It’s astonishing how many of today’s authors have tackled their own book design.
As a professional book designer, I can assure you that until just a few years ago, there was very little interest in the design of books among authors in general.
And let’s face it, book design is a narrow specialty in graphic arts, and one without a lot of opportunity for fame and fortune. Book designers have mostly been quiet people who work in the background, practicing a craft that seems to work best when it’s noticed by the fewest readers.
Everybody’s Got the Tools, Right?
By the time “desktop publishing” became a reality, many people found themselves with all the tools you might need to create a book, or at least the semblance of one.
Word processors, lists of fonts that came with your PC, printers who accept reproduction-quality PDF files, and print on demand technology that eliminated most of the financial risk of publishing, all played a role in the democratization of publishing.
Now, anyone can do it.
When I give talks about book design or cover design, I always start off telling people that I’m not going to be able to teach them book design in 45 minutes.
But then I got to thinking: How would I teach book design, if I really had all the time it takes?
Books look deceptively simple. Behind the rows of plain text lie lots of conventions, expectations, legal notices, and the realities of physical book production to consider.
So I sat down to see if I could put together the outline of a curriculum on book design. Here’s what I came up with, and I’d love to hear what you think. Have I left something out? Let me know in the comments.
12 Steps to Book Design Mastery
- What is Book Design?—There are good reasons to know something about the evolution of the book, the history of typography, and the deep roots that printed books have our cultures.
- Book Production and Book Design—Books can be printed and bound in many ways, and understanding practical book production is essential to good book design.
- Book construction—Each part of the book has its role to play and its assigned place in the whole. This is a blueprint to book construction.
- Fonts for text—There’s no bigger decision a designer makes than selecting the fonts that will be used for the book’s text.
- Fonts for display—Most books use a combination of two typefaces to create a dynamic and readable interior. Knowing how to choose and combine typefaces is critical for the designer.
- Architecture of the book page—When a manuscript is turned into a book, there are many elements that have to come into balance on the page. Building pages and spreads is at the heart of book design.
- Non-text book elements—Every book incorporates elements that are outside the text itself, like notes, bibliographies, part- and chapter-opening pages, captions, sidebars, pull-quotes, and others. Each has to blend well with the rest of the book, and stand out when necessary.
- Designing simple books—Putting it all into practice, starting with the simplest books; novels, memoirs, essays, and narrative nonfiction.
- Designing nonfiction—Adding structure and hierarchy makes the designer’s job more challenging, as does adding more book elements and complexity to your projects.
- Designing illustrated books—Book design emerges from the background to play a more visible role in the design of art, photography, and other heavily illustrated books.
- Cover design basics—It’s hard to overestimate the importance of an effective book cover in today’s crowded market. Your cover has a lot of work to do, and needs to be put together properly.
- Cover design for success—Cover design doesn’t stop with the basics, that’s where it starts. When you introduce marketing intelligence to your design, you have a winning combination.
So that’s my outline. It’s a first pass, but an attempt to be comprehensive, too. I know that each of these 12 steps are critical to really mastering book design.
“Book design–a craft that works best when it’s noticed the least”—Click to tweet
Let me know what you think in the comments.