The importance of layout

I find myself writing this post after receiving a book today to review. I’ve been excited to see it, since I heard it was released. It was a self-published book by a local author. Her collection of poetry, after escaping domestic violence. Like I said, I was excited and very proud for her. It takes guts to share a story like that (I know). I finally received it today.

First thing I did was crack it open. Unfortunately my next reaction was to gasp. I was confronted by page after page of white-space. Writing at the top, nothing for the rest of the half page. Several pages of stories – not a single indent. I was shocked it was actually justified. The writing was good – the layout was horrendous.

What bothered me even worse, was when I received her query for a review, I googled her publisher. It was a well known name in the business. I read page after page of mixed reviews. Instead of stopping there, I submitted my finished, self published memoir Finding Gloria for their consideration. Within 48 hours I received an email saying they wanted to publish it, and within another 48, they were calling my home number. I got excited – briefly. Then reality hit – how many authors do not second guess this stuff?

Based on the 12 page contract they sent me, I had to sent them over $4,000 and they made all these promises. I could get that money back, IF I sold over 1,000 copies. I’ve already sold over 30,000 copies after self publishing. I was not confident they could do better. And yet, I was hopeful (like any author staring at an email from a ‘legit’ publishing company with an attached contract). The fact was, I was not going to pay $4,000 for someone else to do what I have already done. Even though it meant a new marketing plan for a 2 year old book. Basically, it is a scam – NEVER pay a publisher for their services!!! if they ask you for money, RUN!

Back to this particular book ~ I am not one to give bad feedback; you never know if someone is going to take it badly. However, I feel horrible – this poor author got ripped off and I think that she should know. Using Createspace, through Amazon, she could have created the exact same book (with much better layout because obvious this company prints what you send them, and does not copy edit or address any layout issues), for about $2 a book and not had to invest $4,000 – which based on the little I know about her, must have been difficult for her to raise. Many readers are going to pick up this little paperback and put it back down, unless they are looking for an extra note pad (you could write another book within the blank pages).

So please, self publishing can be a great experience, but authors, watch the details. Writing your book is only 1/3 of the work. Your layout, covers, and marketing plan is just as important as your story. You want it to be a good read, and you want it to look good; aesthetics matter. This is not the first time this has happened. Two summers ago, I picked up a local hot seller; I also put it down 3 pages in, because it was nearly unreadable. When I spoke to the author, she said her printer/publisher said it was fine the way it was. Sorry, but she didn’t even have street names capitalized.

There is also the matter that self published authors who don’t pay attention to those kind of details, make it harder for those who know the business better. Indie authors have a hell of a time making a good reputation for themselves. Bad indie authors make me extremely grateful that book stores like McNally Robinson Bookstores will even touch my books. Chapters won’t bother with self published authors unless readers ask for a copy.

Now, I have to figure out how to do a review, and offer some constructive criticism to an author who I am sure is going to be devastated when she finds out she could have saved herself a few grand.

The moral of the story? Beware of publishers who accept your book, yet don’t offer any change suggestions. I’ve seen too many books that look like someone just printed a word document.

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