Why is Professional Book Design So Misunderstood?

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1106 Design

May 07, 2010

When aspiring publishers search the web to begin their education in the complex field of book design, they will find an astonishing amount of information. The problem is, most of it is downright wrong.

“Do-it-yourself” book layout and book cover design advice and software packages abound. You’ll be told it’s OK to lay out your book in Microsoft Word. (It’s not.) You’ll be told that all you need to do is buy a software package, and for about $100 you will be able to create book covers that are as good as those produced by pros. (Not even close!) You’ll be told that there’s no need to hire an evil book designer who will take advantage of you and charge you thousands of dollars to design your book when you can do it yourself for free. (Which means that the millions of clients who use book designers on a regular basis are all fools, right?)

The problem is, most of this bad advice and these products are offered by people who have never designed a book or been trained in the principles of cover design and typography. They may have good intentions, but they just don’t know what they don’t know. Or they do know, but they have no problem misleading you to make money.

Here’s a bit of truth: If you have written a memoir and you only want a few bound books for your friends and family, then go ahead and follow their advice. It’s the cheapest way to proceed. But if your goals are more serious, and you want a good-looking book to promote your business or you want your book to be accepted by the public, then your book design must adhere to the publishing standards that reviewers, distributors, retailers…and the public…demand, and that requires a very different approach.

Most people think that laying out a book is as simple as can be. Just open Word or a page layout application, set the margins, choose a typeface, and presto, it’s done, right? Nothing could be further from the truth.

Designers must follow scores of design, typesetting and page composition rules in the course of creating a book. Attending to these details is time-consuming and sometimes tedious work, but the result is a book that will capture a buyer’s attention and convince him or her to spend money. A book that is easy on the eyes, and text that allows the reader to better comprehend your message. Isn’t that the whole point of writing a book in the first place?

I’ll soon write a series of posts that explain what book designers do, so that the professional way to lay out a book will have at least a small chance of coming up in search engine results. These posts are not meant to be a “how-to” course, though I suppose some of you will use them in just that way. But I really hope you’ll think twice about that. Successful book design isn’t only about what designers do. It’s about what we don’t do, and about what we know and how we came to know it. It’s about the decisions we make moment by moment as we process your cover and text, and about how our experience informs our decisions. An eye-catching and beautiful book is never achieved by following a recipe. It’s about creativity. And creativity is what grabs the buyers attention and leads to a sale.

Stay tuned…

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