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6 Book Design Tips to Get You Started

Open page spread of Gregory Maguire's book Wicked.
Interior pages of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked

Your finished book is the culmination of months or years of hard work made manifest in paper or pixels. You want it to look as compelling as the story it tells and as readable as the language you chose to tell it in. Not only do you want to feel the rush of holding it in your own hands, you want your readers to feel like they, too, are holding their future favorite book.

Here are six book design guidelines to help you decide what formats you need and how to get the best version of each.

• If you are trying to publish your book traditionally, you don’t need to read this. Your publisher will take care of cover and interior design (your input may vary).

• If you are planning to self-publish, you are going to need, at a minimum, a professionally designed book cover and an e-book file. Yup, that’s really it. Those two files will allow you to sell your story through Amazon, IngramSpark, Smashwords, or any other e-book distributor.

E-book files are dependent on where you are distributing them. Amazon requires a MOBI file for Kindle, and most everywhere else (Nook, iBook, Kobo, etc.) wants ePub files (check your specific distributor’s guidelines). Books with images that need to stay with specific text work better as a PDF.

• PDFs can be used in two ways: e-books that do not “flow” (meaning readers cannot change the size or font of the text within their devices) or files to be used to produce bound print copies.

• Designing an e-book is possible even if you don’t know anything about graphic design and you really have to save some cash (hopefully for that professional-looking book cover you’ll be needing). You can use tools like Scrivener or Vellum (Mac only) to produce an e-book. They both allow for some design elements like drop caps, but generally, e-books are on the plain side because different reading devices offer different customization options that negate many choices a designer makes.

• Hard copies, or Print on Demand (POD) books, benefit from being designed by a professional—especially if you have interior illustrations or graphics. Not to say that you can’t use programs to do it yourself; you can (Scrivener or Vellum are sufficient for this as well). But professional interior book designers can do the mundane to the sublime. They make sure your margins work with your trim size and page count, but they can also create elements that join your cover, your genre, and the tone of your story to make reading more like a feast for the whole brain.

Mr. Bean loves a good book, too!
Bonus tip:

Keep a file or Pinterest board of the books you think are designed well. It helps you communicate with your designer about what you’d like for your own book. Obviously, it’s not cool to copy a design exactly, but you can look at a style of font (serif, san-serif, slab, display), running headers or footers, chapter headers (numbers or words or both!), and where you might want some design elements (like section or chapter breaks).

Need an experienced designer to help you create a stunning look to match your compelling story? Contact me today to chat about your book design needs.

In the comments below, tell me about the most beautiful book you own and what makes it so special.

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