Oddly enough, this is the part that was hardest for me to learn. There are lots of sites and online articles and YouTube tutorials that told me how to do specific parts of the job; putting it all together was a process of lots of trial and error. I’ve tried in my blog series to indicate in what order things should be done, but sometimes it’s an iterative process.

For instance, the title on your cover will probably use a font designed for display; something that’s easy enough to read for a word but that would be terrible to read for a sentence or longer. That’s fine … but I’ve made cover design step 11, I think – way at the end of the process. There are good reasons for that, but if you want your bastard title page and title page (see the difference in A Few Notes On Book Design) to have the title presented in the same font in the same way as your cover … that requires you to backtrack a little once the cover design is finalized.

And, of course, sometimes you don’t know what you want until you’ve designed it, and decide … that isn’t it. So you go back and start over, avoiding the choices you made so that you come up with something else, and … that’s not it, either. Mostly what you’re looking for is either a specific feel from your font or a certain feel from your chapter beginnings. Choosing a different font can impact a lot of design issues downstream, so changing your mind on that one can cost time, if nothing else.

Sometimes you don’t know that something’s wrong until the proof gets delivered from CreateSpace – I had a decorative element behind my chapter title, and I made it light: 30% gray. Well, the black and white process that CreateSpace uses doesn’t handle light gray very well; the glyph was made of lightly sprinkled dots that didn’t show the shape very well. That’s a “live and learn” mistake – and I know better now. It was good enough and didn’t get changed, but I’ll have to come up with another idea for future books.


Note – About Software

Professional quality publishing software is a specialized field, and there’s just a few workable options for you.

InDesign by Adobe is one of the standard tools in the industry. It is also very complicated, but there are a lot of web tutorials, and book design doesn’t go into the more complicated parts of the program. Adobe only works on a subscription basis now, and InDesign is $20 per month as of this writing.

Scribus is an open source project that is trying to make a professional publishing program. They are doing very well, but this is unsuitable for books, because the program can’t handle a large number of pages in one project. The current version will take upwards of 10 seconds to change one character in a 300 page document. This doesn’t work for me.

Publisher is the desktop publishing Office program by MicroSoft. It has a baseline grid … but it also has issues with handling a large number of pages, like Scribus does. Really, look elsewhere.

PagePlusX9 by Serif is software they don’t want to continue developing. Serif has decided to rewrite all of their software, and the PagePlus series is being abandoned. There is no more support, no bugs will be fixed … and you can buy it for $25 right now. I bought it, and it will do everything you need for a book. Web tutorials have been very helpful, and have addressed all my questions.

QuarkXPress is currently $849. I didn’t even try to evaluate it, because I don’t have that kind of money. If you do … I still suggest InDesign. Long before you begin to pull even with cost, you will have mastered the program and produced good work. This is not the cheap option by any means.

PageStream is $150 for the Pro version, $100 for the standard version, and their website has enough issues that I am hesitant to recommend it. It doesn’t seem to be under active development. I was so put off by their website (and lack of current information) that I haven’t bothered to investigate this option – if it works for you, more power to you, but I don’t think it’s worth my time.

Xara Page and Layout Designer runs $90, and I know nothing about it. There’s other software in this category, too – such as anything that is exclusive to the Apple OS. Feel free to investigate on your own, but don’t forget all the tasks that I mentioned in the previous posts; as long as they can be done by the software, you’ll be able to use it to produce a book.

There is one last option, but … it’s a bit pricy. You can trade money for time. Specifically, send me your manuscript (formatted with styles!) and I’ll create the book for you. $100 if you like it, nothing if you don’t. And you have all that time back that you would have spent designing your book and experimenting. Email to get started with this option.

Step 11 – Covers

Books get judged by their covers. They do, it’s unfair, and it happens anyway, so plan for it. When laying out your cover design, you’ll need to allow for the barcode box (defined by the printer, on the back side of the book). You’ll also need to know how many pages it is, so you can design a cover that is precisely the right width for your novel; that is, your cover design is precisely wide enough to fit the width of the spine that the printer will make. That’s why the cover design is step 11 instead of step 1.

Full color, full cover photographs are very eye catching and work VERY well. If you don’t have a talent for it (or the equipment for it), take a look at websites that host high-pixel digital photography that’s free under the Creative Commons License for commercial use. You’ll need at least 300 pixels per inch in order to get a sharp picture for your cover.

Look at book cover in your book’s genre. Bright colors? Washed out picture? Monochromatic? Where’s the title placed? How big is it? Is there a design element in the cover that clues you into a series tie-in? What kind of font is used for the title? What kind of font is used for the author’s name? Is it different? Is there any other text on the cover? (If the author’s name is bigger than the title, realize that they’re doing that because the author’s name is a selling point – your name probably won’t be. Don’t take your cues from that.) If you are using a person on the cover to represent a character, you’ll want that same model for all the books in your series, so make sure you can be consistent across the series that way.

Consider combining photographs to make your cover unique. If you don’t do that, at the very least, use some image effects on the picture so that if someone uses that same photo for their cover, your cover will still be different.

And when you look at a hundred covers in one genre, you’ll be able to tell what most of them have in common; make sure that your cover has those things, too. If you just HAVE to break a rule, make sure that you are only breaking ONE rule; all the others must be followed, or you’re going to confuse your buyers. If just one thematic rule is broken, then it’s still a part of the group, just a little off. But if two rules are broken, it’s not necessarily within the genre, and potential readers will shy away.

Oh – one more thing about using faces on your cover. I’ve been endorsing Creative Commons photos from the beginning, but there’s a drawback to those as well. People are really good at remembering faces. Really good. So if you choose a model for your nice, sweet mid-teen coming of age novel, someone else can come along and use that exact same picture for their raunchy erotica novel … and readers will assume from the covers that there is some connection between the two. Even if you aren’t using photos of faces, you should combine a few photos in some way and use some graphic effects to distinguish your novel from all others that may use that particular photo in the future; it also allows you to make a thematic tie-in across several novels to indicate a series.

All this requires sources and software; check out my Resources page for a few websites for pictures and software to make it perfect for your book.

Step 10 – PDF formats

When you’re done with your layout, you have to get it to the printer. Your software will save the book as a PDF file. You’ll want to choose the format that is most compatible so that the POD company can reproduce your book just the way you laid it out. That format is the PDF/X-1a format.

The printing and folding layout for 32 pages at once.

And you absolutely without fail must save the PDF as separate pages, not as page spreads. Why? Well, because the POD company has different printers than you do. They do not print a 6×9 book on 6×9 paper, front and back – they print 32 pages at a time on both sides of one sheet of paper. They are out of order and some are upside down … but then they fold the sheet in a complicated way, and they end up with a bundle of 32 pages in order that are all ready for binding. More to the point, the company will get back to you and tell you to do it again the right way – but this is why they’ll get back to you on that.

Step 9 – Layout

This is where all the decisions you’ve made see the light of day. This is also the part that takes the most time. It’s also where you’ll see the payoff as the story takes shape in book form.

You may have noticed (or maybe not) that the line of text on one side of the spine is on the same line as the text on the other side of the spine. That’s an essential part of book design, and it’s called the Baseline Grid (even though it’s strictly horizontal, they call it a grid. Don’t blame me.) Your software will make it so that all your text sits on those gridlines – it’s not something you have to worry about (and that’s why MS Word isn’t suitable for book layout – it doesn’t have that grid.)

Baseline Grids. Use them.

Chapter beginnings are where layout can get creative – everywhere else, it’s just text, text, text. It used to be that the first page of a chapter had the chapter title towards the top (not at the very top), and thirteen lines of text at the bottom. Why? Dunno – it’s a tradition, and that’s just the way it was. Now, the only real requirement is that you have a significant amount of white space at the top of your page, there is some stylistic indication that this is a new start (like a drop cap), and you don’t show running heads or folios on the page.

For the first paragraph of the chapter, do you want drop caps? That’s a layout option that’s very popular. Some people also use italics or small caps for the first few words of the paragraph. Don’t indent the first line of that first paragraph, unless it’s a stylistic thing that indents the whole drop cap. And of course, setting all this up once and then assigning it to a style means that every other paragraph looks identical with no effort. (The identical thing is important. The no effort part is just very nice.)

Rivers in text. Not OF text. There’s a difference.

All text needs to be justified – that means that the last character of the line ends at the margins edge. Sometimes that leads to ‘rivers’ of white space visibly running through the paragraph – that’s unsightly, and a sign of bad layout. The indent for the paragraphs should be from 1 to 2 times the font size.

Having the first line of the paragraph be the last line on the page, or having the last line of the paragraph be the first line on the page (called widows or orphans) is to be avoided. If you have to choose one (and my wife writes three line paragraphs all the time), choose to have the first line at the end of the page, because then the whole width of the book block will be used at the start of the next page. With the last line of a paragraph starting a page (which won’t be the full width of the book block) the page looks … off.

The last line of a paragraph should be at least long enough to extend past the indent of the line below – otherwise the book block looks disconnected at that point. And if (for some odd reason) the same word ends two lines in a row, that needs to be fixed, too.

The Fix

You have two tools to fix issues (aside from re-writing a section.) You can nudge letters (and spaces) closer or farther apart. This can help a paragraph take fewer lines or more lines, and that can fix most issues. If it doesn’t, then you can nudge the spine edge of the margin in or out a little, which will also help a paragraph to take more or less space. You don’t want to nudge the margin more than a few points either way, and you don’t want to nudge the letters (called tracking) more than 15 thousandths of a letter width. The idea is to be unnoticeable in your nudging.

Text Niceties

While you’re doing your layout, you need to pay attention to quote marks and dashes. The “curly quotes” are properly called typographer’s quotes, and you’ll need to make sure that they are used in all dialogue. In America, double quotes are used for dialogue and single quotes are used for quoted material inside the dialogue. In England, it’s the other way around. French dialogue (and in some other languages) is set off with «Guillemets», and in some other languages, they are used but point inward instead of outward. Moral of the story: check with Wikipedia before mindlessly assuming how other languages do things. And when doing book layout, dialogue is fiddly, tricky, and essential to get right.

You need to make sure that the dashes are used properly;

  • Em-dash; to set off a clause in a sentence
  • En-dash; to show duration (8:00-9:00)
  • Hyphen; to join parts of a word across lines
  • Minus; used only for mathematical operations

Oh, and about hyphens: don’t hyphenate more than three lines in a row, don’t hyphenate across pages, and don’t hyphenate proper nouns (basically, anything that’s capitalized.)

Copyright symbols are generally part of a font – use the proper copyright, trademark, and registered symbols where appropriate. Use ‘dumb quotes’ for inches and feet (” ‘) instead of curly quotes. This is also where you begin to use Oldstyle Figures if you’ve got ‘em, and fleurons if appropriate.

You now know about Front Matter and Back Matter – on my site and around the web, there’s a book called A Few Notes On Book Design by Peter Wilson. Get it, and read about the strict order for parts of the Front Matter and Back Matter. If you don’t follow it, you can seriously confuse your readers, and having your copyright page where it’s expected to be makes life easier for librarians. (And I am one, so don’t expect me to cut you any slack on this.)

Yes, it’s involved. There’s a lot of things to keep track of – and that’s why some people are able to do this for a living. It is possible for you to do it, but you have to be committed to it. Or just committed, I can’t tell.

Step 8 – Margin Calculations

The Book Block or text block is the rectangle of text on the page. It doesn’t include running heads or folios. Your margins are the distance in from the edge of the page to define the size of the book block.

Okay, you’ve chosen your font, your page size, and you know where on the page your page numbers will be (and if you’ve got running heads.) Your inside margin – the margin next to the spine – needs to be big enough so that your text isn’t falling into that crevice and is easy to read. Your outside margin needs to be large enough for the reader’s thumb, so that it doesn’t cover the text while they’re holding the book.

So … that’s 1 inch for the interior margin, and .75 inches for the outside margin. You will need to increase the interior margin if your story requires a large number of pages (say, more than 400), because the spine will be thicker and will obscure more area.

Your font size comes from this calculation: your lines need to have between 60 to 70 characters (including spaces.) Subtract the interior margin and the outside margin from the page width, and then … play around. Experiment with your chosen font to see how large it needs to be so that you can average 66 characters per line (that’s regarded as the ideal, historically. A little more makes it easier to justify the paragraphs, but too much makes it harder to read, so don’t go for more than 70.) Don’t be afraid of using decimals – we’re going to use the computer to do the math, and it doesn’t mind, really.

— Time Passes —

Okay, you now have your font size. The line spacing is by default 1.2 times the font size in points … but we’re trying to do better than default. Experiment to see what line spacing makes for the best reading experience; you’ll want to go from 1.1 to maybe even 1.4 times the font size. Again, decimals are not going to be an issue. But your paper supply is, as you’ll have to print out the examples to properly evaluate them.

— Time Passes —

That should be the last experiment you need to do. There is one more decision you need to make at this point – what proportion do you want your book block to be? I’ve swiped the classical proportions from architecture – 1.5, 1.618, and 1.666 (2:3, the Golden Ratio [phi], and 3:5) and I stick with them (and they’re a good fit for the standard trim sizes, oddly enough.)

I’ve set up a Margin Calculator Spreadsheet that will take your trim size and line spacing (also known as leading, pronounced “ledding”, in the trade), and produce the right margins for you based on the three proportions for the book block. You can choose differently, if you like – there are purists that prefer absolutely huge margins, and there are good justifications for them. I just prefer not to make books that way; it’s your book, your choice…

Pica measurementThe output of my spreadsheet may confuse you a little, though. Printing uses a different set of measures – the inch is divided into 6 picas, which are then divided into 12 points. It’s kind of like feet and inches on a smaller scale. I’ve got the output shown in inches, picas (3 picas and no points are shown as 3p0), points, and millimeters. And that’s because your software may require you to use a specific measure.

Step 7 – Folios and Running Heads

A folio is simply a page number. You need to decide on having them at the top of the page or at the bottom. Outside edge or center? In combination with that, you now decide on running heads, which are headers at the top of each page, usually showing ‘Author | Title’, sometimes showing ‘Title | Chapter Title’. Running heads also frequently have the page number on that line, as it’s less page space given over to stuff that’s not the story.

Running heads are relatively new for fiction with the last ten years or so. (Well, they’ve been sporadically used for a long time, but they have become ubiquitous in the last ten years.) They are considered absolutely necessary for reference and textbooks, but less so for narrative-based non-fiction. If you want to have them for your book, have at it – but get some examples to look at before you commit to them. Frequently, they use small caps, italics, bold, or some combination – which means that you need fonts that can support those choices.

About page numbers: when you open a book, the first page is on the right. That’s page one. Page two is on the back of page one, on the left. Don’t mess with that, ever. It’s a tradition you have to adhere to for your book to be taken seriously.

Small digression: the story part of your book is the ‘Main Matter’. The stuff before that (like the title page, dedication, etc.) is the ‘Front Matter’. And after the Main Matter is the ‘Back Matter’. Not very inventive, but that’s how everyone knows what section you’re referring to.

Page numbers begin with small roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, etc.) in italic for the Front Matter. When you get to the Main Matter, you start over with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.) beginning with the number 1, and starting on the right.

Page numbers and running heads are not shown on blank pages (even though the numbers still increase – they aren’t skipped). They are also not shown on display pages, like the title page and chapter beginnings (and they still count, too.)

Again, don’t mess with this tradition. It is part of the technology of books, and doing it any other way will make people think you don’t know what you’re doing. Running heads? Up to you. Page numbers? Strictly follow the rules, and your readers will be happy.