Friday, May 29, 2009

Laying it all out

When my pals decided to start up this Darkhouse outfit, I immediately threw my figurative hat in for the job of book layout...even though I'd never done it before. And what a great learning experience it's been.

Do you ever hold a book and stop to think how it was put together? You might admire the illustrations, but what about the text, how it reads on a page, how the chapter headings look and the title page? I've always been interested in the physical object of the book, and had always had a yen to try my hand at designing one. I've been involved with a lot of other areas of graphic design - I've even done book illustrations and layout for convention booklets and theater programs - and it was time to try a book.

As the text was being completed, I started with both the cover design and the basic layout template. Suddenly I was faced with some interesting facts about books I'd never considered - like the fact that you don't leave the same margins on every page (because that doesn't take the binding process into account). I found a template for Microsoft Word that took into account "mirror margins", and I tweaked the headers and footers on the template until I had something I liked.

Once the cover art was approved, I started looking at fonts. I like the idea of the same font being used for the title and for interior chapter headings, so we looked at fonts that were expressive of dark fiction but still classy and readable, and we ended up with Ameretto.

I'm a big fan of the book design work of Chip Kidd, and I love his juxtaposition of big blocks of color and graphics, so I borrowed some of that idea of MIDNIGHT WALK's cover. For the rear cover, I created a track of footprints that I laid under the text (that same graphic appears in a slightly altered form on the title page).

Next, came designing chapter headings, and again - I confess I stole, this time from the interior design of the DARK DELICACIES anthologies (although I'd prefer to think of it as "homage"!). A large black bar would hold the Ameretto text title of each story.

I wanted a unique section break device, and so again, I created a track of footprints.

For the main font, there really wasn't much choice but Garamond 12 point. I compared a number of fonts the major publishers use to Garamond, but Garamond won out.

Several of the stories ("The Guixi Sisters", "The Svancara Supper Society") included special little graphics as part of the story. The authors and I worked carefully to place the graphics properly and to choose an ideal font for the engraved invitations in "Svancara" (we opted for Shell).

I also had to learn how to place a bar code. It sounds simple...until you realize there are some very specific rules regarding placement. We were working with a one-piece cover - meaning front cover, spine, and rear cover were one big file - and it took a fair amount of jiggering back and forth to get everything placed properly.

I know Word is not the ideal for book layout, but it ended up serving this project quite well. We did have a file so big it frequently threatened to crash the computer (!), but I was actually quite happy with the end result - I think the book is attractive, easy to read, and has a distinctive character. I hope you'll agree.


  1. This is very interesting, Thanks! Jill would really relate to this. She actually did the layout on "Freeway" (I had zero computer skilz then!)
    I think she did yours in Pagemaker. Tried Word and it was a nightmare.
    For the next one I sincerely suggest InDesign.
    I have to buy this one. Congratulations!

  2. InDesign good! (Like fire, good!)

    So is Adobe's Framemaker which is the poor man's InDesign despite the fact that it costs more!