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Should I Typeset My Own Book?

August 9, 2014 by Tim

The wave of independent authors and self-publishers has opened up new questions that were not being asked in the days before desktop publishing.

One of these is whether or not the author should do his or her own typesetting. Given the fact that I make part of my living by charging other people to do their typesetting for them, it may surprise you that I say: By all means, under the right circumstances.

If you have no book budget and your message is time-bound for getting that book out right away, there are scarcely any other options.

Or again, if you anticipate that your book is unlikely to sell more than a small handful of copies and you will never recoup your investment, then doing your own typesetting makes perfect sense.

On the other hand, professional typesetting will make a real difference in your book’s presentation, and if you’re doing more than online sales, that tangible difference may well result in a difference in how many books you sell. Even people who do not design books at the very least usually have a vague sense of what looks professional, and something well done is more likely to attract their buying power. Your potential buyer can smell a “good enough” approach to your book creation.

We writers are of course creators by nature, and so we tend to think we can do everything. We can do a “good enough” job of typesetting on Microsoft Word or whatever word processing software we happen to use. In own initial forays, I took that approach of necessity: there really was no budget, and I had a hot potato sort of book to publish that nobody really wanted to touch. And to be honest, it still remains my bestseller.

But if you are going to the trouble of putting a printed book, normally it should be something that physically stands the test of professionalism. I solved my own problem by buying legitimate typesetting software (Adobe InDesign) and learning typesetting standards from recognized worldwide leaders in the field. That made sense for me, since I was already involved in the field of design (I started my web design company in 2005).

But most authors do not want to invest either the money necessary for InDesign, nor the time required to learn the program along with the range of good typesetting principles. And in such a case, an author doing his or her own typesetting in Word does devalue the end product to a greater or lesser degree. Someone who knows principles of typography can make up for some of Word’s limitations—but someone who has learned that much is unlikely to be willing to live with those limitations, especially not for a book that anticipates a future.

There is always a place for the full-blown “do-it-yourselfer.” If your project warrants that, by all means, do it yourself. But if you have a bigger vision, hire someone who knows what he or she is doing.

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