So, What’s a Book Designer, Anyway?

Here’s the scenario. You wrote a book. After much contemplation, you’ve decided that you want full control over the process and the sales, so you’re going to self-publish. It’s a picture book, and you know it needs pictures, so you have the text edited and then you hire an illustrator. After this, either one of two things might happen. One: the illustrator finishes coloring all the images and sends you an email saying he’s finished. He gives you a link to the final files, and you squeal in delight, so excited to finally see your idea as a book. To your great surprise, you find a folder full of images. Where is the text? You email the illustrator and he replies that laying out the text is not his problem, you need a designer for that.

Case number two: the illustrator sends you an email that the book is finished. You squeal, so excited to finally see your idea come together. You open the PDF and see the gorgeous illustrations all laid out in book form. But wait – why is the text sitting on top of that shadow? You can’t even read it! And hey – is that COMIC SANS?? He laid your beautiful, almost bestseller book out in COMIC SANS? You email him in a huff and he replies with the text version of a shrug. I’m an illustrator, not a designer, he says. What do you want from me?

Sounds familiar? In between the Land of Illustrating and the country of Being An Author lays the misty swamp of Book Design. What is a book designer? Why do you need one? What do they actually DO?? This part of the process is one that I find many people don’t understand. I can’t describe how many times I have had this conversation: 

Person: “Wait, so you draw the pictures?” 

Me: “No.” 

Person: “And you didn’t write the book?” 

Me: “Correct.” 

Person: “So… what did you do?”

Me: …

A book designer is a person who puts the book together. They take the pictures and words and combine them into one PDF that printers will use to print your book, or that will be used as a base for your ebook. Designers are the ones who choose the font, decide where the text will go, make sure the book flows nicely and is legible and fun, and easy to read. Designers are also responsible for designing the cover, ensuring that the title stands out, the image is appropriate for the content, the cover is attractive and attention-grabbing, and that the back cover is organized and fun. They also will double-check all the technical details needed for print, like resolution, color, and size.

What to Look For In A Designer

Because I am a designer, I have many opinions about what services designers should provide. I believe that a designer is the last step before the printer. So a designer should ideally be willing to help take your book from the loose illustrations/Word doc stage to the High-Resolution PDF/ebook/ready-to-roll stage. This means, in practical terms, that your graphic designer should do the following:

  • Set up your book for print using industry-standard software like InDesign
  • Lay out the text inside your book using professional-looking typography
  • Position the text so it doesn’t interfere with the images and is still easy to read
  • Choose fonts that are easy to read and complement the theme of the book and the feel of the illustrations
  • Determine that all the images are set up for print properly
  • Save the document with the appropriate color profiles
  • Ensure that all the specs are correct
  • Save the document for print and uploading to Amazon, IngramSpark, or another printer

These are the basic requirements of any designer you hire. In addition to this, a designer could provide the following services:

  • eBook creation
  • Art direction (helping you to communicate with the illustrator and make sure your images are professional, dynamic, thought-out, and fun)
  • Creative consulting about the book itself – comments, corrections, ideas
  • Help with the uploading and publishing process
  • Creation of extra elements you can use for promotion, like ads, 3D images, etc.

Not all designers provide both sets of services like this. Prices can range from $150 for a book design to $2,500 or more. You can ask your designer to be very clear with precisely what services they provide so you can decide if you want to use them. Be sure to ask them how many revisions are included in the price, and what happens if you come back to them after they hand over the final files with a few edits or corrections. Some designers may charge you $200 but will only include one or two rounds of changes. If they charge you $50 for every email after that, it can add up. Be sure to also clarify other details like timeframe and ownership of the final files. It can be a hassle if you are doing a sequel with a different designer than your first book and the first designer won’t release your files.

The actual graphic design process for a picture book is a topic we’ll tackle next time. For now, at least you know what to ask for. 😄

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