Cover design is fun. It’s sexy and it’s important—it sells books, after all. But too often, indie publishers overlook the importance of the unsung interior. Interior design is arguably more important than cover design, if for different reasons. A cover is a marketing tool; its job is essentially done once the buyer leaves the store. The interior’s role, on the other hand, is one of information conveyance. It’s a delicate and subtle job, and you may not notice it until it’s done badly.
A poorly designed book interior is hell on a reader. Overly tight or loose leading (that is, the space between lines of type) causes eye fatigue and slows a reader down. A poorly chosen body font can ruin the entire experience. And for more complex books utilizing subheads, sub-subheads, captions, charts, graphs, sub-sub-subheads, sub-captions, and intricate collections of data, a lack of an intelligent information hierarchy means a reader will walk away scratching her head—or else simply walk away.
Yes, much of an interior designer’s job concerns technical nuts and bolts, and many of the aspects that make up a good book interior can be accomplished by a well-designed template. Many services and platforms now offer templates that self-published authors can use to turn their warts-and-all Word documents into professional-looking real, actual books. Well . . . sort of. While a template can take care of the fundamentals (leading, tracking, font choice, words per line, lines per page, margins, gutters, etc.), the interior designer’s expertise lies in the details. It’s only after a manuscript has been “poured” into a layout that a book designer’s real work begins.
An interior designer’s first postpour task is the format proof, during which she aims to clean up any “bad breaks” (distracting or ambiguous hyphenations across lines); word or punctuation “stacks,” “orphans,” “widows,” and “rivers”; and other similar bits of jargon. Type being the persnickety beast that it is, even a minuscule fix can impact an entire page of text—this isn’t a step that a computer can perform (at least not yet). While the format proof may be deeply mired in minutia, any book-length manuscript will produce a glut of tiny errors in layout, and over the course of several hundred pages, an accrual of errors will seriously diminish the reading experience.
Because type is so finicky, an interior designer is often required to use careful judgment to decide how best to go about fixing an error—or even whether certain errors are worth fixing. Sometimes the fix is worse than the error itself—e.g., the “fix” causes two or three other errors. For this reason, designing book interiors can sometimes feel like a game of Whac-A-Mole, but it’s this judgment and attention to detail that makes for a book that’s actually a pleasant experience to read. Templates are certainly easy, but by glossing over the details, the books they produce can often be as unpleasant to read as they are pleasant to look at. Think of it like a cocktail bar: all the imported marble, old-growth timber, Etsy-sourced lighting, and paper-thin stemware in the world isn’t going to impress anyone if there are piles of sawdust or bent nails or grease-covered rags strewn about everywhere.
Tedious but vital janitorial services aside, an interior designer offers a number of valuable benefits that automated templates can’t. A customized interior design means your book’s chapter headers, subheads, image captions, robot dialogue, and handwritten passages can be tailored to suit the themes, motifs, and atmosphere of your book. A good interior designer carries a library of typographic knowledge in her head and can select a group of typefaces that not only speak directly to your content but also work well on the page together. An interior designer can also work together with the cover designer so that the typography displayed on the outside of the book is mirrored on the inside, creating a cohesive, consistent, and professional product for your readers.
Easy E-Book Conversion
Finally, working with a professional interior designer makes for much easier conversion to e-book format, an ever-increasing necessity for authors in the traditional and self-pub spaces alike. Knowing that a book will be published in both print and digital formats, a savvy interior designer will set up robust paragraph and character styles, apply rules to ensure accurate hyphenation when the book is reflowed automatically by various e-reading devices, and even accommodate adjustable body text sizes so that your book is as pleasant to read on any number of devices as it is in print. All, of course, while still ensuring that your book looks incredible.