple of hours were “interesting” and a real “character-building” experience.
Don’t let this happen to you, if you’ve taken on the responsibility of doing your own book layout, or if your cousin Wendell has offered to help because he knows how to use Microsoft Word.
Don’t Jeopardize All That Work
You’ve worked for months to research and write your book. You know that to get a reviewer’s attention or be noticed by book buyers and editorial writers your book has to look “professional.” But all too often, in learning how to publish a book, the details of design and book layout can get lost in the rush.
Self-publishing gives you the opportunity to do many jobs that used to be done by dedicated professionals, but in some cases, you may not get the results you want.
If part of your plan includes book reviews, media attention, and sales through traditional book publishing channels like chain bookstores, be sure to avoid these book layout pitfalls, so you don’t “stand out from the crowd” in all the wrong ways:
Blank Right-Hand Pages - Many books have blank left-hand pages and there is nothing wrong with that. If your chapter openings are always on right-hand pages, about half the chapters in your book will have a blank before the chapter opening. But if your chapter openings are on facing pages (a left and right together, for instance with illustrations facing the chapter opening page) you run the risk of the dreaded blank right-hand page, and that will look like an error to any book professional. Instead, adjust the typography or have quotations or artwork on hand that will augment the message of your book, and put those on the otherwise blank right-hand page.
Folios Everywhere - Of course, we need folios (page numbers) on most pages, but remember to turn off page numbering for the title page, the copyright page, any blank pages, any “display” pages like part openers and chapter openers, and any advertising pages at the end of the book.
Running Heads on Blank Pages - If a page is blank, technically it is not part of the text because there is no text on the page, is there? So a blank page should be just that, blank, with nothing on it at all.
Odd-Numbered Pages on the Left - When you open your book, the first page you see is page 1. There is no logical way that page 1 can be a left-hand page because then it wouldn’t be the first page. All odd-numbered pages in your book must be right-hand pages, and all even-numbered pages must be left-hand pages.
Rag Right Composition - There are some books that can be typeset in a rag right (unjustified) style, but they are rare. Instead of a neat column of type on your page, only the left margin is straight, the right margins will vary with the length of the line, giving you a “ragged” appearance. Whatever the merit of rag right composition, books are not generally a good place to use it. Stick with fully justified copy, where both the left and right margins form a straight line.
Check Your Outfit Before You Walk Out the Door
There are a lot of other ways you can inadvertently alert people that you are an “amateur” at book production, but these errors, once you know about them, are easy to avoid.
Make sure your book stands out for the great writing, the thoughtful arguments, or the tremendous value it brings to readers, not because it looks unprofessional.
Remember, you want buyers and reviewers to take your book seriously. It’s important that you take the design and layout details of your book just as seriously. In the end, the best investment might be to hire a professional book and cover designer, someone who knows how to properly construct the book, and who will look after all the details for you. And many authors now use pre-designed book templates to create professional-standard books without having to learn all the ins and outs of book design.
A "Well-Dressed" Book Layout Can Help You Succeed
No matter which path you choose, give your book the best chance of success by making sure it looks “professional” in every way.
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