Ed: This post is reprinted from Catherine Ryan Howard’s excellent blog Catherine, Caffeinated. The interview was part of a series of stops on blogs I undertook as part of the launch of our BookDesignTemplates.com site. However, I think there are some valuable tips and discussion in this article, so I’m making it available here and for subscribers in case you missed it. (And yes, that is my official collectible Smashwords souvenir mug I’m holding.)
A Visit From The Book Designer
Regular readers of this blog or those of you who have ploughed your way through all 120,000 words of Self-Printed will know that I’m a big fan of The Book Designer and the man behind it, Joel Friedlander (@JFBookman on Twitter). It’s a fantastic resource for self-publishers and it always makes for interesting reading too. Joel also runs monthly e-book design awards, which offer a sometimes wonderful, sometimes… um, not so wonderful (ahem) insight into the world of self-published e-book cover design. Recently he launched Book Design Templates for self-publishers, and he’s here today to tell us more about them. Welcome, Joel!
Me: Please explain to us what exactly are your Book Design Templates, and how self-published authors can use them.
Joel: They are Microsoft Word template files specifically designed for authors who want to do their own book formatting. A template file is simply a pre-formatted layout used to make new documents with the same design. There are 9 different designs, and each is available in standard book sizes as well as in ebook versions.
The templates allow you to quickly create a book interior because all the basic work has been done for you. The templates are sized properly and contain all the Word style definitions needed to format the text in your book. Not only that, they come with the fonts you need as well as an extensive Formatting Guide that walks you through the process of getting your text into the template.
M: You know there are self-publishers reading this now who can’t imagine why they’d need to use one of these templates. Here’s your chance to convince them…
J: Well, let me tell you Catherine, that there are a lot of authors who need something like this. The reason I say that is because I see a lot of self-published books, and most of them contain formatting errors. And I don’t mean errors like forgetting to put in your chapter title, I mean errors in book construction.
Now there’s no reason an author can’t do the same thing herself. What the template accomplishes for you is to make sure your file is set up properly, that it looks good, that you’re using appropriate fonts, and that your book will conform to industry standards. So we’ve taken care of most of the work for you, and at a very reasonable price. I think that’s pretty cool.
M: Your website, TheBookDesigner.com, is a treasure trove of advice for the self-publishing author (that I recommend to other self-publishers all the time). What do you think is the ONE thing self-publishers need to know about producing a professional-looking print book?
J: If you want to create a package that gives your book the best chance of success, there are things you can do. First, for your cover, I strongly recommend hiring a professional cover designer, and this expense will be well worthwhile.
For those authors who plan to produce their own book interiors, you’ll need to learn about how books are put together, where each part is supposed to be in relation to other parts of the book, how we separate sections and number pages, and all the minutia of book construction.
Your other choices are to hire a book designer to format your interior, or you might want to take a look at our book templates, which take care of most of this stuff for you.
M: Once upon a time I didn’t understand why self-publishers would start Chapter 1 on page 1 when, presumably, there were traditionally published books on their shelves at home that they could pick up and refer to for guidance at any time. But since then I’ve made mistakes in my own paperbacks (such as not realizing that using MS Word’s sections feature, I can ensure that my blank pages are actually blank) so I can see how it happens. Why do you think it’s so difficult for self-publishers to get their print interiors right, especially considering that there are also—hopefully—avid readers?
J: Yes, it’s curious, isn’t it? I think I know why this happens, too. Almost all of us have grown up with books, and we were introduced to them even before we could read, when Mum or Dad would read us to sleep.
Consequently, we pretty much take books for granted. They seem like such dead simple parts of ordinary life, we can’t imagine that there’s anything complicated about them at all.
It’s only when you try to create a real book yourself that it slowly dawns on you that the apparently simple object actually has lots of parts, many details that need to be decided, and a whole raft of centuries-old conventions that need to be followed if you don’t want to create uneasiness in your readers.
M: Anyone who has ever tried to format their manuscript for upload to Smashwords or KDP knows that MS Word is indeed the devil. But why is it so difficult to make a good looking paperback interior with it? What are the biggest hurdles?
J: That’s pretty funny, Catherine. Of course, Microsoft Word is a brilliant program when it’s applied to its intended uses, mostly in an office environment. It makes it easy to create memos, reports, flyers, and many other common documents.
But it was never designed as a typesetting program, or intended for book layout. I can’t tell you how many self-published books I’ve seen with really horrible errors, like running heads on the title page, blank pages with page numbers, text that floats around the page, and formatting inconsistencies throughout.
Our templates were designed to get authors over those hurdles without them having to become Word ninjas. The template makes it easy.
M: The reaction to the Book Design Templates, from what I’ve seen, has been amazing. Has this surprised you? And what’s next for The Book Designer?
J: Right away it was obvious that we had hit on something people really wanted. Instead of struggling with Word for hour after frustrating hour, and not even getting the result you want after all that work, authors saw right away that the template would free them from the drudgery and mistakes. I love that.
What’s on the horizon? We’ll keep expanding the template line, since we’re getting regular requests for sizes and styles we haven’t had a chance to develop yet.
And I’ll break some news here too. My next business will go in the opposite direction. I’m working right now on setting up a business to provide done-for-you professional-level book interiors based on the outstanding typography produced by Adobe InDesign and employing my own award-winning book designs.
I can’t say any more about that yet, but I’m pretty excited about it. This way, no matter how an author wants to get their book done—by themselves using the software they already own and know how to use, or with professional typesetting—I’ll be able to help them get into print.
For over 25 years I’ve been an advocate for self-publishing, and I love helping authors get their books done and into the hands of readers. That’s my mission, whether it’s on my blog, with these templates, or any of the other ways I try to help authors realize their publishing dreams.