Self-Published Design Review:
Waiting for Spring by R.J. Keller

Click to enlarge

Our next book up for a Design Review is Waiting for Spring by R.J. Keller. Originally published in 2007, R.J. said in her email, “My book has been for sale for over a year. It’s printed by CreateSpace.” She designed and produced the book herself. Remember that you can click the images to see a full-size version.

Design Review—Cover

The cover of a novel is a special type of design in which the designer needs to accurately communicate the general feeling, tone, time period, or genre of the book without reverting to story telling. Here the author has relied on a photograph of trees in winter to accomplish her goals, and to imply something about the story of love and loss that runs through the book. The cover does some things well:

  • The image is haunting and poetic
  • The muted palette helps to reinforce the emotionally painful parts of the story
  • The typography achieves a high level of consistency with the image

On the other hand, some of these same strengths can work against the cover. Here’s where I think it falls down:

  • Although poetic, the overall effect is pretty bleak, and doesn’t work at pulling the reader in
  • Although the typography nicely matches the bare branches, it does little to help “sell” the book
  • The position of the title is a problem because the eye has to hunt a bit to find it
  • The typeface chosen—it looks like Papyrus, which is also used inside the book—is weak, particularly against the variegated background. This is probably why the author italicized the font (note it’s not italicized on the spine) and “manipulated” it in a photo-editing program, with some rough results
  • Considering the dynamic nature of the story involving love, sex, divorce, drug dealing, the cover really lacks drama

Design Review—Interior

Here’s a sample of the interior:

Click to see it larger

It’s awfully difficult when designing your first book to really understand how little ornament is needed on book pages when you have good typography and a solid page layout. Most new designers will tend to over-ornament their pages, and this is pretty natural. Here, R.J. has mostly avoided that. Here’s where the interior works well for me:

  • The author has chosen a serviceable roman face for the body of the book
  • Generally the pages are clean, unobtrusive and welcoming
  • Margins are good and the type area sits nicely on the page

Although books look dead simple, partly because we’ve been reading them since forever, there are many little technical points at which it can be challenging to get them right. Here are the problems I found with this interior:

  • Papyrus—It’s amazing how popular this typeface is, perhaps because it was one of the few decorative faces that came with many computer systems. Unfortunately, it keeps showing up on lists of “worst typefaces in the world” and although that may be harsh, it really is weak. It has no relation I can make out to the book, the story, or anything else. And although it’s a really good idea to stay with just 2 typefaces for your book—one for the body and one for the heads—in this case we get a triple dose of Papyrus, in the chapter heads, the running feet and the drop caps that start each chapter
  • You can see the difficulty R.J. had with the drop caps in two ways. These paragraphs should not be indented, allowing the drop cap to move out to the margin, and the change in the size of the type has thrown the line spacing off on the first line of the chapter
  • Several small technical issues mar the design, for instance the inconsistent spacing around the ornament used in the running feet, which should be centered between the folio and the title, but isn’t, and the uneven spacing at the bottom of the pages.
  • Bad word spacing. Did you notice something unusual about the typesetting on this book? The author made the unusual decision to completely eliminate hyphenation. The result is many lines throughout the book with really poor word spacing that probably could have been eliminated if the hyphenation had been turned on.

Overall, and despite the critique, Waiting for Spring is enjoyable to read, and the author has done a pretty good job with her first book. Thanks R.J. for submitting to the Self-Published Book Design Review.

If you’re interested in getting a design review for your book, add a link and a comment in the forum Submit Your Book for a Design Review.

  • I don’t think I’d object to the use of Papyrus. It is, after all, a display face, intended for use in small bits and pieces, as a contrast to the main body of text. It’s not like she used it for the text block, unlike the subtitles of a certain current, and rather famous, movie.

    I think the lack of hyphenation may simply be due to the author not having sufficient familiarity with the tools. The default hyphenation for most word processing programs today allows names, contractions, etc to split, which can be quite annoying, and the ways to fix this a)are not necessarily obvious or intuitive and b) require a significant investment of time, as the custom dictionary is slowly built. A simpler alternative is to just turn off hyphenation, but unless the resultant word spacing is watched closely, and adjusted by minor changes in wording, you can get some sparse or crowded lines.


  • A fair and very helpful review, Joel. I stuggled mightily while formatting the interior. Now I know some things to avoid next time, which I appreciate.

    Note about the Papyrus font: I didn’t know it was ‘popular.’ That’s kinda funny. Had I known at the time I surely would have used something different (because that’s the way I roll). I chose it because it had a “sketched” feel to it, which I thought fit the painting motif of the book.

    The cover itself is a representation of the painting of the dead orchard that haunts Tess throughout the novel. I used two photographs I took of the same orchard – one in fall, one in spring – and digitally smushed them together. (I’m pretty sure “smushed” is a technical term.)

  • Levi: You’re exactly correct about the hyphenation, and it was one of my biggest formatting problems (the drop caps thing being the biggest problem). I’ve since done some research, and have figured out a way around it (I hope!!)

  • RJ, feel free to contact me if I can be of any assistance!

  • I appreciate that!

  • *Correction to my first comment* I meant, of course, that I took one of the pictures in WINTER…not fall.

  • RJ That’s interesting about the 2 photos. Yes, “smushing” is the technical term, but now I understand why the photo had the unusual look to it.

    The kinds of problems that you had doing the interior layout are a direct result of trying to use a word processor for this job. With enough patience and tweaking you can probably get better, but my advice if you plan to continue to publish your own books is either find a friendly designer, establish a “look” that you can re-use, and have them worry about the details. Or get a page layout program and have a designer create a “template” file for you to use with your books. Either will give you a better chance at eliminating these kinds of problems in the future.

    Levi, thanks for your input. It’s mind-boggling to me that books can get typeset without hyphenation. Seems like another good reason to take one of the steps I suggested to RJ, but I know you’re strictly at DIY-er and that you can persist until you solve these kinds of technical problems. Your book is up next.

  • I’m a DIY guy primarily ’cause I have no money to pay people, and “X% of my profit forever!” doesn’t seem to be the motivator you might think it would be. 🙂

  • I just bought this book!