Poor design and printing can really let your book down. You have gone to all the trouble to write 25,000 to 45,000 words; now put some effort into the presentation of your ideas. I’ve been known to reject a book, even though I wanted to read it, because of poor design. Of course, I might be biased. In a former life, I was a graphic designer and a print-production manager – I’ve got baggage.
There are a few classic errors that really scream ‘amateur’ when it comes to design and printing. And wibble-wobble – or the lack thereof – is one of them.
The wrong design software
It’s a big boo boo to use Microsoft Word instead of professional design software for your design. Word looks ok on screen, but it doesn’t look good in print. The letter and word spacing, for example, tends to be irregular. Design programs offer ‘kerning’, which is the ability to control the spacing between letters. This makes a big difference to the look of your text. And that is just one example.
Lack of white space
Words are unappetising when crammed onto a page. If you are a Masterchef fan, you’ll be familiar with the amount of space the chefs leave around their food to enhance its appeal to diners.
The same goes for text. It needs space. And that space needs to be ‘logical’ to us as readers. We don’t want to see strange gaps. We want to see a balance between the design elements – headings; subheadings; text; graphics, photos or illustrations; margins; and headers and footers.
The choice of paper – or stock to use the industry term – makes a big difference to the experience of reading your book. Take a look in your bookshop. Traditional publishers use a whole range of papers – from the bulky ‘paperback’ style (which is great for your business book) to elegant glossy papers for coffee table books. The most important quality of the paper is its floppiness – its ‘wibble wobble, wibble wobble’, to use the term coined by Federal Treasurer, Mathias Cormann, to deride the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten.
We want the pages of the book to fall open for the reader, not to have to be prized apart. They are the velvet curtains that lead into the fortune-teller’s tent – they need to glide apart so that all can be revealed. The same goes for the cover (unless you are forking out for a hardback); it must bend to the will of your reader.
The secret of success is to go pro. Graphic designers are worth their weight in gold. Professional, patient and dedicated to the task of making you look absolutely ace, they will make your words shine. The secret to getting the most out of designer is to provide them with a clear brief. There are two considerations: what you like, and what your readers prefer. And the most important is what your readers prefer.
Look at other books written for the audience you want to reach. The size of the book is an important factor – big, small, fat or thin. Do they have an illustration or photo on the cover or blocky text? Do they have any colour pages? What stock are they printed on and what fonts are used? Remarkably, many publishers print the name of the paper and the fonts used in the first few pages. The designer and illustrator are often credited as well. Show your designer what you are after and talk about what you would like to do differently if anything. Listen to their advice. Take it.
The design of your book really matters. If you have gone to the effort of writing a book, the design will influence whether or not people read it. Make it an enjoyable experience, and they will be more likely to recommend it.
(From the Archives)
PS: Want more? You may like: Secrets of creativity – Action keeps the darkness away.