A quick list for authors: from a graphic designer’s point of view
This article, “A quick list for authors” was originally published on the St. Louis Publishers Association website, addressing book design.
I’m a graphic designer. You’re an author. Your manuscript is ready for layout . . . or is it? Here’s a list of tips and mistakes to avoid.
1. Your manuscript
• Can you afford to produce a book full of errors? Hire an editor to edit your manuscript before design begins. Fixing significant edits and changes after the layout is completed can be compared to doing your project twice. If your manuscript has not been professionally edited, then you are not ready to proceed with a layout.
• Contact Permissions Group (www.permissionsgroup.com) for comprehensive copyright consulting.
• Use only one space after periods, colons, exclamation points, question marks, quotation marks—any punctuation that separates two sentences. Every major style guide—including the Modern Language Association Style Manual and the Chicago Manual of Style—prescribes a single space after a period. One space is simpler, cleaner, and more visually pleasing.
• Use correct apostrophes and quotation marks:
‘ is a foot mark, not an apostrophe.
” is an inch mark.
• Learn the differences between a hyphen, en dash, and em dash:
- hyphen: A hyphen is used to separate the words in a compound adjective, verb, or adverb.
– en dash: An en dash is used to express a range of values or a distance.
— em dash: An em dash is used to set off parenthetical elements, which are abrupt changes of thought.
• Use the tab key for paragraph indents. Do not use spaces.
• Use the keyboard shortcut for inserting ellipses.
• Turn off “track changes” before you send me your files.
• Always use upper and lower case or sentence case when you type. Do not type in all caps.
• Submit your chapters as separate files. It’s easier to import the text into the layout.
• If you have photos, write compelling captions and label with the photo’s file name.
• Send as much of the manuscript at once as possible—missing materials will cause delays.
• Are you going to have an index? If so, wait until your layout is completed, proofread, and corrected. Edits can affect page numbers, so create the index last.
• Review and proofread your layouts. I provide PDFs at each step of the layout and production process. It’s your responsibility to review and proofread.
3. Photos or illustrations
• Organize and label your photos and images according to chapter: 1.1, 1.2, etc. Make separate folders for each chapter. Good organization saves production time and cost.
• If you submit photo prints (snapshots), please do not use paper clips to hold your photos together. Paper clips can scratch the emulsion or leave indentations.
• Protect your photos from damage: use a plastic sleeve or envelope.
• Do not write on the back of your photos with a ball point pen or smudgy pen! Use a Post-it note. True story: an author gave me a stack of photos. He used a smudgy pen, and the wet ink touched the surface of each snapshot underneath. Not only did he ruin precious family photos, he had to pay for photo retouching to remove the ink stains.
• For digital photos, good print reproduction requires high-resolution images, 300 dpi (dots per inch) or better. If you don’t understand, ask your designer for help.
• Make sure the images are yours. Don’t use photos you found on the web. They are low resolution (for web use) and you probably do not have the rights to use them.
4. Printer’s proofs
After your book layout is sent to the printer you’ll receive a proof to review and edit. When the changes are made, a revised file is uploaded for a second proof. You’ll then receive a third proof to review and edit. Please leave enough time in your schedule for several rounds of proofs. This can take four weeks or more to complete.
These extra steps might add a little bit of time up front, but they will save you time and money in the production process.
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Peggy Nehmen, veteran graphic designer, and her husband and partner, Gary Kodner, own Nehmen-Kodner, a St. Louis-based design studio. Peggy has a love of typography, book design, and all things creative. Nehmen-Kodner provides branding and marketing for indie authors, start-ups, and established companies. Peggy is a longtime SLPA member and former newsletter designer of SLPA News and Views. Her objective is to help authors through the design process to produce customized book covers and interiors.