What You Can Expect from Your Designer, and What Your Designer Expects from You
For many writers, the design part of book publishing is mystifying. This excerpt from the chapter “Making It Look Good: Design and Layout” in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro sheds some light on what to expect and what is expected of you when working with a designer.
What You Can Expect from Your Designer
Professional designers offer an expertise that most literary types don’t have: they know what it takes to make a book visually appealing. That includes a wide range of aspects, from choosing appropriate artwork (photo or illustration), colors, and fonts for your subject area or genre to knowing the best spacing to use on chapter- opening pages and where to place the page numbers and running heads. Further, your designer will be able to locate the correct artwork and, if you are self-publishing, may be able to help you secure licenses for using the art. For the traditionally published author, the publishing house most often takes care of licensing.
You can also expect your designer to understand good layout principles. That means knowing how to “twin” pages—that is, make sure that the tops and bottoms of facing pages align—and fix bad breaks. It also includes making adjustments to spacing, hyphenation, and justification to ensure that the last page of a chapter has enough lines of text (at least six lines is optimal; four is passable) and that there are no blank right-hand pages.
When it comes to choosing the design for your book, your designer will do his or her best to represent your ideas. It is helpful if you have specific ideas to share, rather than vague notions, but also be sure to listen to your designer if he or she is gently nudging you in a certain direction. The designer may have reasons for his or her ideas that you aren’t aware of, and, in my experience, if you don’t ask your designer’s opinion, you won’t get it. The designer will give you what you asked for, even if it isn’t his or her first choice.
If you are self-publishing, you will work directly with your designer to come up with design ideas that are appropriate for your book. Your designer will listen to your ideas and attempt to convey your vision for the book through the cover and interior designs. Although you may use a different interior designer and cover designer, or possibly a template interior and a custom cover design from your designer, you will achieve a more seamless look if the same person does both designs.
Template interiors work best with all-text books such as novels, where it is unlikely that a lot of adjustments will need to be made. Self-publishing advocate Joel Friedlander sells templates for Microsoft Word through his website (www.thebookdesigner.com), while some designers offer templates at a savings compared to a custom design.
Those working with traditional publishing houses should recall that although they have input on the cover and interior designs for their books, they very rarely get final approval. That means you can give your opinion, but you are not likely to get everything you want.
What Your Designer Expects from You
As mentioned, authors who have signed with a traditional publishing house will have little direct contact with the designer. Therefore, designers do not have many expectations from these authors specifically. Nevertheless, for all authors, a good working relationship with a designer requires a collaborative mind-set.
Designers working with self-publishers expect their clients to have an opinion about what the design should be. If you have researched the competition ahead of time, you are in great shape, as you probably already have thoughts on what you like and what you don’t. Designers are the creative minds, however, and do best with a little freedom. That is to say, if you let them, good designers will take your ideas, add a few of their own, and bring you two or three design options that look great and fit your needs. If you have not formulated your thoughts on how your book should look—for example, you have not researched the competition and therefore do not know what the conventions are for your genre—your designer will have to come up with something all on his or her own.
This may work out great, but it also may happen that although you did not know how to verbalize what you like, you did indeed have an opinion, and the designer has missed the mark. This will result in many back-and-forths that could have been eliminated if you had done some research beforehand. Conversely, if you know precisely what you want, down to the last detail, you leave your designer with no room to be creative. You may get exactly what you want, but you lose the advantage of having hired an expert, and what you want may not be what is best for the marketability of the book. Looking through other books to find the designs you like may take a bit of time, but it’s also a lot of fun. It means your idea for a book is getting closer to reality.
When it is time for layout, be organized. Your manuscript file should be clean and ready to go, and your artwork and captions should be numbered and organized. A “clean” manuscript is free of extra spaces between words or sentences, free of extra paragraph breaks, and free of extra tabs. The entire file is double-spaced and in one standard font, such as Times New Roman, Arial, or Courier New. All text is “normal”; there are no random style sheets applied via Microsoft Word. And any queries from the copyeditor have been removed, with all tracked changes accepted. If you supply your manuscript this way, the designer can focus on more important issues and you will receive your page proofs that much faster.
Like this blog? Find more advice and insights in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available through Hop On Publishing, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Left Bank Books, and other fine retailers