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Book Production 101: Do it Yourself or Hire an Expert


Software & Hardware Capabilities
Printing Process
Design and Layout
Choosing a Typeface
Style Sheets
Typography Guidelines


A well-designed page reinforces your ideas, invites readers to continue reading, and strengthens your message.

Presentation makes a difference. And electronic typesetting can make you—and your ideas—look great in print. On the other hand, poor layouts, boring designs, and overused font choices can all distract readers from your message—and make even the best written materials far less effective.

Creating the best image for your ideas requires experience in using the ever-changing technology of electronic typesetting and desktop publishing for the best effect. And it requires careful attention to detail to create an effective, consistent image for your projects. Should you attempt it yourself? Or should you hire a professional?

That decision should come early in the planning of your project. If you are like most people these days, time is always in short supply. That’s a good reason to let a professional designer work with your book or project. However, if you choose to do it yourself, keep the following points in mind. It can make the difference of whether your book sells or sits.


Software & Hardware Capabilities


Can your software provide:
  • Crop Marks? Most commercial printers require crop marks to trim your project to its final size.
  • Color Separations? If your book uses Process (4-color) or Spot Color, you will need a separate page for each color plate (known as “color separations”). Many word processing packages cannot generate color separations.
  • Flexibility/Style Sheets? (See section on Style Sheets)


Although a hardware discussion could take up a dedicated web site (and probably does!), we’ll just consider a few important questions:
  1. Do you have enough memory and hard drive space for graphic intensive software applications?

  2. What resolution (dpi - dots per inch) can your laser printer produce?

  3. If you print artwork/photos with screens/tints, can you get a crisp, yet fine, dot screen (referred to as lines per inch)?

  4. Do you need over size (larger than 8 1/2 x 11) output to support color separations/crop marks?

  5. Do you have a good scanner? Do you need one? If not, do you have a source for getting good scans?

  6. Do you understand the difference between image resolution and printer resolution? (It’s rather complex to discuss here. Check out books on Adobe Photoshop or Corel Photopaint for general discussions.)

Printing Process

  • What kind of press?
  • Pages per signature?
  • How will artwork be handled?

Talk to your printer early in the planning stage. Estimate the size of your book early in the process; then monitor increases or decreases in size as you produce drafts. This, too, will help avoid surprises (especially in the cost of printing your project).

Design and Layout

To a large degree, design and layout considerations boil down to software and hardware capabilities. An awareness of what your system can (and can’t) do, will help you avoid nasty surprises further down the line. If you’re not familiar with these capabilities, make sure that your production specialist is!

It’s a good idea to produce a sample chapter or set of sample pages before you dive headlong into laying out your book or project. This enables you to test out your design, as well as your software.

Choosing a Typeface

Choose a typeface that matches your book’s content. Typography should enhance, not overpower. It should never distract the reader from your message. After you have narrowed it down to one or two choices, print samples of each typeface. How does the choice of typeface affect your perception of the text? Does it enhance your context? (Or is the typeface the first thing you see?) Keep the flavor of your project in mind as you make your decision.

Don’t rule out the basics. Some fonts, such as Times, Bodoni, Baskerville, and others, are classics for a reason. They offer more options in terms of alternate weights. Be wary of fonts that have only one weight, with no bold or italic treatment. That typeface will limit your ability to differentiate ideas/points of emphasis.

Get to know a typeface. Try a typeface out on everything you print for awhile. Can you emphasize points and ideas within that typeface? How does it handle space on a page? Some fonts are notorious “line hogs”, while others condense text too dramatically to be read effectively.

Consider technical limitations. Does the font look good in different sizes? At low and high resolution? (Remember your final output device.) How does it look on the paper you’ll be using?

Style Sheets

Use style sheets instead of starting from scratch on every project. Style sheets are templates that allow you to choose from among several styles for headings, bullets, body text, numbered lists, and tables. They make it much easier for you to change the look of your project in mid-stream without starting over.

Style Sheets help ensure consistency‚ right from the start, with regard to:

  • Typefaces
  • Text Size
  • Headlines
  • Spacing
  • Repeating effects

Style Sheets will help you save time. Once developed, they’ll allow you to modify the look of your document quickly and consistently. Of course, this assumes that you, or your production specialist, have the right software and skills to do so.

For example, if you need to change the size of a book’s pages (for cost reasons), adjustments to margins and style spacing will effect the change with much less effort than would otherwise be required. Similarly, typefaces can be changed and spot color added, consistently and quickly through the use of style sheets.

Finally, style sheets can help give your project a professional look. This is particularly important if you are producing a series of books, and want a consistent look throughout the series. The appropriate style sheets can be developed once and used as many times as necessary.

Typography Guidelines

It can be argued that many of the following “guidelines” should actually be treated as “rules” that can be broken only at the expense of your book’s appearance and credibility. Realistically, however, many of them will only be followed if time and software capabilities allow.

In the end, what matters is that you do the things that will make your book look better, and avoid doing things that will have the opposite effect. Hopefully, these guidelines will help you make good decisions.

  1. Insert a single space after punctuation. The two space convention is a throwback to typewriter days. It creates rivers of white through your text, and causes problems when using justified text. (If you are certain that you can never unlearn what your high school typing teacher instilled in you‚ then make it a practice to search for a period and 2 spaces, and replace it with a period and one space.)
  2. Use proper em and en dashes (—,—/–, -). This was another typewriter function, when two hyphens were used. Em dash — for emphasis, En dash - Duration; Hyphen - hyphenation/phone#s.
  3. Use true quotation marks (“ ” not " ") and apostrophes (’ not ’). One of the quickest ways to identify amateur typesetting is incorrect use of quotation marks. Although most software will automatically correct this, you will still need to proofread. Be sure to use a closed single quote, not a tick mark, as an apostrophe.
  4. Use a smaller point size for all uppercase text. This avoids the “shouting” effect that one gets with “all caps”. Your page layout software should have a Small Caps feature.
  5. Use boldface text sparingly. Bold text is a magnet to the eye, but it can ruin the continuity of your text. It is best used in headings, captions, and stylistic devices like drop caps. Italics is usually a better choice in body text. Make sure that your typeface has a good italic weight.
  6. Avoid using underlined text. It is very distracting, and often cuts through descending letters. Underlining was used in the past because typewriters offered no other way to emphasize important text. Today, we have better options available to us.
  7. Use the true ellipsis (…), rather than true periods (...). Depending upon justification and typeface, periods may appear too close together.
  8. Increase line spacing to improve readability in body text. Line spacing (also called leading in page layout software) is typically 120% of the point size of your text. It increases proportionately as line length increases. For example, 10 pt. text should start with 12 pts. of line spacing. 12 pt. text would use 14.4 pts of leading as a starting point. Conversely, headings should begin with solid (same as point size lead) and increase or decrease from there.
  9. These symbols always need to be reduced in size in your projects, as they are just too large in most typefaces:
    • Copyright (© )
    • Registered Trademark (®)
    • Trademark (™)
  10. Consider using alternative characters for bullets: Take your book’s personality into consideration, but don’t overdo it.
  11. In body copy, sans serif typefaces are often less legible than Serif. Serifs (tails/hooks) catch your eye and are a necessary part of continuous reading. San serif looks better in headings, forms, and tables.
  12. Set body copy 1 point smaller than what you originally think you will use. Typically, body text is between 9 and 14 points. Test your typeface in different sizes with text passages. Some typefaces look huge in 12 point, while others are too cramped in the same size.
  13. Decrease line length. White space on a page is always better than dense copy on a page. Use white space to direct your reader through your story.
  14. Increase margins. Keep your line length at 3 - 5" depending on the width of the final output and the typeface. One rule of thumb is to make your text line length no more than 1 1/2 times the length of a typeset lowercase alphabet in your font choice.
  15. Use letterspacing/tracking carefully. If your software supports tracking/kerning (adjusting space between letters/words), stick with defaults until you get a feel for how it affects your text. You can make a paragraph look cramped by kerning too tightly. It also makes the passage look darker on paper. With word spacing, if you “see” the spacing on a page, you have problems. To correct, left align text, rather than justifying; adjust margins (1/8" at a time); decrease size of text; and auto-hyphenate text.
  16. Use the alignment option that suits your project. Justified type suggests a formal, rational, businesslike tone. Ragged type gives a more casual, personal tone. It can be more difficult to make justification look good, due to word spacing problems.
  17. Hyphenate text intelligently
    • Limit the number of consecutively hyphenated lines to three (or better yet, two). Determine what looks good to you, rather than letting the software make all of the decisions. When hyphenation does occur, there should be at least two characters left behind, and at least three characters that carry over.
    • Make sure that the “stub end” of a hyphenated word is not the last word of a paragraph. In fact, one word in the last line of a paragraph generally looks messy. You’ll want to rewrite the line‚ manually change the line breaks‚ or use kerning to tighten the letter spacing (not necessarily in that order).
    • Avoid starting three consecutive lines with the same word. For example‚ if you have three lines in a row starting with “the”‚ you should try rewriting the passage.
    • Try not to hyphenate or break proper names/titles. Use non-breaking spaces to keep words together. You never know when an edit will cause a bad break.


Use original artwork only if it enhances your project. It should look professional and be consistent with the rest of your book’s content. And always make sure that you have appropriate permission.


  • Are they in your budget? Make sure you plan for the appropriate quality. Poorly scanned photos will decrease the impact of your message.
  • Will you scan them directly into your book‚ or will you have them scanned by a service bureau? Find out the line screen and resolution of the final output device. Get a recommendation from the printer for dpi/screen information when scanning photos. Have photos professionally scanned if you have doubts.
  • Will the photos be stripped in instead? Check with the printer for requirements & costs.
  • Do you need to provide FPOs? An FPO (“for position only”) provides a visual aid for final size & placement of photos.
  • Do you need to size and scale photos yourself? Don’t scale photos by “stretching” them in your software. Perform sizing and scanning at the scanner level. It’s always safest to bring a photo into your project with all adjustments complete.