Is Interior Book Design a Commodity?

by Joel Friedlander on June 3, 2013 · 60 comments

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The realization came to me a few years ago, in a flash: maybe they just don’t care.

You see, for years as a working book designer, I’d been used to diving into an extensive design process for each new book project.

Using variations in fonts, layouts, chapter openings, running heads, page numbers and the other ingredients of book design, I would eventually present the client with 3 separate and distinct approaches to the interior book design.

Of course, each of these designs would have to fulfill the basic functions of a book design. It would have to be:

  • readable and inviting
  • appropriate to the content and the intended audience
  • attractive to the reader without calling attention to itself
  • organized so the hierarchy of the content is obvious to the reader

Creating these variations could take days, and that time was a significant part of the cost of the project. We would then continue to refine one of the designs until we had a final, often going back and forth numerous times as we worked out details.

A Fateful Insight Into Indie Authors

Somewhere along the line I started to have the thought in the back of my mind that the clients were just going through this whole process for one reason:

I told them it was necessary, that they needed to do it.

After all, most authors who decide to publish their own books come into the process without knowing much about it. When they hire professionals like designers to work on their books, they rely on those pros to guide them through the process.

Makes sense, right?

But the realization I had was that maybe they didn’t really care all that much about these design variations.

Maybe they didn’t care whether their chapter heads were typeset in Americana or American Typewriter. Whether their text font was Georgia or Garamond. Or whether their pages were symmetric or asymmetric.

I decided to conduct an experiment in real time, to find the answer. After all, maybe they did care and I was just having a bad day.

The Interior Book Design Experiment

Because I had been doing all these book design variations for years, I had a lot of prototypes that had never been used for publication. These were the designs that clients had not chosen, the castoffs and orphans of old book design projects.

So here’s what I did. For several months, every time I got a new book interior design client, when it came time to talk about prices and process, I said something like this: (Prices are for illustration only and don’t represent the actual cost of any project.)

“I’m really looking forward to helping you get this book to market. Because I know most indie authors are on a budget, I have a proposal for you.

“I can go through the usual design process and create 3 separate and distinct designs for your book, and we can work together to find the one you like best and refine it until we get to a “final” design, at which point we’ll be able to lay out the book. For your book, this will cost $1,000 and I’ll need about 3 weeks.

“On the other hand, if what you want is a professional book interior, but you don’t feel like you need to be that involved in the process, here’s a different way we can get your book done.

“I’ve got all these unused designs from past projects. Let me pick one that’s suited to your book. Of course, when you see the design if there’s anything you want to change we’ll gladly do so.

“But here’s the thing. If you do it this way, instead of $1,000 and 3 weeks, the price will drop to $600, and we’ll only need 10 days. You decide which one suits you the best.”

I made this offer to almost 20 clients whose books would work with this approach. Want to guess how many took me up on my cost-saving offer?

All of them.

Yep, 100% of the people I made this offer to took the faster, cheaper process.

The Problem with Commodity Selling of Book Interiors

That’s when I started to think that maybe book interiors have gotten to the point that they are a commodity. A commodity is something that can be had from various sources but usually is pretty much the same, like a pound of sugar.

You can buy your pound of sugar at different markets in different wrappers with different brand names, but inside basically you’ve just got a pound of suger.

The thing with commodities is that eventually the competition between different brands becomes a matter of price. If the sugar is cheaper at Market A, why buy it at Market B?

Likewise, if all you’re doing is buying 200 pages of typesetting so your book looks professional, does it really make sense to pay a premium price and take the time to go through an extensive design process?

Keep in mind I’m talking about books that are relatively simple, like novels, memoirs, narrative nonfiction, that sort of thing. If you have a complex nonfiction book, an art book, or some other specialized project you’ll need a pro.

Okay, now it’s your turn: Imagine yourself getting this offer from your book designer. Would you take the deal? Or would you insist on—and pay for—a full-scale design treatment?

Let me know in the comments.

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    { 59 comments… read them below or add one }

    Russell Phillips June 3, 2013 at 12:45 am

    I’d take the deal. I suspect that if you showed me three different interior designs, I wouldn’t know enough to choose one over another, so there’s no real point in paying extra to be able to do that.

    On the other hand, I would choose to have three different covers to choose from, because given three different covers, I can make an informed choice.

    Reply

    carol June 3, 2013 at 3:21 am

    Russell expressed my sentiments EXACTLY.
    I’m an avid reader, mostly novels. Yet, until I went through the self-pub process, I hardly paid attention to the books interior design.
    Now I appreciate it more, but still would take the deal.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 3, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Thanks, Russell, that pretty much mirrors what a lot of other authors have told me.

    Reply

    Anthony Puttee June 4, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    This is something I’ve been testing in the office for a little while now Joel. We are moving over to offer two options for interior layout, a basic option and a standard trade option. We highlight the differences of each design, an option is selected and then away we go.

    Basic is popular with novelists and standard trade is selected by nonfiction and children’s. Our customers have been the filter.

    Any additional options and we started to see the paradox of choice, come into play. Good article :)

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 5, 2013 at 11:33 am

    Good luck with the service, Anthony.

    Reply

    Ernie Zelinski June 3, 2013 at 1:04 am

    I would not “pay a premium price and take the time to go through an extensive design process.”

    This is not only due to price, but also due to the extra time involved. I am lazy by nature — even though I am ambitious.

    This is one of the mottos that I follow and relates here somewhat:

    “Refuse to be intimidated by the adage, ‘Anything worth doing is worth
    doing well.’
    This is one of the most ridiculous statements ever made.
    The truth is, most things worth doing aren’t worth your best efforts.
    There are just a few really important things that are worth doing
    well.
    After that, a greater number of things are worth doing adequately.
    Even more things are worth doing in the most haphazard fashion possible
    just to get by.
    Of course, most things aren’t worth doing at all, best left for the
    misfits of this world to pursue.”
    — from “The Lazy Person’s Guide to Success” by E.Z.

    Also, somewhat related here are the words of Robert J. Ringer: “It’s better to do a sub-par job on the right project than an excellent job on the wrong project.”

    In other words, if I create a book with a great title and great content, I can get by with a not-so-great interior design and still make the book a bestseller, outselling over 97 percent of the books in the same genre.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 175,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 3, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Loved this:

    “The truth is, most things worth doing aren’t worth your best efforts.
    There are just a few really important things that are worth doing
    well.”

    In order to be productive, it might help to be a bit lazy, don’t you think? This is pretty much the same attitude I’ve adopted when it comes to online business. Getting it out there where people can interact with what you’ve written is worth a lot more than sitting in the back of your cave, polishing away year after year.

    Reply

    Perry Gamsby June 3, 2013 at 1:19 am

    I think with fiction you don’t need anything more than neat, easy to read layouts that are as error free as humanly possible. Typos and bad writing upset the reader far more than a less than lovely layout. I agree covers are more important as they sell the book far more than interiors. Sometimes the interior can be ‘too clever by half’ as my Dad would say.

    Non-fiction on the other hand, those that include graphs, tables, photos and such are a different kettle of fish. The same is true for children’s books and art books, cookery books etc. Those are as much about the visual as the textual.

    I do like Ernie’s points re not doing it well etc. If we didn’t accept that then Wal-Mart would never have become as big as it is. People will rather spend $2 for a cheap, plastic, made in China widget that does the immediate job and will probably be lost before it breaks or break before it is needed again then invest $10 on a well-made widget they can pass on to their kids.

    Reply

    Colin June 3, 2013 at 2:18 am

    Hello Joel

    Thanks for this valuable post.

    “readable and inviting”

    That is something that very few people give any consideration. Although the content of the book is vital, people really tend to forget the appearance of the book. This is so important for any non-fiction book: especially the how-to type books, where the reader wants to learn something. It should always be made as easy as possible.

    “But the realization I had was that maybe they didn’t really care all that much about these design variations.”

    So true. Write the book, convert it to the applicable format (PDF, mobi, etc.) and get out there. I;ve found that this is often as result of ignorance of the concept of book design.

    “prices and process”
    “most indie authors are on a budget”

    Such a sensitive topic. When the indie author is working on a really tight budget (e.g. a mom who has written a recipe book – money is tight). It’s also a misunderstanding of the process of book design.

    “Yep, 100% of the people I made this offer to took the faster, cheaper process.”

    I understand this completely.

    Thanks again for your post, Joel.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 3, 2013 at 10:49 am

    Thanks, Colin. I think most indie authors, given the choice, would prefer to spend their money on marketing or promotion, and I can completely understand that. And certainly you want to end up with a book that is easy to read and friendly for readers.

    Reply

    James June 3, 2013 at 2:56 am

    As a web designer, I can relate to this discussion. There are many parallels but many distinctions too, and I don’t have time to explore them all, but essentially, the down-and-dirty web design process I use is not much different from the approach you use in the discount book design: I ask the client to come up with a few sites whose design they like, and use THAT as a basis for my mock-up, then massage this design with them from that starting point. This way they are fully participating, and ultimately responsible for a good part of the design.

    As a visual medium to a larger extent than paper books (if only slightly larger in some cases), I think more is sacrificed using this short-cut, but ultimately design is a technical commodity more than an art form. As a user, content is king, and, at least up to a certain usability threshold, I won’t turn my nose up at a great read because the web site is ugly or the book design seems inappropriate.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 3, 2013 at 10:52 am

    That’s a great point James, because all over the web you can find examples of sites that are nothing special to look at, but which have a huge number of avid followers, because they are there for the content. At some point design can aid or retard your growth if it starts getting in the way of your site’s usability, but most people seem to have a lot of tolerance for less than optimal design if the content really speaks to them.

    Reply

    Tricia Ballad June 3, 2013 at 3:58 am

    I’d take the deal. As a writer, I see the value of my books in their words and their ideas. What those words look like, visually on the page, isn’t really on my radar unless they are hard to read.

    Having said that, I have a question. Is interior design, font choice, etc. really necessary if you are publishing eBooks? Most eReaders allow the reader to change the font and size at will anyhow. Thanks!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 3, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Tricia, the whole problem of design for ebooks is taking place within a rapidly-changing universe of software conversions, machine defaults, and end-user modification that there’s a lot less that can be done. Having said that, the best book designers who also convert to ebooks are turning out books that look way better than a standard, automatic conversion. I’m planning to feature some of these ebooks on the blog in the coming weeks.

    Reply

    Tricia Ballad June 3, 2013 at 10:59 am

    Great – I’d love to see what you do within the constraints of an eBook!

    Reply

    Myka Reede June 3, 2013 at 5:04 am

    Yes. I would take the deal too without thinking twice or feel guilty about it. As you noted, you would still put forth a layout that you thought appropriate – that’s key. I still expect pro quality when paying for a pro; otherwise, I would do that part myself.

    Realize, it’s not that we don’t care what our book interior looks like, we are just putting our investment monies elsewhere. We care that it is readable and meets a minimum standard, but my fonts and layout for my fiction novel don’t have to be unique and custom made. One of the reasons I suspect your book design templates are selling well.

    Hopefully, we haven’t bruised your feelings too much :) With my day job, I too have seen my field reduced to more of a commodity. Adapt quickly (like you are already) and don’t try to hold back the tidal wave of change. Those that long for those glory days will be forced into retirement. Keep up the great posts!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 3, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Myka, that’s great, and you haven’t bruised my feelings one bit. Although I admit this was a bit of a tough pill to swallow, when I looked at it from the client side, I came to the same conclusion that’s been expressed by most of the commenters here. My aim in my design business has never been to elevate my designs or my idea of what book typography should look at. The entire aim of my business has, for many years, been focused on one thing: making my clients very, very happy with their book. It puts everything else in perspective.

    Reply

    Linda Bonney Olin June 3, 2013 at 6:01 am

    Then you have the small potatoes like me who will DIY and save even the $600. :)

    The real question isn’t: “Do the authors (your clients) care?” The real question is: “Do potential book buyers (your clients’ clients) care?”

    For the majority of indie fiction writers, I bet the answer is: “Not much, so put your money somewhere else.”

    Few fiction readers in this day and age even notice interior design, as long as it’s functional and consistent. I don’t celebrate this disinterest, but I don’t lament it either. The content is king. And the cover is queen.

    Reply

    Perry Gamsby June 3, 2013 at 8:05 am

    As one who has not the budget to even contemplate outsourcing any of the publishing process I have to agree with Linda. I doubt most readers notice unless it is that noticeably bad an interior. I confess with my sales I would be hard pressed getting back the $600 let alone a grand, then add the cover design and the marketing and editing fees… Of course one can argue if I did invest in these expenses perhaps sales would be much higher and I promise, when I do make the money will reinvest it in some professional help. For the mean time I have to learn all I can and I confess to learning a ton from Joel’s site!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 3, 2013 at 10:59 am

    That’s great, Perry, and that’s why I started this site in the first place, so I hope it will help you “build a better book.”

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 3, 2013 at 11:02 am

    Linda, your comment reminds me of the advice I—and most other book professionals—give to authors entering this field. That is to prioritize your budget by making sure you pay for editing first, cover design second, and the rest as you can.

    Reply

    Karen Cioffi June 3, 2013 at 6:11 am

    Interesting post. I would decide which way to go depending on the book and its purpose.

    Reply

    J.M. Ney-Grimm June 3, 2013 at 6:16 am

    I’d say the deal you were offering is skewing your results.

    Because the cheaper package is still drawing from designs that you, an expert, carefully crafted for your clients. They are probably beautiful, skillfully done, and achieve the basic functions nicely.

    -readable and inviting
    -appropriate to the content and the intended audience
    -attractive to the reader without calling attention to itself
    -organized so the hierarchy of the content is obvious to the reader

    If your clients were choosing between your full service and none at all, I’m sure you’d get very different results. In fact, by coming to you, they have made that choice, made the choice to pay for design. Just not for deluxe design.

    It makes sense to me that art books, illustrated children’s books, and complex non-fiction books need deluxe design. And that less demanding texts, like novels and memoir, are fine simply with design (as opposed to no design).

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 3, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Yes, J.M. you are correct in that authors who come to me to produce their books already have a substantial budget and a commitment to produce a professional-quality book, so they are probably not a representative sampling of all indie authors. I think you can also see that from the responses to this post, so thanks for weighing in.

    Reply

    Michelle Sagara June 3, 2013 at 9:16 pm

    I absolutely agree with this – the deal you’re offering is, up front, a deal for a professionally type-set book. Is the design unique to the book itself? No. But the quality of the work is otherwise the same.

    Having said that, I did pay a professional to design & typeset my short story collection (self-pubbed). She came up with a design I liked; we tweaked it. She didn’t offer me three different variants; that wasn’t discussed. What I wanted from the experience was to have a book that looked, in the end, like a book.

    Given that your work would do that regardless, I think most people would feel confident in accepting the deal.

    Reply

    Katherine Owen June 3, 2013 at 6:19 am

    I taught myself InDesign and created a template so by book #3 I had it down. My books ARE beautiful. I charge $15.99 for a 6′ X 9′ trade paperback with Lightning Source and no one complains about the price or the quality. What I have found is that people that buy the eBook and love the story will turn around and buy the hard copy for reading later.

    The comments above are like a runaway train and it worries me. Blanket statements that begin with “most indie fiction writers” dismay me. There are some of us out here, who take the time to learn the whys and wherefores of interior design of a book and don’t pay $1k to do so. (Sorry, Joel.) I studied works by Alice Hoffman and a few others as poured over fonts to finalize my interior designs. I personally think it’s important to have a nice interior design of a book (hard copy or eBook) for that matter. I can’t wait for the day when eBook formatting isn’t so stripped out of things like dropped caps and fancy text fonts and it’s not just a magic trick with HTML to make it work (most of the time).

    Search my name “Katherine Owen” on Amazon to take a look at my interiors for my three novels (When I See You is my latest work). I’m pleased with the way they turned out and I do think readers appreciate the effort.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 3, 2013 at 11:10 am

    Katherine,

    Thanks for your input. The route you’ve taken is another viable way for self-publishers to get their books done, and although it takes a good deal of study and learning how to use the tools, it’s very rewarding for the right person. Your interiors are quite pleasant and I’m sure your fans have come to expect your books to have a distinctive look. In fact, it has probably become part of your “branding” as an author, and I wish you all the best success.

    Reply

    Ruth Dupré June 3, 2013 at 8:20 am

    Wow. I like frugality as much as my grandparents did, but I’ve seen some book interiors that just drove me batty. Some fonts just make my teeth squeak.

    What I would do is ask to see the three already made-up, and if I didn’t like them, I’d go for the full package.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 3, 2013 at 11:12 am

    The sad fact is that a lot of people have set themselves up in business to “help” authors get their books done. I’ve seen books from so-called “professional” typesetters that are actually ugly, ungainly, and would be dreadful to read. As always, educating yourself is the best way to make sure you get a book you’ll be proud of.

    Reply

    Toni McConnel June 3, 2013 at 8:37 am

    (e) None of these. I do it myself. After being horrified at the design of a novel of mine by Atheneum, and being ignored when I protested, I self-published (years before it became the thing to do), designed and typeset the paperback version myself. That book is beautiful. Yes, it took me a helluva long time but I learned a lot and the process is a lot less painful and time-consuming now. I don’t think this is the right path for everyone. A lot of people won’t have the patience or determination or will be overwhelmed by how much there is to learn. But for me, the rewards have been worth the effort.

    This gives me the idea to scan the cover Atheneum did and the one I did and post them on my site for comparison.

    Reply

    Mary DeEditor June 3, 2013 at 9:06 am

    Joel, isn’t this what you’ve done with your new interior templates? Your templates are a brilliant idea, at a bargain price. I’ve recommended them to my author clients who are self-publishing, as most are on a tight budget.

    I think good book design tends to be invisible to the average reader, only noticed when it’s lacking (like good road design, or musicians who play in key). Back in the day when I worked on page proofs for major publishers, every book had many, many little production issues that needed correction: loose lines, off numbering, bad breaks, widows, accidental end-of-line word blocks, inadvertently repeated text… all fixed before the reader saw, and thus invisible. I don’t know if your templates now can catch those (widows, certainly), so I advise authors that they still need a proofreader as the last stage. Do they listen? Nah. Sadly, they don’t see the value of what’s invisible to them.

    But readers DO notice a bumpy read, even if they can’t quite put their finger on it, and will blame the author. Authors must understand that publishing is a business, and they come off best when their product looks and reads professionally, not like something dragged out of a garage sale bin.

    Myself, as an author: would I invest $1000 or more in beautiful book design? In a heart beat.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 3, 2013 at 11:18 am

    Mary, the Word templates were designed to fill a specific need for authors who will be doing their own book layouts. However, as I’ve said right from the beginning, Word is not a typesetting program, and the books you can produce with Word—including the ones using our beautiful templates—are not “professional” quality typesetting.

    And proofreaders? Don’t get me started. As someone who has put a lot of books together, I love proofreaders, who have saved many of my projects from disasters.

    Yes, publishing is a business, and thanks for reminding us that readers can’t always put their finger on why they put that book down.

    Reply

    Rosie McGee June 3, 2013 at 9:15 am

    The best part of this discussion is the fact that you’re willing to ask the headline question without abandoning your higher-level professional standards. As others have pointed out, many creative endeavors have become commodities for reasons of convenience, saving time/money, etc. But that doesn’t negate the value of using a creative professional’s premium services when it’s appropriate and the client can afford it.

    So now, you’re proposing four levels of book design: 1) full-on design consulting; 2) ‘tweak-able’ single design of your choice; 3) selection of Word templates; 4) leave it up to the author entirely, which sometimes results in terrible design.

    As an indie author/publisher who purchased one of your book design templates within minutes of their being offered, I’m eternally grateful that you’ve given people like me an affordable option to self-publish a book that’s at least up to some basic standards. Will it be fancy? No. Will it be
    readable and inviting
    appropriate to the content and the intended audience
    attractive to the reader without calling attention to itself
    organized so the hierarchy of the content is obvious to the reader?

    Yes, thanks to you and your associates.

    Thanks, Joel, for all you do to help us. It’s much appreciated.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 3, 2013 at 11:23 am

    Rosie,

    Yes, you’ve hit exactly on the idea of a range of solutions for authors, depending on their needs and the kind of project they have.

    1. Complete design process ending at a unique, custom design
    2. “Templeted” pro-level design that’s faster and less expensive, but not unique or custom
    3. Templates for InDesign to supply both authors and designers with pre-formatted book interior solutions
    4. Templates for Word for authors who want to do it themselves with the software they likely already own and know how to use.

    I’ve got 2 of these options in place and plans to roll out the other two very soon.

    And thanks for your lovely feedback, I couldn’t imagine hearing anything that’s more satisfying, so thanks to you and all readers here for allowing me to keep producing content and products that help you reach your readers.

    Reply

    Myka Reede June 3, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    Oooo. Now you have my attention. Ready to go inDesign templates? LOVE IT! Make sure you include templates for romances and fantasy romances!

    Reply

    Melanie Jongsma June 3, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    I would be interested in your InDesign templates too! Great idea!

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    Joel Friedlander June 5, 2013 at 11:25 am

    Thanks, Myka and Melanie. I’m pretty excited about these too, it will be a big expansion to our template site, but a boon for people who want a better looking book than you can produce in Word.

    Reply

    Ron Herron June 3, 2013 at 9:43 am

    I’d probably do it myself, since I’m well-versed in page design and layout. It was part of my career for almost 40 years.

    The worst mistakes I can recall seeing in interior page layouts have more to do with fonts that are too large or too small, improperly leaded (the space between each line of body text), or god-awful, unreadable selections for title fonts, than they do the body font itself.

    Many indie DIY settings look more like Word manuscript double-spacing than they do a book. Most major publishers set leading (line spacing) at about 125 percent of the font size. So, for instance, 12 pt Garamond would have line spacing of exactly 15 pt.

    All that being said, if sized and leaded properly I think many serifed faces (Bookman, Caslon, Palantino, Garamond, Georgia and yes, even Times) can work well for body text.

    But if was a total novice, I’d take the deal. Your earlier templates, Joel, would already have a lot of thought behind them, and since most indies are proabably a lot like me, with limited budgets, that route makes the most sense.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 3, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Totally agree, Ron, although I long ago abandoned the default leading used by most word processing and layout programs. In fact I wrote about it here: The Typographer’s Curse: Automatic Leading

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    David A. Todd June 3, 2013 at 9:59 am

    Even $600 for design is cost-prohibitive for me for any book I publish, whether e-book or print book, so I’ve had to learn the rudiments of interior design and do it myself. As a reader, I never notice interior design, except for a few self-published books (and a couple of trade published books) I’ve read or looked at that haven’t paid attention to margins and not cramming words on the page. All others I never think much about the interior design: not the font style; not the font size; not the leading; not the paragraph style (block vs. indent); not the running headers. I have to believe my readers don’t care either.

    So I learned enough to make it look good enough, to meet some difficult-to-define minimum quality level, and I’m going with it.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 3, 2013 at 11:29 am

    David,
    Perhaps if your books sell well, you’ll be able to invest some of the profits back into the quality of the product. Wouldn’t that be great?

    Reply

    R. E. Hunter June 3, 2013 at 10:01 am

    I would take the deal, but not because I view it as a commodity. It’s because I know you’re an expert in this area (and would be paying for that expertise), and I don’t think my input to the process would add significant value.

    Reply

    Eliza Wyatt June 3, 2013 at 10:02 am

    I love good design, and I’m picky about layout, fonts, and especially margins.

    The thing is, though? I’m picky enough that I’d never let someone else do it for me, for any money. I have a multimedia degree that touched on print layout, so when it came time to get my print book up and running, I downloaded the free CS2 copy of Adobe Indesign and I worked and tweaked the book until I was satisfied. It cost me several proof copies, going through the Indesign learning curve, and my time.

    I suspect that most people who really care about layout and style are those involved enough in the media to want to take the wheel.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 3, 2013 at 11:31 am

    Eliza, I think you can see from some of the other comments that this is a viable approach for anyone with the inclination, perseverance, and talent to learn what a book is supposed to look like and how to create one.

    Reply

    Jo Michaels (@WriteJoMichaels) June 3, 2013 at 11:03 am

    It certainly is a commodity! I’ve been able to add it to my offering of editing services and come out the other side with a bang. Clients love it! Most notably: Dark Premonitions – Second Sight, Book Three and Chasing Memories. I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on The Bird’s interior as well. I wouldn’t trade my InDesign know-how for the world. :) WRITE ON!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 3, 2013 at 11:32 am

    Once you’ve got it, it lasts a long time. Way to go, Jo.

    Reply

    Nancy Adams June 3, 2013 at 11:44 am

    I’m not sure which I’d take. I don’t have a background in design, but I’m fascinated by it and would definitely want input and a certain amount of back-and-forth. I like what James said he does with web clients, where they have some initial ideas (in his case, websites that they like), and he takes it from there. I guess that’s sort of halfway between 3 custom designs and just one. If I could look through your “castoffs,” though, rather than just taking whatever you select, I’d be more inclined to go the cheaper route.

    Thanks, as always, for the thought-provoking post.

    Reply

    Widdershins June 3, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    I write novels. If the interior of a book looks familiar to the reader, they’re happy and I’m happy. I’ll take door #1 for $600. That way I can focus on what they’re reading, not how they’re reading it.

    Reply

    Ruth Schwartz June 3, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    Joel – I am not surprised that the clients you surveyed took you up on your offer for the very reason that someone already mentioned: your reputation as a top notch book designer. You are an expert in this area, and whatever you recommended for a book interior would be awesome just because you did it.

    At the same time, I am one your avid fans that got the commercial license for one of your MSWord templates, and I am modifying it for my husband’s books, as well as my clients’ books, thanks to my skills around working with MSWord and styles. Because of the excellent job you and Tracy did setting these templates up, as well as my extensive history of working with typography and design, I am able to turn out great looking books that perhaps do not have the fine-tuning that you might provide using InDesign and your professional design skills, but still look really good, AND I can offer that service at a very competitive price, along with my expertise around the self-publishing process itself.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 4, 2013 at 10:59 am

    Hi Ruth, thanks for your kind words. So glad to hear about the great results you’re getting using out templates, it makes me feel like we are accomplishing what we set out to do for indie authors. (Readers, we’ll be featuring Ruth’s book as one of our first template case studies, so watch for it.)

    Reply

    Alicia W. B. June 3, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    I don’t think it’s a commodity.

    I believe that when authors and readers see a book that’s really poorly designed, they know it. (I saw such a book recently and dropped it like a hot potato.) There are designers out there and design programs that lay out books for cheapo prices, and some authors even lay theirs out themselves without researching the process. But your clients don’t do this because they know that interior design is NOT a commodity. A really bad design is very clearly a really bad design, in my opinion. However, I believe that once designs reach a minimal threshold of utility and attractiveness, then most authors and readers are not likely to notice a quality difference unless looking for it.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 3, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    Alicia, that’s interesting. I think you’ve put a finger on this issue:

    “Once designs reach a minimal threshold of utility and attractiveness, then most authors and readers are not likely to notice a quality difference.”

    It seems to me that’s what my clients were thinking, too.

    Reply

    aether June 4, 2013 at 4:20 am

    I would choose the one-choice option, not because it was cheaper, but because I was paying someone for their professional opinion. And that’s why you hire professionals. Not to give you more options, but to get the job done. The fact that it is cheaper is a bonus… And rather odd; I would expect to pay MORE for a professional to take control and make the final decision. So hands-down win-win situation. And a bargain.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 4, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Thanks, aether. Your comment reminded me of a lesson I learned when I had a graphic design business years ago, where we did mostly advertising and direct response design. After having communication problems with some clients, I realized in that context they didn’t want to look at choices: they were paying me to solve the problem for them, and that changed my whole business.

    Reply

    Yves Fey June 4, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    I’m an artist as well as a writer. On a budget, I might have to take the deal, but I’d prefer the options. Except that the answer is really neither. I’d be telling you I wanted… I found the cover for my book, the title font, and when we were having trouble with a font that was compact enough to both be attractive and readable and also reduce the page count of my long manuscript, I found a young font designer who designed a text font.
    Not typical!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 5, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Definitely not typical, but an interesting solution, Yves. An original typeface could also add to your branding if you use it on related books. Can you share with us a link for the young font designer? Thanks!

    Reply

    Donald J. McGill June 4, 2013 at 9:55 pm

    Seems like most comments will take the deal…
    I wonder if it’s because we are skewing towards eBooks which do not have the same look and feel as say a nice, Morocco-bound hardcover. Holding a beautifully turned out physical book is a different experience than holding a Kindle.
    That said, I have spent a lot of time and effort attempting to create a distinctive eBook interior as a branding approach. It may not seem like that big a deal, but it may help differentiate books to their fans–make them feel at home with a new book in a series.
    There is a certain practical aspect to trying to get consistent design across the various eBook platforms however. This might be where the $1,000 job can make a difference.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 5, 2013 at 11:29 am

    Donald, there have been so many ebooks that are defective or just plain don’t work that a clean, well-designed ebook would definitely stand out. And many of the disastrous ebooks came from traditional publishers who were in a rush to convert their titles and often seemed to do so without anyone even looking at the result before putting them up for sale. Good luck with your project.

    Reply

    Greg Marcus June 23, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    Joel

    Love to hear your thoughts about e-book design. Are there any levers worth pulling?

    Reply

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