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.

Justified Design

There are a lot of things that can make a book unreadable: the content, the prose, the plot holes. The list could go on and on. For me, nothing makes a book more difficult to read than badly justified type. When there are large gaps between words, I want to throw the book across the room, even if it is well written and interesting. The science behind how our eyes track when we read is fascinating.

Eye movements flowchart

In the journal article “Eye movements in reading and information processing,” Keith Rayner writes, “When reading English, eye fixations last about 200–250 ms and the mean saccade size is 7–9 letter spaces (see Table 1). Letter spaces are the appropriate metric to use, because the number of letters traversed by saccades is relatively invariant when the same text is read at different distances, even though the letter spaces subtend different visual angles.”

Eye movements in reading and information processing

If the spaces between words are too large, then it becomes a distraction for the reader’s eyes. Type that is not properly justified can turn readers away because the book is physically difficult to read. Readers will become frustrated and put the book down. It’s our job as editors, designers, and publishers to create books that people won’t stop reading.

Here are some things to consider when working with justified type:

For books and longer works, hyphenation is crucial, and there is an etiquette that goes along with it. Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Leave at least two characters behind, and take at least three forward:
    fi-nally, not final-ly.
  2. Avoid more than two hyphenated lines per paragraph.
  3. Link numbers and equations with hard spaces.
    These look like a regular space but won’t convert to a line break.

Line Length
Line length is an important aspect of designing type. The number of characters in a line can also affect readability. Have you ever been on a website where the text spanned across your entire browser? Did you read all of the information or get bored? I get bored! According to The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst, forty-five to seventy-five characters is industry standard for a single-column serif typeface layout. However, sixty-six characters, including spaces, is widely regarded as the best line length. More than seventy-five characters is too long for continuous reading.

Justification Settings
Make sure that your justification settings fit with your design. There are many different suggestions to make when it comes to settings. If you trust InDesign and are able to comb through afterward and make sure the justification is to your liking, then I would recommend these settings.

InDesign justification settings

Happy designing!

Tips and Tricks for Good Interior Design

Interior book design isn’t something that gets a lot of notice; cover design takes the attention. In a lot of cases, the interior design of a book isn’t actually meant to draw the eye. Instead, it’s meant to lay out the content in a way that allows the reader to follow along without distraction. Oftentimes, the layout is something that goes unnoticed until there is something wrong or out of place. Layout design is a very particular and detail-oriented process that involves anything from trim size and color to spacing and font selection.

Several key components aid in a successful interior design. One of the first determinants is the trim size of the book. This is crucial to know before starting on the rest of the interior design, as it can directly affect further decisions such as headers, footers, and margins. Trim size can be standard among genres, with most books staying within an inch of five by eight. Trim size can also control pages numbers, which is also valuable to know before diving into the other aspects of interior design.

The next important decision is font selection. In the case of typeface and size, it is usually best to go with the standard. The wrong font can lead to one of those situations where the reader gets the feeling that something is wrong, even if they can’t define what it is. Common book fonts include Garamond, Bookman, Times New Roman, and Adobe Caslon Pro. Another important consideration when thinking about fonts is what might look good on screen versus in print.

Once font and trim size have been decided on and words are on the page, layout comes into play. Having a good structure and making good use of space is critical for a professional-looking book. This includes the spacing between words, lines, and paragraphs. A tip to follow here is to single space after punctuation, since double spacing here can lead to odd-looking empty space. Margins can also be decided at this stage. Remember that cramped content can make for a difficult read, while words that have breathable space and a solid structure make content easy to follow and even skim.

While interior book design involves a lot of precise decision-making, there is plenty of room for creativity within the inside of your book. Consumer novels can have fun fonts and artwork on chapter pages. Fans of the Harry Potter series have even gotten tattoos of the three stars that border the page number in the books.

Books such as artwork collections or travel guides have even more creative leeway. 50 Hikes in the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests, a recent publication by Ooligan Press, is a great example of creative interior design. The guide’s illustrations, maps, sidebars, and symbols provide quick information, and the sections separating the hikes by area make the book easier to navigate.

While the interior design of a book may not always be as flashy as cover design, it is just as, if not more important. A book with a good layout and design may not always get noticed, but a book with a bad interior can ruin professionalism and even lose readers. With these tips, sticking to industry standards when necessary, and utilizing creative practice where possible, the interior design of your book can become the backbone needed for its content and cover to shine.

Issues with Reflowable Ebook Layouts

Ebooks and ebook technology have come a long way in the past decade. Gone are the days when ereaders were necessary to read ebooks; now, a reader can flip through the first chapter of an ebook on her phone in the morning and pick up where she left off on her computer later that day, with no data transfer between devices. The Cloud helps facilitate this transition, but the ebook’s reflowable layout is more important.

Reflowable ebooks resize themselves based on the viewing device. This is similar to adaptive websites, which alter their layout depending on the size of the screen used to view them. For example, the War and Peace ebook on your phone is the same file that’s on your computer; the only difference between the two is how the text is displayed. Fixed-layout ebooks, on the other hand, do not change based on the device used to view them (such as a PDF). Fixed-format layouts are good for books with large and frequent images as well as specific layouts without which the book would be unreadable (like cookbooks).

For the casual fiction or nonfiction book, a reflowable layout provides the flexibility necessary to display properly on the widest variety of ereaders. The problem with reflowable layouts, though, is the proper display. Readers can customize font, size, and alignment of the text in an ebook. So how can an ebook designer know what the proper display of an ebook is if everyone has different preferences? Traditional mandates of book design must be altered or ignored for ebook design, creating a conundrum for digital designers.

The most obvious issue is how to handle images. At 300 dpi, print-optimized images have a much higher resolution than web-optimized images, which have 72 ppi. Unfortunately, some ebooks use web-optimized images, which can become grainy at high zoom levels. Further, images that span two pages in print books often do the same in ebooks. If a reader wishes to examine a map in an ebook, she must zoom in on the first page, zoom out, flip to the second page, zoom in, zoom out, flip back, and so on. Some “illustrated” editions of ebooks use higher dpi images, but this practice is fairly uncommon (and expensive).

Another ebook design conundrum is the presence of widows (a paragraph ends with a short line on the top of a page), orphans (a paragraph begins at the bottom of a page), and runts (the last word of a paragraph is on a line by itself). While print book designers avoid these at all costs, ebook designers have no control over them. Because reflowable layouts change between devices, a widow on one device might not be present on another. Same with orphans and runts. So the designer (and the reader) has to live with these unsightly line breaks.

There are many layout foibles in reflowable ebooks, such as the lack of universal support for folios (page headers and footers), inconsistent number of lines on a page, and occasional missing indents for paragraphs. These, too, are out of the designer’s hands. That said, reflowable layouts are convenient and are supported by a wide variety of ereaders. In my mind, that’s a fair price for a few minor layout issues.

Comfort in the Familiar

My seventeen-year-old self was resurrected after discovering Mark Z. Danielewski was coming out with a new book on May 12, 2015. However, it’s not just a single book, but an ambitious series of twenty-seven! Pantheon Books published the first volume of The Familiar in May, to be followed by a new release roughly every three or four months. Danielewski, inspired by the surge in popularity of television dramas, wants The Familiar to evoke that same gritty, needy anticipation through printed text. And, despite the emergence of the ebook as a legitimate alternative to the physical book, you probably won’t be downloading The Familiar to your Kindle:

“The electronic form will be explored, but the reality is that the electronic forms available are not really up to speed with what I’m doing.”

Bold words—and I question them.

Danielewski is best known for his cult favorite, House of Leaves. This ergodic novel is a labyrinth within itself. Deeply invested in design, it features an inconsistent layout, wild typography, many different narratives, and (sometimes) headache-inducing footnotes. As in House of Leaves, Danielewski is pushing boundaries with The Familiar, in which that same interesting take on typography and textual layout is explored alongside full-color illustrations.

All artists choose the media they find most natural, the media through which they are best able to express themselves in the ways they wish. Matisse chose paint. The ladies of Gee’s Bend chose textiles. Brancusi chose stone and plaster. I’ve come to view the ebook as just another medium, but it seems to get a bad rap. It’s become apparent that ebooks aren’t necessarily going to replace the printed book, but there remains that lingering threat of the unknown.

If anything, ebooks are often put on the back burner. Most textual works are created with the tangible book in mind. The concept of digitizing the printed text comes as an afterthought. Therefore, maybe, the ebook hasn’t been explored to fully articulate Danielewski’s intentions for The Familiar. Or, perhaps Danielewski has just found his artistic medium within the tangible publication.

I find it is a matter of preference, not necessarily a matter of one medium being superior to the other. We all love the tangible book; that is why we are part of Ooligan Press! We love the sound of the page turning, the memento to hold, to underline, the beautiful cover, et cetera, but there is something I find exciting about the ebook that has yet to be fully explored. Danielewski may continue pushing the boundaries of physical textual media without ever really delving into the possibilities of ebooks—and that’s fine. We all find comfort in the familiar.