This past year, my partner, Peggy, wrote her second book, Lose Your Mind, Open Your Heart. She’s a terrific writer, and it was inspiring to see her so focused and determined. She wanted my artwork in the book, and I was thrilled about that. What a great opportunity to get my art out to the world!
She also asked me to design the book and I was excited about the idea. I came to love book design when I worked as an art director at Houghton Mifflin Company. With Peggy’s clear vision of the book’s pacing and sequencing, we collaborated on this very personal project.
When Peggy wrote her first book, Living with Spirit, she tried the traditional publishing route: find an agent who will then find a publisher. The print world has changed dramatically in the past decade, with tighter budgets and fewer publishing houses willing to print “unknown” authors. So, after months of this pursuit, Peggy decided to go with a self-publishing solution. That route involved months of research and resulted in the decision to use Dog Ear Publishing, who had one of the better reputations in the self-publishing industry. She also found that they were accessible and available to talk with on the telephone.
Self-publishing companies typically offer several tiers of “packages.” The prices increase based on the number of included services, such as printing, distribution, design, editing, public relations, marketing, social media tools, etc. For each of her books, Peggy selected the Basic Package. In her research, the general advice was to have your own designer do the cover so that it would be unique.
I designed the cover for Peggy’s first book and provided the actual production files to Dog Ear. For the interior, I provided the specifications and PDF samples of how it should look. When we received the proofs, however, we discovered that Dog Ear initially treated the sample as merely an example of how it “might” look. Their process generally didn’t include working with designers. So, we had to make it clear to them that the sample was the actual design we wanted them to implement.
Ultimately, we were both very pleased with the printed results. So much so that I recommended Dog Ear the next year to a friend who had written a cookbook (Good Food for Everyone) and wanted me to design it. Based on our experience with Living with Spirit, we decided that I would provide Dog Ear with the cover AND interior files for the cookbook. That way, we had much more control over the final product, which looked great.
Both of these experiences with Dog Ear played a role in how we approached the design and production of Peggy’s second book, Lose Your Mind, Open Your Heart. Once again, I provided the files for the cover and interior. But we had a couple of hiccups along the way.
First was the problem of hyphenation. When you create a new file in InDesign, the default setting is normal hyphenation. I cloned the cookbook files as a starting point for Peggy’s second book. However, for the cookbook, I had changed the settings to be NO hyphenation, with ragged right line endings. Did I remember that detail? No, of course not! So, I continued to design the book, changing the ragged right to justified line endings with (unbeknownst to me) no hyphens. That, my friends, can cause very wide spaces between the words.
So, when Peggy was proofreading the first round of design comps, she noticed these wide word spaces and mentioned it. “Why are there so few hyphens?” she asked. And I had no answer. I began to review the pages with a fine-tooth comb, manually inserting hyphens to improve the wordspacing. This became quite tedious. Finally, I had an epiphany and remembered cloning the cookbook’s no-hyphenation setting. The problem was thus solved and I re-established normal hyphenation.
The second problem was the inside margin. That’s the space on the interior of the book nearest to the spine. When you open a book, the text must be far enough away from the bound spine so that the reader can see all of the content. I followed Dog Ear’s recommendations and used appropriately wide inside margins.
We received the first set of printed books, opened them up, and gasped. The text was unusually close to the spine and was thus difficult to read. I rushed into my office and opened my files. “Hmmm, the width is wide enough,” I thought, “it must be a printer error.” Peggy called Dog Ear and described the problem to her customer service representative. He investigated and discovered that they had recently started using a new paper stock that was slightly heavier. The pages were less flexible and the binding a bit stiffer. The solution was for me to increase the inside margins by a certain amount and submit new files.
The bottom line is that self-publishing is a great option, but there can be glitches and you need to pay attention! There are a lot of details to keep track of. You can take advantage of every item offered in the package you purchase, or you can augment things yourself. In the end, you’ll have your written words and/or artwork in a beautiful bound book available to the world. That’s something special.