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The role of design in self-published books

Sarah Dale Keeping Your Spirits Up

Recently, I designed a book called Keeping Your Spirits Up for local author Sarah Dale. Sarah is an occupational psychologist and coach based in the Nottingham area, and we had been introduced by a mutual friend.

I often work with authors who want to self-publish their writing in some form – either as a traditional printed book or an eBook – and on a variety of budgets.

I asked Sarah a few questions about what she thought about the process of getting her first book in print and, more specifically, about the role of design.

Sarah Dale Keeping Your Spirits Up

Q: Why did you decide to self publish?

A: In my work, I was listening to very busy people who are facing a great deal of change and uncertainty. Their energy and morale can easily dip in these circumstances and the book draws on a wide range of research to look at practical ways of – well – keeping their spirits up.

When I started to write the book, I was quite dismissive of the idea of self-publishing. Surely only writers who were not good enough for a publisher did that? Wasn’t it really expensive? Wouldn’t my family and friends think I was a megalomaniac?

However, the publishing world is changing dramatically. Publishing deals are rare for those with no connections and no track record; the process can be painful and lengthy, and depending on why you want to write a book, it might not be the most effective route. For me, I keep meeting people for whom “keeping their spirits up” is becoming more and more of an issue in the current workplace. I wanted to get this book to them as quickly as possible.

Q: What did you discover about design and its role in the success of a self-published book?

A: As the daughter of a now-retired graphic designer, I have grown up with the knowledge that design can make or break so many things – whether books or buildings, fliers or furniture. During the design process for Keeping Your Spirits Up, I learned more about how important the font and layout is in terms of making a book a pleasure to read, as well as how critical it is to spend enough time working in partnership with a designer so that you both understand the product and what you are trying to achieve.

I think good design is essential in two main ways. Firstly, that it makes a self-published book look and feel like the “proper” book it is. Cutting corners on design will leave it feeling like a home-made book with much less chance of it holding its own against professionally designed books from the big publishing houses.

Secondly, the psychological effect it has on you as an author and publisher is not to be underestimated. The hard work really starts after you have finished writing and editing and start promoting the book. This will be almost impossible if you don’t have a book you feel proud of, in its look and feel as much as its content. I feel confident in handing my book to anyone and the design is an essential part of that.

The design lifted the book from an off-putting long Word document into an inviting read. The size and format is deliberately handy to dip into and to carry around or to pass on to colleagues and friends. The bright and optimistic (yet real) cover image reflects exactly the tone of the book.

You can reach Sarah Dale at:

Twitter: @creatingfocus