If you’re like many writers, you may have entertained the notion that if you self-publish your book, you can save a ton of money by laying out the interior yourself. After all, isn’t that something you can do in Word? How hard could it be to pick a font, set a margin, insert page numbers, and basically make it look like a book? Never mind that you’ve only ever typed regular ol’ documents in Word, perhaps with some photos or graphics inserted here and there. Cinch, right?
Well, it might be, except that some crucial elements are missing:
1. Word is not conducive to laying out a bookstore-quality book interior.
2. You likely have no training or skill in book design, which is a specialized talent that requires:
• keen understanding of the art
• mastery of the various industry standards
• proficiency in an appropriate book design program
• superb creativity
• sharp technical prowess
• fine interpretative skills
• a gift for typography
• and focused expertise to deliver excellence
3. You are probably completely unaware of how much magic is performed to make a book interior look simple to create, making it flawless, befittingly engaging, and consistent in every way that counts.
I’m not sure how the ability to type a manuscript in Word has somehow given writers the erroneous belief that this rudimentary skill translates into being able to lay out and design a book’s interior. But I know it has, because I’ve seen more and more self-published books authors have done themselves that are, quite honestly, an embarrassment to themselves and to the literary marketplace.
I have to say it again: Because book design is an art that commands specific training and knowledge of industry standards, not to mention an outstanding balance of creative and technical expertise.
If you wanted to build a home, would you draw up your own professional blueprints? No, you’d hire an architect, right? You could certainly do a sketch to show your vision, but only a trained architect knows exactly how everything must be drawn to be built to precision. Short cuts would compromise the structure and the outcome.
It’s the same with books.
When authors attempt to design their own books—assuming they’re not trained as professional book designers, which almost 100% are not—it’s not only a poor reflection on your material and on you as the author, but it also places yet another brick in the growing wall that represents substandard books entering the marketplace. It’s undeniably disconcerting for book designers; it’s also frustrating for readers.
Our goal should not be to lower the standard in book design, should it? It should be to maintain or exceed the level put out by traditional houses who employ well-trained designers. When authors bastardize books by laying them out themselves, it’s no wonder bookstores and reviewers prefer to steer clear: there’s no regulation on indie books, and they’ve seen enough inferior examples to be leery (and we’re not even talking about poor editing, which I addressed in my earlier blog series on the topic).
So yes, you need a professional book designer as a self-publishing author—trust me on this. There is no comparing a book done by a professional and one that isn’t. If you’re still not convinced, think of it this way:
• Just because you know how to drive doesn’t qualify you to be a mechanic.
• Just because you watch Law and Order doesn't qualify you to be an attorney.
• Just because you know your way around a kitchen doesn’t qualify you to be a chef.
• Just because you love animals doesn’t qualify you to be a veterinarian.
And just because you’re a writer doesn’t qualify you to be a book designer.
Stay tuned for Part Two of this post where I’ll shed light on specifically why book design is a specialized field, why it must be respected as such, and why successful self-published authors hire professionals.
In the meantime, I hope you're becoming a smarter, savvier, more sophisticated author on the road to indie publishing …
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Write from the heart,
Stacey Aaronson is a professional Book Doctor who takes self-publishing authors by the hand and transforms their manuscript into the book they've dreamed of—from impeccable editing and proofreading to engaging, audience-targeted cover and interior design—rivaling or exceeding a traditional house publication.