Ed: This article is an excerpt from a teleseminar I recorded with Laura Cross, who helps educate authors about the publishing process. In this excerpt, we talk about the importance of book interior page layout.
Laura: Now book interior page layout is another important element of book design. Can you explain the basics of what interior layout is?
Joel: The design of the interior of books is a somewhat esoteric subject, Laura because we’ve grown up with books since we were just tiny and so the books in our lives have become, even if they are treasured objects, we do take them for granted. It’s just a book, right? So all of the detail and the many hundreds of little decisions that go into how to craft the interior of the book are things that you acquire over time. It’s not so fast to become a book designer.
Basically, the idea behind book design is first to create a page that’s very easy to read, and then to explain and display the hierarchy of information the way the author has produced it, and particularly in non-fiction books where we have subheads and categories and parts. The hierarchy of information has to be embodied in the book design. The third thing is to give readers navigational cues. For instance, we have at the top of the page the name of the chapter that you’re in so you know where you are in the book at all times.
Those are the elements of book design. Once you have satisfied those requirements, the most important thing is to get out of the way of the communication between the author and the reader. Nobody reads books to experience your beautiful book design. They’re reading it to get the information that’s in the book. We don’t want to add a lot of decorative elements that don’t aid that communication between the author and the reader.
In a brief summary, that’s about the best I can do explaining how you go about doing book design. A lot of it depends on the fonts and the typography but if you keep those things in mind, you won’t go too far off.
Laura: So maybe you could share a few layout mistakes that might make a self-published author look unprofessional or hinder their communication?
Joel: Great question, Laura. I’m going to tell you why this is a great question, because people who deal with books all the time—like book designers like me or book buyers at bookstore chains or the independent bookstore manager down in your local town—all of us are used to looking at books all day every day. We know what they’re supposed to look like because there are very standard conventions.
When somebody comes into the field and wants to do their own book in their own, unique way because they’re enthusiastic, or it’s fun for them, and they think, “Why can’t I do it? It’s just a book after all,” they frequently make small or large errors that they’re not even aware of. Now the problem is that if you make these kind of errors, anybody in the book business picking up this book will know instantly that it was done by an amateur and it’s kind of an amateur production and that is not the impression you want to give.
Laura: So you want to present yourself as a professional.
Joel: This could be very important to you, like if you’re trying to present a professional book on something, you want that to come across. Here are some of the common mistakes that I see in books from self-publishers.
- Having blank pages on the right hand side of your spread. You can have blanks on the left hand side and that’s perfectly acceptable but it really is not acceptable to have a blank right hand page in your book. You have to watch out for that. Those pages have to have something on them.
- Another one is the way people use page numbers which in book design we call “folios.” There are certain pages that have to have page numbers and other pages that should never have a page number. For instance, a page with no text on it should never have a page number because after all since there’s no text it’s not actually part of the book, the content of the book. So if you have page numbers on your title page, page numbers on your copyright page, anybody looking at the book is going to know that this was done by somebody who didn’t know what it was supposed to look like.
- The same thing with running heads, those things at the top of the page where we put the chapter name or the author’s name or the book title. If you have a blank page with no text on it, that page should be completely blank. Maybe your chapter ended on the right so you have a blank left hand page. It should have no running head, no page number. No nothing. That’s a very common mistake.
- Probably one of the worst mistakes you can make, and I have seen this numerous times, is self-publishers who have page 1 on the left. That means that throughout the book the even-numbered pages are on the right and the odd-numbered pages are on the left> That’s a real no-no. It’s one of the worst mistakes you can make. In every book, the odd-numbered pages should be on the right and the even-numbered pages on the left. If you think about it, when you open the book the first page you see is page 1 and so right-hand pages always have to be odd-numbered pages.
- The last error is typesetting books without justifying them. Justifying means making the right edge of the type column straight, just like the left edge is. Some people set books with what we call “rag right,” with the right side of the column ragged because the lines aren’t adjusted to be the same length. That’s a really bad look for a book and you shouldn’t do it. There are some cases you could do that for artistic effect but I recommend to all self-publishers to do fully justified copy.
If you avoid these 5 errors, you’ll at least avoid some of the worst mistakes and you’ll be more assured your book will actually look the way it’s supposed to look.
Laura: That looks professional, like it should be on the bookshelf with all the other books.
Joel: That’s what we’re aiming for.