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The Self-Publisher's FAQ

Creating the Interior of Your Book

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What is interior design?

Not all books are laid-out the same. Open any five books (not of the same series) and see how the type (font) looks on the page. Then there's spacing (kerning and leading) between the lines and between the characters themselves (sans serif or serif). If you plan of learning the art of book design, you might want to read this book to get started: On Book Design by Richard Hendel.

Note how the chapters are arranged. Do they start on the same page, on opposite pages from the end of the last chapter, or is there a blank page between each one? That's a design choice (see explanation below). Now look at the pictures in the book. How are they displayed? Again, this is a design choice.

What is Typesetting?

Printers don't just take a manuscript and dump it in to book form. There's a step needed. Considerations need to be made how the interior will look. This includes many factors regarding fonts, kerning, leading, chapter breaks, front matter, indexing, back matter and many other details—all of which I'll explain in a minute.

Most often programs like Quark or InDesign are used. If you have never attempted to use advanced computer programs, it's a good idea to hire a professional. If you plan to publish several books, it's time to take a class or do a tutorial on one of these programs.

Do I need to worry about typesetting if I'm just putting out an ebook?

I've seen many people put their ebooks out using a direct Word document. Given that your reader/buyer may increase the font, or the particular program may simply block formatting, this is an important consideration. Even if you use a Word document directly you need to format it with page and chapter breaks. See this article for tips and tricks.

What are Fonts?

Fonts are all letters, numbers, special characters and spaces in a given face (the stylistic appearance of the type). There are thousands of fonts, some are not appropriate for book text, some are. For instance, Times New Roman is fine for a textbook, but not a novel. Arial is fine for a computer book, but not for any other application.

There are two basic font types: serif and sans serif. Serifs are decorative strokes added to the basic form of the character (like these); sans-serif fonts lack the extra strokes. It may seem counterintuitive, but the extra strokes in serif fonts have been shown to be more readable, especially over long periods of time. Serif is generally preferred as an interior text font style.

For those doing ebooks, not all fonts translate to all readers. So your cute script comes out as random characters and scrambled words. Chinese characters for your Chinese cookbook may render as blank squares.

What are Kerning and Leading?

The spacing between the lines is called leading. This refers to the original way printing was done: Leading refers to strips of lead that were placed between lines of lead type, generally kept consistent in a given typeset page. You can increase or decrease line spacing to get more or fewer lines per page without changing the font size.

The kern in lead type is the part of a letter that extends beyond the body or shank (which was rectangular) of the letter, effectively overlapping the adjoining letters or spaces, especially in italic fonts. Kerning more generally refers to spacing between individual pairs of letters.

This is what makes some newspaper columns look strange if they have t o o m u c h kerning. This is not to say kerning is poor typesetting. It can help eliminate Widows and Orphans. But it must be used carefully or the line looks strange.

What is Tracking?

Tracking is a modern computer typesetting term referring to the uniform spacing of characters in a font, separate from kerning adjustments; tracking is a fundamental part of how the font designer intended the font to appear. Tracking adjustments are used to increase or decrease overall character spacing to help justify text. Most typesetting programs allow you to change the overall tracking for a font (usually through the use of "styles") globally modifying the spacing and appearance.

What are Widows and Orphans?

A Widow is a word or short fragment of a sentence at the beginning of a paragraph that is continued on the next page. Not only does it look "unlovely" but it wastes space.

An Orphan is the end word or short sentence fragment that is separated from the paragraph body on another page. It also wastes space.

Why can't I just use Word or WordPerfect to typeset?

Again, if you are going to do an ebook and don't expect to have wide distribution, then it can be fine, if you know what you are doing. Here's an article of setting up your Word document for conversion into an ebook.

If you are going to print a book, and it's just going to be a book for your friends and family, it's probably fine. If you are printing a book targeted at a larger market you need professional typesetting such as you can get with InDesign or Quark. The third biggest fault in a self-published book is the lack of professional typesetting. Again, a bookseller will look at the interior. If it looks like it's a Word document, she's unlikely to buy the product—and she won't be the only one to reject it.

One of the big tip-offs that a book is an amateur production is when the content is laid out in single-spaced block paragraphs, with spaces between them (as in a business letter). Worse are tabbed single-spaced paragraphs with spaces. Most books have continuous paragraphs that start with a tabbed space.

Another fault is two spaces between sentences (I can tell how old you are if I see this—it was the standard in high school typing classes throughout the Twentieth Century).

Are InDesign or Quark all I need to typeset my book and send it to the printer?

InDesign or Quark are two of the most powerful and popular typesetting programs. There are other programs as well, such as TeX (if you are interested in this program, you should view the TeX User's Group Website), but they are more difficult to master.

Many printers are fine with either software program and can accept files from either a Mac or PC platform. However, most printers ask for files in Adobe Acrobat PDF.

What is Back Matter?

Back Matter contains information about the contents of the book, but too interruptive to include in the text. Here are the items one may include in the Back Matter, in this order:

  • Appendix: Contains text of documents supporting the book, charts, tables, lists, and other matter the author considers important to the reader, but doesn't wish to include in the body of the book. There may be more than one appendix. They are lettered (Appendix A, B, etc.).
  • End Notes: Many people, instead of using footnotes or chapter endnotes, save all the notes for this spot.
  • Glossary: Usually contains foreign or industry-specific words and their pronunciation.
    Bibliography: Lists books used to compile the text in hand.
  • Index: An Index is an important tool for any non-fiction work. (See more about this later in this chapter.)

What are End Papers?

End Papers are the first and last pages in a book. These are almost always white in a paperback. End Papers in a hardcover are often done in complementary colors to the cover. This costs extra.


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