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Book Designer, Book Shepherd, Book Doctor or Book Producer: Which One Do You Need?

by | Dec 8, 2010

Someone asked me recently why I call myself a book designer.

“What do you mean,” I said. “I design books, don’t I? What else should I call myself?”

“But you don’t just design books, Joel,” was the reply. “Look at all the other things you do for people who want to publish a book.”

And you know, it was true.

The World of Publishing Consultants

It also got me thinking about the consultants who are hired by authors to aid them in their publishing journey. Each of these occupations is a bit different, and each has a slightly different slant on the service they provide.

Because their titles aren’t fixed by any licensing body, the roles each plays are loosely defined, with lots of overlap. In the interest of consumer education, I thought it would be a service to give you my own take on these roles and how they differ.

  • Book Designer—As the name implies, a designer is a skilled graphic artist who specializes in book design. Because design is linked to the way the book will be printed, book designers can also deal with book production, the physical manufacture of the finished volumes. Designers also deal with marketing issues, since book covers are crucial parts of the positioning and marketing of books. Designers may be hired just to perform the cover design, or the interior design, or they may be given an entire project to coordinate.
  • Book Shepherd—An experienced guide who will help authors through publication. Shepherds may do some of the work on the book themselves, or may hire out parts of the project. They will help directly or indirectly with the author’s needs for design, editing, marketing, forms filing, print brokering, distribution and publicity.
  • Book Doctor—This is actually a completely separate role, since a book doctor is an editor, usually called in by a publisher or other party to help “rescue” a manuscript that is otherwise publishable.
  • Book Producer—This is the term I used for many years, although I finally abandoned it. It seemed that my actual role in getting a book to press was something like a producer, or perhaps a general contractor. Hiring illustrators, indexers, editors, proofreaders and layout artists is common for the books I produce. Why did I give up on it? No one else was using it, and I constantly had to explain what I meant.
  • Book Packager—This is the bonus round. A packager is, like the book doctor, not a consultant to authors at all, but someone who acts as a liaison between a publisher and all the writers, editors and printers needed to produce a book. They act as agents, editors and publishers, and often are responsible for developing illustrated books that are complex and expensive to produce.

Which One Do You Need?

You’ll notice that there’s a lot of overlap among the designers, shepherds and producers. This is understandable, since authors need to go through the same types of processes to publish.

But they all have the same rationale: to help authors who don’t know the publishing business and its idiosyncracies navigate the sometimes rocky journey getting into print.

As Judith Briles, an author and long-time publishing guide, puts it on her and Katherine Carol’s website, The Book Shepherd:

You need experienced shepherds and guides to partner with you as you create, strategize, develop, publish and achieve your publishing goals. You can’t do it alone without paying the price . . . you can spend your money creating a book that turns out to be so-so; or you can create a book that looks and feels classy, builds your brand and is a financial success.

And that’s what savvy authors are looking for: the expert guidance necessary to make the most of their publishing opportunity; the experience to know when an author is planning a book that simply won’t work; and the insight to help clarify the author’s plans and make her dreams a practical reality.

Whatever you want to call us.

Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, original work copyright by phing, https://www.flickr.com/photos/phing/2096273707/

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