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“It started with a cover” – 10 things I’ve learnt about book design

As mentioned in my recent blog I’ve recently become involved in a project to co-author The perfect recipe for creating awesome web content. As the title suggests it’s a book about writing content for small business websites. Angela Bensemann and Iona Elwood-Smith approached me to contribute to their project. What started out as just a cover design became a larger undertaking.

While I’m experienced in document design I’ve never worked on a book before. We decided to concentrate on a physical book in an easy-to-hold size (6 x 9 inches or 152 x 229mm), an A4 downloadable PDF version and some bonus A4 PDF worksheets. Unrestricted by epub limitations of an ebook I let my creative hair down and came up with illustrated section breaks, pull-out boxes illustrated with photos and engaging worksheets.

Colourful collage illustration showing a smiling woman, cake and bird

This collage uses free stock images from Rawpixel.com and Unsplash.com

Here are ten of the conventions and elements that I came across while preparing the book for print (some details new to me!):

  1. Cover and Title Page: The title page is often the first right hand side page inside a book and shows the title, author and publisher.
  2. Copyright page: This follows the title page and includes information on the author/s, copyright, publisher, ISBN number (more on this in point 6) and can include design details.
  3. Dedication: A chance to make your mum proud!
  4. Numbering: Odd numbers are always on the right-hand page.
  5. Section heads: Not common in fiction but as this was a non-fiction “how to” title it made sense to go to town with the full colour printing and create fun collage illustrations for each section.
  6. ISBN number: This is a unique International Standard Books Number which in New Zealand is issued by the National Library for free. We found we needed to decide which formats we wanted to produce (hard copy, soft copy, epub etc) and apply within eight weeks of publication. More details are here ((https://natlib.govt.nz/forms/isn))
  7. Barcode: If you’re selling in a retail setting, you’ll need a barcode. There are various types and you’ll need your ISBN number. We took advice from our author friend, Susan Holt, and purchased an EPS file from the Label Shop which I added to the back cover design.
  8. Spine: Don’t forget the spine design. Wording usually runs from the top of the book down. The size of your spine will depend on your page count, the type of paper used, and the type of binding used. Your printer will be able to advise you. We used the handy spine calculator on the Your Books website. This also allowed us to include other measurements to calculate the final cover size of the cover artwork (including the front cover, spine and back cover).
  9. Printing specs: How your book is printed will have an impact on your book design. In our case we chose a digital full colour cover with a matt laminate (the advice was ‘it’s not a romance novel so you don’t need a gloss cover’!) while the inside uses a highspeed inkjet process. As the cost was similar we opted for colour over black and white. It was late in the day that I learnt the inkjet process has limitations compared to normal digital or offset printing. Apparently inkjet printing works better with small areas of bright colours. Not the large areas of paler shades I’d designed. Luckily, we opted for a printed proof which allowed us to check out which design elements would work or need to be tweaked to suit the printing process.
  10. Photography: A professional author photograph will help you look the business! We had a full photoshoot with Juliet Watterson Photographer so we could get some good shots of the authors for the book and also for our Collaboration Station website and social media sites. The photographer is often credited on the copyright page, next to the author photo or back page. Reference to the source of stock images used in the cover art may also be mentioned.
Head and shoulders shot of a woman smiling

Author photograph by Juliet Watterson Photographer (www.julietphotographer.co.nz)

I’ve heard it said that writing a book is only half the job, with printing, marketing and distributing being the other. There is nothing like a final printer’s proof to focus attention on the job at hand. A book, and all the jobs I’m ever involved with, will always benefit from a fresh pair of eyes to check for hidden spelling mistakes, funny spaces and any other inconsistencies. Luckily for us our helper spotted a couple of things that we were able to update before hitting the “approved, ready for print” button.

I hope these tips will help if you’re considering producing a book.