Self-Publishing Basics: 5 Layout Mistakes that Make You Look Unprofessional

POSTED ON Sep 17, 2009

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

Home > Blog > Book Design, Book Production, Interior Design, Self Publishing Basics, Self-Publishing > Self-Publishing Basics: 5 Layout Mistakes that Make You Look Unprofessional

Years ago my wife and I went to a wedding at a very prestigious “club” here in San Francisco. My wife looked gorgeous as always, and I wore a very nice light gray English wool suit that seemed suitably low-key.

When we walked in the door I realized that I “hadn’t received the memo” because every one of the hundreds of men in the room was wearing a tuxedo.

Needless to say, the next couple of hours were “interesting” and a real “character-building” experience. But don’t let this happen to your book, if you’ve taken on the responsibility of doing your own layout, or if your cousin Wendell has offered to help because he knows how to use Microsoft Word.

Don’t Jeopardize Months of Work

You’ve worked for months to research and write your book. You know that to get a reviewer’s attention or to get noticed by book buyers and editorial writers your book has to look “professional.” But all too often, in learning how to publish a book the many details of book design and layout can get lost in the rush.

Self publishing gives you the opportunity to do many jobs that used to be done by dedicated professionals, but in some cases you may not get the results you want. If part of your plan includes book reviews, media attention and sales through traditional book publishing channels like chain bookstores, be sure to avoid these pitfalls, so you don’t “stand out from the crowd” in all the wrong ways:

  1. Blank Right-Hand Page: Many books have blank left-hand pages and there is nothing wrong with that. If your chapter openings are always on right-hand pages, about half the chapters will have a blank before the chapter opening. But if your chapter openings are on facing pages (a left and right together, for instance with illustrations facing the chapter opening page) you run the risk of the blank right. Adjust the typography or have quotations or artwork on hand that will augment the message of your book, and put those on the otherwise blank right.
  2. Folios Everywhere: Of course we need folios (page numbers) most places, but remember to turn off page numbering for the title page, the copyright page, any blank pages, any “display” pages like part-openers, and any advertising pages at the end of the book.
  3. Running Heads on Blank Pages: If a page is blank, technically it is not part of the text, because there is no text on the page, is there? So a blank page should be just that, blank, with nothing on it at all.
  4. Odd-Numbered Pages on the Left: When you open your book, the first page you see is page 1. There is no logical way that page 1 can be on the left, because then it wouldn’t be the first page. All odd-numbered pages in your book are right-hand pages.
  5. Rag Right Composition: There are some books that can be typeset in a rag right (unjustified) style, but they are rare. Whatever the merit of rag right composition, book are not generally a good place to use it. Stick with justified copy.

Check Your Outfit Before You Walk Out of the Door

Of course there are a lot of other ways you can inadvertently alert people that you are an “amateur,” but these errors, once you know about them, are easy to avoid. Make sure your book stands out for the great writing, the thoughtful arguments, or the tremendous value it brings to readers, not because it looks unprofessional.

Remember, you want buyers and reviewers to take your book seriously. It’s important that you take the design and layout details of your book just as seriously. In the end, the best investment might be to hire a professional book and cover designer, someone who knows how to properly construct the book, and who will look after all the details for you.

Photo: Gadjo_Niglo

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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