Self-publishing is easier than ever. But how can you do it well – and make your book look as good as a traditionally published one?
Self-publishing your book is now easier than ever. Self-publishing your book well, however, can still be a real challenge. You will often hear mutterings in the publishing spheres that, “You can always spot a self-published book just by looking at it”. And in all fairness, it’s not too surprising, especially if you have chosen to do as much as possible yourself. I’m going to hazard a guess that it is unlikely that as an author, you have also trained and worked as a designer, typesetter, editor, proof-reader and marketer in between writing your book!
It’s undoubtedly going to be hard to get the same effect as a publisher who has spent thousands on a book’s production. However, there are some basic things that you can do that will make your life much easier and help your book blend in with the best.
1. Learn to use Microsoft Word
This probably sounds rather patronising, but Microsoft products have the problem of being a lot like icebergs to the majority of their users – there is a huge amount of depth to them in terms of the functionality available but most users only see and use the surface. There are some really useful tools built in that writers and self-publishers can take advantage of, particularly if you don’t fancy investing in and learning the professional packages such as InDesign and Quark.
Firstly, make a copy of your manuscript (or a chapter) and then give yourself at least a couple of hours to just play around with it. Get familiar with the following things:
- Inserting page breaks – handy to make sure that your chapters always begin on a fresh page.
- Creating paragraph styles – a great way to ensure consistency throughout the book (here is a helpful guide from Snowbooks).
- Document map – really useful for jumping between chapters (find out more about the benefits on Write for your life)
- Adjusting margins and page sizes – you will probably need to do this if you need to upload your manuscript to a self-publishing website. Adding in page breaks prior to this will save a lot of time (and pressing of the enter key).
- Changing the line spacing – adding some extra space between lines can make the text much more readable
- Adding headers, footers and page numbers
- Using tracked changes – for when you send to other people who would like to edit.
2. Study the page, not the words.
If you’ve already nailed all of those tools in Word, that’s great. The next stage is to apply this to typesetting your manuscript. Look at the pages in books that you own that are in a similar genre/category to the one you have written. Scrutinise the typeface, line-spacing, layout, chapter headings etc. and choose the style that you like best, and then try and emulate that. Sometimes it will say in the front of the book the typeface used which can be pretty handy. The important thing is not to get distracted by what the words say – focus on what the page looks like.
NB – always save copies of your book at various stages of formatting. You will probably find that for some eBook formats you need to strip out lots of the formatting that you have done for the print version (because they don’t translate well). It’s often easier to do that with an earlier, simpler version.
More advice on typesetting and formatting your book.
3. Become an expert in ‘packaging’
Book covers, even for online books, are very important. Again, if you are going to do the design yourself you really need to go into a bookshop (or even just browse online) to get a good idea of how books that are in a similar genre to yours are represented. Choose some favourites and go away and base your cover on a similar style. Look at the text on the back cover – how big is the text? What does it say? This is what you are aiming for.
Don’t fall into the same traps as one year’s The Apprentice contestants did when they designed packaging for a children’s breakfast cereal (you might remember the episode better if I use the word ‘Pantsman’?) One team decided to create something very different to anything currently on the market and chose a bright green colour scheme. The judges rightly said that the box looked like it would be much more at home on a gardening shelf with the weedkiller! So, the lesson is don’t be too creative. Remember, the book cover is, essentially, the packaging, so it needs to convey the contents of the book to the reader. Looking very different rarely works in your favour when it comes to packaging a product that already has consumer expectations attached to it.
In addition, you’ll probably need an image or two for your book – be careful of relying on your own photos which may be a bit on the dark side. Fotolia is a handy website for low cost professional images.
4. Be flexible
If you go into publishing with a very particular end product in mind, you can make life difficult and expensive for yourself. Keep an open mind in terms of the size, format and methods you use to publish your book. Being flexible will mean that you can take advantage of the lower budget options, or you can get a premium product at a more reasonable price.
If you limit yourself to having a rare size, unusual binding method and a special type of cover, you could end up having to do a much larger print-run to be able to justify the cost.
So, if you are self-publishing, particularly on a tight budget, then it is worth taking some time out to consider these four things. It’s amazing the difference it can make.