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.

Ebooks: The Prophecy That Never Came True

The timeline of the emergence of ebooks is a source of endless debate. However, Project Gutenberg’s title as the first digital library is not contended. By 1999, Simon & Schuster had become the first trade publisher to publish in both digital and print formats. In the following decade, the market for ebooks expanded exponentially, thereby enticing every major publisher to pursue that course. With the advent of the digital product came new avenues for selling it. Since conventional sales channels were not a conducive option, publishers had to switch to a different medium. The period between 2004 and 2010 witnessed a rapid evolution in the market for ebooks, as well as in their reach in the consumer space. During the same period, Google, Amazon, Sony, and Apple entered this sector, launching their own ebook stores and ereading platforms. With consumer patterns changing at an unprecedented rate, publishers started tailoring their pricing strategies to make the best of this transformation.

Nearly a decade ago, ebooks were on the rise, and it was believed that this would lead to the imminent death of the print book. Some experts went as far as stating that the market for print books would plunge into oblivion. These prophecies turned out to be both true and false to some extent. While the market for ebooks soared at an unprecedented rate, the print book still holds its place with its head held high. In fact, the fulcrum appears to be at a tipping point right now, which is contrary to the predicted demise of print books. The fact that most publishing houses now produce both print and digital versions of books, rather than completely switching to the digital space, is proof of this.

While digital reading devices like the Kindle, the iPad, and the NOOK have made it easier to carry hundreds of books around, they don’t come close to providing the warm feeling associated with the smell and texture of a print book. The technology of ebook production hasn’t undergone a great evolution since its inception, but interactive ebooks are reflecting new, innovative ideas. Interactive and educational ebooks can be a great medium for teaching children. They have the power of transforming something dull and intimidating into something fun and exciting.

When it comes to the distribution of books, publishers have always followed the wholesale model—providing books to retailers at a discount on the selling price—which allows the retailer to set the price at which they want to sell the book to customers. The distribution of ebooks, however, became a little murky, with no clear guidelines and no precedent. The significant drop in production costs for ebooks was also a crucial factor in determining the retail price of ebooks. Unlike with print books, the cost of producing an ebook is fixed and doesn’t significantly vary with the number of ebooks being produced. With the right promotion, this can be a great opportunity for breaking even on the cost of producing print books.

Ebook Brain: The Neuroscience of Digital Reading

“Stop staring at that screen—it’ll rot your brain!”

If you, like me, grew up in a rapidly digitizing world, you probably spent a portion of your adolescence getting lectured for spending too much time sitting at a computer or looking at your phone. We’ve all heard the conventional wisdom that staring at screens all day is somehow bad for our brains: supposedly it destroys our attention spans, blunts our intelligence, and transforms us into technology-dependent zombies. But is there any truth to such grim speculations? Are screens really changing our brains?

These questions are especially relevant to the publishing industry, which has experienced a slew of major changes in the digital era—most notably, the rise of the ebook. Parents can no longer hound their kids to put down the device and pick up a book, because now the device may very well be the book. This leads us to a more specific, two-part question: what does research actually show about the neurological effects of digital reading, and what can publishers take away from these findings?

As it turns out, the research so far suggests that although the prevalence of screens has yet to “rot our brains” or turn us into zombies, this development has changed the way we read. Neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf has written extensively about how the reading brain is changing in the digital age. In a 2018 interview for The Verge, she explained that the literacy circuits in our brains have a high degree of plasticity, meaning our reading processes—the way our brains interact with written material—are constantly shaped by the kind of reading we do on a daily basis. In our modern world, this plasticity is both good and bad. On the one hand, our brains need to be adaptable enough to keep up with the times and sift through the vast amounts of information available to us through the internet. But at the same time, this rapid adaptation to screens seems to be weakening other reading skills and processes: namely, what Wolf refers to as “deep learning” and “cognitive patience.” She claims that digital reading teaches our brains to skim and that if we don’t balance this skimming with enough deep, focused reading—the kind we’re more inclined to do with printed texts—we begin to lose our ability to read critically and empathetically.

Research has also shown that digital reading changes the way we skim. A
2006 study found that when people skim digital content, rather than scanning down the middle of the page as they do with print materials, they move their eyes in an f-shaped pattern, reading the first couple of lines and then scanning down the left-hand side of the page until they reach the next header. This means content on the right-hand side of the page doesn’t get as much attention.

Aha, so screens are changing our brains! Does this mean readers and publishers should toss the ebooks and go back to a print-only world? Of course not—reversing these technological advances just wouldn’t be possible, and it doesn’t appear that reading on screens “damages” our brains, per se. Rather than preaching against ebooks, Wolf insists on the importance of a “bi-literate brain,” meaning one that is practiced in both quick skimming and slower, deeper reading.

When we look at the current book market, this makes sense. Publishers know that certain genres (like romance, for example) sell better as ebooks, while books that require more patient, critical reading sell better in print. What’s important is that publishers make informed decisions to ensure that both of these markets—both sides of the reading brain—are served well. Publishers can also use this research to improve ebook design: since we know the f-shaped skimming pattern leaves a lot of content unread, we can focus on creative ways to alter the formatting and draw the reader’s eye to different parts of the page. After all, change doesn’t flow in just one direction: in this ever-evolving digital era, reader and publisher have to learn and adapt together.

Rehousing History: Finding a New Home for Our 1885 Chandler & Price Letterpress

We’re only a few months into 2018, but Ooligan Press has already seen a lot of changes this year. We’ve released our long-anticipated hiking guide (50 Hikes is available in stores and online now!), created a new project team, and much more. However, one of our most significant changes was kept behind the scenes. During the break between fall and winter term, we moved offices.

Ooligan Press has always lived in Portland State University’s Neuberger Hall, but we’ve been anticipating a move ever since the university began announcing building remodels. Despite the building’s many quirks and charms, Neuberger was due for a refresh and closed its doors in early December. When the dust finally settles and the doors reopen, Ooligan will move into a new, beautiful office designed to fit our needs—but this upgrade required some creative maneuvering to keep things running in the meantime. Last term, boxes were meticulously packed and labeled for either our temporary office or deep storage. Some supplies even lived in managers’ cars during the winter break. There was one item, however, that needed special attention: our 1885 Chandler & Price letterpress.

This stunning piece of publishing history was acquired from the PSU art department over ten years ago. It was set for removal from campus, but Ooligan saved and restored it to working condition. Over the years, many students have taken the opportunity to experiment with printing and created collateral for titles and events. Unfortunately, our temporary office doesn’t offer us enough space to continue housing the press. We were faced with two options: move it into deep storage to gather dust during the remodel or find it a new home where it could be cherished.

Luckily, we found a lovely new home for the press! The c3:initiative is a non-profit operating organization that serves as a platform for critical inquiry and supports artists in creating work focusing on social introspection. The press and its accompanying type collection has been sent on a “permanent loan” to c3:initiative’s sister campus, Camp Colton, located in Colton, Oregon.

This new home ensures that the press will be continue to be accessible for PSU students and opens it up to rural and artist communities as well. According to director Shir Ly Grisanti, “The press and type collection look so beautiful in their new home, and we can hardly wait to get printing!”

We are excited to see such a lovely opportunity for creativity come from our move between offices. If you stop by to visit the press in its new home, let us know!

The Importance of Color and Fonts in Design for Print vs. Web

One of the most important aspects of design is knowing if it will be presented digitally or in print. Knowing how a design will be presented affects several design elements, so it is crucial to be aware of your options. In today’s digital world, a lot of designs are created to be displayed on a screen. Those who like to create digital art and manipulate images for online use tend to be more familiar with things such as aspect ratios, RGB (Red, Green, Blue), and pixels. These are concepts that are useful in the computer world, but they have different counterparts in the printed world. When designing for printed projects, designers need to be familiar with bleeds, CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black), and trim size. While it is possible to create a design without deciding whether it will be used online or in print, it will save a lot of time and energy if this decision is made before beginning a design project.

Once a decision has been made about whether a project should be designed for digital or print, it is time to open your design program of choice. Adobe InDesign is generally seen as the publishing standard; however, the current Creative Cloud requires a monthly or yearly subscription. There are other design programs that are free, such as Scribus.

One of the first things you will want to do upon opening your design program is choose which color scheme you want to work in. If you are doing a digital design, you will want to work in RGB. RGB is used for digital designs because computer screens use colored light to display colors. RGB colors are additive colors, which means that when added together, they create other colors, ultimately achieving white when all the colors are mixed together. When designing for print, you need to use CMYK. CMYK colors are subtractive because when you subtract all the color you are left with white, but when you add them all together the colors make black. While these color options may not seem like a big deal (color is color, right?), and it might not be for digital projects, using CMYK for print will make a huge difference in how your color appears once it has been printed.

Another major consideration for design projects that can be affected by your final presentation is font choice. Due to the quality of the printer you use, or the resolution of the screen you will be viewing your final design on, you need to be careful of your font choice. Serif fonts are defined by their serifs, or the small decorative lines attached to the end of each stroke in a letter or a character. If your design will be viewed on a low-resolution screen or printed with a lower quality printer, serifs can appear blurry and make the overall text less readable. Sans-serif fonts are often better in lower-quality situations due to their clean and simple appearance.

The beauty of working digitally is that you have the opportunity to view your digital design almost exactly as it will look when it is displayed on a screen. However, when you are working digitally on a design that will be printed later, it is important to do a test print to make sure everything prints the way you want it.

Books of the Future: eBook vs. Print

Books are all around us—in the shop, on the MAX, and even hidden among the apps in your iPhone. The pressing question is: What does the future hold for books? You may have heard your more tech-savvy friends claim to foresee the disappearance of physical bookstores and the print book along with them, while your English-nerd friends cling tightly to their hardcovers and say, “Not this day!” And as these two sides fight about the fate of books, you may find yourself wondering, which is it? What does the future hold for books and booklovers?

Since the first commercial success of an ereader (Amazon’s 2007 Kindle), many people have predicted the impending doom of the print book. In a world where multiple books could be bought and stored all in one convenient device, why would anyone continue to purchase bulky copies outside the comfort of their own home? In our very tech-oriented era, the ebook has seen increasing popularity among casual readers and book nerds alike. Perhaps one of the most alluring aspects of ereaders is that they allow you to read discreetly. Before the ereader, many people read certain books only in the privacy of their own homes. After the release of the first Harry Potter book in 1998, thousands of adults could be spotted reading hardcover books without their slips. This was the only way that adults felt they could get away with reading a children’s novel. The creation of the ereader has made it possible for adults to publicly read children’s books to their heart’s content, along with other controversial books, such as those by Bill O’Reilly or the thousands of free erotica books from the Kindle store. The more people enjoy the privacy and convenience of ereaders, the more unusual it may become to see people reading physical books on the MAX.

And yet, almost ten years after the release of the Kindle, physical bookstores continue their existence. Even Amazon has joined the fray by opening physical bookshops in places like San Diego, California, and even in our own Portland, Oregon. Any book nerd will tell you that there is something magical about holding a book—the warmth of its weight in your hands; the beauteous sound of rustling pages; and the intoxicating scent that fills the air as you open it up. Even more rewarding than enjoying a book yourself is sharing the book and discussing it later. Sharing is just something you can’t quite do with an ereader in the same way you can with print. When I was in the fourth grade, my friend shoved a particularly large book in my face and demanded I read it. I started the book that night and stayed up far later than I should have on a school night. Had my friend only recommended a book to me, I would have been less inclined to seek it out. The absolute best aspect of owning print books is that they can be signed by the author. I don’t believe Amazon has quite figured out esignatures.

So what sort of future do books have? Currently it seems that neither form of reading is entirely better than the other. Perhaps the future will create a sort of hybrid reader—people who love their ereaders and buy all their books on the device, but save a place for those special, signed print copies to be displayed on their bookshelves. What do you think the future holds?

Books: The Last Vestige of Print Publications

Books feel like home. The idea of losing the tactility of printed books invokes terror in me akin to driving off a sheer cliff or voting for Trump to be president. There is no replacement for the weight in one’s hands, thumbing through the pages, breathing the odor of the paper, running fingers over the spine. It’s a visceral reaction, like the smell of mom’s chicken soup or hearing a favorite song over the speakers at the grocery store. The world is rapidly and decidedly transitioning to digital everything, especially media. Luckily for us, the existence of books doesn’t look to be going the way of the dinosaur anytime soon.

I recently attended a lecture by writer and publisher Dave Eggers where he expressed the idea that books were one of the last types of publications still making any real money. Being a writer myself, this thought stuck with me like gum on my shoe, reminding me with every article I read online that I had no way of knowing whether the author was compensated for their work. Digital books have been making a profit ever since the advent of the Kindle—at least there’s that small comfort—however, people still want real books to have and to hold from this day forward, till death do us part.

Dramatics aside, bookstores such as Waterstones have been relinquishing shelf space allocated for Kindle and ebook sales to restock print books, with paper and binding and covers—the works! This is prodigious news for the future of novel and memoir writers, self-help and cooking aficionados, travel gurus, and children’s book authors. There is comfort in knowing that the painstaking work put into writing, editing, rewriting, and often devoting years of one’s life, may still actually be sustainable.

The printing of books undoubtedly affects the future of the writer, but how about the reader? Can you even comprehend not having access to physical books? Envision walking into the public library and instead of row upon row of hard- and soft-covered pages to pull down and settle in with, like an old friend that you are still getting to know, you find only a room of computers and tablets. No huge old reference books with yellowed page edges. No children’s picture books to share with new little buddies in the reading corner. No collections of paperback mystery novels waiting to be solved in the last few pages. No young adult fantasy fiction bringing budding minds to places only dreamed of. No trace of familiar spines of hardbound sirens luring you with their lyrical titles . . . pick ME up . . . read me . . . read me . . . tempted by the enticing rabbit hole of Lewis Carroll or the whirlwind tornado of L. Frank Baum.

Could we ever recover from the burning of that particular cultural bridge? What would become of us as a people? How many steps could be between the extinction of printed books and a society that is indistinguishable from the one portrayed in the movie Idiocracy? I don’t know about you, but I hope we never have to find out.

Reading on the Edge of Your Seat

A reader invested in a good story might become oblivious to the world around her, and if she is on the brink of resolve after a suspenseful scene, she might grip the book a little tighter as the anticipation builds. Angry readers might be known to throw a book across a room in a fit of dissatisfaction, and a thoughtful reader might pause to highlight a line or two or perhaps add a note. Books can cause us to react or physically engage with the text in a number of ways, but have you ever wondered how details like physically turning the pages of a print book, compared to the navigation of an ebook, may alter the experience of reading something suspenseful?

Two different readers could each read the same title—take Gillian Flynn’s bestselling Gone Girl, for example—and yet if the first reader thumbs through a paperback and the second swipes digital pages on her iPad, these readers will encounter two distinct reading experiences. Small differences in content organization and how readers measure progress shape the experience of reading print versus ebooks. Many readers hold a strong preference for one format over the other, and the conversation of how each will impact the other is ongoing. Zooming in, then, let’s look specifically at the element of suspense—not only a typical thriller or mystery, but any narrative that uses a driving force to push it forward.

Curious about these different reading experiences, I surveyed some fellow readers, and from forty-one total responses, I found that 65% said they prefer to read print books, 15% prefer to read ebooks, and the remaining 20% prefer to read both equally. The majority of those surveyed (63%) said they at least sometimes choose to read suspenseful books. Looking at reader habits, 95% will read more pages in one sitting if they feel kept in suspense, 79% feel more suspense when nearing the end of a book, and 88% will look ahead for stopping points, such as the end of a chapter. Of those surveyed, 45% agree that physically turning pages makes them feel like they’re advancing more so than with digital cues, such as a progress bar or percentage. Finally, 96% of print readers do not physically engage with a book by underlining, highlighting, or making notes during a suspenseful scene, but 33% of ebook readers do.

These results provoke some interesting questions: do print books make it easier to look ahead for stopping points, thus increasing the level of suspense? Do ebooks make it easier to highlight text with less distraction? How does seeing progress using digital cues versus feeling it build tangibly by turning pages change the way a reader interprets suspense?

While additional research would be needed to provide deeper insight, a few practical areas to consider with both formats include a book’s content organization and how a reader gauges progress. If readers feel greater suspense as they near the end of the book, stopping to look for chapter breaks or “checkpoints” could potentially add to this building sense of anticipation. Strategic narrative structure on the publisher’s end could be considered for ebooks, where navigating chapter or section breaks more easily could impact the level of suspense. Determining a “best practice” in content organization based on additional research could improve how a reader moves through a text. Improvements in ebook navigation and usability could also create a more fluid digital reading experience.

With overall reading progress, feeling the pages accumulate in the reader’s hands signals a particular message of anticipation as the reader gets closer to the end of the book. This background tangibility may serve as a link between physical touch and processing content. With ebooks, highlighting or engaging with the text can lock in a reader’s understanding. The ease of swiping or clicking through digital pages might also contribute to one’s choice to read further when held in suspense. Removing any unnecessary distractions and focusing on seamless ebook and device features could reinforce an inviting digital reading experience. Although these considerations only graze the surface of comparison between print and digital formats, awareness of how every detail contributes to interpreting suspense and the overall reading experience is key for future improvement.

While both print and digital formats offer a unique way to read suspenseful narratives, each could take cues from the other to continue to provide a quality experience for the reader. Creating stronger content organization and considering progress measurement could heighten a reader’s sense of suspense, from subtle to scream-worthy. One constant that will stick around is the reader’s desire to be intrigued, entertained, engaged, or surprised. Whether curled up with a favorite hardcover or eagerly swiping through an ebook, a good story will continue to offer readers the small thrill of turning to the next page.

To the Printer!

Greetings, readers:
Happy Veterans Day! I hope those of you who had the day off yesterday enjoyed your extended weekend.
I’m delighted to inform you that the We Belong in History book package has been sent to the printer. Our galleys looked wonderful, and we can’t wait to see the final product.
I’m also happy to let you know that we’ve scheduled our first event for the book. We’ll be premiering the publication at In Other Words on January 7 at 7:00 p.m. Bring your friends, your friends’ friends, and your grandma to a night of poetry readings, activities, and community! In the meantime, be sure to check out the We Belong in History webpage for exciting news updates and information on how to order your own copy of this lovely poetry anthology.

It’s All Coming Together

Greetings, readers:
This has been a very exciting week here at Ooligan Press. We have finished reviewing our galley proofs and are ready to submit the book package to our printer. That’s right, we are gearing up to print the book! It’s not long before the official publication date, so be sure to reserve your copy today.
Since my last update, we have been in contact with the good folks at Beyond Words, and it looks like we may have our first event space negotiated. Check back during my next Start to Finish post for more details.
We are also still in the process of contacting the teachers and students who made We Belong in History possible. So, keep checking your e-mails, because there’s probably a letter awaiting you from us!
We now have a dedicated webpage for We Belong in History: Writing with William Stafford. This resource contains information about the project, our scope as a publisher, and our hope to foster a love of poetry within a new generation of Oregonians. And if you ask me, these kids are standouts who most definitely belong to history.
Don’t forget to peruse some great selections from our backlist—like Classroom Publishing and Dot-to-Dot,Oregon—while you’re there.