[Books AtoZ]

hen the text of your book is written and edited to final polish then it is time to prepare it for the printer. Of course, it is not absolutely necessary to typeset it and make the book look professional for it to sell, but it certainly helps. Even though people have printed books directly from typewriter pages, or even handwriting, in this age of inexpensive computers it is so easy to make pages look nice you should not pass up the opportunity. You are now also passing into a stage where things are going to start costing you money to proceed. You may or may not have had to spend a few hundred to a few thousand dollars for professional editing, but in design and layout a modest expenditure for a professional can really pay off in a quality product with fewer headaches.

If your budget is very tight and you are comfortable with a page layout program it is possible to do this work yourself. It is important to remember that there are many standard conventions and methods of book design and layout that have developed over several thousand years of book making. Some relate to the technologies of book production and, even if now out of date, have become something we are accustomed to in a book. Others are still essential if your book is to be printed easily and inexpensively and should not be arbitrarily ignored. A professional is well aware of these and can quickly put your text into proper form. Even if you are doing the computer work you can hire a consultant for a few hundred dollars to help you set design and production guidelines if these items do not make sense to you.

Before you get too far along with production you should choose and contact your printer for information on how they want the book laid out. You need to know in advance how the press sections break out. Most printers work in 32 page sections, prefer at least 16 page units and require eights. Thus 256 pages is a good count since it is eight 32 page sections, and 240 is OK since it is divisible by 16, but 244 pages is a messy nightmare. You can adjust the page count in the front matter and with blank pages at the front, back and between parts. When you have a final page count and choose a paper type the printer can give you the spine thickness for your cover so your design will work on the press. Your printing bill will be the largest bill so it pays to listen to how they want things done before you begin.

There are also a couple of technical matters you need to include to make your book acceptable to distributors and bookstores. Every book is supposed to have an ISBN (International Standard Book Number). These are issued by the R.R. Bowker Company in New Jersey and you need one for people to be able to track your book. Most sellers will not handle your book if you do not have one. Most also require that the ISBN be included as a bar code on the back cover of your book for machine scanning. A good designer can supply the bar code for you as part of the layout. If you have problems getting your ISBN as a barcode contact Lasergraphics.

If you do proceed with doing your own layout take a while to research books whose appearance pleases you. Notice well the relative size and proportions of the four page margins, the size and type style of the text, the leading (or spacing) between lines, the form of copyright and other informational pages and the little details like page numbering and running heads. There are instructional books that can help you understand these points, but not everything they mention may be true or necessary for your book. Look for answers to particular points rather than an ironclad program for production. Try to avoid the common mistake of thinking a word processing program will give you camera ready copy. Word processors are designed to manipulate words and none handle typesetting in an attractive way, despite what their advertisements claim. Even if you do all the work yourself you will profit from paying to have your pages run out on a high-resolution printer for the book printer's camera ready copy. If you are fortunate you will find a printer who can take your digital files directly to press, but at this time there are still few who do so.

If you can afford it you will do much better to have a professional lay out your pages. They can advise you on design and structure and finish the book much more quickly than you would be able to. There are, of course, all manner of designers and computer typesetting services and their prices can run from inexpensive, but probably inexperienced too, to incredibly overpriced for the ad agency and carriage trade. It is normal in the trade to change a set fee for design of the book and cover and a per page rate for the book production. At Lasergraphics we charge from $300-1500 for design of the book and about the same for cover design. Our per page rates are $5-12 depending on how complicated the layout is, with straight text like novels being at the lower end. In contrast, a local "designer" recently charged $10,000 to design a short picture book we would have charged $1,000 to design. Unless you are willing to prepare the design and work closely with a desktop graphic artist who is only acting as your computer expert, be sure to examine other books your designer and layout person have done. A book is a big enough project that almost any designer and graphics artist will jump at the project and claim expertise as a book designer, but only a few will really have the skills to make a book efficiently.

A few details are worth commenting on. The typeface you chose for your book can seriously affect its legibility. Serif faces, like Times and Garamond, are much easier to read than sans serif faces, like Helvetica or Futura. Even in the serif faces some have been designed for special uses, like Times for newspapers or Lucida for laser printers. Book faces are relaxed and open and do not tire the eye with large amounts of copy. Some of the best are Garamond, Caslon, Goudy, Baskerville, New Century, Perpetua, Caledonia and Berkeley. For contrast titles and initials are often done in a heavy sans serif face, but this is not a hard rule, and one type family can easily be used throughout. Glossy paper is best avoided unless you have lots of photographs, and an off-white paper is easier on the eyes than bright white. Recycled paper has a lot of popularity due to concerns for the environment, but it is more expensive and often has little truly recycled content. Hard cover books are disproportionately expensive and harder to sell, with the perfect bound paperback being the current standard. Your cover should always be UV coated or laminated to keep it clean and free from color fading. If all these things seem complicated and confusing remember that books are a very complex project with a long history. It is for this reason alone that you usually are better off hiring the technical production work out, or at least hiring a consultant to advise you along the way as questions come up.


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