This weekend I did a thing… I participated in a virtual convention. It was wonderfully run and a lot of fun. Super proud of the organizers and how awesome they are. The panellists were fantastic and despite my hate for Discord, the conversation there was impressive.
I look forward to the next one and I hope they are happy with how it went.
I was on two panels, which is fair since I’m not an expert in most of the topics. I know a little about a lot. One was my book launch with some other fantastic authors. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on my book, I only wrote it. My wife read it three times so she’s more of an expert.
The one thing I know very well is layout. I ran a workshop on Saturday evening that was all about layout for authors. I’ve noticed dealing with authors that there are some large gaps in their knowledge of word processing and I wanted to make their lives easier.
I’m hoping to write a series of blogposts about it but I’ve been really low on energy lately and I have a novel to finish by September.
If you are reading this and want more information about formatting, here’s a short list of resources from me.
When you self-publish or work with an inexperienced layout artist there are certain mistakes that make your book look bad.
Book publishing is a centuries old industry that has gone through a lot of changes, but certain things have become so standard that you only notice when they’re out of place.
5. Headers and Footers
Headers and Footers are the area above and below the main text. They live in the margins and help tell the reader where they are.
The main mistake with these is if they are missing. However, having too much information or having them too close to the main text makes it hard to read.
The standard pieces of information that should be in the headers and footers are; title of the work, author, and page numbers. You can add or substitute chapter titles if you wish but only if they are more interesting than just “Chapter 1”.
Page numbers are the only things that must be, without any exceptions, included in your header or footer.
Page numbering starts on the first page of the book and not the first page of the content. This means your title page is considered page 1. This can change if your book isn’t a novel.
Headers and footers do not appear on any pages before or after the content or on any pages where the chapter starts.
This is an easy one. Printing requires a certain quality of image (300dpi and CMYK colour). Anything below or other than that will look unprofessional.
Some people, me included, like to use silhouettes as dividers and decorations. Use these sparingly and if you can, use vector images that can handle being shrunk easily.
When reading on a screen, studies have shown that it’s easier to read Sans-Serif fonts. When reading a book it’s the opposite. Always use Serif fonts.
Beyond that, it looks unprofessional to use standard fonts like Times New Roman or fancy fonts like Broadway or *shudder* Comic Sans.
The classic font is Garamond and no one will judge you for using it.
The above applies to the main text. You can use nearly any font for the chapter titles or your Headers and Footers. I do recommend you limit yourself to 2 or maximum 3 fonts overall and never more than 1 for the main text.
2. Kerning and Leading
Kerning is the space between the characters. If this isn’t consistent, is too tight or too loose; the book will not only look unprofessional, it’ll be borderline illegible. All layout programs have settings for this that are extremely easy to use.
Leading is the space between your lines. Chances are that your High School teachers insisted on you double spacing your essays. If the lines are too tight they start to blend together, if they’re too loose, it’s hard to follow and takes longer to read.
Similar is your Paragraph spacing. If you have a huge space between paragraphs it’ll look messy and cost you more in printing.
1. Typographic Alignment
The biggest, most common, and the first thing people notice is the alignment in your text.
Headers, titles, and images are extremely loose in where they should be aligned, but the main text of your book should always be Left Justified.
This blog is left aligned. The standards for web are different because of the glow caused by the screen.
The moment I see a jagged right margin on a book I know it was formatted by an amateur. It’s an industry standard because it works. When combined with proper kerning it is easier for the eye to go from one page to the next.
I have noticed something strange among people I know (or follow online). It transcends age groups, social groups, and economic groups.
There seems to be a collective “looking down the nose” towards people who don’t do it themselves.
How did this come about? I’m not sure. I assume it’s the backlash to big businesses selling and doing everything (and doing it as cheap quality as possible); the same backlash that has seen a resurgence of crafts people and small businesses.
But when did, “Oh, that’s hand-made? Where’d you get it?”, turn into disdain because we didn’t make it ourselves?
Maybe it’s the hundreds of DIY shows that make it look like people who know nothing suddenly can do amazing things. Reality (show) check; they’re coached and taught by professionals.
Because there is so much information on the internet about everything and a lot of websites that trick you into thinking you’re doing it yourself for cheaper, people assume that they can do anything.
And that might be fine for a drywall patch or a regular dessert or even setting up your television system. However, no one is perfect or good at everything. When I make a cake it tastes good and looks like something a toddler put together. I know so little about drywall that if I tried alone I’d probably just screw it up.
It’s ok to admit that you don’t know everything and can’t do everything.
Small Business and Freelance Professionals
There are certain things you might be good at and that’s wonderful, work on those and improve yourself. Maybe you have the persistence to turn it into a career.
As a Freelance Layout Artist, I have worked on my profession for years. I did my first professional book layout 17 years ago and I’ve been doing it for private and government for 10 years. I have tools, tricks, and resources that most people don’t. The same goes for your friends and family who are professionals in their trade.
Do you know the downfall of most freelancers and small businesses? It’s not that they suck at what they do or that they aren’t skilled in their craft. It’s the business part that’s hard. It forces us to stop working on our passions to become salespeople.
She and I get plenty of emails that start with or include, “Sorry for bothering you” or “I know it’s a hassle”. It’s NOT, it’s our job and we love it.
If I could lay out fiction books for the rest of my life, I probably would never retire. It’s my passion and something I enjoy greatly.
My wife relishes finding the best price for someone. My photographer friends love taking pictures. My baker friends love baking. My clothes making friends love making clothes. My graphic artist friends love art-ing. Etc. Etc. Etc.
No one starts a small business, or goes freelance, unless they love what they do.
It all comes down to money. Some people DIY because they can’t afford anything else… or can they?
I understand that not everyone can afford to buy coffee from JenEric Coffee. It’s a luxury item and I don’t get annoyed seeing people drink Starbucks.
I do cringe when I see friends and family booking cruises or vacations “on their own.” No one books travel “on their own”. They use online sites with catchy names. These sites charge you for the privilege of searching for your own travel. Good travel agents make their money by taking the commission from the vendor not the traveller. That means the cruise ship pays commission not you. (Airfare is different and requires a small fee but is usually cheaper than doing it yourself.) So you don’t pay for a travel agent and they can get you better deals than doing it yourself.
Every profession is different but most don’t, or shouldn’t, charge a fee for discussing what you want. And if they do charge a service fee, they are obligated to tell you so at the beginning of the conversation. We love our jobs and are more than willing to discuss things with you. I’ll talk margins, kerning, and fonts all day (and I have).
Before you waste long amounts of time, get a quote or extra information from your friends who do it for a living. You might be surprised at the amount of frustration and money you’ll save in the end.
And if you truly want to do it yourself, ask us to teach you. I’ll gladly teach you how to roast your own coffee, or work with InDesign.
Today I want to talk to all you authors, publishers, and people who want to make books. Formatting a book, even something as simple as a novel, isn’t just knowing a few things in Microsoft Word. It’s also knowing industry standards, font combinations, typesetting, and the difference between a print and electronic book.
That’s not going into the little flourishes like separators or the difference between different genres. For example, a fantasy book is more likely to have a classic font, while a horror novel might have a more modern font.
A good layout artist will walk you through the process and help you choose the best options to make your book look as good as it deserves. The process should be painless and you should get unlocked copies of your document after you’re done.
I can hear you thinking, “I already have to pay a cover designer, editor, and printer for my book! I’ll just do it myself.” That’s a perfectly logical and understandable thought. However a layout artist is worth the cost if only in saving you time and frustration. What will take you weeks of research, and even more in applying the format, will take a layout artist days.
They can also help you avoid legal issues with fonts, since most layout artists collect them like they’re going out of style.
If you do a search, you’ll find people charging up to $2000, and you’ll find some that charge $50. What should you be paying? That depends on the size and complexity of your book, along with the experience and skill of the layout artist. I was told at a writer’s convention that you should be paying around $300 for a good sized novel.
If you take into account the time saved, (which you can use to write) the step by step guiding, and the fact that your book will look amazing; I think it’s certainly worth it. (I might be a little biased)