Craft Interview: Lori Michelle
A conversation about interior book design.
Lori Michelle is the Editor-in-Chief of Dark Moon Digest and the CFO and Layout design guru of Perpetual Motion Machine and Ghoulish Books. In the evening, she becomes Ms. Lori, dance teacher extraordinaire. She is the mother of two kids and three dogs.
Tell me about how you got started with interior design. What first attracted you to it, and how did you find a way in?
When I was younger, my father owned a print store as a side thing. When laser printers became available for household use, my father started laying out and printing designs on his own rather than sending out jobs to expensive layout people. I quickly learned how margins and sizes are affected. When I started working for Dark Moon Digest, I started with eBooks (which is a whole different ball of wax) then learned how to do layout for print books and just went from there.
How are eBooks different from print books?
eBooks are written with CSS code. So you can’t just hit return to add a space. You have to have a style sheet with the space coded in it and apply that to the text. Same with indenting. Plus, kindlegen (the software that makes kindles) can choose to read your code or create their own on conversion. It doesn’t read shades of indenting, it just indents, so having a poetry book can be super frustrating. Plus, there are no font choices on an eBook. It is up to the reader to make the font whatever they want.
Now, the process has slightly changed since you can embed fonts, but they need to be standard web fonts and nothing fancy. The plainer the eBook is, the less chance of it messing up while being read.
How did you get started with Dark Moon Digest?
I was part of a writing website that was being disbanded, so I was looking for places to submit my writing work. We found this website with a call for vampire stories, and started following it. One day the owner sent out a call for editors, so I emailed back that I wasn’t much for editing (found out later I am a decent editor) but his website was horrible and I could help with that. So he “hired” me to help with his website. Then he said, hey you’re good with code, can you do these eBooks? So I played around with that and learned how to eBook. It just progressed from there.
Nobody taught you how to do any of this, right? So how did you go through the process of teaching yourself?
I was taught basics, like what margin sizes should be, how book gutters are affected, the dos and don’ts of book formatting, but most of what I know is simply trial and error. And a whole lot of googling. I am sure there are things I still don’t know.
How did you go from “person expressing an interest in formatting books” to “person who has freelanced for almost every horror small press that has existed in the last ten years”?
I started with Dark Moon, moved on to our own company, Perpetual Motion Machine, then emailed all the horror presses running at the time, giving them a deal for my services. Many took me up on my offer and we have been partners since then. All have been very happy with the work I do and word of mouth has gotten out. Sadly, some of the presses I have worked for have gone under.
What are some design jobs you’re particularly proud of?
Really loved the way the interior of Lost Signals came out. Especially the last story.
I am also pretty proud of the way each Dark Moon Digest issue looks.
I try to make each book I do just a little bit different, whether I use pictures, different fonts, different dinkuses, or just do the header and footer in a different spot. I want each book to be its own special work of art.
What programs do you use?
I use QuarkXPress for print layout and Jutoh to help with ebook layout. I know there are lots of different softwares out there like InDesign, but this is what I learned on and am the most comfortable with.
Talk a bit about the process of formatting a book. How long does it take you (print vs. digital), what are some things you’re looking for when a client first sends over their book, stuff like that.
It takes three passes to go through the print book. First I go through the word document and remove any extra spaces, any tabs, change all the dashes to em dashes and make all ellipses the same. I also make note of any centering or unusual formatting the author has in their document. Then I make it all the same font, same size, and spacing.
From there, I import the file into QuarkXPress to the correct layout size. I have several templates for different sizes saved on my computer. I then make sure the header is correct and go through the document again adding in the title fonts, drop caps, and whatever other special formatting that needs to go into that particular book.
The last pass is to go through and make sure all the spacing is correct. I need to make sure there are no orphan lines (one line on the following page) and that it just generically looks good. It then gets exported to a PDF.
For an eBook, the process is similar. Only, instead of fonts, I use coding to make the eBook look good. There is no spacing adjustment on an eBook, it just flows however it’s going to flow.
I can’t say one takes longer than another since it just depends. If there are a lot of chapters, then print takes longer, but if there is a lot of dinkus breaks, then eBook might take longer.
For the writers reading this interview, what are some things they could do differently that would make your job easier?
Do not use the tab function to indent. Do not use all caps unless the word has to be in all caps. Do not hit the return key constantly to get to the next page. Use the CTRL+ENTER function. Any and all formatting you do on your word document just gets deleted, anyway, so it’s easier the plainer it is. Especially if you’re after just an eBook. eBooks have to be written in code, so if you have some fancy thoughts about your book, it isn’t going to show up in an eBook, anyway.
For those interested in learning how to design book interiors, what advice would you give them? (Besides just hiring you, of course.)
Get to know what looks good and what doesn’t look good. Find books that are aesthetically pleasing and figure out why they are. Find books you think are awful and figure out what they did wrong. There are rules to formatting, so talk to people to find out what those are. Know where the books are going to be printed, since all printers require a little something different. And mostly, don’t rely on Microsoft Word to format if you want to be serious about layout.