Book Design: EVERYTHING You Need to Know
Think book design is just about creating the perfect book cover? Think again. Just as a well-written novel relies on so many various story elements coming together just so, book design takes the various elements of a book — the words, pages, cover, spine, ink, everything — and turns it into a beautiful, cohesive unit that calls to readers and invites them in. A book needs to stand out for all the right reasons, which is why it’s important that whoever is designing the book understands what the market expects.
This is not intended to intimidate you! No matter what your level of publishing experience is, this guide to book design is for you! We will cover all the different areas of this subject, starting with…
Designing your book’s interior
Anything written for human consumption needs to be presented with readability in mind. Even this blog post has gone through rounds of formatting to ensure that you are able to flow through it as easily as possible. The same absolutely applies to a book, which is why interior book design is so important. Here are the main interior elements to keep in mind.
Concerned with the presentation of text on a page, the process of typesetting includes determining margin sizes, typeface and size for font, and the style of chapter starts — among many other things. While the very basics of these things can be tackled in a book formatting software, a professional typesetter will go above and beyond, catching and fixing technical issues such as whitespace rivers and ladders. (What the heck are those? Check out the image below).
One way to understand typesetting is to think of a phone call. A book that has been carefully typeset is like a phone call where the connection is crystal clear and the words effortlessly flow from speaker to listener. A book with haphazard typesetting is like a static-filled call where one person’s voice keeps cutting in and out.
To learn more about the art and importance of this important step of book design, check out our post that covers the ABCs of typesetting.
Does your book have a cohesive beginning, middle, and end (or a thesis, supporting arguments, and conclusion)? Great! But you’re not quite finished with your book’s structure: you still have to get its front matter, body, and back matter in order.
- Front matter typically includes author, publisher information, and copyright information. It might also include a: dedication, epigraph, epilogue, preface, foreword, or table of contents.
- The body is the bulk of the book, and its where the main content goes: the story or the non-fiction test.
- Back matter fills in any lingering information the reader might want, such as an epilogue, afterword, appendix, glossary of terms, etc.
Learn more about the parts of a book here!
And finally, onto the most often overlooked aspect of book design: trim sizes! Or, what size will your book be?
This will mostly depend on the type of book you’re publishing. For instance, the standard sizes for fiction are 4.25" x 6.87", 5" x 8", 5.25" x 8", 5.5" x 8.5", 6" x 9. While in non-fiction, it’s 5.5" x 8.5", 6" x 9", 7" x 10".
But it might also depend on your printing budget. Larger dimensions will mean fewer pages, which can decrease the cost. Check out our post to find out the printing costs of the top services for print on demand books.
Become an expert: we have an entire post dedicated to helping authors determine their book’s trim size — read it here!
Once your manuscript and interiors look sharp, you can turn your attention to your book’s #1 marketing tool: the cover!
Putting together a cover for your book
Trust us, no one has ever seen a book cover that looks iffy (with an unfamiliar author name), and decided to give it a read anyway. People expect book covers to give them a sense of the content inside, and so they do judge books by their covers.
All of this is to say that your jacket design is important. And for that reason, we wholeheartedly suggest you turn to a professional designer when you get to the design stage (more on that below). Whether you just need a nice-looking title or you want a full-on illustrated cover, you can't go wrong with a pro.
But if you’re completely set on a DIY cover, here are the five basic steps to follow:
- Decide what “look” you want to give your cover
- Choose a design software
- Find the right images for your cover
- Figure out your cover’s dimensions
- Choose the right typography for the title
For a complete explanation of these steps (and to learn two more bonus steps), check out our in-depth guide to designing a book cover. You can even download our free cover design checklist!
While you’re designing the cover, don’t forget to give due attention to the front cover’s shyer sibling! A good back cover should include:
- Compelling copy — if your cover has enticed readers, this is your chance to tell them a little more about the book. The copy might include a tagline, blurb, author bio, and testimonials.
- Striking design — this should work in tandem with the design of the front cover. When people pull it off the shelf, there's every chance they'll turn to the back first
Learn how to knock both these items out of the park in our post on getting the back of a book cover right.
We know, we know. Average book cover dimensions are hardly the most sizzling topic of discussion. Luckily, this section is short.
The dimensions of a printed book are largely determined by the trim size of the pages. If you’re publishing through a print on demand service like KDP Print, you can determine the necessary cover dimensions by adding:
- Trim width x 2 (this is your front and back cover;
- Spine width (this is calculated by your page cover and stock); and
- Bleed x 2 (this is just an extra bit of room on the sides to allow for any printing errors, the typically bleed is 0.125” or 3mm).
Check out our blog post to learn more about the standard cover dimensions based on the type of book you’re publishing.
While it’s always a good idea for indie authors to understand the various facets of self-publishing — including book design! — professional designers can help you learn even more about this particular craft without having to actually do any of the work. Not to mention it will guarantee that your book looks great.
If you’re thinking about working with a professional, read on. If you’re set on DIY’ing your cover, scroll down to the next section for tips to help you along.
Working with a professional designer
We’ve already emphasized the importance of a design in relation to a book’s success. Naturally, the best person to take care of such a significant aspect of your book is someone with experience in not only the technical design aspects, but also with the publishing industry in general. A professional designer will have the best skills to ensure your book incorporates trends and adheres to industry standards, while also standing on its own two legs. To prove this, we tested ads for books with two covers on Facebook last year: one cover with professionally designed and the other was not. The results didn’t surprise us, and you can see them for yourself here.
What types of book designers are there?
While we use the term “book designer” as a catch-all phrase, there are many types of specialized professionals: cover designers, illustrators, typographers, layout designer, and more. Learn exactly what each kind of design entails here.
What can I expect to pay a designer?
And how about the cost of working with a professional designer? On our marketplace, professional designers charge on average $650 to design a cover — however, 16% of the designers polled will often charge under $400. So there is definitely wiggle room for different budgets. Learn more about the cost of book design here.
How do I get the most out of a designer?
Once you’ve given thought to the type of designer you want to work with, you can set your sights on the creative process of bringing your book to life. This will start with the brief: the process of coming up with a direction for your book’s design with the designer.
A few tips for briefing your designer include:
- Understanding your audience ahead of time.
- Sharing your tastes and expectations.
- Being able to distill your book’s theme or thesis into just a few sentences.
- Trusting your designer’s judgement.
- Having a clear budget.
Learn more about the briefing process, here. And for even more insight on working with a professional designer — including from other fellow authors — check out these resources:
- How Professional Design Helped me Through the Wild West of Indie Publishing
- My 5 Secrets to a Successful Collaboration with a Designer
- What to Expect From Your Book Cover Designer
Of course, the best way to explain the value of working with a professional book designer isn’t to just talk about — it’s to show it.
Not everyone chooses to hire a professional for the entire design process — sometimes you’re just looking for an expert to work on the cover or get the formatting right. In which case, you will be looking to DIY other design aspects. For advice on how to do just that, read on!
DIY Book Design
Pinterest has inspired a wave of creativity from those who would never have previously considered themselves to be creative. If you’ve considered designing your own book, we can bet you’ve spent a good amount of time scrolling through beautiful covers and pinning the ones that speak the most to you.
While we always encourage working with a professional on something as important as your book design, we also understand not everyone has the budget for it! Or hey, maybe you just have a strong can-do attitude and view design as just another exciting challenge on your self-publishing journey. Whatever the case, here are a few more extra resources to help you out:
- How to Design Your Own Book Cover — a blog post that reviews both free and paid cover design software.
- 68 Book Cover Ideas That Can (and Will) Inspire Your Next Book — a blog post that explains several prominent cover design trends, including tons of examples to spark your imagination. For even more, check out post of 25 Examples of Beautifully Illustrated Books!
- How to Make a Book: Binding a Hardback in 5 Simple Steps — do you want to literally make your own book? From printing and binding, this post will take you through each step in detail.
- Book Cover Critiques — every so often, Reedsy hosts a live cover critique webinar where a professional cover designer reviews covers submitted by indie authors. It’s an incredibly educational experience for anyone planning to DIY their book design! To get an update when we host our next critique, sign up here and select “Book Design”!
- How to Format a Book — for authors writing traditional novels, formatting is one of the best areas of design to DIY. That’s because there are so many strong novel writing applications out there that will typeset and format as you go. This post will teach you exactly how to format your own book using our own free tool, the Reedsy Book Editor.
If you’d like to spend more time really familiarizing yourself with all aspects of book design, we recommend signing up for our free, online ten-day course, below.
Do you have any lingering questions about book design? Which aspects seem most challenging? Leave any questions or thoughts in the comments below, and we will continue updating this post with as answers!