Book design is a lost art. Though book design discussions usually focus on covers, consider how much more time a reader spends staring at the text. An elegant book block is just as important. Decades ago, professional tradesmen practiced the fine art of typesetting. Today, book design is often executed (pun intended) by amateurs. As easy as it is to set type, many fine points of typography are commonly overlooked. Fortunately, for the design-aware, digital tools like Adobe InDesign make it possible to produce pages that aspire to the old standards of hot metal type. This is the first of a series of articles offering book design tips to help polish your pages.
Sacrificing comfortable margins is unfortunately a good business decision, even if it’s a bad design decision. As the book industry has grown, page margins have shrunk. Text is packed ever more tightly onto the page. Why? A big publisher may print 30,000 copies of a new author’s book. That’s a huge financial risk. If more text can be fit on each page, the print run uses less paper and less ink, resulting in huge savings.
Fortunately, self-publishers don’t have this problem because print-on-demand (POD) allows for the production of one book at a time. Using classic margins and printing a few more pages per book adds negligible cost while giving POD publishers a competitive edge. Continue reading →
I recently responded to an article on Publishing Perspectives by Andrew Pantoja that innocently advises self-publishers about sources for cheap book covers. It is technically easy to create your own cover; therein lies the problem. It’s also easy to sew your own parachute. I have seen successful covers made by amateurs but I’ve seen plenty of authors proudly displaying horrible design abortions.
Why hire a pianist for a wedding when you can get a digital piano cheaper? This same flawed logic is often embraced by do-it-yourself cover designers. It substitutes obtaining a tool for solving a problem. It’s even more embarrassing when the purchaser of the piano can’t hear the difference; a guaranteed room-clearer.
Graphic Design is not about making something “pretty” or even finding something you personally “like.” Design is a craft practiced by professionals who not only understand how to use their tools, but how to choose and mix typefaces, combine colors, achieve tension and balance, and avoid cliches. Graphic design uses text and images to solve a problem or achieve a goal. As with dentistry, there’s much to be said for working with a professional. Continue reading →
As a book designer, I’ve been disappointed with eBooks. The design of a book once involved careful selection of typefaces, margins, leading (line spacing) and other other fine details until the eBook powers-that-be declared that a book is simply a container for text. Don’t get me wrong; eBooks have some wonderful advantages, and they’re far from illegible, but the HTML-based ePub format used for most of them (Kindle uses a proprietary wrapper for a virtually identical set of HTML files and graphics) is the equivalent of where the world wide web was in the late 1990s.
Enter Adobe InDesign CS5.5 with good responses to several of my eBook objections. Continue reading →
When designing the cover for my own novel, Waves, I tried a number of approaches before settling on a design that worked for me. This article details my process.
Before I even finished writing, I played around with an idea, initially planning to release a 5×8 inch paperback.
Original Draft Cover Design
I liked the juxtaposition of themes from the story; physical waves, waves of life, the waves in the girl’s hair, but it’s too busy. It’s also a bit drab; too balanced and static. I just never fell in love with it. Also, the contemporary approach to book cover design so often starts with a photo search. It often works, but it’s predictable. Maybe a good designer should go beyond finding photos that “go with the story?” At least some of the time? Continue reading →
I regularly hear people bashing self-published books as universally “crappy.” Many independent writers do publish books with amateurish covers and poorly edited text typeset with a word processor, but there are “crappy” books released by major publishers, and high quality books released by unknown, do-it-yourself writers. Generalizations don’t do much to help the overall standards of quality.
Yes, there are certainly plenty of crappy books out there—much like all the crappy home-made websites (and the majority of professionally-built ones). We also have crappy banks, crappy insurance companies, crappy politicians and crappy schools that make the self-publishing world look like a model of perfection, but there are two good sides to the state of self-publishing: we live in a world where the common person has unprecedented power to publish, and where there’s mediocrity, there’s the challenge to rise above it. Continue reading →
Note: This book scaler is a semi-finalist entry in the 2011 Adobe Design Achievement Awards Education Category.
Flipbooks and page turning effects have been around for years; a variety of flash plug-ins, conversion services and source files have made them accessible to everyone. Though print designers have been able to export flipbooks directly from Adobe inDesign since version CS4, the tutorials and sample files here will help you get the most from the effect.
Along with a set of video instructions on how to fine-tune the InDesign export process to produce more attractive results, I’ve developed a “book scaler” in flash that allows adjustment of a book’s size relative to the screen. An “autoscale” feature fits the flipbook to a viewer’s screen when it first opens. “Page jump” buttons have been added for the front and back covers, table of contents, next and previous pages or any page number you care to type in. An invisible “drag area” in the book’s gutter/spine allows it to be manually positioned on-screen. Optional settings allow ranges of pages to be hidden from the viewer. The full source code is available to customize, but is set up so people with no coding skills can easily modify it to suit their purposes.
By popular request, full-screen capability is now available.
In November, I spent three days at the Miami Book Fair in a booth talking to writers and would-be writers about publishing. For my efforts, I sold about twenty books; not really worth the effort in terms of time vs. money, but certainly a worthwhile experience from the standpoint of talking to writers and hearing what their interests and goals are. One thing impressed me over everything; put hundreds of thousands of paperbacks in one place and it all blends together into a gigantic literary flea market.
There was a single glimmer of shining hope that floated over the cacophony of the exploded confetti factory —McSweeney’s. Started by author Dave Eggers, McSweeney’s offers a variety of whimsical offerings. Beyond great writing, they offer great book design ranging from classic to innovative to absurd; unusual binding, interesting boxes, experimental typography, design work that implies the contents is worth reading. Hold that thought.
As a designer, it got me thinking a great deal about the relationship between the cover and the writing—and I don’t mean what’s on the cover. I mean the whole package from the binding to the artwork.
Consider the paperback book as a packaging form. It certainly offers a number of advantages. It’s cheap to print in volume, lighter to ship, consumes fewer resources (printing is a high-pollution industry) and ultimately gets the writing to the reader cheaper. For self-publishers, printing paperback books and bypassing hard cover editions means less up-front investment. Also, we see big publishers shipping countless paperback books to bookstores, and we want to be just like them, don’t we? Continue reading →
A good word processor is an essential writing and editing tool, but many authors struggle with expense, computer problems and software issues. Though Microsoft Word is the standard for word processing, there are excellent, free and commercial alternatives.
I do encourage you to use Microsoft Word. It’s not cheap, has an annoying tendency to try to think for you, is bloated with too many difficult-to-turn-off features and long menus with cryptic choices—but it’s the standard. It has excellent spelling and grammar check features and a suite of essential editing and annotation tools. Continue reading →
I was participating in a forum discussion about self-publishing where the topic starter expressed legitimate concerns about poorly written, poorly edited and poorly designed self-published books ruining the market for those of us who work hard to produce books of the highest quality.
“All the connections, marketing strategies, publicity packages, and so on won’t save a mediocre book from itself.”
I’d like to believe this is true. It’s the writer in me. The good guy should win. And I’m the one always pushing for excellence. Nobody likes a story where the main character struggles to be the best, works hard, overcomes obstacles, gambles it all on a long shot and then…nothing happens.
You can have the best book in the world, but chances are, it’s the best because it was written from the heart, not as a well-placed product for market distribution. The book still has to be excellent, but the big money is in mediocre books that are excellently marketed – not the other way around. If you want a quick parallel, turn on top 40 radio for as long as you can stand it.
Sadly, good marketing saves mediocre books from themselves all the time.
We self-publishers have to be that much better and that much more clever with our marketing strategies and cover designs—and that still may not do the trick. Continue reading →
The following is something I posted on a discussion forum in response to someone who asked for a critique on about a dozen of their self-designed book covers.
Since you asked for a critique, I’ll pick on you, but with the caveat that you make many of the same errors everyone else does. I’m using you as a catalyst to educate rather than to make an example of.
The sore spot for me (and with many of my university design students, by the way—you’re in good company) is the typography. Continue reading →