How to Work with your Book Designer

Guest Post by Irene Watson

Many authors have plans for how they want their books to look, but just as too many cooks in the kitchen can ruin a meal, so too much detail and an author’s attempts to micromanage the process can create confusion in designing a book.

When authors finish their books, they may have ideas for how they want their books to look; however, too often authors either over-communicate with their book designers, or they fail to communicate clearly. Here are some tips for preparing your manuscript so it is ready to go to your book design/layout person without your driving him or her crazy.

Rewriting Before, Not After, Layout

Do not send your book to your book designer until you are absolutely sure it is finished. You should not be rewriting anything once your layout person has the book in his hands. Nothing is worse than trying to correct a book already laid out because the programs used for layout, such as InDesign, are not as flexible as writing software programs like Word, and rewriting a paragraph or adding or subtracting text can result in photographs moving, or mess up the text from widows and orphans on pages to a piece of text accidentally hiding itself. Furthermore, every change made after the book is laid out is an error waiting to happen that might be missed before the book is printed. Only the most minor changes are permissible once the book is laid out so make sure you submit your very best writing to the layout person.

Fonts and Good Writing:

Too many authors try to emphasize their points by using special fonts and sizes. Beyond just overusing italics, underlining and bold, they also use special fonts and font sizes for titles and subtitles.

If you are a GOOD writer you do not “need” to over-emphasize the KEY words in your book.

For one thing, all those italics, different fonts, bold and underlined words are a distraction and make the book not only visually unappealing, but difficult to read. Furthermore, they distract the reader from your content and meaning. In short, they are almost never necessary. I cannot tell you how many books I have seen where everything with dashes around it is in italics, or there are quotation marks around words ad nauseam. Trust me, save the fancy fonts and italics for when you really need to emphasize something. That doesn’t mean the one word in a sentence or the one sentence in a paragraph. It means the one word or phrase in a chapter—yes, a chapter, and even that is pushing it. More emphasis than that will just irritate your reader—in fact, it sometimes will make your reader feel like you are hammering your point to death because you think your reader is not smart enough to understand what you are saying. More likely, if you feel you need to hammer your point home, you need to make your point clearer.

Fonts, bold words, and italics are never a substitute for good writing. If you can’t get your point across with good writing, you won’t succeed through overemphasis and fancy fonts.

Titles, Subtitles and Sub-subtitles

If you’re writing a novel, you probably only have chapter titles and perhaps the occasional scene shift. However, you must make it clear in your manuscript where one part ends and the next begins. That doesn’t mean going crazy with the fonts or sizes, making the section titles Algerian 18, the chapter titles Garamond 16, the subtitles New Times Roman 14, and the dates on the stories within the stories Arial 12. The best thing to do is simply to use New Times Roman 12, and where necessary, center a title and leave a space between it. For a new scene, insert an asterisk * between the old and new scenes so the layout person knows a break will go there. Using all those fancy fonts ultimately just is more work for your layout person who will end up having to change them anyway. The more work you give your designer, the more he’ll probably charge you as well.

In non-fiction books, the layout can be more complicated as you may have many points to make with sections and subsections and even charts and graphs to include. The best advice is to lay everything out simply. You may want to number titles or subtitles like in an outline. For accuracy, submit a Table of Contents with your manuscript to your layout person to reference. In the Table of Contents, include all the chapter titles and subtitles so they are clear and so your layout person can find them. For example, you might create a Table of Contents that looks like this:

Part I: Why Am I Fat?

            Chapter 1: My Family is Fat

                        Food is Love

                        Eat Everything on Your Plate

                        You’re Fat Like Your Mother

            Chapter 2: I Eat When I’m Depressed

                        The Vicious Cycle of Dieting

                        Finding Substitutes to Cheer Us Up

Part II: Diet and Exercise

Remember, your layout person is not going to read your book, just lay it out, so make things clear for him.


Be sure you have all your images collected before you start the book layout. That includes making sure you have permission to use them. Few things are more frustrating for a layout person than to be told the images are coming and not to know where they will be placed in the book.

When you submit the manuscript, insert, perhaps in red on a separate line, something clear such as “Insert photo of Annie Oakley here.” Make sure your images are also clearly labeled—for example, name the Annie Oakley jpeg “Annie Oakley” not “SH_83739” which might be the item name of the museum you got it from. If you only have a few images, naming the images is a good idea. If you are doing a book with numerous images, you may simply want to number them 1-100 and then insert in the text directions such as “Photo 27 goes here.”

Be sure to ask your layout person how the images need to be submitted and in what format—jpegs, tiffs, etc., and what dpi (resolution)? Images downloaded from the Internet will not usually have a good enough resolution to be reproduced on paper in a book—and don’t forget they are usually copyrighted.

Be Open to Suggestions

Before you choose a book designer, be sure to get recommendations from other authors. You might ask for samples of the designer’s work. Discuss your book with the designer and see what he recommends and what ideas he has for its design to make sure you are both “on the same page.”

Book designers have generally been doing their jobs for a long time. They will have reasons why they choose certain fonts, type sizes, or margins for your book, primarily so the book will be appealing visually and also accessible to your readers. Convey your ideas to your designer, but do not micromanage the process.

Ask the book designer to layout just a few pages so you can see them and approve the font, size, and headers. Then once you like the look of the book, let the book designer do his or her job. Wait until you see the proofs and then you can make whatever small adjustments necessary.

By following these simple common sense guidelines, you’ll end up with a beautiful book that will meet or exceed your expectations. Not only will you and your book designer both still be on speaking terms, but you can both be proud of the end result.

Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.


Posted on October 14, 2010, in Publicity & Writing, Writing & Publishing. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Designers are quite difficult to work with sometimes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: