Should You Design Your Book in Microsoft Word?

There are many stages to publishing a book. You have to write the manuscript, go through multiple rounds of editing, do marketing and publicity for its publication, and of course, it has to be designed. In the world of self-publishing, all this planning and work falls on the author, which, to some, is a great position to be in as it gives them complete autonomy over the entire process. However, this also means that, unlike working with a traditional publisher, the cost of these also falls to you—and it can start to add up very quickly. This leads to having to make some tough decisions and prioritize certain parts of the process over others.

One piece of advice given to authors to help them save money is to lay out and format their book in Microsoft Word as opposed to something like InDesign or hiring a professional book designer.

I can see the appeal of this. Word is a program that is familiar to most of us, especially if you’re a writer. It’s a lot cheaper than InDesign, which is a more professional tool that is also very technical and has a steeper learning curve.

However, there are many reasons why Microsoft Word isn’t the best tool for this kind of work. So, before you commit to doing all that work in this program, here are a few things you should take into consideration.

First: Word can be very difficult to control. If you have a book with elements like images, graphs, sections, etc., it’s difficult to get them to sit exactly where you want. You get very little precision when it comes to design and placement, which leaves a lot of room for mistakes. Some are small, but others will impede the readability of your book.

Second: Word has limited options for customization. With Word, you have a limited number of fonts you can work with to truly customize your work and make it stand out. While you can download custom fonts and use them, only system fonts will transfer over from one person to the next. So, all that work you put into your layout with all of your customization will disappear when you hand over the file to someone else and transfer it to another computer, as there’s no way to embed or package these elements to prevent this from happening. There’s also the issue of version compatibility. Since each version of Word is so different, chances are your design will not transfer over to the latest version.

Third: Word is not set up for print production. Currently, there are no options for setting up bleeds, no control over spreads, no way to package files, and Word also works in RGB as opposed to CMYK (the print color mode). All these seemingly small details can cause so many problems when you go to print as they can cause things to be off-center, your colors to be off, or your fonts to go missing, just to name a few potential snags. While there might be some workarounds for these, from what I’ve seen they don’t always work out, so there is no real solution.

These are just a few of the reasons why you wouldn’t want to use Word for layout and design. If you’re doing something very simple and straightforward that you’re not looking to put into the consumer market, then I see why this would be a good option for you. But if you’re going for something that looks professional and enhances the reading experience, Word is not going to be your best option for that.

While it may seem like the interior design of a book isn’t quite as important, it’s actually one of the key pieces that brings your book to life. Think about it: your reader interacts with the interior design of your book just as much as the story itself. How they gain access to the story is through its design. If your book isn’t laid out correctly and efficiently, the reader can’t get to the story, which will affect their experience and overall perception of the book.

Whether you want to invest in the interior design of your book is entirely up to you, what your goals are, and what you want from your publishing journey. As a book designer, I am a bit biased, but I also understand that designing a book is a lot more than just putting words on a page and picking a nice font. There are so many rules and finer details that make your book legible and something that readers want to look at, even at a subconscious level.

Font Matchmaking

Fonts—they’re a big deal, especially when it comes to books. They’re the paint on the canvas, the thing that takes this image out of your head and presents it to the rest of the world. That’s no easy task, so picking the right font for your story is very important. It’s just as important as the cover design of the book, since the font is the one design element that your readers will constantly be exposed to throughout the entire time they are interacting with your story. However, it isn’t easy to find fonts that go together and that suit your book, and there are some challenges and rules to keep in mind. But as difficult as this process may be, it is also a lot of fun and a great opportunity to let your creativity shine.

Thankfully, there are hundreds of different fonts out there for you to choose from, so chances are you will find something that suits the story you want to tell. The first thing you need to do when picking fonts is to keep in mind the genre and tone of the book. In Typography 101, the first exercise you are ever given is to try and accurately represent a word using only one font. You are given a list of words and genres, and you have to try and match these three elements and get them to work together to visually represent the text given. It’s super fun, and this is a great place to start when picking out fonts for your project. You can start by taking the title of your book and trying to find fonts that match the words to the genre and that work together.

On average, you will be using two typefaces for the interior layout of your book. You may just use one if you like to keep things simple, and you might need more if your layout is more complicated, but you should always try to stick to no more than three fonts per project. You’ll need a primary font, which will be used for the bulk of your text, and a secondary font for your headers. Each one is unique in its own way, but they should be working together to create a cohesive design and to represent the content of your story in a visual manner.

The most important thing to keep in mind when searching for a font is legibility, whether this is for your header or for your body text. It doesn’t matter how pretty a font is—if no one can read it, it’s not doing its job. This is especially important for your body font. The best approach for body fonts is to keep them simple and easy to read, but that doesn’t mean they have to be boring; you can still customize a font to suit your book’s tone and needs.

While your header font should also strive for legibility, there is a little more flexibility to play around with some funkier designs and intricate lettering and get away with it, since the header is meant to stand out from the page and break up the text. You can confidently use script, decorative, or even handwritten fonts here, and that small touch will really make a difference to the reading experience.

Now, how do you find fonts that complement each other? Thankfully, there are a lot of ways to go about this. One way is to look at fonts made by the same designer. This is a good way to keep things coherent, since a designer will usually have a very distinct style and will often make fonts that complement each other. You can also try to look at fonts that were created around the same time. This is an especially good approach if you are designing a book set in a particular time period. Picking fonts that were designed in that same era will add an extra cool detail to your design. You could also try looking at sizing (picking fonts that are similar in height and weight), choosing fonts that are under one studio, choosing fonts that are popular in your genre, or just going with your gut! There’s really no wrong way to go about this. There are also endless resources (such as Explorations in Typography) that can help you match headers and subfonts for your project if you’re really struggling, in addition to websites (such as Identifont) dedicated to identifying fonts when you’re not sure what they’re called or who designed them.

The possibilities are endless, and at the end of the day, if you’re still not happy with what you found out there, you could always make your own or manipulate existing fonts to achieve the exact look you’re going for. Fonts are incredibly versatile, and there are thousands of options out there that can be made to work for you and your book.

Real Documents from a Fictional Town

Darc Majik Chocolate

Darc Majik Chocolate

Epistolary novels gain an air of reality through their use of letters, diaries, and other documents. Shifting voices and jumps in time put the reader in the position of an investigator or a voyeur. Of course, a novel doesn’t have to be entirely made up of documents to achieve a similar sense of reality. At Ooligan, we recently worked with an author to pepper the pages of his book with some physical traces of the world he had created. This process helped bring the book’s fictional town to life.

Greetings from Odsburg

Greetings from Odsburg

Odsburg (which launched October 29) shares the flyers, letters, menus, and other ephemera of a colorful community (all of which was allegedly gathered by illicit means). As a reader and fan of the book, I find that these “found documents” make it easy for me to forget that the town of Odsburg is a fictional place. The Ooligan team supplemented the endearing, believable, and varied voices of Matt Tompkins’s characters with documents that are mentioned in the text. Many of these documents were physical objects before we digitized them. Here are some notes on our process, which might be helpful to anyone who’s publishing or authoring a work of fiction that would benefit from found documents.

First, we stuck to the text. Creating a wealth of documents is fun, but only for those already familiar with the content of the book. As with any aspect of designing a book, it’s important to take on the perspective of a new (or potential) reader. Each document’s connection to the text should be clear. Maybe the connection comes later in the text, which can add some mystery; but the document will be a troubling distraction if readers are left scratching their heads for too long. For Odsburg, we only created objects that were explicitly mentioned in the text, and we placed them in the book near the places where they were mentioned. This ensured that there would be little to no gap between the reader’s encounter with the document and the point where they learned its place in the story.

Housesitting Instructions

Housesitting Instructions

We made a list of all the objects mentioned in the text, and then we narrowed the list down to a size that would ensure readers could engage with every document. We didn’t want to overload the text or keep the reader’s attention away from the writing for too long. When choosing which documents to create, we sought visual variety. We didn’t want to end up with too many letters, as this would have made the non-letters seem out of place. We chose objects that would be immediately recognizable if one read about them first and that would still be memorable if one read about them later.

We also had a different person create each document. This gave each piece its own identity and meant that none of the handwriting was the same. This process is easier to pull off if you’re working with a large, multitalented team like the one at Ooligan, but it’s still replicable if you’re doing most of the work alone. Stretching your design skills by pretending each piece is a commission with different goals, asking friends to contribute their handwriting, or crafting documents in different mediums can keep the collection from feeling repetitive and artificial.



Because Odsburg is presented as one man’s collection of documents and thoughts, we treated all the physical objects the same way after they were created. Some crumpling suggested they were kept in haphazard folders before publication, despite how delicately we handled them in reality. All documents that were originally digital were printed so they could go through the same scanning process as the objects that were originally physical. The result is a variety of objects that still feel united by a common journey.

Elite Male Modeling

Elite Male Modeling

This part of publishing Odsburg has proven to me how much design can contribute to the content of a text. The process of creating these documents can lend another dimension to a piece of fiction. If your goal is to make your fictional world feel real, consider creating “found documents” and ephemera to bring it to life.

Book Cover Design Tools for the Self-Published Author

Finally! After years hunched over your laptop tussling over which adjective perfectly captures your main character’s eyes and searching desperately for that perfect ending, your book is done and ready to be launched into the world. You already have the perfect title, but wait! You still need a cover. As a self-published author, it may be intimidating to start with all of the online outlets claiming they can make your book the next bestseller. After all, you’re a writer, not a designer. To help make the process a little less intimidating, here is a brief list of options that can give your book the beautiful face it deserves.
Hire A Professional Designer
As a self-published author, it may be beneficial to set aside some funds to hire a professional designer. The cover can be an excellent marketing tool and help communicate the subject, genre, and mood of the book in a single moment to the potential reader and having someone with experience in this realm may help increase sales. If funds allow, here are some options to explore:

  • Bookfly Design: For a fully personalized cover design experience, Bookfly Design will work with self-published authors one-on-one to create the design of their dreams. The small studio on the Oregon coast offers editing services as well. The intimate experience stands as the most expensive of these options with ebook design starting at $549.
  • BEAUTeBOOK: From cover to interior to website design, they will take care of all your design needs. Bestselling author Gregg Olsen took advantage of their services when designing Bitter Almonds, but the “bestseller look” may cost a pretty penny. Ebook cover design starts at $275.
  • Covertopia: If you are short on time, premade covers from Covertopia may be your best option. Choose from hundreds of genre-specific covers, and Covertopia will customize it with your title and author name. Premade covers start at $119.

Do It Yourself (for little or no cost)
Here in Portland, Oregon, we take pride in getting things done ourselves, and there are numerous online outlets that help guide you through the book design process with relative ease. For many self-published authors, making the cover is not the issue. Instead, the difficulty lies in making a cover that simultaneously captures the feel of the book and stands out among the sea of professionally and self-published books alike. If DIY is more your style, check out some of these online guides:

  • Adobe Creative Cloud: Want a professional looking cover? Invest in the applications used by professionals. InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator are excellent tools for creating both cover and interior book designs. Your subscription also includes video tutorials to help you navigate the tools and techniques available on the different applications. A single app subscription starts at $20 a month.
  • Cover Design Studio: This online resource claims anyone can make a cover on their site in under an hour. While the overall process is sure to take longer than that, this is a quick and easy option for authors short on time. Simply download a template and start customizing. Cover Design Studio offers a hundred DIY templates to choose from, starting at $19.
  • Amazon: Kindle Direct Publishing has their own cover creator, complete with a video tutorial. Simply add a personal image, choose from ten design templates, customize your font and color scheme, and submit. This tool is free when publishing through Kindle Direct.
  • CreateSpace: The entirely free cover creator from this self-publishing outlet allows you to create semi-custom designs with relative speed and ease. You can begin with a premade cover, which you can customize from color to font, and incorporate images from their free gallery.

Judging a Book by Its Interior

The old adage “Never judge a book by its cover” is used in a myriad of circumstances, but what about when you get past the cover? One is led to believe, then, that you can judge a book by its interior, and this is absolutely true. The interior design of a book improves (or ruins) the readability of the work.

You may be asking yourself, what is interior book design? It’s the font style and size; it’s the use of graphics (or not); and it’s every decision from margin size to chapter layout to the incorporation of quotes. Drawing certain details from Why Interior Book Design Matters, my hope is to introduce some of the basics to interior book design.

One essential aspect of interior book design is font choice. Some fonts are considered overly used; Times New Roman and Arial are among these offenders. And some fonts are easier on the eyes, keeping the reader absorbed in the story. Even after specifying a font, though, it’s important to use them effectively. You can’t go overboard on bolds, italics, or underlining, and you need to refrain from writing in ALL CAPS. Note how jarring that was.

Another aspect to look at is the spacing and margin width. Do you want to use single-spaced text, double-spaced text, or something in between? Should the margins be small (therefore increasing line length), or should they be larger? These are the types of questions that a designer considers when developing the interior of a book in an effort to assess every last detail. If done well, aspects such as spacing and margin width can work with the font to improve a reader’s interaction with the physical text, which positively influences a reader’s experience with the story.

Finally, let’s briefly discuss the inclusion of images. Images can affect design for better or worse—whether they are little graphics at the bottom of the page or full-page illustrations of a scene. It’s important for you to consider whether such images add anything to the chapter or whether they are taking away from the rest of the book. These are not simple questions to ask yourself, but they are important and will help immensely when working on a book or a short story.

I have briefly touched upon a few key elements of interior book design, but regardless of the component, everything will contribute to a work’s readability, hopefully creating a cohesive product that enhances the entire experience. Until next time, I hope this sates your curiosity for what goes on in the design realm of publishing.

An interview with Adam Salazar, interior designer for “We Belong in History”

Adam Salazar, the former marketing team lead with Ooligan Press, is finishing up his time in the publishing program this term; a man of many talents, he designed the interior for We Belong In History. We welcomed the chance to sit down with him before he graduates, and took the opportunity to chat with him about his design process.

What makes We Belong In History special?

I think the most exciting aspect of We Belong In History is the marriage between old work (Stafford) and new work (students). With this book you see how Stafford’s legacy is continued in a new generation. You see the power of Stafford’s work in his own poetry we’ve published, sure. But you also get to see the depth of feeling that his work engenders in these students’ work.

Why did you decide to take on the task of designing the interior?

I had really started to enjoy doing design work in my classes. Every opportunity I had to use inDesign I jumped at. When the call for an interior designer for We Belong In History came up, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to really test and stretch myself. It was basically the only Ooligan task I had over the summer, and I really enjoyed being able to dive into the work, come up with ideas, and test them out. I also really wanted to create something that I could really take pride in. You only get a handful of opportunities to undertake tasks of this magnitude that require so much of your effort and creativity.

What were some of the challenges you faced during the design process? How did you overcome them?

The biggest challenges of the process were the lesson plans. I really had no experience laying out material of that nature (heads, subheads, bullet points, tables, blank forms), and I went into the process knowing they’d be difficult. When I submitted the first draft of the completed interior, the lesson plan sections were pretty raw, and I knew they’d need heavy revisions, both technically and stylistically. That support came in the form of three people: Lorna Nakell, Riley Kennysmith, and Abbey Gaterud. All three of them pointed me in the right direction, offered suggestions, and helped me out when tasks were out of my technical reach.

Is there any part of the design that you are particularly proud of?

One part that I’m pretty fond of is the circle motif that repeats throughout the book. I was originally inspired by the cover design, done by Lorna. On the cover she has various portraits encased in circles that run horizontally. I thought that this created a delicate and modern effect for the cover, and I was thus determined to echo it in the interior. You see circles repeat in a few places in the interior, most noticeably in the pagination. I have W, B, I, & H encased in tight circles on one page, with the page number residing on the opposite page. Also, there are brief meditations that punctuate each section of the book, and there is a circle motif repeated there as well I thought that this motif wove a subtle thread throughout the book that started with Lorna’s striking cover.

The circle motif in 'We Belong in History'

What were some of the most important lessons you learned in the process of designing the interior for We Belong in History?

I learned the power of paragraph styles. When you’re working with lots of different types of text (prose, poetry, lesson plans), it’s really important to keep track of every style you apply to your work. I got really good at organizing my work in inDesign, and it really paid off when it came to making changes and tweaks at the tail end of the project. I also learned that no one piece of a work is more important than the other. As trying as the lesson plan sections were, when they were completed and I stepped back and looked at the entire work as a whole, I couldn’t help but realize how much more striking the poetry and prose sections were made by them.

What recommendations do you have to future PSU publishing students undertaking an interior design, either for prose or poetry? What do you wish you had known before you started?

Do your research, and stay in contact with those around you. Find examples of work similar to the one you’re designing to get ideas on how to style your design. Poetry was something else that I had never really designed before, so I looked at examples from books in my own possession to get ideas about type size, heading styles, and margins. You should always stay in contact with those around you when you’re doing an interior. We’re a teaching press, so it’s foolish not to use the resources at your disposal in order to make the best book possible. I was extremely fortunate that I had more than one person to go to when I encountered trouble or needed guidance. An interior is not a one-person job. When you look at it you’re seeing the hands, ideas, and sweat of more people than just me.