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“Everyone has a book in them” … you’ve heard it said a thousand times. It’s probably true, but getting that book out in readable form is a challenge. The publishing industry is in a volatile state and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to have a book published in the traditional way. Meanwhile, more and more writers are considering the path of self-publishing. This, however, is not a path for the faint-hearted. If you don’t want your book to be dismissed as ‘amateur’, you won’t try to skimp on the essential parts of the publishing process. Some of these can be rather expensive, but unfortunately, if your self-published book is less than professional, it may have a very short life.

One of the components that makes your book feel professional is the cover design and text layout . Can you do it yourself? The answer to that is … maybe.

Have you been frequently told (preferably by people outside ‘friends and family’) that you have a ‘flair for design’. That’s a good start, but not necessarily a guarantee of success – a flair for interior design, for instance, may not translate into an understanding of form and space on a page.

Do you have any knowledge of typography?

Do you have appropriate page layout software such as InDesign or Quark Xpress (quite expensive, by the way)? (No, Microsoft Word is not good enough!).

Do you understand the issues involved in preparing a file for commercial printing?

Do you know what good page design actually is?

If your answer to all, or most, of these is ‘no’, then you would be well-advised to engage a professional designer to help you. Make sure you choose one who has experience of book design.

But if you can answer ‘yes’ to a number of these points, and are willing to learn what you don’t know, ┬áthen go ahead. It might be a good idea to try your hand at an ebook before tackling the more complex task of preparing a book for print.

Email me at melisanda1(at)me.com for my free ebook, “ebook design for non-designers”. (The design principles are relevant for print books too.)

I wish I could give you a straight answer to that one, but I’m afraid my response is, “maybe, maybe not”.

If the book is about How to Make a Million Dollars in 7 Days, or How to Lose Weight without Diet or Exercise, then probably not. Potential customers are so hungry for the content that they couldn’t care less about the design. Similarly, if your topic is A Low Budget Family Cookbook, then sophisticated design is inappropriate … a homely, somewhat amateurish presentation could even be seen as ‘authentic’ and therefore an advantage.

But what if the subject of your book is Elegant City Apartments, or Menus from the World’s Best Restaurants? Ah, now that’s different isn’t it. A certain sophistication, even glamour, is required. Your book would have no credibility if it looked as though an amateur put it together. It’s all about compatibility of content and container … a superb wine deserves better than a plastic tumbler while a rough red may seem even rougher if served in a fine crystal glass.

If you hope your book will be stocked by bookstores, then the design certainly does matter. There is a general resistance to self-published books, so the more professional they look the better your chances of having your book accepted.

What is ‘good’ design anyway?

Is it all about appearance?

Certainly not! Good design is not just a pretty face. It doesn’t have to be complex (in fact, simple is usually better), but at the very least good book design should present the material in such a way that it is easy to read and comprehend. This is achieved, for example, by appropriate choice of fonts, optimal word, letter and line spacing, balanced use of text areas and white space.

A well-designed cover will attract attention, display the title to good advantage, and act as an invitation to open the book. Cover and contents, too, should be well-matched. It’s pointless having a dramatic, exciting cover if your story is gentle and low-key.

So back to that question, ‘Does good design sell books?’ Maybe not directly, but it certainly won’t hurt your image as a writer who wants to be taken seriously.

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In a forthcoming article I’ll discuss whether self-publishers should attempt the design and layout themselves, or leave it to a professional graphic designer experienced in book design.


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