designing your bookOK, I admit it, I’m one of those people who likes to think I can have a go at anything. Take my bathroom shower. It started leaking. It looked like it just needed a new line of sealant around the tray. How hard could that be?

I set to picking off the old stuff. Then I discovered that it obviously hadn’t been sealed properly for a long time as there was a horrible gunky mess underneath. It had to be cleaned out, but I couldn’t quite get at all the wet bits.

So, I ended up taking the doors off and dismantling the whole frame, which was great to let me clean everything up – but then I had to put it all back together again… Let’s just say it took a while!

I got there in the end. I managed to reassemble the frame and, through trial and error, got the doors to sit correctly. I found an online tutorial on how to apply sealant and, a roll of kitchen towel later, was reasonably satisfied with the results. No one would be looking that closely anyway, would they?

But what’s all this got to do with books, I hear you say. Well, what I did is fine, it works and it didn’t cost me much. But if I’d just got the plumber in right at the start I’d have saved a lot of time and mess, and (importantly) I’d probably have a better end result. Yes, it would have cost me more money, but I could have been using the time it took me to do something else more productive.

The same principle applies to producing written work, books and documents. I quite often get clients who have tried to do their own book formatting in a word processor, or even in one of the ever-more-popular book writing software apps or websites. At a quick glance it looks like a book, especially when the author has used a professional book template. But more often than not, all is not quite right.

Good book layout and design is about more than simply pouring the words into a page template. I’ve seen lots of misguided choices that simply mark out the book as being self-published, including poor font selection, little thought given to margins, rampant widows and orphans (single lines at the top and bottom of a page) and terrible cover designs.

But the ‘I did it myself’ factor especially comes to the fore in ebooks, where proper formatting really does matter. Do you understand what happens to your nice drop caps, your paragraphs indents, your perfectly aligned images and your choice of fancy typeface when exported to ebook formats? And have you seen how they behave differently on Kindles, iPads, tablets…?

While I’m definitely sympathetic to the desire to do it all yourself, identifying when it’s time to call in the professionals to prepare your page layout and to design your book cover can make all the difference to the credibility (and therefore the sales) of your book. Hopefully you’ll find that it’s money well spent, and time well saved.