Catherine Williams shares nuggets of learnings from her 25+ years of experience as a book designer and producer. ‘Getting a book ready for publishing’ sounds like one step between writing and publishing, but in reality it is an amalgamation of many small steps. Catherine can guide you through all the steps with her unflappable charm.

N: Hello Catherine, let me start with the very basic questions that you wish authors knew when they start the formatting process of their books.

C: I think authors would find it very helpful to know what’s required from their perspective and what the process is and then they can assess how much they can do themselves and how much they need to invest in getting professionals to do it for them.

making your book publishing ready

N: Ah! so is there something that they can do themselves

C: If they’ve got the right software… yes absolutely! The professional standard for layouts is Adobe InDesign. It’s only available on subscription, it’s not cheap and there’s quite a learning curve if you’ve never used that kind of software before.

There are some other options…a package called Affinity which has similar programs to Adobe InDesign and Photoshop and that could be a cheaper option for some people.

What I really do not recommend is trying to do a book layout in Word because it’s not intended for book layouts. It’s much more difficult to set up the margins correctly and do all those kinds of things. There’s not as much control over what you want to do, even things like setting up hyphenation to make sure that you don’t get what I call ‘ugly hyphenation’ where you get three hyphenated words in a row…it just doesn’t look good on the page and those kinds of things can be distracting for the reader so are best avoided.

It’s not just the margins around the edge of the page, it’s the space between each line as well. So again the things that authors need to watch out for are—avoid using Word for the layout and for InDesign get an expert to work with because it has a huge learning curve.

I’ve been using InDesign since it first came out, which I think was in 2000. So quite a long time ago…and I’m still learning things. When the updates come there’s always something new. I found out the other day I can actually generate QR codes within InDesign. I didn’t know that before.

N: That’s interesting…we can generate QR codes through InDesign!

C: Yes, I was recently working on a big book— a health and safety guide, which had loads of QR codes in it.

N: Wonderful some books are coming with QR codes…

C: I think certain types of books, certainly this one I’ve been working on as I mentioned is a health and safety guide… it’s aimed at people who are learning about the health and safety guidelines for various things, particularly in the UK but also for international health and safety. So the QR codes are there to point the student toward other resources that are online and so on… it’s useful to have.

N: So let’s move to what is the process of working with you…I mean what are the steps that an author goes through with you

C: The first thing I specify is that they have an edited Word file or edited text file. If they’re not actually willing to have their work edited then that’s kind of a big red flag for me because it ends up causing more problems further down the line…

Also that once it’s been laid out it should be properly proofread because once a book is in its page layout and I’ve been doing this for 25 years or so and I’ve never yet worked on a single book that doesn’t need corrections after page layout’s been done… because those odd typos and spelling errors pop out at you … you know suddenly you notice and think, ‘oh, why didn’t I see that before…’

It’s very difficult to proofread your own writing because you see what you expect to see which is why it’s always best to get somebody independent and ideally a trained proofreader…not just your friend who happens to be an English teacher and that’s no disrespect whatsoever to English teachers, I think they’re wonderful people but if they’re not trained to proofread they’re not necessarily going to identify all the issues.

Okay, so back to the process, once I get an edited text file obviously there’ll be various questions to ask about what trimmed page size they want their book to be, and if it’s a non-fiction book, say it’s a business book for example…if they’ve got any particular brand fonts that they want to be used either on the cover or for headings and things like that.

Then I will prepare some sample pages so that they are happy with the way it looks before I continue. After they ok the sample pages I will do the whole book and then send a PDF proof for checking. The author can it send out to a proofreader and most proofreaders these days are able to use PDFs. The proofreader will mark up using the PDF tools. Then once that’s been done, I’ll take in all the revisions and send back another proof just to make sure that everything is absolutely as it should be, before we output the final PDF.

Now the printer of choice now for most self-publishing authors more often than not is Kindle Direct publishing, which is Amazon, and/or Ingram Spark. But there are also other printers that do print-on-demand…most self-publishing authors are looking for that because they don’t want to be ordering 500 books and having them sit in the garage.

N: And do you also do ePUB…

C: I outsource ePub most of the time. If it’s very straightforward I can do it myself but if it’s fairly complex with lots of different levels of headings and especially if it’s got an index then I will outsource it and I’ve got a lovely guy based in India who does those for me.

N: So the steps are first the writer has to get the document edited, then the PDF samples are sent, after confirmation the entire book is formatted and then the writer has to send it for the first round of proofreading. On getting the proofread book, you check the layout again and then its sent for the second round of checking. Once everything is okayed then the pdf is created and later the ePub version is created.
C: Yes and I always do the ePub right at the end so that we’re not doing corrections twice

N: Catherine you’ve been formatting for 22 years at least…

C: Yes, and I was doing it before that as well in another program called PageMaker which was the predecessor to InDesign

N: So what are the mistakes you have seen people make most often

C: Not having enough white space. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not just the margins it’s the space between the lines as well that matters.

Using a font size that is too small can make it quite hard to read. Writers sometimes ask for the font size to be small so that they can print more pages less expensively because KDP and IngramSpark do their costings on a per-page basis. So if you’ve got a book of 400 Pages it’s going to be more expensive to print than a book of 300 pages… that’s why some authors try and economize a bit by using smaller fonts. It just makes it harder to read if it’s too small.

The other thing is related to white space again… it’s about having margins that are too narrow. Writers again try to save space and reduce the number of pages with narrow margins but it makes it harder to read for a printed book. I bought a book a little while ago and the margins were so narrow you had to keep moving your hands to read it.

N: These are great things to keep in mind because the world is slowly moving towards eBooks right and so people when they start looking at PDFs they think that if the reader just magnifies the book on their device, it’ll be fine…
C: Yeah, but obviously you can’t do that with a printed book and then you also have to think that the number of pages also will differ from an ePub to a PDF. The number of pages on the digital versions is totally dependent on your device. You’re going to have fewer pages on an iPad for example than you would if you were attempting to read a book on a phone. ePubs by and large are reflowable… so the text reflows according to the size of the device that you’re on whereas PDFs are a fixed size.

N: Catherine could you tell me of one great customer story where everything went smoothly and one where it didn’t and how they panned out…

C: Okay, one I can share with you is a fabulous lady called Trisha Lewis whose book I worked on last year called ‘The Mystery of the Squashed Self.’ I helped her design and produce her book which included the cover design, page layout for the printed book and production of an ebook file.

The whole process just went completely smoothly partly because we knew each other through social media before we worked together. Trisha had helped me with doing videos so I’d used her services as well as her using mine and she just accepted everything that I was saying about getting it properly edited and proofread and all the rest of it.

So when it came to me, the manuscript had been edited. She had a few illustrations to put in and they were supplied as needed. She also had a strong idea for her cover, so that wasn’t a problem either. It all just went like clockwork and the book was easily ready for her to publish.

Umm…one that didn’t go so well was a few years ago. The writer said his book wouldn’t need proofreading. Now that’s the flag but it was a job that had come to me through a platform called Reedsy (a publishing-specific platform that links publishing professionals with authors who need specific professional services like editing, design, etc).

So when I sent the proof to the author I told him, “I know you’ve said you don’t think it needs proofreading but seriously get somebody independent to look through it before it comes back because I can guarantee you’re going to find some things that you want to change.”

He did!

I’ve never seen so many corrections in one book! To be fair he was quite apologetic about it and offered to pay an extra fee for the time involved in doing all the corrections.

N: You mean he finally got a proofreader?

C: uh no… He reread it and his wife and son reread it and so between the three of them they found a huge number of corrections.

It’s definitely worth getting it edited first and proofread properly after the page layout.

N: Absolutely important to keep in mind, especially since with KDP many people think publishing a book is just one step…whereas it includes other steps like editing and proofreading too.
C: Yes, obviously in this digital age it’s much easier to self-publish than it ever used to be and many authors are indeed choosing to self-publish so that they retain control over their book and that’s absolutely fine. I don’t have a problem with that at all, as you know my business is all about helping authors to self-publish well. So they’ve got a book they can be proud of and meets what you might call traditional publishing standards and wouldn’t look out of place at all on anybody’s bookshelf.

N: Over the years what are the changes you’ve seen happen in the design industry in the formatting space? You must have seen an amazing amount of changes…

C: Massive changes, yeah. My first publishing job was with a very small outfit. We were helping authors to self-publish back in the day when it was really denigrated and not deemed to be proper publishing. We had to supply the printer with what was called camera-ready artwork.

I’m talking about 25 years ago, at that time we had some tiny little old Macs, and this program called PageMaker so we were able to do the words on the page but if images were included, then we had to leave a space for them. The page would be printed and the picture would be physically stuck in with glue onto the page and then the printer would take a photograph of that page. That was the camera-ready artwork that would be used to create a plate for the printing press.

N: Wow, you had to be precise…

C: Yes. Very precise. That was hard. Nowadays if I’ve got an image, I just check if it’s the right resolution, place it on the page and I can easily flow the text around it or if it’s a full page image then it all just fits in much easier. That’s one big change and obviously, the next thing is the rise of eBooks.

You know Kindles didn’t exist when I started working in publishing. You had physical books or physical books. The only other option was ‘talking books.’ These books were for people who were blind or had other sight problems and couldn’t read a physical book… similar to today’s audiobooks.

N: So, when the eBooks came out, nobody would have thought they would create an entire Market

C: Yes. The growth that we’ve seen over the last 10 years has been massive and I would hope that it’s widened the audience for people’s books. I usually suggest to my clients that they do a printed book and an eBook because that gives their readers the choice of how to read it.

N: Tell us, Catherine, what new trends do you see developing

C: I think, anecdotally at least, there are still a huge proportion of readers who prefer to have physical books so I don’t see physical books dying out anytime soon. They will continue to be produced. But maybe more authors will choose to produce a print book, an ebook, and an audiobook to really maximize their readers’ options on how to consume what they’ve written.

I’ve also noticed that some authors are choosing to have their paragraphs separated and ‘full out’ rather than having them indented on the first line. So all the lines line up to the left-hand margin but then leave a space in between the paragraphs rather than having them continue and indenting the first line of subsequent paragraphs in a section.

It’s a personal preference really. Some authors like it, some don’t. I think it works for non-fiction but I’m not sure it would look quite right for fiction where the narrative needs to keep flowing rather than having that little gap.

N: Another thing I’ve noticed, in some books and in some non-fiction books that you spoke about there being an ebook and an audio book…some non-fiction books have also added one more genre— the visual book where they put more illustrations in the book. Making the book more appealing and more easily readable by the reader.

C: Well, you know they say ‘every picture tells a story,’ and if it helps to get the message across…

You just have to remember that especially if there are going to be colour illustrations then they will be more expensive to print.

N: Thank you Catherine for sharing your learnings. It’s been wonderful speaking to you and understanding more about what goes into book formatting and I’m sure this information will help authors.


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