Designing Books

The title refers to two types of book designing:

  • Book Interiors
  • Book Covers

Book Interiors

The design and layout of a book is both art and practicality. It’s important that art is pleasing, but it should not get in the way of a designer’s mission. I’m sure most of us have seen books where the design became so complex or even jarring that it became distracting. Better that the art be plain but subtly supportive. If the book is a military thriller about snipers, it would be appropriate to use a small rifle scope’s crosshairs as a text break or as a small decorative by the page number. A fantasy based in Olde England might be well served with a celtic decorative capital letter for a drop cap. This is what I mean when I say supportive of the book’s theme.

The selection of fonts must balance and make sense, with none over-riding the others for attention. Most importantly is their practical importance of enhancing readability while subtlety supporting the book’s theme. Font selection also has direct impact on page count, and therefore, production affordability. When I work with a client, I see the decisions about all these elements and more parts of an iterative process. Design suggestions go back and forth with the client involved at every step for his education and acknowledgement that she is the boss who has to live with the resulting product. A designer should never attempt to force a design without giving good reasons.

Book Cover Design

First, let me acknowledge to the world I am no artist or illustrator. Instead, I am a book retailer , an author, a publisher, and a book reviewer. Last year, I was one of three judges of fiction book cover judges for the Ben Franklin Awards. In other years, I have also judged the writing in general fiction and mystery/thriller categories. What has been gratifying is that in every case and every category, the three judges all picked at least 2 of the top 3 choices in the blind with no knowledge of or communication among one another. What that says is, the cream will rise to the top. That is certainly the case for book cover designs.

Here is where I have to put on my retailer hat. The next time you’re in a bookstore, watch the shoppers. See what catches their eyes. Observe what draws them to pick out a book from the shelf (even those with only their spines showing). How far away were they? What didn’t they pick up? This is all about marketability. In an earlier blog I talked about getting seen above the grass. That is what takes place literally.

Color and graphics and treatment of fonts matter. This is definitely the realm of the artist; however, that person must be both excellent at her craft and understand how to portray the book’s theme visually. Recently, vampires are all the rage. That’s a very dark theme! Unfortunately, the covers end up being very dark, if not black, as well. The next time you’re in that bookstore, notice how much alike they all look. Is that being seen above the grass? Nope! What if on that black background there was a profusion of yellows and oranges (flames of hell perhaps)? What if the evil vampire has a purple cloak with gold ornaments and the threatened heroine is dressed in virginal white? Wouldn’t that be more eye catching and distinctive. Could someone see that from 10 feet away and find it more enticing to one’s curiosity apart from the other vampire books surrounding it?

Bright, varied colors work well, and so do light backgrounds with simple designs. Whatever the genre, your design needs to be somewhat different from other books that may physically surround it on the shelf.

Again, I am not a cover designer. I job that task out to illustrators to whom I have given the above lesson. That has worked well for us. I stand in awe of visually oriented talented people. I’m a writer and a musician, but I’m also a communicator. All these elements have to play together for successful book presentation, marketing, readability, and putting the readers in the right frame of mind. Help them escape into the magic of the book!

This is a cross-posting from Bob Spear’s Book Trends blog.