Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Challenges of Doing Your Own Layout

I've been trying to get my new writing craft book, Advanced Plotting, on the market. Yesterday I received the proof copy from CreateSpace. Had it been fine, I could have officially published the book. Unfortunately, I discovered a problem with my line spacing. The bottoms of hanging letters such as g and p were getting cut off. You couldn't tell in the Word document, but you could in the PDF I'd sent to Amazon for printing.

This is one of the challenges of self-publishing -- you're responsible for all the details. I thought that since I'd previously done the layout on two books, I could manage this one. In fact, I used a previous book as a template. But I had accidentally used the font from my chapter headings (Adobe Caslon Pro) with the line spacing from the body text (Georgia). The Georgia font is fine with a standard 13.3 line spacing, but Adobe Caslon Pro needs a minimum of 14.2. After I realized my mistake, I remembered that I had changed the font to Georgia for The Eyes of Pharaoh's body text because Adobe Caslon Pro needed so much extra space. (I've now made a note of it for future reference.)

I spent several hours reformatting the manuscript. It wasn't a simple matter of just changing the line spacing. I had over 30 sections, each with a different font and line spacing for the heading. If I'd changed the whole document at once, it would have messed up all the headings, plus the title pages. I had to deal with each section separately. As an additional complication, the new line spacing meant each paragraph took up more space. But I didn't want to change the page numbers, because not only did I have the page number set in the table of contents, but within the text I reference different essays by page number. I had to make adjustments to make sure each section started on the same page as before.

I'm sharing this as an example of some of the specific challenges you face when publishing on your own. Of course, you can hire somebody to do your interior layout. You may want to do that if you have enough money and don't have a graphic design background. Otherwise, be sure to plan enough time to get the proof copy of your book and study it carefully.


  1. Thanks for the post! I'm dreading that phase in my adventure. Right now, I'm having someone design The Red House: Almost a Memoir's cover for me which is a challenge in itself b/c precise communication and understanding is so key. I am learning to express myself better.
    I haven't crossed the formatting bridge yet, but your post indicates it's time-consuming, but doable. Thanks!

  2. It is doable, and there are several formatting guides available online to help you figure out some of this stuff. It helps if you have enough graphic design background to at least know what widows and orphans, and leading and kerning are, and either a good layout program or enough familiarity with Word that you're not completely tearing your hair out over trying to, for example, figure out how to have different interior margins for the right-hand and left-hand pages.

  3. Okay, I'm lost. I have no graphic design background and I still ask my husband how to do things on Word and other things. Oh, boy!

  4. Yep, this is why they *have* professionals! One good thing about doing it yourself, you may spend a lot of time upfront learning about all these things, but it should get easier from book to book. The upfront time may be worthwhile if you're planning on doing a lot of your own independent publishing.

    And for some things, it's just easier to hire someone. I found someone who would format my electronic versions for Smashwords for $25, and then Smashwords automatically translates it into every other electronic format. To me, that's money worth spending.

    I don't know how much a graphic designer would charge to format the interior of the book. I expect for an expert, it wouldn't take more than a couple of hours to do a simple novel that didn't have any unusual formatting.