Margins… margins, margins, margins. If this is a new term for you, this is the empty space around the block of text on the page. There is a top margin, a bottom margin, and left and right margins. For an ebook, they can all be the same if you want. For print, however, you must take into account the binding of the book.
If you open a book from your bookshelf, you will see the pages are attached to the spine of the book. Open up a book and take a look at it. Do the words get buried in the spine? This portion of the page is known as the gutter. You don’t want your words to end up in the gutter. If readers have to practically break the spine of the book to read the end or beginning of a line, it hurts the book. Make sure that inner margin is large enough to accommodate the binding. In Word and many other programs used for book design, you can mirror your pages, so what is the inner margin of your left page is the same as the inner margin of your right page. This keeps the text in front of the reader, not wallowing in the gutter.
Now that you’ve got your margins set where you want them and the typeface chosen, move back away from the page and look at the print. You want to notice the black against the white. Can you see little white spaces running down your paragraphs between words? If they are so noticeable that they form “rivers,” you may need to play with your spacing. This is easier to do in programs like InDesign than in Word, because you can manipulate the leading and kerning of lines and individual letters. If you only have Word, it is even more important for you to choose a font with good built in letter spacing. Having white rivulets running vertically through your paragraphs can be very distracting for the reader.
Do you see why typesetting takes time? After all, you want your book to look its best. Most authors choose to hire a designer so they don’t need to worry about all of this. Can you blame them? Book design isn’t just slapping your book together and sending it off to the printer, and it never has been. With the ability to self-publish your own print book through Lightning Source, CreateSpace or Lulu, you’ve got to pay attention to these details if you want a readable book.
I know, it’s a lot to think about. As if the writing and editing wasn’t enough to worry about, right? But when you’re holding your book in your hand and it looks great inside and out, is pleasing to the eye as you read, and it tells an engaging story, you’ve got it all. Don’t stop too soon.
John and Toni Rakestraw are the owners of Rakestraw Book Design. Toni is the editor; she keeps all those words in line. John is the voice of the company. He can often be found hosting Google+ Hangouts on writing and issues writers face online. Archives for his shows can be found on YouTube.