Digital printing and print on demand have allowed authors to take control of the production of their own books. Thousands of self-publishers have flourished as a result, ushering in a new era of self-publishing, and many of them want to design their own book.
When authors decide to publish their own books they are thrown into a world that was always hidden behind the doors of large book publishing firms. They’re responsible for editing, proofreading, fact checking, indexing, marketing, public relations and more.
Not only that, but the conventions, vendors, and other standard ways book publishing works are new and foreign to most authors. The learning curve can be steep. Some authors throw up their hands and abandon their projects before they’re finished. That’s a shame.
It’s Always Been This Way for Self-Publishers
Of course, savvy self-publishers have been confronting this situation for many years, well before print on demand. And in this era of downsizing and outsourcing, there’s a lot of freelance publishing talent available. Self-publishers who aim to create a commercial product usually hire the help they need rather than trying to learn every job in the publishing process. This makes good business sense.
But one area in which authors vary quite a bit is in how they deal with the design of their books.
Some want to hire the best designers they can afford and leave it to a professional to take care of all the details that go into creating a professional-looking book. They want a book that will gain the respect of book industry buyers, distributors, and which will be able to sell head-to-head against books from major publishers.
Others decide that if you’re a self-publisher, you can design your own book. They either use the tools they have—usually a word processor—or buy complex layout software that comes with its own learning curve.
Before you decide whether or not to design your own book, you might want to consider the pros and cons of each approach.
5 Reasons to Design Your Own Book
1. You want to keep complete control of the project—You’ve dreamed of holding your book in your hand and you’re excited about the opportunity to decide on margins, typefaces, widows and orphans and all the other decisions that go into a book design.
2. You have a clear idea of how you want your book to look—Perhaps you’ve been admiring the books of a certain writer, or from a particular publisher. You know exactly how you want your book to look and see no need to pay someone to do it for you.
3. Your budget just doesn’t include anything for book design—Book designers, like other professionals, cost money, and books with complex formatting, lots of extra-text elements, anchored graphics, charts, graphs, tables and so on take quite a bit of time to assemble.
4. You don’t think anyone else will get it—You feel your book is so unique that only you can correctly interpret it for the rest of the world, and you are dedicated to seeing it through, no matter how long it takes.
5. You need to experiment—Your creativity requires lots of experimentation, trying different things and pulling them apart, then doing completely different designs. For a professional designer, this could end up costing you quite a bit of money. It may be better to do this experimentation on your own.
5 Reasons NOT to Design Your Own Book
1. You simply don’t want to learn every aspect of publishing—Unless you have a passion for typefaces, running heads, chapter openings and the other minutia of book design, you might find it unproductive to study the entire field just to create one book.
2. Your time is very limited—Most self-publishers have a “day job” and publish in their spare time. In addition to everything else they take on, becoming their own book designer may demand just too much time, slowing the production of their book.
3. You want a book that looks just like one from a big publishing company—Let’s face it, the books we buy from traditional publishers usually look pretty good because they are the product of professionals at every step of the process. Unless you want to devote the time to acquire their expertise, the way to get a professional-looking book is to hire professionals.
4. Your book is very complex—In the case of heavily-illustrated, extensively annotated or graphically complex books, the difficulty involved in creating these books yourself may be overwhelming, creating frustration where you should have enjoyment in the process.
5. You’re publishing an art or photography book—Unless you have experience dealing with color correction, offset printing, RGB-to-CMYK color conversion and the advantages and disadvantages of various paper stocks, the production demands of these kinds of books pretty much require that you have a professional book designer involved somewhere along the line.
Whichever way you decide to produce your book, the best advice I can offer you is to spend a lot of time looking at books to see what the conventions are and how the books are put together. You’ll also get ideas that you can use in your own book.
The design of books hasn’t changed much in 500 years. Because of that, readers have clear (even if unconscious) expectations of what a book should look like. Follow these conventions and use good models for your own design, or hire a pro.
Either way, you’ll be doing what a lot of writers have only dreamed of: You’ll be a published author.
Joel Friedlander is a self-published author, a book designer and blogs about book design, self-publishing and the indie publishing life at TheBookDesigner.com. He's also the proprietor of Marin Bookworks, where he helps publishers and authors who decide to publish get to market on time and on budget with books that are both properly constructed and beautiful to read.