Is there a shortage of book designers?

It’s a lot easier to publish a book than it used to be.

Mostly this is A Good Thing, I think. Despite all the lamentations you can find about how print-on-demand (POD) publishing lets just anybody get themselves into print, there are a lot of tiny niche markets for titles that would never be worth publishing under the traditional model. My own Viral Learning, which I published POD (as well as in epub and Kindle versions), falls into that category—it was something I wanted to write for a very specific audience which was already familiar with my previous books and would not have been economically viable any other way.

But the lamenters have a valid point, too. Consider one of the books I’m currently reading. It’s a niche topic aimed at a very specific audience and was not published through a traditional mainstream publisher. The content is good—a thorough look at its topic—but oh, the design!

It’s the same syndrome I first saw years ago, when my kids were little and I first started finding books about homeschooling. Several homeschooling parents (moms, mostly) self-published accounts of their homeschooling experiences. Like the book I’m reading now, the content was solid. The problem was that the manuscript was a word processor dump.

Long word processor files are good for editing—you can print them out double-spaced and have lots of room to make corrections when you’re proofreading—but they’re not great for the ultimate reader.

Consider this book I’m reading now. It’s a nice trade paperback, about 7 x 9 inches, with a great-looking cover, which perhaps raised my expectations for the interior. Unfortunately, the text margins on all sides are less than a half-inch, which makes tracking the whole line across the page far more difficult than it should be. Not only is the text set too wide, but it’s also in a fully justified sans serif font that adds to the tracking difficulty. Less annoying, but still bothersome, are the chapter subheads, which are set equidistant between the text before and after, instead of being clearly attached to the text they announce.

I’ll still read the book—I’m interested enough in the content to keep at it. But it will be more of a slog than it needed to be, because the people who produced it didn’t know or care enough about how the reader would experience the book to make a few easy tweaks to their manuscript before it was printed.

Please, oh, please, you who might make your own book one day: Hire a designer or read a basic guide to graphic design. (Robin Williams’s The Non-Designer’s Design Book is a good place to start.) Your readers will be grateful, though they may never realize exactly why.

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