When it comes to book design, the first thing on everyone’s mind is typically what the cover is going to look like, but that’s not all there is to it. Something much less talked about—and dare I say, much less considered—is what the book looks like on the inside. Some people even think that it’s not necessary to hire a designer to do it for them; rather, they’ll do it themselves after watching a few Youtube videos or doing a bit of research.
Why Not Do It Yourself?
Doing it yourself is all well and good…if you’re a first-time self-publisher and you don’t know much about book publishing yet, or you just want to publish the one book and be done with it. You might want to save money and try to DIY things, but it really brings down the quality of self-published books, and therefore the reputation of them.
You might be reading this and think that I’m just saying that so book designers (like me) can get more business, but it’s really about quality. On the side of my freelancing business, I also do free work such as ARC reading and book reviews. With both of these, the book is already designed, and both as a general reader and as a professional, I can easily pick out the books that were “home jobs”, so to speak.
So yes, it’s fine to watch a few videos about how to design a book, but there is a lot more to it than learning what do you. You also need to know why to do certain things.
With cover design, you want your book to look good. Generally, you will go to a professional, even if you know a bit of Photoshop. You may even decide to make the book cover yourself and it turns out pretty good. Hiring a professional to design your cover isn’t just about getting someone who knows how to make the cover but getting someone who knows how to make the cover sell. Now you may tell me that how the inside looks doesn’t matter as much as the cover, and I’ll agree with you. The way the inside looks isn’t as important, but it still carries weight. You could have the best book in the world right there in the words, but if the margins are too narrow, or you’ve forgotten some important pages, or even if the font you chose is too small, it won’t matter. You want your book to stand out, so why skimp on such an important step?
I can tell you now that the most common paperback book size is 5.5 x 8.5 inches. That’s because most printers use 8.5 x 11-inch paper, and publishers like that size because they don’t have to trim the edges. Less work and less waste. But there are a lot more book sizes. Just check your own shelf and count how many different sizes you see. But why are they different sizes? The same applies to margins. If you look it up, it’ll give you numbers—maybe half an inch, three-quarters of an inch, etc. depending on if it’s the top, inside, outside, or bottom margins. Then you have to decide what kind of font you want. For printed books, serif fonts (seen below) are best because they’re easier on the eyes. [However, sans serif fonts are better for people with dyslexia, children, and seniors—all for different reasons.] What font are you going to choose? Times New Roman is the default, but it’s basic; it’s boring. Then you might want to use a fancier font to make your book look different, but what if you choose a font that’s too hard to read? What if it’s too small in at 12 pts (the most common font size for a book)? And that’s just the basics. Far more goes into designing a book than that, but I’ll stop here so it doesn’t scare you. That’s not what I’m trying to do.
I am trying to impress the importance of this to you. The mistakes I see from books designed DIY are so obvious to me, and while as a professional I can tell exactly what the issue is and how to fix it, the average reader won’t. They’ll just see that something is wrong, and it will bother them even more because they don’t know what it is. To explain, I’m going to use an analogy that was given to me back in school:
You’re watching someone giving an important speech. This person is wearing a full three-piece suit—it’s that important. But it’s also a hot day, so they decided to wear a short sleeve shirt underneath. From the outside, everything looks normal to you, but something is off. What is it? You may never find out, but I’ll explain the problem. You can see their hands, and because they’re wearing a short sleeve shirt, there are no sleeve cuffs coming out of their jacket. When someone wears a suit, you expect it; it’s always there, but when it’s not, you notice. This causes the tip-of-the-tongue discomfort that you just can’t quite explain, and this happens when there is an issue with your book design that is subtle at first glance but entirely a problem.
Makes sense? I hope so.
How Does It Work?
Part 1: The Design
Interior book design is charged in two parts: the design itself, and the typesetting (inputting the text into the book and putting it all together). The design is something that the designer either works with the author about or works on alone. It starts with the largest detail (what size will it be?) and works all the way down to the finer points (what ornaments will you be using?). This is the process of figuring out what the book will look like before even putting it together. The designer will make a template, and this book (and any future books of the series) will be made from that template. Designs are usually customized based on your specific books, but all publishing houses and designers have a house style sheet that they’ll typically follow.
[A style sheet is a document that discusses the style of the design as well as the custom dictionary and other content of the text.]
Depending on the genre, tone, and theme of your book, the design will be different. Darker books will be designed with an edgier style in mind; more light-hearted or hopeful books will be designed on the opposite side of the spectrum. Believe it or not, musical scales tie a lot into the size, shape, and flow of a book as well, especially the margins. Whether your book is classical or modern/contemporary will also have an effect. A science fiction novel set in the future will almost always use a sans serif titling font, whereas medieval fantasy or fantastical novels use a fancier serif font for titles—not just on the front but for chapter titles, running heads, and more. That leads us into the second part of interior book design, the work itself.
Part 2: Typesetting
This takes place after the design has been finalized, and it is charged based on the number of pages that the designer needs to set. Some designers may charge based on word count or even the number of pages of the manuscript in MS Word (or another software). More often, though, it depends on the number of pages in the finished book. Your book may only be 200 pages in Word, but if the book turns out to be 500 pages, the price is 500 multiplied by the cost. This is because while they can input the whole document straight into a design software, the designer needs to go through every single page to check for inconsistencies, widows, orphans, symbols, breaks, spacing, and more.
Furthermore, a book is rarely (if ever) designed all in one document. It’s typically separated into each chapter, and those chapters are each a document that is put together into a book format. (This is especially important for eBooks so that the Table of Contents and other links will work correctly.)
What Does It Cost?
The cost of the design, as mentioned above, it charged in two parts, though the overall cost depends on four different factors: the Complexity, the Format, the Length, and the Designer’s Experience.
An easier book such as a novel, which is purely text, is the easiest to format and thus is the cheapest option. Textbooks or books with footnotes, tables, sidebars, or other additions are more expensive. There are also coffee table books, such as cookbooks or otherwise with a mix of text and images, and Children’s books to consider.
The format of the book might be print or eBook, which are very different. If you’re asking a designer for both, they have to make separate files, and thus these are charged separately.
The manuscript length plays a role because not only do they have to make a design that works, but it also takes longer to format. Some designers may charge by the hour because of this.
And finally, the designer’s experience. A newer designer may have gone through their university courses and graduated, but they don’t have the hands-on experience that a designer working for 20 years does. As such, the long-time designer will have more insight into what designs work and what don’t. Something they do with the design might just be the difference between great and outstanding, but they will also be far more expensive than someone just starting out.
So, as mentioned above, interior design or formatting, as it’s also called, is typically charged for the design and the typesetting. But different designers may do things differently. It’s rare, but I think it’s worth mentioning. For some, it doesn’t matter how long the book is—they have a flat rate for design. There may be a flat rate in categories (30,000-word book, 50,000-word book, 80,000-word book, etc.). They may even charge hourly. Whatever your designer does, you’ll know ahead of time, and it’s usually fairly simple to guess how much it will cost. If you’re unsure, you can always ask for a free quote about how much it’s going to cost.
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