February 25, 2015
Your Layout Matters
Poor, poor interior layouts...so often they don't get the attention they deserve from self-publishing authors! Having worked in a position where I pre-pressed files before they hit print production, I saw a lot of self-published books that were, well, far from professional. If you want your book to sell, plain and simple: you need it look legit. The majority of readers aren't too interested in who published a book, but if your book is on par with traditionally published books, they're more likely to pick yours up because it looks good. In a way, yours comes across as "real". We've all picked up enough books to recognize when one doesn't seem right, even if we can't identify specifically why. Readers aside, even local booksellers might not want to carry your book if the design is screaming "I'M SELF-PUBLISHED"--and you can forget getting it in major retailers.
Authors may think, "Well, I know that," and then proceed to focus all their efforts on the cover, deciding to do the layout themselves. Can't be too hard, right?
Guess again. More goes into a text layout than simply plopping it in a document that has the page size correct. Here are important things that have to be considered:
Some of this is basic knowledge: using a standard text size (usually 11pt), justifying the text, acceptable margins and space from the gutter, acceptable headers and footers, etc. These alone I have seen quite a number of people do wrong, but another big one is having your pages ordered and numbered correctly! Page one does not start at the title page...it should start at the beginning of the actual text (generally chapter one). Pages before that, considered the "front matter", are often numbered in roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, etc.). Depending on the length of the front matter, you might not spot any of those page numbers as not every page requires they be visible. However, the front matter and back matter of the book both have a very specific order of how things such as a dedication, table of contents, foreword, acknowledgments, introduction, etc. should be organized. Your book should have no widows or orphans either [single lines of a paragraph that are alone as a first or last lines on a page]. Want a professional book? Make sure you know these standards and follow them.
Matching the Book's Brand
Someone checks out your cover, turns to the back, and decides to open it up. What do they see?
The layout of your book should be welcoming, and also reflect the "brand" or "look" that the cover has established. I recommend continuing usage of fonts from the cover, and your book should use only two to three fonts (one for the body text, one for headings, and potentially another for the title). It's good to have different fonts for headings from the body text to help readers visually separate chapters, sections, and ideas. Good organization can help them remember what they read, or find particular sections while flipping through.
Beyond font choice, there are also small elements you can add to bring in some flair from the cover. Images or graphics can be added to chapter starts, or designs can be added on blank pages. Sometimes adding design to the headers, footers, or page numbers can give the page more unique life. Pulling a design that matches something of the front color can be especially helpful in tying the whole book together!
Not every book needs a lot of design to the layout, of course. Even one small, subtle detail can go a long way. The key thing to learn from this point is to understand the book is a whole package, and not just a pretty cover around pages of text. Having a book that's branded inside and out helps communicate a singular message with an A+ presentation.
The Text Itself
When it comes to formatting text, you want to make sure the text is easy to read. Things such as line spacing, kerning, and hyphenation can help. The text should be aesthetically pleasing, but also be easily readable and inviting. Each line should be spaced out, but not too much so (so no single or double spacing here!). The spacing between words should be as consistent as possible, but also want to watch out for "rivers" (when spaces happen to line-up through a paragraph). These might sound minor, but giving your type the detailed attention it deserves will make a huge difference and is one of the unconscious difference people will pick up when determining if a book seems "real" or not. No matter the software you're using, you should have the capability to do this--even in Microsoft Word!--although using Adobe InDesign will make the job a whole lot easier since you have more control over how the text justifies.