What I Learned at My Own Workshop

Have you ever wanted to design your own print books? I did, so I taught myself how. And recently, I led a workshop to teach others.

At the most recent gathering of the Toronto Indie Publishing Meetup group, I presented the FIVE MUST-HAVE TECHNIQUES FOR DESIGNING YOUR OWN PRINT BOOKS.

An exciting group of authors attended—newbies, self-pubbed, and hybrids—happy to network and connect. But the computers… not so happy. My PC ignored the projector. Sigh. Fortunately, organizer Michael came to the rescue with his own laptop. But… mine’s a PC and his a Mac. Would worlds—I mean, operating systems—collide?

I’d laboured over the PowerPoint deck. Would it work? Would it transfer? Would it be legible? Anytime you move a document to another computer, if that computer doesn’t have the same fonts installed, it’ll substitute some boring default.

It opened! Hallelujah! With my gut in knots, I scrolled through the document. All my lovely font choices had converted to Arial. Oh, no!

I zipped through the content—the learnings remained.


With a deep breath, I began my presentation. It’s smooth sailing, until we get to the segment on sexy fonts. They’d all gone from sexy to boring.

But never fear!

I had hard copy of my work with me and was able to hold up books and pass them around.

We all know how important fonts are to cover art, but they can also be used to great effect in your interior. Here’s an example from Karen Blake-Hall’s You Are Mine*. The villain sends messages with letters and words cut from magazines and newspaper. How do I make this stalker tale more visceral, more creepy?

By reproducing the note visually in the print book.


As a self-pubbed author and book designer, I strive for a professional look in the print books I craft. I study blogs and books, desperate to avoid the dreaded “self-pubbed” look. I follow the advice of experienced professionals, especially Joel Friedlander.**

But as I was showing off Karen’s book to the Meetup audience, I had a major AH-HA moment.

I can engage the reader in a way that big publishers rarely do.

Can you imagine an interior designer for a big corporate publisher being allowed to sift through hundreds of fonts to choose something as significant to a story as cut-out lettering?

Maybe if you’re Dan Brown or Stephen King, but for the rest of us? Uh… no.

Would they allow anything other than italics for a hand-written note? Or irregular spacing to mimic a real person’s note?


Nope. Not happening in a big shop.

Definitely happening in my small shop.

Have you ever considered your font choices when designing your print book?

See more examples of my work at Woven Red Sampler Page.

My favourite source for free fonts is Font Squirrel.com.

**Find Joel at thebookdesigner.com.

*Connect with Karen Blake-Hall.

Join our merry band of Toronto Indie Publishing.

Thanks to Micheal McPherson for organizing, and saving, the day!

© 2015, Joan Leacott