It is now possible for anyone to print a book fairly inexpensively, using services such as Lulu or Blurb. Of course, printing should be distinguished from publishing, which includes not just the book’s physical production but its promotion and distribution as well. The big problem with any kind of publishing is getting books together with their readers, and self-publishers should be aware of the formidable difficulties this entails.
But that’s a topic for another time. Today I want to explain how to make a book look good if you’re not a designer and the only tool you have available is something like Microsoft Word. Before we begin, please be aware that it is more difficult to design a book in Word than it would be to do so in a program designed for that purpose, such as InDesign or Quark. I would hate doing a whole book in Word. But sometimes you’ve got to go with what you’ve got.
I know, of course, that hardly anyone who could benefit from the advice that follows is likely to accept it. Simplicity in design is one of the hardest concepts to sell, at least to novices. There is always the urge to add one more flourish or embellishment to “dress up” the text and make the book look “special.”
Which is exactly the wrong way to go. Please believe this. The way to make your book stand out is to make it simple. If you do this correctly it will also be beautiful. Besides, what you want is for people to read the words, right? So your goal should be to keep the design out of the way of the words!
There is a principle in Japanese design called “wabi-sabi.” The term is often translated as “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete,” but the gist of it is unadorned simplicity. This will be our model. Specifically, if you observe the following guidelines I promise you people will compliment you on how professional your book looks. (Be sure to check with your print service in case they have particular requirements that override aspects of my advice.)