Book Designer Confesses: The Truth About Word Processors

POSTED ON Feb 18, 2013

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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It must have started even before the era of print on demand. It probably had its roots in the fabled past called the “Desktop Publishing Revolution.”

Authors, sensing the freedom that would be theirs in just a few years, started to gravitate to the joys of electronic editing. Word processors controlled the market for consumer software.

As Microsoft Word became richer with the tools of digital design, the documents you could produce became richer, too.

And when print on demand arrived, all those authors were ready to start formatting their books with the software they already owned and used: Word.

For designers like me, it seemed bizarre, like trying to hammer nails with a piece of pipe. Sure, you could do it but the results might not be what you were looking for.

In blog articles and guest posts, I wrote about how Word is not a layout program. It’s simply unsuited for producing books. As a designer, I wouldn’t try to create books in Word, not when there are tools like Adobe InDesign at hand. Lots of other people wrote these articles, too.

Here Comes the Confession Part

Of course, we were right that you can’t create a truly professional quality book in Word, since it doesn’t have the typographic chops to produce great type, and it’s pretty hopeless at layouts that demand precision.

But the plain truth is that thousands of authors ignored all the advice and stuck with the program they already own and use: Microsoft Word.

I’ve seen the books, with the page numbers in the wrong places, the chapter opening pages that have running heads because the author couldn’t figure out how to turn them off, the tiny margins, inconsistent use of type, awkward font choices.

Truly, many of these books look dreadful. And that’s where I made my mistake.

If you look at the masthead of this blog, it says:

“Practical Advice to Help Build Better Books”

Wouldn’t it be better to help those poor authors struggling to turn a word processor into a layout program? Isn’t there some way I could help them create books more easily, ones that didn’t make people cringe, that didn’t shout “self-published” quite so loudly?

So instead of whining about Word, I decided to find a way to make it better. I asked myself:

  • What would authors need to get their books formatted properly, even if they could’t afford to hire someone knowledgeable to do it for them?
  • And how about the fonts, would authors have to be stuck with the arbitrary selection you find on your computer after you boot it up?
  • And what about formatting help, so even if an author doesn’t know her word processor so well, she would have instruction at hand to help her use these tools?

Yes, yes, and yes. That could all be done. There was only one problem with the whole, grand scheme: I may be a decent book designer, but I’ve never done a book in Word. I’m not a Word “ninja” by any stretch of the imagination.

Recently the last piece fell into place, and what I had only dreamed about became a reality. That’s the part of this story I’ll get to next time. And I’ll also tell you exactly why—if you’re a DIY author who is determined to take on the formatting of your own book—this could be very good news indeed.

Next time: The Truth About Word Processors

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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