Self-publishing tip #5: Hire professionals to design and typeset the interior

This post is part of a series on self-publishing. You’ll find links to all posts in this series in the first post.

Try this: flip through a half dozen books from your bookcase. What do you notice? How do the pages look? What about the fonts? Are they intrusive, or do they match the subject of the book? How do the paragraphs look? Are they too crowded, or too far apart (either of which is a mark of an amateur layout)?

Just as your book’s cover needs to be professional, the interior of your book also needs to be professional. Even if you don’t consciously know the difference, you’ll subconsciously know whether a book is professionally designed and typeset. Something will feel off, or the book will be hard to read because it isn’t professional.

Interior book designers and typesetters know things that you don’t, and know how to do things that you don’t, all of which make the difference between “terrible” and “professional.”

Those professional touches tell people how much they can trust the author. Lower trust, less credibility. Higher trust, higher credibility. That’s just how it is.

Another reason for having your book’s interior professionally designed is that then your book is unique—it won’t look like all the other independent authors who used a Microsoft Word template.

How does interior book design and layout work?

At the 10,000-foot level, a designer creates the template, and a typesetter brings the manuscript into a design tool and lays it out. (Most magazines, newsletters, and publishing houses use Adobe’s InDesign for layout.) Usually the designer can also lay out your book.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • How big do you want your book to be? 6″ x 9″ is a typical paperback size, but you may want a different size. The designer must know the finished size of your book in order to make the text fit.
  • Do you want to use any color in your book? In the publishing trade, printers charge for one color (usually, people use black). If you want, say, your headings to be blue, that’s considered two-color printing (blue for the headings, black for the text), and printers will charge for two colors. (Though you could have your entire book in blue instead of black if you wanted, which can be a nice way to add some uniqueness without extra costs.) If you have photos you want in full color, that’s going to cost more. I’ll talk more about colors when I discuss printing, but you need to decide at the design stage what you want to do about color.
  • How do you want your book to feel? Friendly? Formal? Historic? A good designer will offer you fonts and an interior design that will convey the feeling you want.

How much does it cost?

A lot. For a 200-page book, probably a few thousand to have someone design and lay out your book.

Why is it so expensive? Typesetting is painstaking work that requires a lot of meticulous care and attention. Even if your book is simple. If you have more complex needs (images, sidebars, other special formatting needs), your typesetter is going to work a lot harder. I won’t go into the details, but trust me, it gets gruesome. Designers/book layout specialists can afford to charge so much because it’s a difficult job that requires a lot of skills that are honed through experience, and not many people want to do the job.

Yes, you can find cheap book designers, but the resulting design/layout will be horrible. In this field, like so many, it really is “you get what you pay for.”

If someone offers to both design and typeset your book, they might charge a flat fee to design your book, then $35 per page (and up!) to typeset it, or they might just charge a flat fee based on the number of pages. A flat fee is usually better.

Some people will offer a package deal: cover design, interior design, and lay out, all for one fee.

Working with a designer and typesetter

When hiring a designer/typesetter, get bids from three different people/companies, then pick the one that you feel most comfortable and sympatico with. Give them as much information as you can: number of pages, whether you have any images or special requirements, whether you want to use color, whether you have a favorite font you want them to use.

In their bid, they should specify how many rounds they’ll do on the design before finalizing it. After they lay out your book, they should prepare it so it is ready for the printer.

Once you’ve selected a designer/typesetter, it can be helpful to pick a book whose layout you like and show the pages to the designer to give them an idea of your taste.

You could just hire someone to design a template for you, then you could lay out your book yourself. The advantage of that is that you can then use the same template for your other books of the same size, though you may want to vary some things to keep the look fresh and unique for your book. See the next section for going the do-it-yourself (DIY) route.

Cutting costs by doing it yourself

If your budget is super tight and if you know what you’re doing, you can get away with not using a professional. Instead, you could use a premade template and your book will likely look okay. But if you choose that route, take the time to find an excellent template (and be prepared to pay for it).

Or you could take the path of total DIY and make your own template and lay out your book yourself.

Whether you buy a pre-made template or go all out with doing it all yourself, you absolutely must teach yourself the basics of design and typesetting.

That way you won’t make rookie mistakes that shout “amateur” to anyone looking at your book.

In case you’re thinking that you’ve seen a lot of Microsoft Word templates hanging around, and you’re wondering why you can’t just use one of those,

I don’t recommend using a Microsoft Word template. It is impossible to get a professional-looking interior using Word.

Word is a fantastic tool when you’re writing (though if you’re up for learning a new tool, Scrivener is also a fantastic for writing, just for its organizing capabilities alone), but Word is not capable of doing the sorts of things you need to do. Even Microsoft, back in the days when they were producing printed manuals for their products, didn’t use Word. They used FrameMaker, which is InDesign’s more techy sibling.

If you get someone to design an InDesign template for you, you’re going to have to learn how to use InDesign. Santa Rosa Junior College offers excellent online courses in InDesign (online means you can take them from anywhere), and so does (check out courses by David Blatner, Anne-Marie Concepción, and Nigel French).

Are you an author?

Hey, if you are self-publishing (or if a publishing house is publishing your book), feel free to post a link to your book in a comment to this post (or any of the other posts in this series). Thanks!

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