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Top 5 Book Design Layout Errors Illustrated

20 June 2013

From book designer Joel Friedlander:

People often ask me, “How can you tell if a book has been designed by an amateur? I mean, it’s just a book, right?”

This reminds me of the author whose book I was designing a few years ago, who asked me, “Book design? What’s there to design? You just put the page numbers on, right?”

Well… no, actually.

. . . .

I’ve gathered together what seem to me to be the 5 most common layout mistakes that authors make when they start to design their own books.

These are the screw-ups that I see most often in self-published books. Just be eliminating these errors, your book will start to stand out from the tidal wave of indie books being published every day.

. . . .

2. Rampant running heads


Unfortunately all too common, it looks like the author couldn’t figure out how to have running heads on some pages and not others. Or, they thought every page should have one, but display pages, like this chapter opening page, don’t need and shouldn’t have, a running head.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

Ebooks, Joel Friedlander

19 Comments to “Top 5 Book Design Layout Errors Illustrated”

  1. Yeah, I was surprised by how many things I had to learn when I began producing PoD books. I spent quite a while comparing different trade published books on my book shelf to figure out exactly how they were formatted.

    • I did the same thing.

    • I had experience designing RPG gaming modules for a game publisher. I knew my way around Quark, and knew a lot about basic page design. But a book of narrative fiction is a different creature from a game module.

      Like you guys, Edward and Michael, I scrutinized the print books on my bookshelves. Once I identified the ones I felt were the most beautiful, I fetched a ruler and started measuring specific details and taking notes!

      Then I had to learn InDesign! Knowing Quark helped, but there was still plenty of hair tearing! 😀

  2. Edward, that’s the same advice I give many of my clients, too. Virtually all the books on our bookshelves were produced by traditional publishers and the publishing professionals who work there, so they are a pretty good guide to the details of book construction.

  3. By coincidence, I’m learning to do print formatting using Joel’s template and Guide. It’s fascinating; I learned things about Word that I didn’t know.
    Wish me luck! If I master this, I can publish a whole bunch of books. My fans are clamoring for “real” books, and I like having this kind of control.

  4. There are plenty of things I consider important in a printed book, but while I’m aware of the “rampant running leads” issue I think I purposely decided not to bother with it when I created my templates. I spent a lot more time making sure the odd numbered pages started on the right, and making sure the margin spaces were wide enough to look comfortable.

    If a professional book-builder/typesetter ever saw my paperbacks they’d probably scream to the heavens “WHYYYYYYYY?” Such is life.

  5. This is terrific information! Very helpful!

  6. If there’s a trick to using Word 2010 for pc where you don’t either have running gutters on the occasional page, or right-ragged text, I’d be delighted to learn it.

  7. I have commented in the original blog but will do so here too. I have two books right here, Charlotte Street and a Harry Potter book (Half-Blood Prince) that are justified and use hyphenation, but also have many instances of larger spacing between words on lines of text. They aren’t massive, but certainly as big, if not slightly bigger, than the example pictures in the article.

    Of course if you can reduce their number, then do so. As for worrying that it makes your work stand out as anything other than as polished as a trad pub book, it doesn’t.

    • As a reader I care about readability.

      Too big spaces between words throws me. I start to look *at* the gaps and the words instead of reading them. Too many gap toothed looking lines and my enjoyment of the story deteriorates.

      New print books where someone has taken the time to go in and manually soft-hyphenate away the automatic justified gaps has a special place in my heart.

      Interior book design and typography is such an unfair profession: if you do a great job, no one but typography nuts will notice your work.

      • I agree. I was merely pointing out that virtually every book has gaps of at least the size mentioned as new indie publisher errors in that article. Grab any book off of your bookshelf and I bet you find loads.

  8. To all you people using Word for layout: stop.

    InDesign is ten times as powerful and, once you’ve got the hang of it, quite easy to use. You do have to pay for the subscription, true, but for *perfect* layout there’s nothing quite like it. And once you build your template, half the work is done for you with the click of a mouse.

  9. I use Open Office Writer for both writing and layout. It may not be quite as powerful as InDesign, but it’s free (in both senses) and more style-template based than Word. And it can output directly to PDF. It’s certainly up to the task for fiction.

  10. I totally agree that InDesign is powerful when it comes to book formatting. Though,it costs higher than the others still it’s worthy.:-)

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