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Your book better not look like a poorly designed Website! — 25 Comments

  1. Hi David,

    I currently have two PODS and my publisher is giving up the ghost after 15 years and suggested I create my own account with Lightning Source. So after trying to get an agent, which, as you know, requires a cookie cutter book that fits a publishers idea of a sure thing, is next to impossible.

    So here I am, convinced that I can learn how to format my own book, control the changes and put my creative side to work in new ways. So I am thrilled to find you and am going to get your book. Now I just have to figure out how to import my very large file into InDesign – I never thought I would be author and publisher but I think I will actually like it quite well as soon as I can get up to speed.

    Lee Ann

  2. Hi Lee Ann,

    Super! I’m excited for you. It’s wonderful fun to control how a book looks and interacts with the readers. I’ll bet you really enjoy it. I have not used Lightning Source, yet. But I can probably help you with any questions you might have. If not, I know people who can get you the answers (for free, if possible).

    Sometimes I’ve found that it can be easier to import the file into InDesign a piece at a time. But I’d try to import the whole thing first. InDesign can take Word docs and Rich Text.

  3. I was happy to read your spot-on post, but that was quickly dashed when I read your response to Lee Ann. You were absolutely on target to write that coding geeks should not be entrusted with design. Should that not also go for word geeks (a.k.a. authors)? Design is a very different skill that requires both education and talent. Lee Ann will probably find that book design is not so easy. I expect her final result will be far less successful than the work of a professional designer. Instead of giving money to Adobe, then struggling with the software and creating a design, would it not be better for Lee Ann to simply hire a designer? The result would be a better looking book and Lee Ann could then focus on what she does best, write another book. And designers need work too.

  4. In general, I agree with you. But designer elitism is also very dangerous. Writers are also creatives, whereas coding geeks usually are not. I’d say give Lee Ann a shot at it. I’m a designer who turned into a writer. There are plenty of writers who could be good designers. It’ll take a lot of work, but it is likely to be better design than the work of designers who do not read the copy. There is no simple absolute answer.

  5. Five stars for Chris Jennings new book on eBook typography. I buy just about everything I see on the topic and perform extensive testing because I teach classes and consult on eBooks. First, I must complement the way this book looks. Mr. Jennings obviously practices what he preaches (some other authors publish ePUBs about ePUBs that look terrible!). This eBook is unusually easy on the eyes. Second, this eBook focus on the essential issues of setting type well (letterspacing and ligatures!) and does not avoid difficult problems (like differences among eReaders, adding text outside the main flow of text, or the necessity of handling large tables). He provides many precise and helpful solutions and suggestions. He also provides many working examples that prove and illustrate. A very useful eBook this is.

    However there are some odd things with the book. For example, I can access the first page of chapter 1 (page 12) from the table of contents, but if I flip directly from page 11 to page 12 I go from the chapter 1 opener to the chapter 2 opener (which is then labeled page 12) without ever seeing the chapter 1 content. It is strange to now have books with bugs — welcome to the future!

  6. Thank you David for giving me a thumbs up on giving it a try. My publisher is a graphic artist and is wonderful with my covers and I am paying him to do the sequel so they look like a set and he has read the text and GETS it:)

    However, I have lots of other books that I am writing and will write and I love to learn new tools. I do my own website – it is basic but it works. I use Ipage which is not completely intuitive but it gives me a presence. I also do Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. I also have two blogs. So I would say to Tom – don’t discount another artist before you know something about them.

    I believe that this is the direction ambitious writers are going to have to move if they want to be successful. I take my own photos at Civil
    War Reenactments and provide those for use in the covers. If money were not an option I would LOVE to HIRE someone to do it all. But at $750.00 just for the cover design – and believe me after my foray into InDesign – he earns every penny – but that $750.00 can buy by entire software package – and I have an artists eye and brain and the determination to learn new things.

    I feel like we are on a new frontier with publishing and the smartest, hard-working, persistent people will be the ones who make it to the next thing that someone is creating right now.

    Well I guess I have had my say:) If you want to know more about me and what makes me tic – visit my non-profit website http://www.unclesamsheroes.com

    And one last thing – David – folks like me need folks like you:) Thank you.

  7. Quite frankly, I think most of what is said about the importance of having a great book design is exaggerated. This normally comes from people who are trying to sell book designing services.

    For example, one of your statements relates to fonts. Ryan Deis, who has made quite of bit of money marketing e-books, advocates that self-publishers use the Arial font for ebooks. Because of his success, Ryan knows what he is talking about.

    Fact is, like great book design, a great looking website does not mean all that much compared to great content and great marketing. Tom Antion, who makes over $40,000 a month (a month, not a year) from his websites stated that “my $100 websites will outsell the million-dollar websites every day of the year. I make my websites just a bit intentionally ugly to prove this.” Tom also stated that “the vast majority of website designers never made a penny marketing on websites, so stay away from them.”

    Okay, design of a book may be important to certain point. This, I can tell you, however: I will bring out ebooks with what book designers will call bad design, which will outsell over 90 percent of the “professionally” designed ebooks. Why? Because my books will have great content and great marketing behind them.

    For the record, the print editions of my books have sold over 750,000 copies worldwide and a number of them are self-published. I have three books that are true best-sellers, each with over 100,000 copies sold.

    One of the most important reasons for my success is the motto that I advocate:

    “Do it badly – but at least do it.”

    As an aside, I just had a book cover for one of my new ebooks designed by someone who charged me around $25 (after I gave the cover designer my concept for the cover). One of the top book designers in the U.S. saw it on one of my Facebook post and stated what a great cover it was. My book is going to rock with this $25 design.

    My advice to writers:

    “CAVEAT EMPTOR” – Number 1 on the list of Latin phrases that hardly anyone understands and a big reason why most of these people get sucked into costly things that do them absolutely no good prosperity wise.

    One more thing: I have earned approximately $1.7 million in pretax profits from my creative works over the years. How did I do this? I followed the advice of people who had actually earned money from their books and not from people who were trying to sell services to authors and self-publishers. Another reason was that in many cases I did just the opposite of what the gurus in the book industry were advocating.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author, Innovator, and Prosperity Life Coach
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 165,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

  8. My immediate thought about writers moving to InDesign is not about creativity but about learning curve. InDesign requires an entirely different mindset from Word–different ambitions, expectations, and local customs, so to speak.

    Years ago, as an experienced freelance writer with a 16-page newsletter due in four days, I was handed a copy of PageMaker and told, “Here. Use this.” I had never seen design software before. It was a week of pure hell. I’ve never found Adobe intuitive in its help screens.

    From reading the laments of self-publishing authors on many blogs, I suspect that a considerable quantity of them have neither the eye nor the patience to be doing their own design. Those like Lee Ann, who know what they’re about and will relish the challenge–that’s another story, provided they can afford the time and the software.

    Like anything Adobe does except for Reader, InDesign is fiendishly expensive.

  9. Hi, David,

    I found this post via Carnival of the Indies. I’m nodding in agreement (especially about reader comfort–that’s my biggest thing) until you recommend InDesign as the way to make ebooks.

    Here’s why. Ebooks are interactive (to a point). Users can adjust the font size, line spacing, background (sometimes) and the font (on some devices). Plus, ebooks are being read on everything from dedicated ereaders to smart phones. Each distributor has its own little platform requirements and quirks. With all those variables there is zero chance any ebook producer can make one file that renders perfectly on every device and platform. It can’t be done. Until all the device makers decide on a standard, the best any producer can do is tweak and fiddle and customize and cross their fingers and toes–and stay ever prepared to repair and update books when errors are found or when a device maker decides to make New and Improved features that introduce a bunch of bugs.

    I started making ebooks with the attitude of “How hard can it be?” (it is exceptionally easy to make an ugly ebook–takes a bit of learnin’ to do it right) I began with Word (groan) then worked my way through various programs and tools, trying this method and that method, and am still barely halfway up the steep side of the learning curve. One thing I have learned for sure is that, using a program–whether Word, Scrivener, Sigil, eCub, and quite possibly InDesign (which I haven’t used, but would like to because I’d like to design POD books)–is asking for trouble. All those programs have their own way of doing things, of creating codes to accomplish tasks. I’m no techie–I’m still half convinced something magical is going on inside my computer–but I do know that one computer program doesn’t particularly like another computer program and if/when those programs come into conflict, it’s generally the end user who suffers.

    Plus, there is file size. The easier the program makes it for the producer, the bigger the file is going to be. That can have an adverse affect on the reader by slowing down the time it takes to download the book and even slows down how long it takes to “turn” pages. In the case of Amazon, it can cost the producer money because Amazon charges “delivery” fees.

    The only way I’ve found to make reliably stable ebooks is through hand-coding in html. Even then it’s not an absolute guarantee of perfect rendering and every device available, but the chances are much better that the formatting won’t blow up if the user changes something on their screen.

    Other than that quibble, I love what you’re doing on this blog. Ebooks ARE real books and it’s the producers responsibility to show respect to the text and the reader by making them look good.

  10. Hi JW,
    I’m coming from a print background. InDesign is essential to excellent printed books. Starting from that point, the easiest way to make an ebook is to convert the formatting you are already using in print and directly export your KF8 and ePUB ebooks.

    I remain convinced that most books [non-fiction, at least] should be released in print. That requires InDesign. From there, excellent ebooks are fast and easy.

  11. If making money is your primary goal, then I agree with you. If it is not [and it is not for me], then ugliness is one of the enemies of what I am trying to do with my life.

    It is a joy to see how beautiful my Kindle books are on a Fire. I almost wish I owned one. But embedded fonts will come to the rest of the ereader also. Until then I’ll do what I can.

  12. Hi Nan,

    Yes, it is a major step up in knowledge, quality, and ability to go to a professional page layout tool like InDesign. If you can affod to pay someone else to do your formatting, then InDesign is not needed. As for the expense, excellent tools are always expensive. I remember when I decided that I was going to be doing enough carperntry & woodworking to move beyond my hand-held circular saw. It cost me nearly $1,000 for my table saw. That was 30 years ago and I am still using that saw. It greatly improved my remodeling quality and saved me hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on my projects over the years. InDesign is a tool like that. If you want to have professional books, you either have to pay the InDesign user or buy a copy for yourself. Professional book design requires the software.

  13. Mr. Zelinksi,

    The assertion that people selling design services are only interested in selling is an unfortunate one. It’s based on an argument that aesthetics has no practical value—an argument that has stripped schools of art and music classes…and inspiration. But creativity and excellence are not characteristics of vanity. Poor people spend millions of dollars on music recordings, kids on the verge of starvation buy spraypaint, and millions of writers who will never earn fifty cents an hour for the their writing and research time peck diligently away at their keyboards to get their stories out.

    Designers like David Bergsland and myself regularly tell prospective customers that they will never, in all likelihood, earn enough from book sales to recover our fees. Professional editors are in the same boat. And yet, here we are, still working to create excellent books for people who, regardless of their financial circumstances, are not willing to settle for “good enough.”

    Many writers are unconcerned about retail book sales and they’re unconcerned about publishing expenditures. They’re worried that someone will pick up their book and conclude they put anything less than their absolute best into their work.

    You can’t measure that value on a spreadsheet, but it beats the hell out of the colorless, soundless, data-driven world of the infinity practical. The designer’s business is an honest one. What we sell our customers is pure alchemy. We create souls and faces for what would otherwise be stacks of single-spaced sheets of arial text, inspired or not. We sleep well at night. Our clients do, too.

  14. I just had to come in and contradict Mr. Zelinski. I’m not familiar with the author he’s referencing, but Arial is a horrific font in which to read a novel . This isn’t from someone who markets ebooks, this is from someone who buys them.

    Some of it is simply that I expect to see a serif font in a book, but that goes back to the idea of ebooks needing to be comfortable to read. I’ve bought ebooks that were in Arial and if it weren’t for the ability to change the font I would have never read them through.

  15. Pingback:wprdr: Your book better not look like a poorly designed Website! | Wordpreneur

  16. Thanks for the kudos on the website David it is a labor of love. Dave and Sporkdelis – great comments. While I do hope to make a living someday with my stories, both fiction and non-fiction – I would never settle for anything less than my best effort in both cover, story, and the way the content looks to the eye. I would be interested to know about any forums for/by Ebook readers – I am not one at this time although I can see the value for me on long flights. I suppose as an author I will always prefer paper to pad but also know that my readers may not. Therefore I am always seeking to know my audience, know the trend and what someone using an Ereader would prefer.

    I will continue on with InDesign and I agree with David – good tool have always been more expensive than their less applicable brethren. However, I am an artist and creativity my palate. So if I have to learn, I want to learn with what the professionals use. Thanks for all the great comments.

    Lee Ann

  17. I always thought I preferred paper to digital until I was very frustrated the other day when I tapped the page on my paperback and was very irritated that the page didn’t turn.

  18. Pingback:Self-Publishing: Carnival of the Indies Issue #24 — The Book Designer

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