A Guide to Self-Publishing: Interior Design

Growing up I never gave a second thought to how a book looked on the inside. Wasn’t the expression about judging a book related to its cover?

While the cover certainly plays a large roll on catching someone’s eye, which we’ll discuss tomorrow, people spend all their time with the book and its interior. So how the book looks, reads and “feels” should be of immense importance to you as a creator.

Granted, a large portion of your layout construction will be for your print edition; your ebook edition is much simpler. And rightly so: by virtue of a digital book’s nature, page numbers are automatically assigned because scaling text size by the user makes them obsolete. And since e-readers at present emphasize “text only and limited pictures,” there’s no place for elaborate layouts – they just don’t translate well.

At least not yet.

We are quickly approaching the time of fully-immersive and feature-rich ebooks. Novels that could have mini-movies attached to particular paragraphs, picture galleries, bonus downloads, and music are all on the horizon; some of it is available as we speak.

But for now we’ll stick with basic novel formatting.

It’s interesting to note that I spend 10-times the amount of time formatting my print books which account for a fraction of my sales, and almost no time formatting my ebooks which account for almost all of my sales. But for those that are willing to pay the extra money for the “novelty” of having a print edition, you need to spend the time making the physical book look sharp. Happy customers will be return customers. And as print books increasingly become collectors editions and not general market commodities, the look and feel of them will likewise become more important than ever before. If there was ever any doubt that printing will become an extremely limited format (though never fully extinct I believe), this morning’s headline of Encyclopedia Britannica’s end of their 200-year-long print editions should wake you up.

There are two primary ways – and subsequently, applications – to format your book’s interior design: Microsoft Word and Adobe InDesign. Yes, any text editor capable of generating a print-ready PDF can be used, but these are the two formats that are most widely available and supported.

Obviously Word is cheaper (probably already on your computer), has a small learning curve, and gives you limited control while still producing a solid finished product. InDesign is far more expensive but is a professional layout application giving you limitless control. If you’re not familiar with it, you’ll need to watch some tutorials, take a class, or ask your graphic design friends for help. But it produces the highest quality product.

While I use InDesign, I’ll demonstrate both for this tutorial.

My writing workflow starts in Scrivener, a fabulous text-editor-meets-epic-layout generator. It’s a writer’s best friend, and for Mac users you should just buy it today.

Once my book is complete, I assemble the chapters in Word and send to my editor with Track Changes enable as discussed yesterday. Once Sue has signed off on it, I dive into InDesign. If you’re staying in Word, your life just got a little easier as you’re very close to generating a finalized PDF from there.

The core decisions you need to make as an interior layout designer are:

1.) Deciding your book’s final dimensions and meeting the printer’s tolerances (or guidelines for how they accept print-ready files).

2.) What typeface and font size to use.

3.) The order of content (front matter, story, post-matter).

4.) Any branding or bells and whistles that set the book apart.

I’m going to recommend you use CreateSpace.com as your printer. Interestingly enough, they will also act as your order fulfillment processor (including returns), your ecommerce creator and manager, and your distributor. They will also help promote your titles in a foundational way. This all makes sense when you understand that CreateSpace is a subsidiary of Amazon. It’s in their best interest to make things as easy as possible for you; the more titles they can sell, the more money they make. And you make.

If you haven’t signed up for a CreateSpace account, do so now. It’s free, and it will make this tutorial much easier.

When you add a title (a book that you’re working and and want to get printed), you’ll be prompted to select a format size. Each has their own pros and cons, but one of the standard formats is 6×9″. This is what I use for my fiction works. Beefy, robust, striking and easy to hold, allowing for ample font size.

CreateSpace has free templates of all their formats as downloadable Word files. Here’s a sample you can download from me. They even have suggestions on step two, which is your content order. Again, they’re trying to help you get your books out there as it’s a mutually beneficial endeavor.

If you’re using a professional layout application like InDesign, they clearly tell you what bleeds you need to use. You can also add multiple layers of graphical content, specific page headers and footers, page numbering formats and positions, and virtually any other facet you want. This would also include my 4th point as listed above, which are branding emblems, icons and intricate details, codes, or riddles that you can lace throughout the manuscript. The possibilities are endless.

Here’s a screen shot of chapter 1 in Rise of the Dibor as seen in InDesign:

A huge note on bleeds for designers: CreateSpace suggests a 0.125″ bleed around outside edges. This is fairly standard in the print world. However, despite my multiple dialogues with them, it’s not a true 0.125″ bleed. With the grunge background on every page of The White Lion Chronicles, I was getting unprinted bars on the tops and bottoms of pages. While they refuse to change their values, you need to use a 0.250″ bleed, especially if you’re using images or backgrounds that go off the page.

Once your dimensions are set, you’re ready to start importing text and laying your books out.

For typefaces, I suggest experimenting. To the common eye, all typefaces are created equal. This is a gross error. Typefaces have a lot of power to communicate emotion and intensity (or lack thereof). Typefaces are picked deliberately and intentionally. Don’t make yours an accident. Here’s a great piece on the top 10 most beloved novel typefaces. I used Garamond for The White Lion Chronicles because it was contemporary enough that it wouldn’t be a distraction, but still had an old-world feel to it that fit with a fantasy theme. Too fancy and your reader will get annoyed without even knowing why; too plain and you might miss a great chance to add credibility to the essence of your story.

While you can lay your manuscript out any way you want – we’re self-publishing here – there are some standard rules of thumb that you should take into consideration. They’re proven, and the average reader is very used to them. Roughly, the most common order for interior layout is: book titles, author name, copyright page (including credits and the ISBN number), dedication, table of contents, forward (if any), main body, afterward, acknowledgements, author bio, advertising.

I’ve taken the liberty of showing you exactly what the first part of Rise of the Dibor looks like as a print ready PDF both as a Word.doc using CreateSpaces offset page setup (to account for left and right pages set in a glue binding), and as an InDesign file. While both are clean, print-ready versions of the same exact content, right away you’ll see a dramatic difference in InDesign’s ability to customize everything about the layout (which inherently demands a higher learning curve). Picking the right application will depend on your budget, time availability and capacity.

DOWNLOAD: Word – Rise of the Dibor FORMATTED 6 x 9 pgs1-2.pdf

DOWNLOAD: InDesign – Rise of the Dibor FORMATTED 6 x 9 pgs1-29.pdf

By the way, once everything is laid out – a process that usually takes me a few weeks – I send this PDF to my Proofies. It’s important that I make the manuscript as complete as I can possibly make it before it goes to them as I don’t want a lot happening to the book after their eyes have seen it. A lack of discipline here to follow a strict no-touch policy can lead to either a sloppy end product or an indefinite passing of PDFs to your Proofies; eventually they’ll get mad and stop reading. The point is, make sure you only send them something once.

From here you upload your PDF to CreateSpace into your respective project title. You still need to upload your finished cover design and fill out admin information, but you’re essentially halfway to seeing your first book in print.

The main reason I haven’t covered layout for ebooks is because formatting your Word or InDesign files for all the various e-formatting is merely repurposing your original files. We call it converting. And while there are whole mess of tutorials on how to format for ebooks, you won’t find it here. I spent the better part of a month researching it and finally decided I didn’t have the time or capacity. That’s when Wayne Thomas Batson found StreetlightGraphics.com and I fell in love with Gelndon and Tabatha Haddix. They were able to take my InDesign files and convert them to all the various e-formats that support Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Sony eReaders, iBooks, and PDFs. For less than $60/title (a fraction of the cost that Kindle Direct Publishing wanted for just Kindle conversion), I was able to publish to every format currently available. You want my advice? Don’t mess with it. Email Streetlight.

We’ll talk about the legalities and nuances of publishing through CreateSpace in two days, followed by publishing your digital books; tomorrow I’ll go over cover design. ch:

ROTD Update: InDesign

Rise of the Dibor has had a week-long delay, but for good reason.

While I was using MS Word to lay out the interior design, it’s a fairly limited program (even 2011). Having experienced many of the same frustrations I was, Chris & Allan Miller of Spearhead suggested I try using InDesign instead, and Allan took the lead in creating a template we could use for all our future books, not just mine. Then Jason Clement further tweaked it and gave me a crash-course on InDesign last night during a summer gathering at our place. The tutorial was challenging, and stretched my brain a little, but super fun once I learned how powerful of a tool it is.

All of their labors will allow for a much better product, and at this point I want to make sure it’s done right. Looking for the final product to hit presses by week’s end. ch:

What’s a skill you recently picked up? Who taught you, and how did it make you feel?

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