This Book Cannot Make Any Money: Book Design (Print)

As a self-published author, I need to take on a number of job titles.

I’m the author, which means I write the books.

I’m the managing editor, which means I am the ultimate word on whether a book is published (you have to know when to reject your own books), I select (and hire) which editor goes with which project (yes, that is precisely what hiring a freelance editor is), and I am the one who has to decide when a book is edited well enough to publish.

I’m the Chief Financial Officer, or CFO.  I set and manage the budget, do the accounting, deal with the taxes, etc.  (Yes, even if you hire an independent tax preparer, you are dealing with the taxes).

I’m the Art Director.  That means I select (hire) the artist to do each cover, make branding decisions regarding artwork (for example, I always use Yataghan as the title font for my fantasy novels), and try to direct the artist to produce the best cover I can get.  Frequently, this includes doing some aspects of the cover design, myself (I usually commission the front cover artwork and do the other aspects of the cover — such as placing the fonts — myself; however, I did let Joel C. Payne handle the font placement for the cover of The Merrimack Event, when he said he wanted to).  Art Directors are often also in charge of hiring the book designer, but more on that, later.

I’m the Marketing and Social Media Director.  I handle my business website (even if you hire it out, you’re still responsible for picking WHO produces your website), this blog, my Author Central profile, my Goodreads author’s page, the mailing list, my Facebook account, my Twitter account, and any of the smaller, newer social media platforms I hear about and might want to try out.  I’m also responsible for getting any promotional materials made (I’ve had two business-card sized and two post-card sized cards promoting two of my series prepared; I’ve also purchased, but have not yet deployed as a marketing tool, a bunch of keychain-sized plushy Fennec foxes for Fennec Fox Press).  And I’m responsible for hiring any advertising services (I can’t really say I’ve tried one that has been very effective, yet (a few which appear to have earned back a little more than I spent on them, but nothing with huge results yet. I’ve also never done a serious price promotion, which may have something to do with that).

I’m the Human Resources director.  That I have no employees (only project-by-project freelancers) doesn’t matter — it’s still my job to my job to scout out all of the people I might hire as a part of any of the jobs above (or below).

And, in my capacity as Art Director, I’ve also picked myself to be the Book Designer.  Even when I do have a budget of more than $0 to work on my book with.  I’ve made a couple mistakes in the past (I still don’t like the font choice I used in In Treachery Forged; it makes the book look like it should be a large-print book when it isn’t, and some of the punctuation looks off), but I’ve never committed any of the “Top Five DIY Layout Mistakes,” and I think I’ve gotten better with each new book release.  So now, by my fifth book (and having collegiate training in the field, albeit years before that first book came out), I have enough experience I can say with confidence that I know what I’m doing with this job.

But, uh, I don’t have any prior experience with Scribus, which I was forcing myself to do all the book design in.  And that proved to be something of a problem.

Now, all of the print book design software I’m familiar with — InDesign, Microsoft Publisher, Quark XPress, etc. — operates the same way:  You create a set of master pages that account that place the page numbers, account for the margins, etc., you use guidelines to show where you want titles placed, etc.  That allows you to make text boxes that “snap to” those grid lines\margins\etc. easily, making your pages consistently uniform.

Theoretically you can do that with Scribus, too, but I had a dickens of a time getting my text boxes to “snap” to the appropriate guide lines.  There was a learning curve, as everything seemed to work in a different way than it does on InDesign or Publisher (I haven’t used Quark recently enough to know if it compares).  I goofed up a few times (there was one section — fortunately caught before I sent it to the printer — where all of the pages were scrambled).

In general, that was my experience with just about all of Scribus’s features.  I could still do most of the things that I was able to do in InDesign (though there are a few InDesign features I haven’t used that weren’t available, such as compiling the book into an .epub eBook), but the methods used to do them were more error-prone, the options weren’t as great, and the controls were different.  It made putting the book together… frustrating, to say the least.  And I got really concerned about what the end result would be.

But, well, I got it done.  If I never had access to InDesign or Publisher again, I think I could live with designing all my print books with Scribus (I wouldn’t like doing it as much, but I could make it work).  And I’ve never used Scribus before I started this project, nor were any of the controls (that I could find) the same as on InDesign.

In other words, even if you have never designed a book before, and don’t have any money, you can (eventually) teach yourself to use this software well enough to do your own book design, just like I had to.  (You just need to learn the basics of book design, which you can do by studying how other books in your genre work.  And if you don’t own any other books in your genre, well, that’s what the library is for).

This (print) book didn’t end up looking as good as I’d hoped, but that wasn’t the software’s fault.  It was KDP Print’s documentation’s fault.

Basically, the problem comes down to the margins.  You need extra margin on one side of the page (the side connected to the spine) so that people can see the whole page when they open it, called a “gutter” margin.

My books usually are in the 400-500 page range, which KDP Print recommends 0.625″ in margin for.  I usually give myself a little margin of error and set it up with 0.75″, and it looks fine.

I wasn’t sure how long this book was going to be, but I estimated it would be between 100-300 pages.  So, I checked the guide, and it said I only need 0.5″ of gutter margin for the outside of that length, and it turned out to be less than 250 pages.  So 0.5″ should be plenty.

But at 0.5″, I’m not happy with the look of the gutter margin.  If it was an easy fix, I’d go ahead and change the margins so that it looked better… but it’s not an easy fix.  Changing the margins changes the page count, changing the page count changes the spine width, changing the spine width means changing the cover, etc., etc.  In other words, I would basically have to start over from scratch.

While not IDEAL, the current gutter is serviceable.  I had a few people look at it, and they thought it was fine.  So, it’s just my own sensibilities as to whether anything needs to be changed, and that’s not worth taking a book that’s on sale off sale for the several weeks needed to make the fix.

Had I been able to order a proof copy instead of having to put it on sale, first, to get my own, I might have changed it.  That is, after all, what physical proof copies are FOR — to catch things that don’t (necessarily) show up in the digital file before the books go on sale.  (Then again, you do have to pay money for a proof copy, so I suppose it would have been cheating, as far as the “rules” set out for this book go).

At any rate, the print version is now available… but, unusually, I still have to do the eBook.  Again using a piece of software I’m largely unfamiliar with.  Which means the next entry in this blog series is going to be… fun.  Heh.