What is book design like when you choose to self-publish your work? Mathias Lord of Hewer Text fills us in.
Book design is something readers appreciate but usually don’t notice. However, if you are a self-publisher, it is crucial to know about book design. What is it, and what are the main differences between book design in traditional publishing and self-publishing?
What is book design?
Today the term usually refers to both cover design and typesetting. In short, the former consists of everything on the outside of the book; the latter everything between the covers.
Seen from a marketing perspective, cover design is supposed to grab your attention, whilst typesetting is meant to be invisible, insofar as it allows the text to communicate clearly and without interruption.
Cover design involves creating the picture or illustration, the word art (title, author name etc), and placing various other information (like quotes and blurbs). It’s the initial pitch that makes the casual browser open or buy a book.
Typesetting is less artistic but more complex. It deals with everything from the broader layout and presentation to specifics such as fonts and line spacing. This is all about making the text flow, look professional and comply with industry standards. There are many formatting rules and details in publishing, and self-publishers will benefit from understanding them.
Readers and writers often think they can do typesetting themselves, but it is a bit like saying that because you’ve ordered the same drink hundreds of times, you can recreate it yourself. (If you do, it may not taste very good!).
Traditional VS Self-Publishing
So how do these processes differ in self-publishing? In essence, the author has more control. The execution is similar, the quality exactly the same, but it’s the author who calls the shots.
It usually happens like this:
The designer and typesetter are given a brief by the author, either specifying what they desire or simply throwing a few ideas and images at them (like which books they like and want theirs to emulate).
Once they have a draft, the author receives this and gives feedback. The number of editing sessions varies, depending on how specific the author has been, and how much they are willing to spend on the services.
Self-publishing is fast. You can have a draft illustration within weeks, and the feedback and edits can be completed quickly and directly.
Why is it so fast?
Think of it like this: when a traditional publisher commissions a designer or typesetter, the drafts have to be run by several departments, who all have multiple book projects to juggle, and differing opinions about how the book should look. This interdepartmental coordination is time-consuming and often side-steps the author. In self-publishing, however, the author is the boss and the customer.
“With great power comes great responsibility”
Although this control is mostly positive, it does come with challenges. The author cannot just sit back and enjoy the ride. They need to stay focused. Neither should they try to dictate every minuscule aspect of the book. This will delay the entire project and does not usually result in a better product.
Because there is so much to coordinate and finish before the book is published, it is wise to make a time schedule and stick to it. Limiting the amount of feedback and editing sessions with the designers will save authors a lot of time and money without reducing the quality of the end product. Ask yourself: is this important? Can it wait and be delivered with other feedback?
Don’t try to bite over too much. As a self-publishing author, you have control but also responsibility. Writers should go into the self-publishing process with a plan but also an open mind. Designers and typesetters are patient, helpful and professional but work much better with an organised author.
Mathias is the self-publishing director at Hewer Text (HT-Publishing). He is in charge of coordinating self-publishing projects and consulting with authors. Follow him at @hewertext or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.