The Story of a Good Book Gone Bad, and What it Took to Save It

A couple of years ago, I had a client who had lost his book designer to a family emergency and asked me to finish the design of the interior of the book. As I explored the existing design I saw several errors; several may have been “fatal” to the printed version of the book.

It was over a 500 page book, but the first designer hadn’t left enough interior margin for a book with this many pages—the text would have either disappeared or the text of the facing pages would have “kissed” at the spine.

The first designer had set the text in the font of the client’s choice which had a small x-height which made it really hard to read even at the specified 14pt setting. This made the book much longer than it needed to be, adding to the base cost of printing it. In addition, the text blocks were set at left ragged, not justified. Most books are set justified, and this amateurish choice can make a book lose credibility with readers and professional reviewers.

What did I do to improve the book?

First, I chose a highly legible serif font for the interior, setting the lines to a length that made it inviting to read. The font I chose made it possible for me to set the book in 11 point, increase the margins to a visually beautiful width, AND shortened the book at the same time. I defined the styles in InDesign; for the chapter heads—I chose a display font that contrasted the body copy—and defined visually balanced fonts and proportions for other portions of the book, such as quotes, songs, etc.

But the job of the interior book designer doesn’t stop there: she has to make sure that there aren’t any widows or orphans throughout the book—single text lines on a page, or one word lines on an otherwise empty page. If the author changes the book even by one word after the design has been done, the designer has to check that the text hasn’t re-flowed and created an ugly book interior.

The so-called publishing houses that cater to self-published authors can’t provide the kind of custom design services that will make your book stand out on the bookshelf. Many authors are lost when it comes to producing their book, and often end up spending more money because they have to do it twice: once with a publishing house, and again with a designer.

The Boy With a Torn Hat went on to win an award for fiction. I like to think that the design of the book complemented the genius of the writing, and helped it win. I recommend that you read it and judge for yourself.

Aliyah Marr

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