I've been meaning to rant about this for a while, but haven't found the time. But the topic came up in conversation with a good friend today -- a brilliant lady who had done a book with a small press, and had cringed when she finally held the finished product in her hand because the cover, font choices, page design, and so forth all were, in her words, horrible.
Good friend that I am, I, of course, own a copy of her book, and she's being kind. :) So, for those in the small press who think that just because you have layout software you know how to design a book, Rob's four rules of book design, coined spontaneously while looking at the mess in question today:
Rule number one: be conservative.
Rule number two: if you haven't seen somebody else do it that way before, it's probably a bad idea.
Rule number three: actually have a published book at your side while designing your own -- to see how it's done.
Rule number four: don't suck.
(For Robert J. Sawyer Books, we currently rely on the brilliant Karen Petherick Thomas to do our designs, and, back when we were based in Calgary, we used the equally fine Erin Woodward. Yes, designing books is actually a job -- it's not something you just wing.)