Interior Design: Things That Martha Never Considered

When I was in copy editing school (which is actually A Thing), my instructor pointed out that, since Gutenberg first slapped his moveable type on the press and started churning out copies of God’s perennial bestseller (my words, not hers), the publishing industry has, over time, honed the book so that it represents a piece of perfect technology – essentially, it’s only when things go wrong that the fact that people had to think about them in the first place becomes obvious.

Having a solid interior design for your book, if you’re making a print version, helps things not to go obviously wrong. It not only makes your final book look professional, it also helps readability by ensuring that there aren’t an inconsistent number of words on the page, that the leading (the spacing between the lines) doesn’t make the text look smushed, that the margins aren’t disproportionate. It takes care of a host of details that you may not even have considered, but which stop your physical book getting in the way of your story.

I am not a designer, so I don’t really have any tips on making the inside of your book look top-notch, but I can give you a list of things I was thinking about when I was preparing to work with a designer to make sure we covered all the stuff I needed and didn’t end up creating a ton more work for her and becoming a footnote on Clients from Hell. So here are some things you might want to consider:

  • What are your specifications? What will be the trim size (i.e., the final dimensions) of the printed book?
  • How many words do you want to appear on a page? This is a really tough one to calculate, and to be honest, I ended up pulling books that matched the trim size I wanted off my shelves, finding pages that contained no dialogue, and counting the words myself. (Never let it be said that self-publishing is not a barrel of laffs.) Remember, this will impact the final total of pages in your book (and possibly therefore your print costs).
  • What do you want your running heads/feet to be?
  • How many colours do you want to use? (This is not as complex as it sounds, as the number is usually “one” (for books that only print in black and white), “two” (obvious), or “four” (full colour productions.)

You also need to think about all of the different elements in your manuscript. Do you have chapter numbers (Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and so on)? Do you have chapter titles? Have you included block quotes anywhere? Is there anything that’s going to need to look a bit different than a basic paragraph, in other words? (Even basic paragraphs need a bit of thought, as they’re usually set flush left after a heading or title, and only indented after that.) Does your story include letters? Emails? Text messages? Poetry? These are all things you should talk to your designer about, because you need to figure out how you want them to look. “Normal” is fine – but you need to define what “normal” is…

Also, be nice when you’re working with designers. They’re creative people too.

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