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Why Are Books That Teach You How to Self-Publish So Ugly?

12 October 2011

Book designer Joel Friedlander points out that among the most poorly-designed books on the market are those that provide advice about how to self-publish your book:

I’ve often said that it doesn’t cost any more to produce a good-looking book than it does to produce a bad-looking one, but people aren’t listening.

When I first started blogging a couple of years ago I thought one good service for readers would be to review books about self-publishing.

Like lots of things, I set out with good intentions, and had barely gotten started before I tripped up on those same intentions, and had to abandon the effort.

The first book I reviewed was such a shambles from a book design point of view, I couldn’t hold back from criticizing the author/publisher.

. . . .

Like a lot of self-publishers, having control of lots of neat things like tinted boxes, type run-arounds, drop caps and automatic bullets apparently makes people think you need to use them all. On almost every page.

Perhaps they think that an unadorned page of type would, by itself, be so boring no one would read the book.

But it seems to me that all the books I remember most brilliantly, the ones I can never forget, are made up of unadorned pages of type. That’s because it’s the words and the story and the ideas that remain, when they are allowed to, not the fancy rules and type ornaments and drop shadows. That stuff just gets in the way.

Cluttering your book pages with stuff is pretty much the opposite of my idea of book design. I think self-publishers would do themselves a favor by creating very simple pages instead of fancy ones. Their readers will thank them.

. . . .

So I suppose it’s the rule that books about self-publishing that are self-published themselves look bad because the authors are attempting to follow the DIY (do-it-yourself) route to show just how easy it is to publish a book.

And maybe that’s the problem: it’s dead easy to publish a book, it’s just a bit harder to publish one that looks decent, or one that looks just as good as a book from a traditional publisher.

But does that mean all these books have to use bad clip art, pedestrian typefaces, awkward layouts, three or four fonts per page, and covers that look like they came straight out of the template cover generator?

When I look at a book cover with 6 lines of type on it, and every line is a different font or weight, with type that’s been digitally distorted, with big chunky drop shadows, I have to take a few deep breaths.

And that leaves me with a question: Why are the self-published authors of books about self-publishing so unconcerned with how their books look? Why are they convinced they don’t need a book designer? Why don’t they want to create a book that looks great?

Link to the rest at The Book Designer


5 Comments to “Why Are Books That Teach You How to Self-Publish So Ugly?”

  1. Because folks who self-publish are interested in “This looks cool!” and don’t realize how gaudy it actually looks? Just a thought. ^_^

  2. Just because one is a writer does not necessarily mean that one has an eye for good design.

    • I’ll go farther, Francoise. I’m a writer in part because my verbal communication skills are so much better than my visual communication skills. In my case, I’m a writer becase I DON’T have an eye for good design.

      I swear, I read comic books almost exclusively for the words. The pictures are just backdrop for me.

  3. I think Joel has a very good point; a lot of “how-tos” on self-publishing have poor covers (and some even have bad formatting which is really inexcusable). I’ll forgive the poor cover a little more because designing enticing covers for non-fiction titles (and those obligatory elongated sub-titles) is tricky.

    However, the book he linked to as an example of great design is a little strange. While it certainly works as a print cover, it really really doesn’t as an e-book cover, which kind of undermines his point a little (and especially his aside that it’s no surprise that the only book he likes is from a trade publisher).

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