Why Print Books Still Have a Place + Tips on Layout and Design
NOTE: all book covers shown in this post were created using the free image editing program GIMP.
EBooks have made great strides forward over the past few years, gaining much ground especially in the arena of fiction sales. Downloading eBooks from the internet and reading them on eReaders and tablets has become the preferred reading medium for many. EBooks are usually much cheaper than hard copies, and there are scores of free titles too, with large numbers of public-domain works and promotional offers available. With a couple of clicks, you can buy an eBook on Amazon and be reading it on your Kindle within moments. And if that convenience is not enough to entice you, there is this: you can store hundreds of eBooks on your eReader, effectively carrying a whole library around with you. Space-devouring bookshelves and time-consuming dusting can be obsolete too. As a final enticement, eBooks offer the reader privacy. As you sit reading on your Kindle or Nook, no one knows what you are reading and there are no piles of books lying around to provide clues after the fact. With the rise of erotica as a genre, this is certainly going to be seen as a bonus by some. Books people may once have been too embarrassed to be seen with can be read without anyone else knowing. So with all these savings on time, money and hassle, is there a place left for the humble print book?
Well…yes. Print books offer a fuller range of experiences than eBooks are able to. They provide a tactile one – the feel of the glossy or rough front cover, the feel of the paper pages. A print book has its own smell. It might a hot-off-the-press new book scent, or the well-aged perfume of an antique.
Then there are the layout and design advantages of a print book. Most eReaders, with their reflowable text and standardised fonts, do not allow fancy fonts or fixed layouts. As a result, image display is variable. A further visual poverty comes from the book’s cover being less frequently before the reader’s eye. Every time they pick up a print book to read, the cover provides a gateway into the story through its design (if it is a good one) setting the mood of the story.
I publish all of my books in both eBook and paperback editions. Print editions offer extra opportunities for creating a unique and pleasurable reading experience. In designing the paperback editions, I always take full advantage of the format. I expend on the front cover's themes, developing them further. Here is the cover spread for the paperback edition of my sweet Regency romance In Want of a Wife:
The background image extends to the spine and back of the book. I repeated the two daffodil flowers on the back cover and spine, and used different versions of the white decorative scrolls found in the upper left corner of the front cover. The mist I added serves two purposes: first, it gives a soft prettiness to the image, and second, it lightens the background so the text is easier to read. On the back cover, I also enjoyed the chance to use the right-hand piece of the image of the girl, which I had to crop for the front cover.
Here is another cover spread for a paperback. It is this for my New Zealand-set Victorian Romance Beguile Me Not:
Here, instead of using an image which extended to the spine and back, I used a plain purple background. To add interest, I used the same lighting-effect sparkles as I used on the title text. It created the look of stars against a night sky. With this day-night contrast, the front and back covers now had an extra dimension. And together, they captured the feel of the story more completely than either could have alone.
In this final cover spread, I cropped the image used for the front cover, selected the young man's face using the rectangle select tool to copy a circle with his face in it, applied a blur effect to to the large image, then used the 'smoke' paintbrush effect in a high transparency with a very dark blue. Once I was happy with the result, I pasted back in the circle of the image copied earlier. Then I added the text, arranging it to hug the focused circle. The resulting back cover is a moodier, more mysterious version of the front cover:
When it comes to the interior of your paperback, take full advantage of the layout and font options available. A great title page mirrors the cover text and sets the mood of the story to come:
Paperbacks display graphics better than many reflowable-text eReaders do:
A quote or dedication page can look stylish, and offers a nice introduction to the story. This quote page is from In Want of a Wife:
Lots of white space is chic and simple. But a well-chosen line illustration can add a little something extra too. This is from the front pages of The Little Demon Who Couldn't:
I continued the angels and demons theme by using a different illustration above the heading of each chapter in The Little Demon Who Couldn't:
I often use these little black and white illustrations at the end of the final chapter if there is quite a bit of space left.
For my medieval mystery/romance, The Heart of Darkness, I used a decorative dropped capital at the start of each chapter instead of a drawing. These fancy drop caps are not compatible with eReaders, so it is great to be able to use them here:
But for In Want of a Wife, I chose a minimalist chapter heading style, using just a handwriting-style font and small drop cap in the body text font. The heading font is a bit fancy, but also a bit hand-drawn. It fitted perfectly with the feel of the story, and reminded me of handwritten letters:
So those are some of the design features you can use to personalise your print book. But is even the fanciest paperback able to compete with the cost savings eBooks offer? On the books themselves, there are undoubtedly savings. But what about the tablet or eReader? These can be expensive, and many people like to upgrade as newer models come out. Except in the case of the voracious reader who buys a lot of books, there may not be true savings to be had.
A final offering from the print book comes in the form of it simply being there. For many people, there is pleasure in having a physical copy of a favourite book on their bookshelf and seeing it is there. And perhaps there is even one more glory belonging to the print book: as you sit on the train reading War and Peace, all onlookers know it!
So, while the eBook is an excellent option for books that are read once and thrown away, the print book’s gourmet reading experience still has a place.