Updated: Aug 19, 2021
Prior to this journey, I did not know that book design was a profession. I had simply never heard of it before. Because I have now hired a book designer for The Train Rolls On, I thought it might be helpful to explain the book designer’s role in the publishing process to anyone else who isn’t exactly sure what they do. I’ll also explain why I chose to hire a book designer for this particular project.
What Is A Book Designer?
A book designer gathers a book’s elements (its pages, text, illustrations, front cover, spine, back cover, dust-jacket, etc.) into a cohesive, eye-catching package that draws readers in. They keep publishing industry standards, target audience expectations, and current design trends in mind while striving to create fresh designs that highlight the unique spirit of each book. Their ultimate goal is to optimize the readability of a book and to create a professional aesthetic that conforms to the standards of a particular genre but still stands out among the crowd.
So...What Exactly Does A Book Designer Do?
A book designer helps determine the size of a book’s pages. This is a surprisingly important consideration, as it can greatly impact other design elements (such as page count or word count per page), a book’s printing cost and marketability, and a reader’s overall experience.
Typography and Typesetting
Typography is the technique of arranging text so that it’s readable and appealing to the eye, whereas typesetting is the process of setting text onto a page and determining its final presentation. Typography and typesetting considerations greatly affect the readability of a book and include selecting an appropriate typeface (Arial, Times New Roman, etc.), font (bold, italic, etc.), text size, and text hierarchy as well as determining factors like margin size, line length, line-spacing, and character-spacing. If designed well, these elements shouldn’t be noticed by a reader at all. If poorly designed, however, they can distract a reader and detract from their reading experience.
Front and Back Matter
Front matter refers to any information that is presented before the beginning of a book. It can include author or publisher information, copyright information, a title page, a dedication page, a prologue, a foreword, and/or a table of contents. In contrast, back matter is any information that is presented after the end of a book, such as an epilogue, afterword, appendix, index, or glossary. A book designer collaborates, formats, and designs applicable front and back matter so as to support the overall look and feel of a book.
As a book’s #1 marketing asset, the front cover can single-handedly make or break a book’s success. After all, people really DO judge books by their covers. For picture books, the front cover is a delicate balance of text and illustrations that must quickly and accurately communicate the content and tone of a book in order to attract the right readers. (This holds true whether someone is handling a printed book or viewing a thumbnail image of the book’s cover on their computer screen or phone.) A book designer knows how to achieve this balance and create a striking front cover and can, therefore, significantly improve the overall appearance and marketability of a book.
A book’s back cover can also play an important role in enticing readers to look inside. Depending on the genre, a back cover can include an attention-grabbing tagline, a description of the book’s plot and themes, positive testimonials or reviews, and/or a picture or illustration from the book. A book designer collaborates, formats, and designs the relevant elements to create an aesthetic that is consistent with (and as visually stunning as) the front cover.
Spine & Dust-Jacket
A book’s spine is an integral part of its overall design. Because books are often arranged on shelves so that only their spines are visible, the spine must be readable as well as eye-catching. The same goes for the dust-jacket. If present, a dust-jacket should complement a book’s front and back covers and draw readers in just as those covers normally would. A book designer ensures that both the spine and dust-jacket fulfill these roles.
Once a picture book has been illustrated and designed, a self-publisher can upload it to various e-book retailers and/or print-on-demand services.
For e-books, this can require two different types of files: a KPF file (formerly a mobi file) that is used exclusively by Amazon’s Kindle Store and an EPUB file, which is the industry standard and is compatible with all other e-book retailers (Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc.).
For printed books, uploading files to print-on-demand services requires one print-ready PDF file containing the front cover, spine, and back cover of the book and a second print-ready PDF file containing the book’s interior content and formatting. Print-ready PDFs are much larger files than regular PDFs, contain complex design elements, and require specialized software to prepare. In addition, print-ready PDF files must be uploaded at the correct resolution and with the correct color system in order to avoid printing errors. A book designer can help to prepare these files so as to prevent costly mistakes.
Wow! A Book Designer Does All That?
As you can see, a book designer is responsible for making many decisions regarding a book’s final presentation. Some decisions are immediately obvious to a reader, while others shouldn’t be noticed by them at all. Some decisions are primarily artistic, while others are more technical or logistical in nature. They all, however, affect the readability of a book and a reader’s overall experience.
Why I Hired A Book Designer
When I started this journey, I didn’t know that there were standard fonts for each book genre, and I hadn’t even considered where to put the copyright information, how to create a dust-jacket, or what file types would be necessary to sell the book on different retailers' websites. Once I began reading about the various elements of book design, I quickly realized how beneficial it would be to have someone walk me through the design process with this first book. By hiring a professional book designer, I am hoping to learn about the design decision-making process and to elevate the book beyond what I could currently create alone. In the end, I am confident that it will save me a ton of time and many, many headaches as I make my way through this process.
To meet the book designer for The Train Rolls On, read my Book Designer Spotlight blog here. To learn more about how I intend to pay for the designer's services, read my Kickstarter Basics blog here. To meet the book's illustrator, check out my Illustrator Spotlight blog here.