Monday, January 24, 2011

A Crash Course on Book Design (Part 1)

I have a lot of complaints about the self-publishing concept, at least when applied to fiction. I think most of the arguments for it that don’t involve academia or niche writing are inherently flawed. But my biggest frustration is poor book design.

Oh, I know, I know, “Don’t judge a book by its cover!” you cry. “It’s the content that’s really important!” And it is true, a book rises or falls based primarily on the quality of the writing. A well-designed presentation will not save a poorly-written book, as so many YA paranormal romance novels prove. But poorly-designed presentation does have the potential to ruin a perfectly good reading experience, no matter how good the book actually is.

Plus, bad book design reflects badly on the book’s creator and on their general level of give-a-damn. After all, if you didn’t care enough about your work to give it the strongest first impression possible, how much did you care about it while you were writing it? This is a good rule even with traditional publishing: smart marketing departments invest their time and energy into getting attention for their prospective best-sellers, so a generic design there usually means a fairly mediocre title. (Naturally, exceptions are made for the sort of series that follow a brand, like the various Harlequin lines; but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of cod)

Self-publishers are not the only ones who fail at this sort of thing, but they are the greatest offenders by far; most of them by virtue of inexperience. Layout and design is kind of a skill, folks. It takes some studying and experimentation to get really good at it. Part of my technical writing education was in learning the basics of it all and, since it fascinates me so, I continued to research it on my own. So I figured I’d impart a little wisdom here in hopes that folks will at least think about their designs a bit more carefully.

Originally, this was just going to be some random advice post, but it kind of…expanded. Into a series. Yeah. ^.^; Expect posts in the next few days about font, cover design and interior layout, at the very least. There’s probably also going to be a case study or two to see how to use these things effectively. Because I am just that kind of nerd. I hope that somebody somewhere will find them interesting and/or useful.

Getting Started:

This is Serif Page Plus. It is a free desktop publishing program. It is good. Having used both, I can tell you that it is equally as effective as Adobe In-Design, which starts at about $200, except that it also does business cards and other office-y type things.

Get it. Use it. Play with it until you know all of its tricks, then put them to work for you. You will thank me for this. Good desktop publishing software is the first step to a good book design.

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