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November 10, 2014
By Daniel Lefferts
A clean and navigable design inspires confidence, while poorly formatted or disorderly pages create a negative reading experience.

A cover may draw readers into a book, but interior design (meaning format, font, white space, and any photographs or illustrations) has the power to keep them there—or to push them away. As with any other aspect of a book, interior formatting contributes to the overall impression the book makes. A clean and navigable design inspires confidence, while poorly formatted or disorderly pages create a negative reading experience.

Without access to design teams or art departments, though, an indie author has to work extra hard to ensure that her book has a high-quality look both outside and in. And, at a time when most books are published in both electronic and physical formats, it’s important to make sure that a work translates smoothly across platforms. Here are a few things to keep in mind while crafting the interior of a self-published print edition.

Pick a Self-Publishing Platform First

Many self-publishing services and POD (print-on-demand) providers have specific formatting options and requirements. For example, CreateSpace, Amazon’s self-publishing service and one of the most popular POD providers, has a number of requirements for manuscript submissions, which pertain to everything from trim size and margins to pagination and photo resolution. Other POD services, such as iUniverse, enforce other limitations, such as a cap on the number of photos you can include. An indie author can save herself a lot of trouble by first selecting a self-publishing service and then creating a book's interior with that service’s specifications in mind.

Jeff Feuerstein, a TV writer, used CreateSpace to publish his illustrated children’s book Half Popped, which he co-created with his sister, Dayna Brandoff. He says CreateSpace’s specifications for images and other formatting elements helped them to better plan their book. “For us, they weren’t limitations. They were great guidelines,” he says. “As first-time publishers, we needed those guidelines to focus us.”

Consult an Expert

Unless an indie author happens to have a background in graphic design, she should consider consulting an expert when crafting the interior of her book. Even if she's publishing a fairly straightforward text, an indie author still has to contend with fonts, margins, chapter page designs, and running heads—all of which require a surprising amount of attention and finesse.

POD Design Services

Many POD providers offer ancillary design services that will assist authors with these issues. They vary in price. CreateSpace’s Supported PDF Interior package, which costs $149, pairs an author with a team that helps smooth out formatting issues and make sure files meets the company’s requirements. Dog Ear Publishing, another popular self-publishing service, includes a custom interior design in its basic package, which costs $1,099.

Individual Designers

If an indie author is publishing a more design-intensive work, such as an illustrated book, or wants to work with someone on a more personal basis, she should consider hiring a designer. Though Jeff Feuerstein and Dayne Brandoff initially took a crack at doing the illustrations for Half Popped themselves, they ultimately decided they needed an expert. “What we did was share our story with several potential artists and [ask] for sample drawings as makeshift ‘auditions,’” Jeff says. “When we found the illustrator that best matched our vision”—Alex Miller, credited as co-illustrator of the book—“we went straight for him.”

Designers will typically demand fees commensurate with their experience. And since interior book design involves a niche knowledge set—unlike jacket designers, interior designers must have an understanding of book-industry conventions—those fees can be significant. Self-publishing expert Joel Friedlander, in a guest blog on JaneFriedman.com, estimates that “[f]or novels and other lightly formatted books, you can expect to pay between $200 and $1,500 for interior design.”

Doing It Yourself

If an indie author is confident that she can design her book’s interior without the help of an expert, there are a number of resources she can use. Adobe InDesign offers basic tools for designing a book layout. The program Storyist ($59, for the download-only version) provides formatting and export tools in addition to other features aimed at writers, such as story sheets. And Scrivener ($45), a similar program, offers tools that help writers to storyboard their books as well as to create publication-ready layouts.

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