What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Work with a Pro Book Designer

by Joel Friedlander on August 17, 2012 · 12 comments

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by Michele DeFilippo (@1106design)

I met Michele online a couple of years ago. She and I share a commitment to educating authors for the challenges of self-publishing great books. As anyone who visits the site of her book design firm 1106Design knows, she is a very talented and experienced book designer. I asked her to share some of her wisdom that would help you as authors. Here’s her response:

The goal when self-publishing is to make sure that your book does not look, well, self-published. Your book should have a certain je ne sais quoi, a “look” that meets the industry standards set by books published in the traditional manner, and that means both the cover and the interior pages.

If you’ve done some research, probably you are aware of a few ways to get your book looking better than it does right now, but beware: not all methods will guarantee you the professional look that a book designer can get you.

So, bypass the free templates offered by some self-publishing companies (because nothing in life is free), turn down your young nephew’s offer to desktop publish it, and stop pulling your hair out trying to get Word to do what you want; it’s not meant for this type of work anyhow.

Instead, put the $1,000 you saved by not purchasing top-end design software towards hiring a professional book designer to design your book’s cover and interior pages.

At the project’s outset, a competent designer will ask you for some information to better understand your book and your needs, including:

  • The manuscript (a draft is fine) or at the very least, a synopsis of your book.
  • The book’s final title and subtitle.
  • The author’s name as it should appear on the cover.
  • Any logos that are to appear on the front and back cover.
  • Insight into your intended audience.
  • Your vision for the cover and interior pages.
  • Any other information that you feel would help the book designer to understand what you are looking for.

Together you can talk about the “trim size” of the book—the finished cover and page size—along with paper color and weight, and number of colors to be used on the cover and the inside pages.

Based on the above information, the book designer will (or should) research other books in the same genre as your book and which appeal to the same audience. He or she should then present you with a selection of cover concepts, each of which should be distinctly different so that you have some clear choices about the direction you want your book cover to take.

Cover Concepts

A cover concept is not one cover image presented three different ways; rather the cover concepts should provide you with at least three major design directions for your publication.

So when you first talk to a book designer, it’s important to clarify whether or not the designer intends to show you a few cover concepts or simply variations on the same theme. In addition, make sure that the designer is not using a template that has been used for previous covers or interior pages, so that your book design will be one-of-a-kind.

The process of creating cover concepts can be time-consuming and therefore, may seem like quite an expense. However, a truly creative solution for your book design will benefit you many times over as your book will be truly unique, deliver a message targeted right at your audience, and stand out from the other books on the store shelf or on the Amazon web page.

Regarding your book’s interior, an experienced book designer will create pages that are visually appealing, hold interest, and are easy on the eye, factors that buyers consider when deciding to purchase a book.

Your designer should work with you to determine page size, binding, paper, page layout and typography, so that your subject matter is presented in an appropriate and attractive way.

” … a truly creative solution for your book design will benefit you many times over.”

You should be given samples of various alternative layouts using text from your manuscript. Work with the designer to tweak these until you are happy with the layout, because it is MUCH easier (and also cheaper for you in the long run) if you finalize the page layout now rather than request design changes once the entire book has been formatted!

When book designers lay out your text in your chosen format, they do much more than paste text into a document. Designers are aware of the many page layout conventions that are not perceptible to the reader, but when followed, give your book a polished appearance.

But even more than knowing the rules, it’s knowing how and when to break them on a case-by-case basis that makes the difference between an amateur layout and a professional one. Bottom line, buyers will gravitate towards books that are visually compelling and professionally designed, and that don’t look self-published!

book designMichele DeFilippo owns 1106 Design, a Phoenix-based company that works with authors, publishers, business pros, coaches, consultants, speakers . . . anyone who wants a beautiful book, meticulously prepared to industry standards. After helping almost a thousand authors make their books a reality, Michele has just self-published her first book Publish Like the Pros: A Brief Guide to Quality Self-Publishing (and an Insider’s Look at a Misunderstood Industry).

Amazon links are affiliate links. Photo by kennymatic

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    { 6 comments… read them below or add one }

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    Lauren @ Pure Text September 16, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    This article, and even the comments, have alerted me to aspects of book design that I would have never thought of!

    Though I don’t plan to self-publish, I’ll be sure to pass on what I’ve learned to my editing clients. They’ll definitely appreciate it.



    Tracy R. Atkins August 19, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    I don’t know if I’m the exception, but I felt confident going in that I could tackle a professional looking full cover (front/spine/back) and wound up spending as much time on it as I did writing the novel. Cover design can be just as complex as writing a novel, editing or marketing the work. (The 4 pillars of the self published) A full 25% of my time went into working with layout, graphics, etc. I wound up scrapping a cover after dozens of revisions and starting from scratch again. It really is an equal mix of art and skill. You can only learn so much, and the rest is talent and experience.

    I hired out editing; I knew I was out of my league. Cover design was something that I should have invested in from a pro as well. Although I’m really satisfied with what I have now, I could have trimmed several hundred hours of my time out. Moreover, even if my time were only worth minimum wage, I would have come out ahead. Of course, I learned a new skill, so there is a lot of value there; maybe it will pay off in the end. I don’t know. I do know I could have written another novel in the time I spent learning and creating that cover.


    Kit Foster August 18, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    “Even more than knowing the rules, it’s knowing how and when to break them on a case-by-case basis that makes the difference between an amateur layout and a professional one.” Great advice. The difference between good and great is knowing when to break the conventions (and not just in design – in all areas of life).

    Great article – thanks!


    the Super Sistah August 17, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    My cover designer and I went through a long, very long process before we finally got my cover design just right. A lot of wasted time and missteps were made because the questions outlined in this article were not asked up front. In designing my cover she took the title of the book which is aggressive: Don’t Let the White Girl Win, and made an initial design based on what she thought my book was about. It took her reading a few pages of the manuscript to understand the old cliche ‘never judge a book by its cover’ or in my case, it’s title. I wish we both would have read this article first.

    the Super Sistah


    Joel Friedlander August 18, 2012 at 9:14 am

    Super, ouch, that didn’t have to happen, did it? Michele’s advice will help make this process faster, easier, and have a better outcome. Thanks for telling your story.


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