A recipe for successful book design

Successful book design

Nada Backovic is an award-winning book designer, graphic designer and illustrator with more than 20 years’ experience working with major publishers and self-publishers in Australia and the UK. Find out more about Nada and her work at www.nadabackovic.com.

Whilst the process, speed and experience of designing a book varies vastly from one book design to the next and of course from one designer to another, there are certain basic ingredients that go a long way to ensuring a successful book design. With the right ingredients and by following the steps below, you’ll end up with a design that works well for you and your audience.

• A book designer
• A design brief
• Research
• A selection of roughs

  1. If you are a self-publisher, don’t be tempted to design your own book cover unless you have some design experience and aptitude. An investment in a good book designer is absolutely the first step towards a book design succeeding.
  2. Establish good communication between the designer and the publisher/author by creating a clear design brief. This lays out the expectations for the outcome of the design and will ensure the smoothest path towards a successful book design. The design brief should contain practical information; the title, the author, the dimensions of the book, an agreed fee and an agreed schedule. Book designers won’t always have time to read the manuscript so it’s important that the design brief informs the designer of the tone and essence of the book. An outline or back cover blurb is useful. The brief should also be clear about who the audience for the book is. It can be a good idea to use comparative book designs from the same genre, so that designer understands how to position the book in the market.
  3. Provide helpful design starting-points from your research – just enough, and not too many. Although it’s useful for a designer to be given examples of similar books in a genre, it can be a hindrance to have preconceived ideas of what the design will end up looking like set in stone. Instead, by utilizing the readily available resources for research at our fingertips, a designer can start to build up a scrapbook of useful images and ideas to inspire and get the creative juices flowing and let the design evolve . Good places to start researching are Pinterest, Instagram, photo libraries and Google. Depending on the project in question, research in more specific online or real places might be appropriate.
  4. Work through a series of draft designs until you reach a result you’re happy with. How a book designer goes about designing a book varies from one to another, but there is one rule which should perhaps be applied all book design processes: to create and present several variations. There may be times when the rough is achieved first go, but it’s rare. A second round of roughs is usually required in order to fine tune the design based on useful and specific feedback from the publisher/author. Specific feedback means pulling out what is working from within the variations of roughs. For example, the image or colour on one rough might be working, but the typography of another would better suit the genre. From that specific feedback a good designer will bring the design together to its most perfect form.

A successful book design is ultimately subjective. Objectively however, it should look amazing, be individual and fit the genre – and if it does all these things, hopefully it will sell lots and lots of copies!