Ten tips for a successful self-published book

Ten Biggest Mistakes Self-Published Authors Make

Mistake # 3 Layout Your Own Interior!

How words look can be as important as what they say

Pagination (typeset in the old days) is how the interior of your book is laid out. Most new authors don’t even know pagination is a word, let alone how it plays a profound part in the reader’s experience. I do not recommend you paginate your own book; you don’t have the proper software (*hint: Word™ is not the proper software) and even if you follow all of the advice below, there are probably twice as many pitfalls I’m forgetting to tell you about here. However, here are the most obvious pagination mistakes, along with some tips to make the inside of your book as attractive as its cover.

Fonts – ‘and the winner is …’

The winner for most often-abused interior pagination rule is the use of sans-serif fonts in the body of a book’s text. Sans-serif fonts are those without the ‘feet’ on the font strokes. ‘T’ is a serif font: ‘T’ is a sans-serif font. See the little ‘feet’ at the end of the serif font stroke? ‘Sans’ is French for ‘without’. ‘Serif’ isn’t French for ‘feet’; it’s just French for ‘serif.’ Don’t ask me any more French, that’s all I’ve got. The point is this: use serif fonts in your body text; save the sans-serif fonts for your chapter heads, if you choose, just not in the body text.

The common thinking for why this rule exists is that the little ‘feet’ in a serif font help the reader’s eye travel naturally from character to character and word to word, in order to help bring cohesion to the text. Think of them as tiny threads that tie words and ideas together.

Since the advent of digital (computer) text, the sans-serif font has become more popular for text blocks (body text) because it was easier to read on computer display screens since the old display screen technology ‘twittered’ the serifs, making the text harder to read. Screen technology has evolved; serifs don’t ‘twitter’ anymore, but sans-serif is still the digital font of choice for websites – just don’t use it in the body text of your book unless you want to look like an amateur.

P. S. ‘Times New Roman’ is the old fuddy-duddy serif font; ‘Arial’ is the most established sans-serif font. A self-appointed style critic told me once that using ‘Times New Roman’ was ‘amateur’ because the font was out of date … whatever. My current personal favorite serif font is ‘Adobe Garamond Pro.’

White Space – ‘give us a break’

Have you ever opened a book only to get ‘fire-hosed’ with text? I mean the pages are so crowded with text, usually small text, and so devoid of any white space that you think, “I’ll never get through this.” That’s a lack of white space.

The reader’s eyes need a little break now and then. They need to know when one idea stops and another one starts. And not all readers are voracious word gluttons; most of them want a little island of white occasionally where they know they can stop and rest if they get tired.

I try to be sure the pagination of our books allows for generous (but not too wide) margins, a break of at least 0.0625” between paragraphs and a break of 0.125” at the end of a sub-head (those mini-chapters within chapters, like white space, give the reader a visual break at the head of this section), as well as some space between the header (chapter heads) and footer (page numbers). I usually leave the top two inches blank on the first page of a chapter.

While we’re on the subject of white space, it’s an established custom to start chapters and sections on the right-hand page. If the previous chapter stops on a right-hand page and you’ve got to leave a blank page on the left before starting the next chapter, so be it. (*note: very occasionally I’ll break this rule, but not often and for good reason – like I’m feeling particularly cheap that day, or it screws up the signatures. ** note: I’m not going to tell you what signatures are today).

Pull-outs

Add a little class to your book with pullouts. Pull-outs are short quotes or ‘sound-bites’ from your book’s text that communicate important points. They’re ‘pulled out’ from the text body and set in their own little invisible box. Pull-outs are usually set in a different font and bigger font size than the body text, and they’re formatted to encroach on the body text flow (the body text ‘flows’ around the pull-outs).

Page Headers and Footers

Here are some easy rules to follow regarding page headers and footers:

  • Don’t include headers or footers on title pages, copyright page, or transition (blank pages).
  • Don’t include a header on the first page of a chapter or section.
  • Page numbering usually begins with the very first page, but it doesn’t actually appear on the page until you start getting into the text. Every text page (preface, introduction, foreword) before the main body of the book (first page of the first chapter) should be in lower case Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, etc.).
  • The first page of the first chapter begins with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.). Some paginators prefer to begin the first page of the first chapter with the actual page number, counting from the first page of the book forward (if there are ten pages before the reader gets to page one, chapter one, then page one, one chapter one is numbered ‘11’). Some prefer just to number page one, chapter one as ‘1’. Your call.
  • The main body pages (not the first page of a chapter) should have headers telling the reader where they are (in case they forget?). The left page header should be the title of your book. The right page header should be the title of the current chapter.
  • Headers and page numbers (bottom) are a good opportunity to try that sans-serif font you’ve been dying to bust out. Try to make the headers and footers at least one font size smaller than the text font – they’re not here to attract attention, just information.
  • Center justify your headers and footers.

What do you think about this self-publishing mistake? Any ideas? We’d love to hear from you, please comment.

About me:

I’m a self-published author. My first self-published book, Breaking the Treasure Code: The Hunt for Israel’s Oil sold about 20,000 copies … okay, I guess. Since then, between the self-publishing companies I started and bought, we’ve sold over one million books.

Let me tell you, in the beginning, I didn’t know much about writing a book, and knew nothing about publishing, printing, marketing and selling books! If I had known anything, I might have walked away, overwhelmed with the whole process. Successfully self-publishing can, at times, seem hopeless. But I stuck to it, learned a lot about publishing, even more about marketing and selling, and, through lots of practice, sharpened my writing skills.

Even so, there are countless, land mines, booby-traps, dead-ends and just plain mistakes a self-published author can make. This is the third of ten weekly blog posts. They come from my e-book:  The Ten Biggest Mistakes Self-Published Authors Make. This little book captures ten of the most common, most detrimental mistakes you can make as a self-published author and, hopefully, how to avoid them. I wanted to put these mistakes out on a blog format so you can comment, ask questions and we can discuss ways to make your book as successful as it can possibly be. Please, feel free to comment and ask questions.

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