Why Self-Published Books Look Self-Published

by | Aug 15, 2012

If you’ve looked at a lot of self-published books, you already know that authors sometimes go to press before they have really absorbed all the conventions of book making and the advice of publishing professionals.

In fact it surprises authors—who haven’t noticed the mistakes that creep into their books—that these same mistakes are quite obvious to people in the book business. Since they didn’t notice the errors, they’re surprised when other people point them out.

Judging Books Reveals Problems

Recently I had the opportunity to act as a judge for the annual BAIPA Book Awards.

Many of the books in the competition were produced by independent pressses who have professional book people on staff or hire them for specific projects and, of course, those books look just the way they are supposed to look.

There were also quite a few self-published books, and among those there was a lot of variation in how well they were put together.

One thing that distinguishes the BAIPA awards is that the participants receive the actual judging forms that we filled out, with all the comments included.

One of the authors whose book I judged wrote to me recently. She asked me to explain the remarks on her judging form.

I wondered whether she knew that I was the author of the comments, which were submitted without identification. I don’t know, but I’d bet that she made an educated guess before she wrote to me. Authors are a pretty clever bunch, aren’t they?

I told her I would be happy to explain, and that it would help more authors if she would allow me to do this on my blog. With her agreement, here is her query and my responses.

The Point of the Criticism

Here’s a section from the author’s note to me:

“The criticism I received for the layout of my novel … included the following:
‘No category or price, no Bookland/EAN barcode, although there is, oddly, a UPC on the book.’
I don’t know what these words mean. Also, objections were made to widows/orphans (which I had thought acceptable) and ‘no running heads, hyphenation is nonexistent, leading to the suspicion this book was produced on a word processor’ What is a running head? Do words have to be hyphenated at margins? What’s wrong with word processing production?”

That’s fair enough: if you don’t know the terminonlogy being used, you can’t be expected to understand the criticism, no matter how well-intentioned.

Let’s disassemble this inquiry and look at the parts:

  • No category or price.”
    It’s considered standard practice to print a category on the back cover of your book, and if you think about it, that makes a lot of sense. Book retailers, book buyers and bookstore staff need to know where your book belongs, and the more information you give them, the easier it will be for them to put it in the place where it’s most likely to be found by the right people. Putting a category on the book is the lowest level of metadata and should be done for all books. Likewise, a print book that a prospective buyer can pick up to examine ought to have a “human readable” retail price on it.
  • No Bookland/EAN barcode although there is, oddly a UPC on the book.”
    Throughout the book industry we identify books by their International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and this is the most basic identifier for the specific retail product. Since we live in an age of electronic scanners, the way the ISBN is usually displayed on the back cover of a book is with a scannable form: a barcode. And the standard format for book ISBNs is the Bookland/EAN barcode. It’s the one you usually see on books. This book did not have one but, instead had the UPC barcode that you typically find on clothing, food and other retail items.
  • Widows, orphans.”
    Widows and orphans are typographers terms for short bits of sentences that appear by themselves at the top of a page, or a single line that starts a paragraph that appears by itself at the bottom of a page. In some styles of book design these are left in the book, but in others we try to eliminate them. You can tell which style is being used, and in this book the widows and orphans were particularly bad-looking, and sometimes you would see just a word or two at the top of the page, which I think is unsightly.
  • No running heads.”
    This refers to the title, author’s name, chapter title or other information that appears at the top (usually) of standard text pages. Although there have always been books that didn’t use running heads (or running feet if they are at the bottom of the page), they are so common that we only notice them when they are missing. Running heads are a basic navigation tool supplied to readers so they can tell where they are in the book. Without them, your pages may look “undressed.
  • Hyphenation is nonexistent.”
    You can produce a book with hyphenation or without it. Since lines are justified by adding space between words, books that don’t use hyphenation have much worse inter-word spacing, usually leading to “rivers” of white space on the page. This is distracting to the reader and can make it more difficult to take in what the author is saying. In fact, it’s the ability to produce sophisticated hyphenation and justification that gives books produced with professional-grade tools by a competent designer the “look and feel” of real books.
  • “…leading to the suspicion this book was produced on a word processor.”
    Okay, well, I’m not going to pretend that no book should be produced with Word or another word processor, because plenty of them are being done that way. But in this competition we were asked to judge the books against a professional standard, and books created with word processors face serious handicaps in meeting that standard. Poor font handling, lack of hyphenation, crude justification are the results. Word processors that are designed for letters, memos, business reports and the like are simply not up to the task of creating beautiful and pro-level book typography.

Expectations and Goals in Self-Publishing

As I’ve often said, how you produce and market your books depends entirely on the goals you’ve set for the book. A large part of my Self-Publishing Roadmap training course is devoted to exploring how your production and publication strategies play out depending on the aims you have for your book.

For books you’re experimenting with, for early drafts, books for peer review, or for private circulation or as an expression of a hobby, a book like this one is perfectly fine.

But if you want more, if you expect buyers, reviewers, readers and awards judges to respond favorably to your book when comparing it to books that may have come from traditional publishers or from authors who have put together a team of professionals to create their books, it’s simply not good enough.

So what’s the message for authors? Be clear about what you expect, and create the book that will fulfill your goals. Both you and your readers will be happier for it.

Photo by spilltojill

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Blue Jasmine

    Many thanks for this posting Joel. I have self-published a novel using professionals to do the cover design, typesetting etc and am currently self-publishing a diet book, which is more complicated in terms of layout.

    I’m finding it incredibly frustrating working with my typesetter. He works for several big publishing houses so he is good at what he does but he keeps sending back samples that do not remotely reflect my instructions. This is possibly my fault because I don’t know enough about fonts and typesetting but I do know the pages he is sending look ugly and lack credibility.

    It’s very time consuming typing up set after set of instructions and trying to verbalise how I want it to look. For this reason, I’m thinking I would prefer to do the typesetting myself but it sounds quite complicated.

    I wondered if you had any thoughts on iPages software. (I’m a Mac user). I don’t have any pictures or tables in my book and though this might be easier to use.

    Any advice would be appreciated.

    • ann

      Blue Jasmine, you’re probably far past this issue by now, but I just posted a comment below about Pressbooks. I’m not sure about iPages, but I just found Pressbooks and am finding it easy to navigate. HTML code adjustments and custom css style sheets make it easy to change your formatting options. I didn’t know the first thing about html code and css style sheets until I started doing my format design with Pressbooks, but it’s coming along quite easily. I encourage you to look into it. The added bonus of their file generator to do both POD pdf files as well as EPUB and MOBI in one simple export click is certainly encouraging.

  2. Kiodour

    As a Designer I find this article very useful.

  3. Steven Lyle Jordan

    Some good perspectives on the expected appearance of a printed book. I wonder, however, what standards one applies to a digital book, as most of what you mentioned above reflect printed products, and more books are being produced digitally-only these days, and e-book producing software makes most of your observations a non-issue.

    • Dave Fessenden

      Steven, it is true that more books are being produced digitally, but more printed books are sold than e-books. And it is NOT true that more books are being produced digitally-only. (Perhaps by “more” you meant that an increased number of books are being produced digitally-only, and not more than printed.) Be that as it may, the e-book market is, for the time being, oriented toward a Kindle-style layout (in other words, UGLY). But with the increase in tablets, the appearance of a digital book is going to be more and more important — especially since, in e-books, color typography and graphics are no more expensive than b&w (aside from the additional work required of the graphic artist). Tablet customers are going to demand (are already demanding) book layouts that are more like magazines.

      • Steven Lyle Jordan

        Yes, I did mean that an increased number of books are being produced digitally-only; I wasn’t saying that ebooks were outselling printed books. (Yet!)

        The problem with trying to design for tablets, or any other type of digital system, is that screens are differently sized, proportioned and use different brightnesses, contrasts, colors and resolutions; and that users can further modify those factors according their own preferences. That makes the idea of taking design cues intended for static and unchanging pages, and applying them to very malleable digital presentations, very problematic.

        You may call a Kindle layout, for instance, “ugly,” but a Kindle is intended to present its content according to user preferences… not the creator’s preferences. And while some consumers may ask for a more magazine-like layout, others want layouts that take better advantage of the nature of digital screens, interactive media and multitasking.

        I, myself, subscribe to a number of magazines that I read on tablets. And I can tell you with no hesitation, their display-as-print layouts largely don’t work on tablets, or at best, don’t take advantage of the features digital presentation can offer.

        Print-based sensitivities applied to digital media is missing the point, the real practicalities and advantages of digital. Digital presentation is a very different world, and requires a very different set of rules to fit its aesthetics. Anyone who designs digital content to be like existing print magazines is quite simply doin’ it wrong.

  4. sharon

    Some input please from the experts. I am a 72 yr old amateur who wants to put together some writing I did to my sister in the year before she died. It was done to help her short-term memory loss and for nostalgia. Her family loved the results and I would like to put the results together in a book (probably pocket size, less than 80 pages, about 25 copies) but I wouldn’t like it to look homemade. I certainly cannot afford $700 for a publishing software. I don’t intend to sell this; don’t know a PDE from a PDF; and just need someone to steer me to a site or group that can tell me how to proceed. I have the writing; and a book design idea; but have no idea how to format, do back to back page printing, etc. Is there any help out there for a novice like me to accomplish what I feel is a good deed? Thanks.

    • Jillian

      Hello Sharon, I hope you managed to get your work published, but if not and you are still looking for help, I take on the occasional pro-bono work for good causes. Please go to my website at lionesspublishing.com and send me an email so I can help. All the best.

  5. Olaf Moriarty Solstrand

    Great article, but to add my two cents: I think there’s a lot of cultural differences going around here.

    I’m working on finishing my first self-published novel now, and in the process I have put a lot of effort into studying books published by big publishers in my country (Norway) to figure out what the standards are (and I work as a cataloguing librarian, so I have easy access to most of what’s published here). And amusingly enough, most professionally published Norwegian books break most if not all of the “rules” you list above. Price is never printed on the back cover or any other place in the book. Books don’t use Bookland barcodes, only regular EAN-13 (with no price information), as demanded by the national ISBN office (ISBNs are free here, by the way). Even more fascinating, the books don’t have running heads! I can’t say for sure that this also goes for nonfiction books as I’ve mostly studied what’s practice in fiction, but as for me, I’m pretty sure my book will stand out as amateurish if I add running heads, cover price or any other barcode than EAN-13.

    This is not meant as critique of your excellent articles, which I enjoy strongly, I’m just fascinated by the cultural differences at hand here.

    (And please forgive any typos or bad grammar in this comment, it’s the whole second language thing that’s working against me.)

  6. Marc

    This may be a naive question, but what are the alternatives to a word processor? All I could think of was type writer :)

  7. Cora Blu

    Great post. My formatter does a wonderful job on my books, but I hadn’t thought of the genre on the back cover.
    Thanks as I’m having a cover made this week.

    Cora Blu

  8. Andrew

    Thanks, Tracy. My proofs were also printed in Charleston, SC. Of note, I also noticed on the right sided pages with art or photographic images (grey scale) darker line that almost resembled printer’s marks (always in the same location on the page). Well, another example why proofs are so important.

    • Tracy R. Atkins


      I have been reading a few createspace posts on their forum. It seems that the PDF rendering engine you use has a lot to do with this. I used Word/PDF-A I don’t know if it applies to you, but about half down this post, there are some examples;


      Now, I’m out of my area of expertise here. Hopefully one of the pros that do design and layout on here sees your post and chimes in.

  9. Andrew

    Let me add few cents to this excellent discussion. I have just received proofs from CreateSpace and to my disappointment discovered that the text is printed in dark grey rather than solid black. On a closer inspection, the book font (interior) displays dot pattern. The original file was prepared by a professional designer in InDesign with the elements that Joel described in the blog. Then the hi-res PDF was created with fonts in solid black (and illustrations saved in greyscale). Of course, I contacted CS; they were very nice and promised next set of proofs in few days (though I am not sure if they really knew what was the problem). I wonder if you or any of your blog readers encountered this problem in the proof stage? I want to avoid getting an unprofessional looking book. Any advice will be greatly appreciated.

    • Tracy R. Atkins


      I have been through a couple of rounds of proofs with CreateSpace. My book was printed at the Charleston SC CreateSpace production center, so I don’t know if that has anything to do with it. (tells you where it was made on the back proof page) It was also printed on cream paper, which may have different ink absorption properties.

      The interior of my book had black (or pretty close to it) text and the font looked “perfect” when printed in all of my proofs. Now, the graphics were all grayscale inside, and the finish was good enough for what I was looking for. I utilized ISO 19005-1 PDF/A format for the submitted file. So, I didn’t see any pixilation or inkjet dpi issues in my proofs.

      My only issues were color shift on the cover art. I realized too late that I had designed my graphics in RGB. Iconverted those to CMYK and it corrected the issues. I submitted those in the same PDF/A .

    • Herbert M Sauro

      I’ve seen this problem before, sometimes only a few pages are affected. It looks like the page is printed in half-tone. Its unacceptable and if you ever see it, tell them. What worries me is whether customers are also getting these badly printed texts.

  10. Gigi Galt

    Dear Joel,

    Wow––what a great article! I also loved the feedback from your readers.
    Thanks to Hope Clark (Funds For Writers) I saw this in her always helpful Facebook, space.

    Now, would you please do a similar article that applies only to e-books?


    Gigi Galt

    P.S. Amazon. com, Smashwords, and others who market, don’t want the price imprinted on ebooks. Also, my local books refuse to carry Create a Space books. They told me it would be as if they walked down the street and purchased from another bookstore. Do all retail bookstores take this attitude?

  11. Pam Lord

    I must confess, it took me nearly as long to learn how to properly format my book as it took to write it. The research was well worth the time, though when I read about the formatting errors that others have encountered.
    One of the best pieces of advise that I have for anyone starting out is to simply pick up a traditionally published book and thumb through it. Compare it against your proof and the irregularities will become very apparent.
    I published through CreateSpace in 2010 before they enhanced their formatting capabilities. Now you can upload your manuscript and see an immediate online proof. It will certainly alleviate much of the stress with future projects.

  12. Barbara Storey

    I’m a writer also considering self-publishing, but I’ve also been a freelance editor for over thirty years, and I am stunned at the thought that someone who has written and published their own book (indicating a certain amount of commitment, surely) has no idea what running heads, widows and orphans, and ISBN numbers and code are? Really? As bowerbird said above, standards ARE falling everywhere, and I see typos and errors and a lack of knowledge about basic grammar and usage constantly. I fear that such things have simply become unimportant to most people, and that’s very sad.

    • Tracy R. Atkins

      I have a feeling that we are in a transition period. The grammar and language mechanics of the 20th century will appear outdated within the next 50 years. Just as “Old English” is today, the informal “new speak” will be the language of the 20th century and beyond.

      In many systems where standards are not enforced, the lowest standard becomes the norm.

    • Bryce

      Did authors *ever* know about those things? Probably not. ISBNs, formatting, etc., were always the publisher’s job.

      Neither of your examples (grammar or book formatting knowledge) are examples of falling knowledge. They’re examples of formerly closed domains being opened to new populations who aren’t familiar with the rules that governed the old groups.

      Thirty years ago, it didn’t matter that most people were only vaguely familiar with spelling and grammar, because you almost never saw the creative output of those folks. Most of the text you read had been professionally edited.

      Five years ago, it didn’t matter that most people didn’t know book formatting jargon, because only the people who did understand it were creating books.

      So really, these things were never very important to most people. You just weren’t seeing the evidence of that lack of knowledge.

  13. Dina Santorelli

    A very good post. You are the first person I’ve seen bring up widows/orphans. I have been a freelance writer/editor for many years and have been taught to get rid of those little buggers, and I agree that they are one of the first telltale signs that a book is not being presented in its best light. I had the interior of my debut novel, BABY GRAND, designed professionally, and I’ve had a lot of people ask me why. They say, “It’s just text on a page. Why do you need to invest in that?” Your post explains several of the reasons why. :)

    • Dave Fessenden

      “It’s just text on a page” — yeah, but it’s YOUR text on a page. One might as well ask why you dress up for a job interview!

  14. Stuart Gustafson

    Most of us authors who either self-publish or use a small press are aware of “how a book should look.” The remarks in the article, however, are good things to keep in mind.

    One I would add — which the author of the article didn’t do — PROOF READ for spelling errors. Two that I found (without looking for them) are “cateogry” and “prospecitve” — these ruin any good article.

    • Andrew

      This is so true. I am obsessing with checking spelling on the proofs that I have in front of me. Cannot agree more that switching from a fast pace of emails and multitasking to careful reading and re-reading proofs is critical to professional “looking” book. Not to mention, final checking of the style. I am always amazed how some sentences look different in the manuscript verus on the pages of proofs. But this could just me.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Stuart, thanks for doing some proofreading for me on this article, it’s appreciated.

      Unfortunately, although many authors—who are frequently avid readers—believe they know how a book should look, they have no idea of how to make it look that way, which is why there are so many books with these same kinds of errors.

    • bowerbird

      stuart said:
      > One I would add — which the author of the article
      > didn’t do — PROOF READ for spelling errors.
      > Two that I found (without looking for them)
      > are “cateogry” and “prospecitve”
      > — these ruin any good article.

      don’t forget these two:
      > pressses
      > terminonlogy

      then there were also these, in comments:
      > apocolypse
      > wekk
      > retails (for “retailers”)

      and, naturally, of course, i made an error myself:
      > and i lot of stuff i don’t.

      i spotted mine right off, of course, but this blog
      doesn’t allow people to edit their own comments,
      so i just had to stare at it in horror and scream… ;+)

      (which is why i didn’t also note the errors made
      by other mere commenters, who cannot edit,
      but don’t think for a minute that i didn’t spot
      a good number of errors from them as well…) :+)

      i sometimes wonder if i’d retain this “talent” for
      noticing every typo or choose to lose it, if i could
      (and thus become a heathen like so many others).

      but i’ve come to find the humor in the situation…. :+)


      • bowerbird

        after posting that, i went to forbes, and found this:
        > A Russian court today sentenced the three young women
        > who make the up the
        > feminist punk band Pussy Riot to two years in prison

        “who make the up the”?


        that’s _forbes_. in their _very_first_sentence_ of an article.

        the standards are crumbling everywhere, all around us.

        so it’s hardly fair to pick on self-publishers.

        or people who blog about self-publishing… ;+)


        p.s. it’s so ironic that we once thought the _ease_
        (not to mention the mere _possibility_) of making
        corrections to errors was a benefit of a digital world.

  15. Will Gibson

    Andrew, as is the case in Self Publishing (either as print on demand or as an eBook), one major advantage is that the author always retains exclusive rights to the distribution of his or her book. The retailers (Amazon or iTunes, for example) have ‘non-exclusive’ rights to distribute your book.

    You can sell it anywhere you want, you own the ‘rights’ to do that. The only caveat is that some sites (Amazon) require you to not sell the book anywhere else for a lower price. So be consistent with your pricing across the retailers.

    Many eBook Retailers now also offer direct publishing through their websites, thereby eliminating the need for aggregators. Kindle, Nook, iTunes, and Kobo sell over 95% of all ebooks and can be published free of charge through KDP, PubIt, iTunes Connect, and Kobo Writing Life.

    • Andrew

      Thanks Will. Very helpful.

  16. Andrew

    Joel, great blog. If the book is self-published via CreateSpace and sold on amazon, can I also make it available via other channels? I am referring to B&N or other places were books are sold.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Andrew, you can opt for CreateSpace’s expanded distribution to make your book available to other retailers both online or offline, although you’ll need to pay attention to the way royalty rates are adjusted. You can also upload your same book to another POD supplier with wider distribution, an alternative many authors have been using.

  17. Earl Shores

    Joel, fantastic post…is this now one of your “top 5” for responses?

    As usual, great advice and info from you and the commenters. So much to learn. Already learned some of these things the hard way (why does my text look so funny?).

    Again, thanks Joel for the great advice, both on and off the clock.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hey, no problem Earl, it’s great to have you as a reader. And no, this one hasn’t made it into the “top 5” yet, but give it some time.

  18. Diane Lynn Tibert McGyver

    I’m releasing a big sigh. Why? We’re striving to reproduce exactly a product that is not selling well by huge companies who have been creating these products for years. Publishing companies were suffering long before self-published writers came on the scene to snatch up some of that money people spend on reading material. Why would I strive to be like them?

    Perhaps they set the standard, but the standard is changing yearly. And just because it worked 30 years ago, it doesn’t mean it will work now or five years from now. I imagine if a book expert examined my novel, they’d find all sorts of things that doesn’t meet industry standard…the way people are used to seeing books produced. That’s fine. I’m not writing for them.

    I’m writing for the reader who wants a good story. Yes, I will produce the highest quality of book I can, but I’m certain I’ll fall short of what Penguin would put out. The question is: does it matter to readers?

    When I read, as long as the text is readable, I don’t care if there’s a price on the back, if there’s an author blurb or even if the pages are torn or numbered…got that? I don’t care. I use bookmarks. I never go by page numbers, but I understand why they’re there and include them in my books. I’ve read and enjoyed books that were falling apart, that were stained and that had nothing on the cover because the dust jacket had been detroyed years beforehand.

    What I care about when I read a book is the story. Is it good? I’m a reader. That’s what I look for. The most perfectly created book in the world isn’t worth the paper it’s created on if the story is horrible. So while we should work towards producing a great product, I don’t think we should shoot ourselves if it isn’t exactly like the books created by traditional publishers.

    And definitely create those paperbacks or you’ll be ignoring 60% of the reading population. Perhap you won’t make as much money as you will on ebooks, but paperbacks last longer. When I read an ebook (which is few and far between), I delete it from my reader. Gone. When I read a paperback I’ve bought, it goes on my shelf, so I can read it again in five years or ten years, and I can loan it to my 84-year-old mother who loves to read but would never own an ereader. Paperbacks are here to stay. There will always be a market for them regardless of how many people say they’ll be history some day.

    • bowerbird

      diane lynn tibert mcgyver, you’ve
      said a lot of stuff that i agree with.

      and i lot of stuff i don’t.

      and i think i’ll just leave it at that… :+)

      time will tell…


    • Joel Friedlander

      Of course, if you take the time and trouble to create a book that conforms to a generally-accepted standard, it will appeal both to readers who expect their books to look that way and those who “don’t care.”

  19. Tracy R. Atkins

    I think there is one truth on which I think we can all agree. Making your self-published book’s format, look and feel indistinguishable from a commercial release will not earn you “bonus points”. To the contrary, you only stand to lose respect and credibility for the work with every inconsistency and omission that deviates from the expected standard.

    • bowerbird

      the thing is, that “expected standard”
      isn’t nearly as uniform as people think.

      the more books you actually study,
      the less uniform that “standard” is.

      and the variations are _increasing_,
      even from the big6 publishers which
      — in the past — _set_ that “standard”.

      go to a brick-and-mortar bookstore —
      while they still exist!, and buy a book!,
      because they really need the business!
      — and look at 100 books on the shelves,
      and you will see what i’m talking about…

      the times, they are a’changing…


  20. bowerbird

    yes yes yes.

    authors, if you’re gonna make a print-book,
    then you _need_ to learn about all this stuff,
    or you just might shoot yourself in the foot…

    there is another side to the story, however,
    in that it is entirely possible in our new time
    to forego hard-copy, and go purely e-book.

    in fact, it’s highly advisable.

    although print-on-demand is “affordable”
    these days, and requires no up-front cost,
    you’re still not going to make much money
    from your hard-copy sales, not much at all,
    especially compared to your e-book income.

    and considering all the work you must do to
    get yourself in brick-and-mortar bookstores,
    a trip along that route will _cost_ you money,
    rather than “make a profit” for you nowadays.

    but it’s extremely glorious to hold in your hands
    a printed copy of a book that you have written,
    and joy will traverse your full being as you see
    a copy on the shelf at your favorite bookstore…

    indeed, i’ve known someone (not saying it’s me)
    who made a print-on-demand copy of their book
    and then smuggled it in to a bookstore to put it
    on the shelf, as a form of “reverse shop-lifting”…

    …later went in and “bought” it, and said the clerk
    didn’t bat an eye as she rang it up on the register.

    so yeah, yeah, i’ll just come right out and say it:

    a print-book is the new form of “vanity publishing”.

    you’re not gonna make any money by doing it
    — indeed, you’ll probably pay for the privilege —
    but it will certainly give your ego a huge boost…

    still, if you’re gonna go that route, do it _right_.
    learn what it takes, and then ensure you execute.
    make the kind of print-book that will be enjoyed
    by people who know how to evaluate a print-book.

    which is not to say that i agree with all the advice
    that joel gives here. i myself _hate_ hyphenation.
    so as long as you don’t have any loose paragraphs,
    my suggestion is that you _turn_off_hyphenation_.

    and there are other quibbles that i might have with
    certain pieces of joel’s advice, which is geared to
    having a book be sold in a brick-and-mortar store.
    because they will soon disappear like the dinosaur,
    sorry to say, no matter how much we rue the day.

    so realize that some of the advice that you get will
    _not_ be as cut-and-dried as the advisor might like.
    most of these rules can be broken. some should be.

    but learn this stuff, people. because it’ll help you to
    have a hard-won feeling of competence when you’re
    able to look at your book and know you did it right.


  21. Will Gibson

    An exact posting’s name (Why Self-Published Books Look Self-Published) on the CreateSpace forum a few years ago made me determined to learn as much as I could about ‘traditional publishing standards’ to avoid this stigma.

    After writing my initial draft in Word, my son transferred it into a LaTex document and then created the first PDF for me to review. I’m sure Joel is familiar with this professional type setting program that is used largely in formatting books for academia. The initial justification of text and layout was amazing, very few widows or orphans and no rivers. The program also seemingly had the uncanny knack of placing commas or periods at the end of a line.

    I then went about fixing the remaining orphans and widows, mainly by adding or subtracting text, to reduce the white space between paragraphs. I began to look at the book as a reader would or as a poem ‘looks’ on the page and worked to reduce the number of wide spaces that can occur between words with justification and which detracts from the reading experience as does hyphenation (to me). I have no hyphenated words except for a few natural ones in a 320 page novel.

    The best part to using LaTex was the ability to immediately build a PDF in a side to side format working within the text document that allowed me to accept or revert changes right away. My son had to write the code for running headers, for pagination, and for the front and back matter titling as well as chapter breaks but I was able to work easily on the text changes. Just thought that I would mention this ‘older’ program and wonder if anyone else has ever used it.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks much Will for the detailed walkthrough. I’ve avoided LaTex and other systems like it although I had written a lot of code a long time ago and worked some of the first desktop typesetting systems, which were completely code-driven. There are lots of people on the Yahoo POD and Self-Publishing list who use LaTex and there may be other discussion groups about it.

  22. Tracy R. Atkins

    That is a great point Marcus. I can see the advantages and disadvantages.

    From a reader’s perspective, having the chapter information is the most useful.

    However, from a marketing standpoint, keeping the author’s name on every other page, burns that name in the mind of the reader during the entire reading experience. It simply reinforces the author brand name with every turn of the page.
    I guess it’s a mixed bag.

  23. Michael N. Marcus

    One hoary publishing custom that drives me nuts is putting the book’s title and author’s name in headers.

    If a reader is on page 274 and has a sudden urge to find out the name of the book she has been reading, or who wrote it, it is not difficult to look at the front cover, spine or back cover.

    Let the header hold something useful (like chapter name, section name or page number) or be pretty to look at — or leave the space blank.

    Michael N. Marcus

  24. Turndog Millionaire

    So much to learn :)

    It’s posts like this that are going to be a lot of help in the coming months. Huge thanks, Joel

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

  25. Tahlia Newland

    I don’t think that ‘no running heads’ is an issue. I’ve noticed that a lot of YA books aren’t bothering with them anymore, just the page number in the middle of the page. I found that an elegantly uncluttered look and copied it for my YA novella.
    I think I’m going to learn to use something other than a word processor before I put out my next book though.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks, Tahlia. In novels you could view the running heads as superfluous since readers don’t really need “navigation aids” in most fiction, so it becomes more of a stylistic choice. For one author it might look “elegantly uncluttered” while to another it might look “erroneously unfinished,” but hey, it’s your book and you get to choose.

  26. Will Gibson

    I use CreateSpace as my printer and have followed and participated in their Community forum over the past three to four years.

    I elected to put the list price into the barcode on the back of my book. I did it simply because then it can be easily scanned at point of sale (although chain stores do usually use their own numbers, independent bookstores often do not). But, more importantly, I also include a printed price in USD (American dollars) near the barcode for easy reading by the customer.

    Cathy: CreateSpace only offers one level of paper in either cream or white and all covers are glossy, matte is not an option at this time. Their covers are the topic of many postings within the Community, being somewhat ‘boardy’ and prone to curling. Tracy: The general consensus with CreateSpace authors is that they do not do graphics or picture books very well. Most complaints on interior formatting is with these type of books.

    Having said that, CS is a very economical printer with good customer service and, of course, that direct link to Amazon. Their Community of book designers, writers, and editors is highly informed and very willing to answer questions and give accurate advice.

  27. TNeal

    Very informative and concrete. I held my self-pub book in hand and examined it point by point. Outside of too little information for the category, FICTION, the book passes in fine style. No bias here. ;-)

    In all honesty, Joel, you helped me see I’ve got a good product in my hand and I now know how to make it better. Thanks.

  28. Mario

    So, are you saying I should intentionally hyphenate within the body of the text in order to eliminate unwanted white space? Sorry if I didn’t read that right.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Yes, Mario, hyphenation allows the software to create much better looking pages by eliminating the need for big spaces between words.

      • Mario

        Okay, that makes sense. Thanks, Joel!

  29. Peter DeHaan

    This is great information to know; I was aware of many of these items, but not all. Thanks for the thorough explanation.

  30. Will Entrekin

    Joel, I appreciate that you were both willing to answer the participant’s questions and share your response here. As always, very informative.

    I wonder about the first two points–that is, the category/pricing and the barcode/EAN. I get what you mean about including a signifier of category (and also that the considerations for print design are markedly different from those for digital design). Especially with ISBN, though, I wonder if this consideration is just a holdover from the past maintained mainly because it’s what people have always done so it’s what they think they should continue to do. Both my paperbacks (for The Prodigal Hour and Meets Girl) have ISBNs, but that was only because it was quick and simple to purchase and apply them when I signed up for CreateSpace.

    I also wonder about price. It’s MSRP–manufacturer’s suggested retail price, right? It’s a suggestion, and most books don’t sell at that price anyway (due to discounting and what not), so doesn’t it seem silly to include information that’s sort of actually mis-information? Bookstores get to set the price themselves, don’t they? Do they ever really set it at the MSRP? I mean, I guess some TPBs and MMPBs sell at the price on the cover, but I usually see “Everyday Low Price” or “Special Target Value” signs with the prices I’d expect to charge to my debit card were I to ever actually buy a print book (an increasingly rare occurrence nowadays).

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hey Will,

      There’s a lot of discussion here already about categories and pricing, so I won’t rehash that, but the point about MSRP is interesting. Every product has to have an MSRP or a retail price, yes? That’s the price that you, as manufacturer, set. What the retails choose to charge is another matter and up to them. But the retail price forms the basis for all those discounts and without it how would you know that the retailer hadn’t inflated the “retail” just to show you a big “discount”? Printing the price on the book, if the book is intended to sell in bookstores, is reader-friendly from my point of view.

      On ISBN, I don’t see how you can publish a book that you expect to sell in retail channels without an ISBN. It’s not “what people have always done,” it’s how everyone in the book industry identifies specific editions and formats of books, and every retailer that I know of requires an ISBN as a unique identifier.

      • Will Entrekin

        I get what you mean, Joel. I think “if the book is intended to sell in bookstores” is important, I guess, and where we divide. You mention early on a lot of books were “self-published,” and maybe that’s a point of distinction. Most bookstores won’t stock books they can’t return, and most “self-published” books are non-returnable, so it seems a bit problematic to hold “self-published” books to a technical standard that’s not necessarily applicable.

        So far as ISBN, you’re right with regard to print, I think. I tend to focus on digital, though. “Expect to sell” is important, too. I don’t expect to sell in most retail channels; many retail channels are openly hostile to non-returnable books and authors who use Amazon. I’ve still been searching for a compelling reason ebooks might use ISBNs but so far haven’t found one.

        Anyway, thanks for responding, and again, thanks for the discussion you continue to prompt. It’s important, and I always learn something here.

        • Joel Friedlander

          Will, thanks for the input. In some ways the popularity of publishing directly to ebooks has split the self-publishing world since authors like you who sell almost exclusively in the Kindle store have one set of criteria, and others have a different set.

          The Kindle store is the only place I know of where you can retail books without an ISBN, even for ebooks. As soon as you stray outside the confines of Kindle you have to play by a different set of rules.

          As far as your comment:

          “…and most ‘self-published’ books are non-returnable, so it seems a bit problematic to hold ‘self-published’ books to a technical standard that’s not necessarily applicable.”

          This is a bit too limited to encompass the whole universe of self-publishing. Many self-publishers are trying to create books that are indistinguishable from books by traditional publishers, and sell them in the same distribution channels.

          These self-publishers have exclusive distribution deals, distribute at normal wholesale discounts, accept returns, and use traditional publicity and marketing. For these authors, the technical standards are critically important because of the environment in which they are selling.

          Thanks again for the discussion.

  31. cathy

    I just bought 2 CreateSpace books to look at since I’m planning on going that route and they look pretty good. But I immediately noticed that the paper and print quality seemed subpar. The printing looked more injet-like; in some of the titles of recipes (they were cookbooks), you could see the different colors (that make up one color–the registration?) were off slightly–ack! If I ever saw that in my book, I think I would have a tizzy fit. The paper also seemed flat and boring. Does CreateSpace offer different levels of paper and printing? Also do they offer any matte covers, or only glossy? I’ve been slowly getting into CS, but have much more to learn and will be scouring this blog. Many thanks! -Cathy :)

    • Tracy R. Atkins

      I am curious about CreateSpace’s picture book capabilities myself. Their B&W novel offerings for cream and white paper are pretty good and i’m happy with them. But i haven’t had the opportunity to see a color offering. Some of the other vendors like Lulu and Blurb appear to be more geared toward color printing.

    • bowerbird

      cathy said:
      > I immediately noticed that the paper
      > and print quality seemed subpar.

      i would suggest that you inform createspace that
      the quality of the book you purchased was subpar.

      my guess is that they will do a make-good on it…


  32. Sandra Novacek

    Thanks, Joel. Some good point here! Could someone please comment on the pros and cons of embedding the book price in the barcode including a book that may be sold in the US as well as internationally. Thanks!

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hi Sandra,

      In the books I produce for clients the barcode typically does not include the price. It’s not that relevant since it is only a “suggested” price (or MSRP), and because retailers mostly use their own databases to pull the book price when they scan the barcode.

      • Sandra Novacek

        Thanks, Joel. So you’re saying you don’t embed the price in the barcode? Does that mean you encode 90000 in an add-on/UPC-5 auxiliary barcode? Is a price printed on the cover/jacket? I see my book as selling primarily online and in a few local stores and internationally. Could you share a sample of a barcode you place on a book? Thanks! I want to get this barcode thing correct or at least in the best form possible. .

  33. PA Wilson

    Great post. I wonder why self published authors would enter a contest which compares books to an industry standard and not research and meet that standard.
    A couple of the points were interesting, price and category in particular, because they are standards that only traditional publishers need. If you have no hope of getting your book in a bookstore, what does it matter if the book category is there or not?
    The discussion is informative because so many of these kinds of posts focus on typos and grammar errors (which are found in all books), and not on the finer details.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks, PA.

      Call me old-fashioned, but when I see a book without a category it comes across as inattention to detail, never a good sign in book publishing.

      Part of the appeal of the BAIPA book awards is the ability of self-publishers to get exactly this kind of feedback, and this author is now much more informed about how to get her book up to a commercial standard.

  34. Natasha McNeely

    This is a great post! The terminology is useful for beginning authors, particularly self-publishers. I’ll be bookmarking this just in case I ever need to refresh my memory. Thanks for posting such useful advice!

  35. Gunnar Fox

    I admire your site and your style, Joel. My covers have improved over time and are perhaps still not entirely in synch with the major houses. But fortunately the nice people at Barnes & Noble (and the erstwhile nice people at Borders) didn’t judge the book entirely by its cover and let me into their hallowed doors. Thinking about doing a clean, minimalist design for Kindle purposes as I have heard that how the book looks as a postage stamp can have a major impact.

    All the best!

  36. Tracy R. Atkins

    This is a timely article and hits home for me and the phase I’m at with my book.

    Being the fugal sort and overconfident with my two decades of experience using Microsoft Office products, I decided to go all Microsoft for the design and layout for my book. To be quite honest, it has kicked my ass a few times and I have been frustrated tremendously.

    However, after sticking with it and doing a lot of study and work, I feel that I have conquered using Word and Publisher to deliver results that are fairly close to my books commercial counterparts. I hate to say 95%, but it’s pretty close, when I lay a proof of my book down next to a commercial release and turn the pages. That said, even with all of my experience and the hours put into it, MS products are just not capable of doing the full job.

    My observations are as follows;

    Microsoft Publisher 2010: This is actually a good application for cover layout and design, with reasonable expectations. You must get familiar with creating custom page sizes. Also, turning off the built in “snap-to-grid” layout tools make the software far more usable for minute layout design. If you have access to the templates that many places like LuLu or Createspace offer, you can overlay those on your cover and get very good results with alignment.

    The biggest faults with publisher are in the fact that it uses “inches/mm” for the bulk of its measurements, instead of pixels. You can make up for this shortcoming with Photoshop or PaintShop for graphical work. Publisher’s built in save to PDF works very well and is perfect for self publishers going through a major outlet.

    Microsoft Word 2010: Most people will write their book in this. It’s the best word processor out there for the average Joe. However, the limitations for desktop publishing are many. In its standard configuration, you can forget about having anything that looks like a published commercial work. You must make numerous adjustments to page and margin layout, as well as do an enormous amount of format editing to make it work well. However, the hyphenation will NEVER be what it really should be using Word (or Publisher). That is the real problem that I just can’t seem to correct (and part of that last 5%).

    If you must use Word, some things that will make your life easier are section breaks and programmable footers using function codes. Section breaks can be setup to begin on the odd pages for chapters. You can further configure each section to have a different front, even and odd page header and footer. This is a must for proper layout for running heads and page numbering. By using a section break for the odd page front matter and a page break for the verso of that page, you can do some good work on those tricky front matter pages.

    Page numbering is a bear. You can overcome this by learning about page numbering function codes and formulas for them. You will have to do some real work to get the page numbers to flow across sections. It’s just the nature of the beast. You must be mindful, as Word’s default page number will always let you down.

    After that, getting everything to line up is often difficult, you really need to understand how word decides spaces, breaks, carriage returns and line returns. You have to become a hawk in show mode, Word’s show-formatting view.

    I actually wrote a “guide” for using word for book layout, but it’s not for the faint of heart, so I didn’t release it. It is VERY complicated and takes a lot of advanced knowledge to tackle using Word for professional results. Most people will probably stop half way through it and go a different route, like hire a pro.

    Word for going Kindle isn’t that bad if you save your word documents in HTML first. There are several quirks that must be overcome in formatting a document for export to an e-reader. Just getting the headers, spaces, centering of images, etc can be a bear. It’s manageable, but it takes a lot of work.

    So, overall, I feel comfortable with Word now, but If I would have known what I was in for, I would have sprung for InDesign first. I probably will for my next book.

    • Tracy R. Atkins

      I would like to add a question. What is the proper and expected hyphenation standard for a book? (Fiction) MS Word has only 2 real options once you turn on Hyphenation with Justification.

      Hyphenation Zone: (In increments of 1/10th of an inch)
      Consecutive Hyphens: (How many lines can have a hyphen in a row.)

      By default, using justification turns off automatic hyphenation, where it will only hyphenate if you use a hyphen in the document.

      • Michael N. Marcus

        >>By default, using justification turns off automatic hyphenation, where it will only hyphenate if you use a hyphen in the document.<<

        I've used full justification in books formatted with Word 2007, 2010 and 2013, and have never lost automatic hyphenation.

        I set the hyphenation zone to .4 inches and limit consecutive hyphens to two.

        To make a good-looking book with Word, you have to carefully examine every paragraph, and make adjustments as needed. That’s also important if you use ‘adult’ software. I’ve seen some terrible pages produced with InDesign.

        Michael N. Marcus

        • Tracy R. Atkins

          Thank you Marcus.
          In my install, it seems to be off at first, and I had to enable it for my document. I’m certain that can change from install to install, or perhaps my document, which has been transferred between several PCs may have picked up an issue.

          The hyphenation zone is something that I am not real familiar with and its impact. With a .4, on a test document I have, it seems to prevent rivers between the text pretty well. I always thought that consecutive hyphens looked odd, but two in a row wouldn’t be so bad.

          • Joel Friedlander


            “Hyphenation zone” is usually applied to rag right composition (not justified text) and is used to tell the software where it is allowed to break the line and, consequently, which lines will need to be spaced to conform to the hyphenation zone requirement. You set a minimum line length (or maximum margin, which amounts to the same thing) and the maximum is set by the text block within which you are doing your composition. Every line will end within the zone.

            Two hyphens in a row is the standard I use, it seems to work wekk.

        • James F. Brown

          Re: Justification in MS Word.

          I recently became aware of an option in Word 2010 to select the justification scheme used by WordPefect 6. Word only adds “regular” spaces to justify, but WP uses “fractional” spaces to justify. It’s a much cleaner justification, visually, and cuts down on rivers.

          Here’s a link for more info:


  37. j torres badelles

    I had designed books (textbooks, children’s books, trade books) and magazines using both QuarkXPress and Adobe InDesign. My preferred software now is InDesign.

    • Cathy

      Ha, I just asked this above :) What makes InDesign better? I learned Quark years back, so would it make an easy jump to InDesign? Is there any way to not pay $700 if you’re not a student? Ouch!

      • Michael N. Marcus

        You could ask a friendly student or teacher to buy the software with your money and give it to you or let you borrow it. Besides, aren’t we all students and teachers, anyway?

        If the subterfuge bothers you, ask a priest, rabbi, minister, imam, shaman or guru for guidance.

        Also, older versions of various Adobe products are often for sale on eBay. You may not sacrifice any important features, and you’ll save money and avoid a moral dilemma.

        • Joel Friedlander

          Good tip on older versions. I’m still using CS5 and didn’t upgrade to CS5.5, now CS6 is out. But for basic book typography I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend CS4 or above. Some of the recent changes have focused on easing ebook production from InDesign and if you aren’t planning on using that capability you won’t miss it.

        • Cathy

          Ah! Who knew!? That might be the way to go, and get all the extra goodies to boot. Thank you Tracy!

          • Tracy R. Atkins

            I think it makes sense for some situations. A year for $700. This is the retail price of InDesign Alone. The entire Adobe Master Suite will run you $2,600. Adobe will release a new version every couple of years and you will pile on another $500 to keep current.

            Considering cloud always gives you the most current version, you never need to purchase upgrades. So in the long run, it might be cheaper to just go ahead and do the membership.

            Heck.. After looking it over, I think i might just sign up and retire Word/Publisher!

      • carbonmind

        The greatest advantage of creating a book using Adobe’s InDesign instead of Quark is that InDesign enables the book designer to access and edit any embedded visual items – especially photoshop files, and illustrator files. If you use Quark, you have to jump out of the design app, and edit them in their native apps. Also (and this is more advanced) copy editors can make changes in the book using Adobe’s InCopy without touching and possibly damaging the page designs.

  38. Diane Lynn Tibert McGyver

    As I read through lists like this, I often check off ‘I don’t do that’ or ‘I do that’. This time, only one thing stood out from the rest: category on the back of the book.

    The front cover is supposed to scream the genre without a single word, so I never thought about putting the word ‘fantasy’ on the back cover. I don’t remember ever reading the genre there, so now I have to go search my bookshelf to see which novels do that.

    Also, the price: I know it’s standard for the price to be on the back, but when you publish through CreateSpace, I don’t think they want you to include it. They sometimes control the price, and authors can change the price if circumstances change, so having a set price on the cover wouldn’t work.

    Do you know of individuals who used CreateSpace and included a price on the cover?

    • Tracy R. Atkins

      I’m not an expert here, but the price on the cover is supposed to be the full MSRP. This sets the baseline for the book and is what is used to determine the discount offered on the book by the retailer.
      So if you have a $10 MSRP, Amazon may sell the book for 40% off the cover price, or $6. They show a discount on their website of 40%. They have the right to price and sell the book as they wish, but the MSRP, the price you set in create space for the book, is what your royalties are based on. Having that firm MSRP price is essential for comparison between different book retailers and the discounts they offer.

      The genre can be important, especially for self published authors who are unknown or have covers that might not give the right indication to a book store employee. Imagine your new science fiction book being mistaken for a non-fiction title. Simply placing “science fiction” on the bottom of the back cover near the barcode is a good idea.

      In fact, I have a small area of metadata on my cover on the back. It has the title, the category, the MSRP in USD and EUR and the ISBN.

      • Joel Friedlander

        Tracy, putting a metadata block on the back of the book is an excellent idea and one I’ve seen often on books from major publishers.

      • Tahlia Newland

        I have different prices for different countries so putting the price on the back is simply not an option. I think we have to be practical here. Also one of the terrific things about SP is that you can alter the price if you want, but do you want to have to change your cover every time you do it as well.

        • Diane Lynn Tibert McGyver

          I checked my bookshelf, and the only publishers that put the category on the back are the very large ones, like Penguin. The large, but obviously smaller, local companies don’t. These companies serve Eastern Canada and have been publishing for decades. I’m sure they pay attention to detail, but for one reason or another, the opted to not put the category.

          Personally, I’ve never even noticed the category noted on the back, so I’m sure other readers haven’t either. This leads me to believe that it is more used by bookstore employees to place the book. I don’t see it as a bad idea, just one that doesn’t scream self-published if it’s not there.

          I didn’t put the category on my first novel, and I won’t change the cover to change that, however, I will include it on future books to help out bookstore staff.

          Regarding prices on books: While reading through the long contract at CreateSpace, it seems to me I read something where CreateSpace has the power to change the price for whatever reason. Maybe it had something to do with price matching, like they can do at Kindle. I accepted that fact and kept reading, but I’m sure I didn’t absorb it all.

          The problem I have with the price on the cover is the same as Tahlia’s. My book sells in Canada, the US, the UK and every other place CreateSpace sells. If I put $14.99 on the cover, I’m using Canadian Dollars. I could put CAD after it, but I’m not sure if that clears up the problem.

          The other problem I have is that I intend to sell my books for a modest price, with only a slight markup. But when I put it in local stores, they want 30% of the selling price. To keep my $2 profit per book, I always mark it up 30%. The store puts a sticker price on it and sells it that way. I’ve never had a problem doing this and sell books each summer through tourist shops. If the book price was stamped on it, I couldn’t do this even if the sticker price covered the old price. I wouldn’t feel right about it.

          I read an article about placing the price on the cover and both sides were argued. The number one issue with it was that books seldom sell for the sticker price. Without the price, authors could sell for $15.99 through outlets, $12.99 at conventions and $10.00 at the book launch and still make a profit.

          The final answer of the article was that you should put a price on the cover simply because (get this) it’s always been done. Pah! That’s traditional publishing thinking and makes no sense in this changing publishing world. As a buyer of books, I don’t automatically think poor quality when I see no price on the back. I assume it’s the style of the publisher.

          Thanks, Joel, for the excellent post. I’ve already referred a few people to it.

          • Sandra Novacek

            Diane, my question re the book price was not whether to print the price on the back cover, but whether to have the price imbedded in the barcode as opposed to using the “no price” embedded option (90000) in the barcode. See my reply to Joel below. I’ve been told that using the 90000/no price is a good idea for books selling internationally.

          • Laura

            As a reader the one time I really appreciate when the category is on the book is if I can’t tell if it is fiction or non-fiction. Biographies versus historical fiction is when this happens to me most.

    • Joel Friedlander


      I was not aware that CreateSpace controls the price of your book, don’t you set the price yourself?

      The idea here is that your book, like any other retail product, ought to say how much it costs. If your book is never going to be sold outside of Amazon, the issue is irrelevant since no one will see the back cover until after they buy it (or drill to the very end of your “look inside”).

      • Tracy R. Atkins

        Createspace does require you to set a price, and that price must be high enough to, at a minimum, break even with their distribution channels. (You can choose the channels)

        The channels that purchase the book from Createspace can set prices at will. You CAN lower your MSRP, and it will in turn lower your overall price in Distribution. But there is a threshold minimum.

        Also, Createspace, at least on my book, give a 9000 Barcode for price.

        Not setting the price on the cover is acceptable per Createspace’s terms.

  39. Catherine Ryan Howard

    Very interesting post, Joel. Quick q about running heads. Is it more the standard practice to use them as a reminder of where you are in the book, i.e. chapter or section, as opposed to using them for the author name and title of the book? I’m talking non-fiction. Thanks.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hi Catherine,

      As you suspect, in nonfiction the running heads are primarily used for navigation with variations like:
      These can be a substantial help for readers, especially in long or complex books. The Author/Title combo I see more often in fiction.

      • Alex

        Why would someone put the author and title into a header? Most books contain a single story and it makes no sense.

  40. Michael N. Marcus

    Sadly, many books produced by ‘professionals’ are as bad as — or worse than — books from amateurs. Big-six books I’ve seen recently have oversized wordspacing, rivers, undersized leading, missing hyphens, avoidable widows and orphans, inconsistent spelling, misspelling, bad grammar and factual errors. Two of the silliest errors I’ve seen in the last few weeks are in books about publishing and about typography.

    Just as people have come to accept the poor quality of cellular and VoIP phone calls, I fear that the linguistic and typographic crap common to Tweets, emails, blogs, websites and e-books has infected the books from major labels.

    If newbies in publishing examine substandard books from those who should know better, and think that substandard is standard, the number of bad books will increase.

    Michael N. Marcus

    • Joel Friedlander

      That’s interesting, Michael. I don’t think I’ve seen as many errors in traditionally published books as you, but that’s probably because you’ve looked at more of them recently. I heard recently from someone in the industry that the need to format books for ebook production has caused some publishers to “dumb down” their print books so they are easier to convert, a sign of the apocolypse if ever there was one.

  41. Laura

    I’m not an author, nor ever really plan to be one, but I really enjoy blog articles that give me a detailed look into various industries. I love books, and learning the details that go into making a book look refined is interesting. For curiosities sake, what programs are used to produce a book? Thank you for sharing.

    • Tracy R. Atkins


      The most popular application for book creation seems to be Adobe InDesign. It is a little pricey though. If you are a student, you can get it as part of the student Adobe Creative Suite 6 for $300. If you are not a student, the retail version is around $699.

      • Cathy

        Thanks for this Tracy. I learned Quark a few years back, not InDesign, would that be fine too? Does it matter which version? I own neither, only MS Publisher 2010–should I even consider Publisher, or just invest in one of the other two?

        • Joel Friedlander

          Cathy, Quark XPress is an excellent program capable of producing beautiful typography. I used it for many years before I switched to InDesign, so don’t buy anything else, you’re fine.

          • J S

            Joel, what are your thoughts on Scribus?

            I haven’t used scribus so I can’t say for that but two other programs I use regularly for graphics include gimp.org (like photoshop) and inkscape.org (like illustrator) plus an office suite (libreoffice) – all quite well so far.

            While pro photoshop users might say “oh but gimp doesn’t do this fancy feature” I find the differences in output come down to artist skill/creativity more than software feature variations. If you’re not a master with any software then learning on these packages make purchasing the others quite a decision (libreoffice+scribus+gimp+inkscape=free vs ~$2,000 the other route).

            Back to book details, are there some resources that list what makes a great book great? Maybe a book on it?

          • Joel Friedlander

            JS, I’m a longtime user of Adobe products and bought my first copy of Photoshop and Illustrator in the early 1990s, been using them ever since. I use almost none of the “fancy features” but haven’t had any reason to switch, so I don’t know much about Gimp other than what I’ve read in discussions.

          • Bryce

            I did use Scribus for my book. It took me quite a while to figure out what I was doing, and the program isn’t without bugs. But in the end, I got results I’m very happy with.

        • Tracy R. Atkins

          You are welcome Cathy.

          I use MS Publisher for cover layout, simply because that is what I have as part of MS Office. Publisher does an admirable job for what it is. You can overlay templates from most major self-publisher vendors overtop of what you put in publisher and get a fairly good layout result. It exports directly to PDF, which works well. The vector “word art” is good for laying out titles, though its plain text engine falls down on cover copy. It does take some work. Nevertheless, it is simple enough for anyone to use.

          For picture books, you can do OK with it. It doesn’t handle gutters anywhere that I can find, so you will have to manually manage margins. But you can do full-bleed and good layout with little effort. I wouldn’t attempt to format an actual all-text book with it, it just can’t handle it at all.

          You will still need Photoshop or Paintshop Pro to manage graphic elements. So overall, if you really want to do professional work, you should invest in Adobe Creative Suite 6. If you are just building simple books or are like me and frugal, you can manage with MS products. But I must say, you will probably spend 3-4x as long to get it “right” and it still will never be perfect with MS stuff.

          • cathy

            Thanks Tracy. I saw after I posted this that you had outlined it all so nicely below. Given that I will be doing cookbooks, that are photo-rich and have lots of special formatting, sounds like I should just invest in Quark or ID (I already use and have Photoshop). I like things to be just right, and the thought of spending 3-4x as long to get it that way doesn’t excite me in the least. So thank you! :)

          • Joel Friedlander

            Cathy, if you want a professional-looking cookbook I would definitely recommend a high-end program like Quark or InDesign, but you’ll also need typographic knowledge, some ability at page layout and an eye for consistency. Look at a lot of cookbooks for inspiration and to see how they handle the many challenges these books present.

          • Cathy

            Hi Joel, yes, I think I will invest in InDesign, or at least the rental. I used to work at magazines in editorial and a bit design, and am very meticulous and good eye for layout. So this is what has me thinking I can do this well(?). I have tons of cookbooks and even books on how to write cookbooks and recipes. I’m doing well on research side, now just need to jump in and start. The “bigness” of creating a book is a bit intimidating, but also exciting. Your blog has been so helpful. :)


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