Laying the Damn Thing Out: Part III of the Clayton Smith Guide to Self-Publishing

Ah, book layout. The thing no writer thinks about until it's way too late to start thinking about it. You put the words on the page, and you think, "Heck yeah! This is a novel!" Then you order your proof copy, crack it open, and think, "Oh, no..."

The way your book is laid out is important. It's extremely important. It's incredibly important. It's one of the most important aspects of publishing a book, and the fact that you likely haven't really ever given layout much thought is precisely why it's one of the most important aspects of publishing a book. Your readers won't notice it unless it's all gone horribly, horribly wrong. And then, boy, will they notice.

There's a surprising number of points to consider when laying out a book, and though it's certainly possible to design your layout in Microsoft Word, I very much extremely all the way intensely do not recommend it. In fact, I suggest that you consider finding someone who does book layout professionally and paying them for this oh-so-important service. It'll be one less thing off your mind, and it'll look goooooood, yo.

However, if you're unreasonably stubborn, like me, and are absolutely determined to do it yourself, here's a handy checklist to make sure you're laying out your book all good and stuff:

- Buy Adobe InDesign. I cannot stress to you how brilliant InDesign is for organizing your book's layout. It's a fairly easy product to learn, if you haven't used it before, and once you get the hang of it, massive changes are a snap. And yes, if you want to buy InDesign to have and to hold til blue screen of death do you part, you're looking at a hefty price tag ($699 for the latest version). But Adobe also offers a monthly subscription for $19.99, which you can purchase here. It'll be the best $20 you spend all day.

- Know Your Margins. This is pretty much at the top of the list when it comes to things you won't notice are wrong until it's too late, and you notice that they're horribly, horribly wrong. A book's inside margins (the ones that run along the binding) are tricky, because the space you need there depends on how many pages your book has. The more pages you have, the more space you need, because your book's spine will be thicker, and a thicker spine means you'll see less of the inside of the page when you open it. Make sense? (Probably not. I think it has something to do with math. And I don't explain math stuff well. Math is the worst.) Just trust me on this; the size of your margins depends on how many pages you end up with. And how many pages you end up with depends not only on your word count, but on the size of your pages (because more words fit on bigger pages, and less words fit on smaller pages. #Smart).

Luckily, CreateSpace has a pretty straightforward table that helps you determine how wide your interior margins need to be based on how many pages are in your book. Check it out for yourself here

What happens if your margins are wrong? Well, one of two things. If your interior margins are too small, your words will disappear right into the spine of the book. And if they're too big, your readers will think, "What sort of poor handicapped child laid this out? I could fit a whole other book in the margins of this book." Neither outcome is terribly good.

The outside, top, and bottom margins are a little easier to figure out. There's no hard and fast rule on how wide they should be, but I suggest finding a book that looks "right" to you when you open it, pull out whatever app you use for a ruler because who owns a ruler anymore, and measure the distance. Bam. There you go. Just remember, the outside, top, and bottom may be all different, so be sure to measure them all.

- Find Your Font. Some fonts are great for books. Others are the worst. If you print your book using all Comic Sans, for example, I will find you, and I will destroy you. Minion Pro is an excellent choice for your book font. It's crisp, it's clean, it has serifs, which makes the text flow, and it comes standard in Adobe InDesign. I highly recommend using it.

- Space it out. Get to know and love the terms kerning and leading. When it comes to typography, kerning is the space between characters, and leading is the space between lines. Kerning usually isn't much of an issue; your word processor and your font do that work for you. But pay careful attention to your leading. You want your lines to be spaced far enough apart so that they're easy to read without jumbling all together, but you also don't want them so far apart that you could write notes between each line. Hopefully you'll know the right amount of leading when you see it. But it never hurts to ask for a second opinion.

Oh, and on the topic of leading...never, ever put an extra line space between paragraphs. I did that for Pants on Fire the first time around, and I have on idea why. Honestly. I can't think of why that happened. It just did. And it looked awful.

- Justify! Your words shouldn't be left aligned. They should be justified. Always and forever. InDesign makes this ridiculously easy. Just hit Control+A to select all your text, then hit the justify button. There are even a few different options for the justify button, depending on where you want the last line of a paragraph to line up...justified, left aligned, right aligned, or center. This should go without saying, but you want the last line left aligned.

- Figure Out Your Front Matter. Your book's gonna need some junk in the trunk, except it needs it in the front, so it's more like junk in the hood. And it's not junk, it's actually some pretty important material. So your book's gonna need some pretty important material in the hood. Make sure it gets there.

What sort of material? The sort of material you find anytime you open any respectable book; title pages, dedications, a list of other know. That sort of materi--you know what, I'll just give you a list. Here's what I included in Apocalypticon, page-for-page. (It is also very much a list of what I did NOT include in the first version of Pants on Fire. Why not? Hell if I know. I suppose I was thinking like a writer, not a publisher.)

Page 1 - Blank

Page 2 - "Also By" Page - This is where I wrote, "Also by Clayton Smith" with my (admittedly short) list of other published works.

Page 3 - Half Title Page - This page contains the title only. Not my name, not the publisher, not anything about anything else. Just the title.

Page 4 - Copyright Page - Your copyright information is pretty dang important. You can check out my book to see what all I included on this page. It's pretty boilerplate stuff, and you can find the copy easily enough online. (Your ISBN goes on this page, too.)

Page 5 - Dedication - Who'd you write the book for? For Apocalypticon, it was my parents. In the latest version of Pants on Fire, it's for the Matthew McConaughey of ten years from now. I assume that your book will be for me. Thank you in advance.

Pages 6 and 7 - Acknowledgements - Some people put these in the back, some people put them in the front. I'm not sure it really matters all that much...I decided that I was so grateful to the people who helped, I wanted them to be front and center. So I front mattered it. 

Page 8 - Blank - This page was left blank because I wanted the full title page to be on its own, on the right page with nothing on the left page.

Page 9 - Full Title Page - The title and my name.

Of course, this is what worked for me. Yours might be a skosh different, especially if you have a Table of Contents or an Introduction that you want to drop in. If I'd  had either, I would have put them after the full title page.

This looks a little weird all typed out like this. To see the overall effect, you'll have to buy the paperback version of Apocalypticon. The Kindle version doesn't have all this front matter. Someday I'll write a post about why.

Oh Yeah, and Back Matter, Too. Again, what you put in the back of the book will depend on what sort of book you write and how you set it up. For Apocalypticon, I just have my "About the Author" page, but if it makes sense for you, you might also want to add an appendix or two, notes, a glossary, an index, things of that general nature. But make sure you leave some blank paging between the end of your book and your back matter. Give your story some breathing room.

- Number Up! Of course, you won't want to forget your page numbers. InDesign makes it pretty simple to install and manage page numbers, once you learn the software. Placement is a total matter of preference, and some people include the book name, or chapter names, or their own name, or their pet's mom's leash-maker's title. It's up to you.


I don't mean to say that this is an exhaustive list of layout options to consider when laying out your book (though I'd lay a wager that you're exhausted from having read for so long. Sorry about that). But follow these tips, and your book will look like a real, honest-to-goodness book. I cannot stress enough how important that is when you're self-publishing.


Clayton SmithComment