AUTHORS: Take Some Advice from a Do-It-Yourselfer… Know What You CAN’T Do Yourself – by Brian Whiddon, Managing Editor

AUTHORS: Take Some Advice from a Do-It-Yourselfer… Know What You CAN’T Do Yourself – by Brian Whiddon, Managing Editor

God blessed me with a particular talent. I learn stuff fairly quickly, and I’m always eager to learn new things.

This has helped me save a LOT of money on several of my life’s endeavors. I taught myself basic carpentry at an early age. I know how to do basic plumbing – drain clearing, faucet repair and replacement, and even installing pipes. I’m good enough with electricity that I can install light fixtures, switches, troubleshoot electrical problems, and even run branches off of existing circuits. I framed the wood floor of Angela’s greenhouse – and then built the greenhouse myself. I built all our raised garden beds. I tore out all the old wire shelving from a walk-in closet in our cellar, and replaced them with beefy 2 x 4 framed shelves with half-inch plywood so we could store a LOT more stuff in there.

But, when we needed a new wall built in the cellar for Mason’s new bedroom (what teenager doesn’t like having his own room on another floor from his parents?), it was time to call a contractor. When we bought a generator for the house because of all the power outages we have here on the mountain, it was time to call an electrician. We discovered our 15-year-old deck had some sagging deck boards because the original nails holding up the 2 x 10 joists were pulling away from the framing – yep, that was way above my pay grade. My favorite contractor came out with a hydraulic jack, several long 2 x 4s, and a PARTNER. They had to actually jack up the joists and supports, re-align them, put exterior grade screws in, then install joist hangers – all while standing on scaffolding.

Back in 2011, I re-built an old 36-foot sailboat I found abandoned in a boat yard. I did a ton of fiberglass work, and re-wired the electrical system. I repaired sails. I tore out and re-built the entire head (bathroom), including the vanity, sink and cabinets. I replaced the marine toilet and re-plumbed all the sanitary hoses, pumps and the y-valve. That was fun!

But, when my main halyard broke, and needed to be replaced by snaking a new rope down a slot at the very top of my 45-foot mast, it was time to pay a professional rigger because, to be blunt, dangling in a small canvas seat from a rope 45 feet above a rocking, swaying, fiberglass deck bristling with one hundred things that can impale me tends to give me the heebie-jeebies. Engine repair? I call a mechanic when it was anything more than changing the oil, bleeding a fuel line, or cleaning out the water pump. And, when my keel bolts started leaking below the waterline, it was time to let the boat yard tackle that little project. It cost me over $5000 but I knew my keel wouldn’t fall off in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.

I’ve learned to do a lot of things for myself. It’s not just about saving money, although that’s a big bonus. It’s more about the satisfaction I get from being as self-sufficient as I can be. I love when something breaks (or breaks down), being able to say “No problem, I can fix that.” But, that pride must be tempered with a humility that allows me to accept my limitations. There are some things that I simply don’t have enough knowledge or skill to accomplish.

Here at BookLocker, we run into this a lot with authors who, understandably, want to pinch a penny here or there. Our publishing packages include all of the services that are either too technical, or too tedious, for the average person. Angela has been doing this work for over 20 years, and is an expert in publishing standards, formatting, cover design, industry practices, and insider knowledge. She knows just about every button and key-shortcut does in WORD, Excel, Photoshop, and several specialized software applications. She has passed that knowledge on to her employees so that we can all create the magic of taking a rough manuscript, and turning it into a masterpiece.

Nobody is perfect. This includes authors who believe they have written the perfect book that the world has been waiting for since the creation of written language. Publishing a print OR digital book is no simple endeavor. Having an expert handle everything that you are not 100% certain how to do will save you a lot of aggravation, and possibly money, in the end.

Below are some of the areas we see authors get mired in when they try the “Do-It-Yourself” route, but lack enough experience in “IT” to adequately fix the problem.

Cover Design
When I wrote my book, Blue Lives Matter – The Heart Behind the Badge, I had already done lots of projects on Photoshop. I enjoy manipulating images, and creating stuff. But, I still paid our cover design, Todd, to create my cover because he does that as a profession. Many authors think it’s just a matter of selecting a picture you like, opening it in Photoshop, pasting a bunch of text on top of it, and sending us that image as their “cover.” What they don’t realize (simply because they aren’t in the publishing industry) it that there are many more factors involved in creating a cover. Resolution is a biggie, and probably the easiest fix. 300 dpi is the rule for printed covers. How about copyright infringement? You would be astounded to find out how many authors send us a photo they “found in the Internet” that some photographer owns the rights to. Imagine publishing your book and, a week later, be slapped with a copyright lawsuit asking for $150,000 in damages, plus attorney fees? Authors don’t realize how easy it is for artists and photographers to find illegal copies of their work online.

Another item we have gone back and forth with D.I.Y. authors about is dimensions and templates. The artwork for a 6” x 9” cover is NOT 6 x 9. There is additional area bordering the artwork called the “bleed.” And, printers won’t print the book if you don’t have it. Hardcover books require a “border” that, once printed, will wrap around the paperboard substrate that the cover will be glued to. I’ve done some cover work for Angela, and there are a minimum number of guidelines crisscrossing the screen so that we can get these measurements perfect. Text must be a certain distance away from the borders, both vertically and horizontally.

I’ve watched authors send in their DIY cover art five or six times (and some exceeding 20 times!), always to have it sent right back with a list of errors that prevent the cover from being submitted to the printer. After the second round of these reviews, we charge for our time to review and identify these errors. We call it a spec check fee ($35) and that reimburses us for the time it takes to review their latest cover, and send yet another list of errors to the author.

If you’re not an expert in Photoshop, isn’t it better to simply pay one fee to get the job done right?

Interior Formatting/Design
We’ve all used it by now. It’s the staple of software used worldwide to create letters, memos, lists, bulletins, agendas, etc. And, most of us have used it at home, maybe to draft an email, write a letter, a report, or a recipe.

Every black-and-white-interior manuscript we work with begins as a WORD document. Even if an author started it on Notepad, or WordPerfect, or Apple’s “Pages”, step 1 for us is to move that file into Microsoft Word, and start the formatting there. It’s a compatibility issue. WORD is the most used word processing application in the world, so that is what we use to ensure we are all on the same page (pun intended). Simple design functions like margins, line spacing, fonts, character spacing, chapter headings, pagination are all handled as part of our formatting service. But, sometimes authors inadvertently throw monkey wrenches into their manuscripts due to functions within the software that they simply don’t comprehend.

“Track Changes” is a function within word that we always tell authors to de-activate, because it can insert text and strange characters into the most inconvenient of places. Track Changes is basically for the pros who need to be able to go back and recall or document every change that was made to a document during its creation. I can see how that would be good for drafting a legal document, or technical instructions, or maybe a will. But, it can play havoc on a manuscript during the formatting/design process.

One of the hallmark signs of a self-published book is having two blank spaces between sentences. That started with handwriting in Kindergarten. Remember when the teacher told you to put two fingers on the page before starting another sentence? When using typewriters, typists were taught to hit the space bar twice before starting a new sentence. With modern word processing software, that is no longer necessary. And, having double blank spaces between sentences looks really awful in a book. However, many D.I.Y. authors don’t understand this, and submit a print-ready manuscript with all of those double spaces in it.

And, speaking of typewriters… Some authors still remember how old typewriters worked. At the end of a line, you had to push a big return bar back over, which advanced the paper roller up one space, and returned the carriage back to the starting position to begin the next line of text. Electric typewriters had a “RETURN” button that did the same thing. Word processing software now does all of that automatically. So, all you have to do is keep typing. But, every so often, we come across a manuscript in which the author hit the ENTER button at the end of every single line of text.

We call these “hard breaks” and they completely mess up the “word wrapping” function of the WORD program. (That’s the thing that tells the computer that the word you are typing at the end of a line is too long to fit, and to drop the whole word down to the next line.) The ONLY way to remove these hard breaks is to manually go through the document and delete them. When an author does this, is wreaks havoc on the formatting of the print book and the ebook editions. We can take on this monotonous task for a fee but many authors want to save money, and do it themselves. However, they never seem to catch them all. When the author sends it back, and we find more of those hard breaks still in place, it costs time. Time is money…for the author and for us.

Need an index in your book? We highly recommend WORD’s “automated” indexing function. And, we know how to create these, for a fee, because they aren’t exactly easy. Once done, however, this feature allows you to add or remove references at any time with simple commands. The best part is that, with just the right click of a mouse button, WORD will automatically update the page numbers in the index. But, we have authors who either flat out refuse the automated index, or insist on trying to figure out how to create it themselves. Skipping the automated index means that any entry that is added after the index is completed must be manually entered. Have you ever inserted a couple of words into a document only to have an entire paragraph get pushed down to a new page? The same kind of thing can happen but, with indexing, it can be much messier. Don’t even get me started on what kind of mess results from someone trying to create an automated index while trying to learn how to create an automated index. Again, it usually costs more to have us fix that mess than it would have been to let us build the automated index in the first place. And, forget about creating a manual index. Each time you edit your manuscript, add something, remove something, or rearrange things, you’ll have to start all over on building your manual index. And, as you can imagine, that task can take days, or even weeks depending on how long your index is.

The bottom line to remember is this – What you see on your computer screen is NOT exactly what you are going to see when your book comes off the printing press. It takes both skilled training AND industry knowledge to look at a manuscript, and know how the end product will appear in print, or on an eBook reading device.

Know when you are dealing with something outside of your skill level, and pay to have experts handle the job. Doing so can save you literally weeks (or months) or time, and, as I stated above, time is money. Each day your book is delayed is another day you aren’t selling copies.

Beware of companies that will print anything and everything. You can write the perfect book. But, if the printed text looks like garbage, images are sliding into words, your cover is visibly off center, your table of contents has incorrect page numbers, your index is out of whack, etc., etc., what does that do for your reputation as an author? One thing we know is, if even one of your books hits the market in that condition, you’ll be flooded with bad reviews, and people won’t want to buy your future books.


BLUE LIVES MATTER: The Heart Behind the Badge by Brian P. Whiddon


Brian Whiddon is the Managing Editor at and the Operations Manager at Brian was formerly in the Army, and was also a police officer. Check out Brian’s book, Blue Lives Matter – The Heart Behind the Badge. to learn how he lost his police career after standing up for a man who was wrongly arrested. And, of course, his book contains many other stories as well! Some are funny, some are heart-breaking, and some are absolutely unbelievable – but are 100% true. 





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One Response to "AUTHORS: Take Some Advice from a Do-It-Yourselfer… Know What You CAN’T Do Yourself – by Brian Whiddon, Managing Editor"

  1. Pamela Allegretto  August 12, 2022 at 1:24 pm

    From cover (literally) to cover BookLocker did a beautiful job with my books. Highly recommended.