What Indie Authors Need to Know About Book Design
As an indie author, you’ll know you’re not just a writer. You’ve got to handle all sides of designing, producing, and marketing your book yourself — which is why you need to understand the basics of exterior and interior book design.
In an ideal world, readers wouldn’t care about what’s on the cover of your book, or how your text is formatted; they’d concentrate exclusively on the prose. But book appearance does matter because it can act as a magnet for new readers. That’s not to say that a beautiful book without substance would succeed on the basis of appearance alone. Still, if you’ve written a great book and paid little attention to the design, you may be doing yourself a disservice.
As manager of your own author brand, there are two sides to book design you need to be aware of. We’ll start with the first thing readers will see: your book cover design.
Your cover is super important! It doesn’t just make your book aesthetically pleasing — it contains a lot of implicit but crucial information about what kind of story a reader can expect.
Ideally, you want your cover to clearly communicate your genre. This can be done through typography (like a serif/sans serif font or hand-drawn lettering by a professional), the cover art itself, and the “copy” on the cover — in other words, the promotional blurbs.
To test the effectiveness of your cover, you can show it to acquaintances who don’t know what the book is about and ask them to take an honest guess about the genre and story. They don’t have to pick up on every single detail. But if you’ve written a romance novel and they think it’s a crime thriller, you’ll know you need to make some serious cover adjustments.
The best place to start brainstorming about cover design is, of course, the Internet. Look up authors writing in your genre and take some notes about the appearance of their covers — you’re trying to appeal to the same audience, so you can take inspiration from how another professional has attracted readers. Depending on whether you’re planning to sell print copies of your book or ebooks only, you’ll also need to look into the different dimensions demanded by your chosen format.
No matter which decisions you make, remember to aim for a balance between a sparse and a hectically busy cover. Not every bit of blank space has to be filled. Similarly, unless you’re going for a purposefully minimalist look, your cover should include something beyond the title and your name.
I know, design concerns are a lot to take in. If you can afford to, the best thing you can do is consult or hire a professional designer, who will ensure that your book looks professional enough to compete with well-established authors. (They’ll also take charge of various important practical matters, e.g. the cover’s file format and resolution, as well as color requirements for printing).
Finally, remember that the exterior of your book isn’t just the front cover: you’ll have to factor in the spine and back of the book as well. The back cover is an excellent place to curate reviews along with a quick synopsis. This shouldn’t give too much away, and its tone should reflect that of your story. You’re a writer, so use your craft to make this copy pitch-perfect!
Of course, it’s not all about the cover. Book design, when done well, should maintain a consistent level of professionalism on both the outside and the inside of your book.
Make sure nothing distracts your reader from the words on the page. Unlike on the cover, the focus with your interior designer falls on the text itself. You don’t want your audience to be squinting at a loopy Monotype Corsiva font, or wondering why there’s so much empty space between words.
To achieve that, you’ll want a clean font and a professional-level typesetting software (something better than Microsoft Word) to ensure that your font, spacing, margins and pagination are all flawlessly in place. A professional typesetter can also help with this, but for most authors, research and a solid piece of DIY software will suffice — and if you only have the budget for a pro cover designer or a pro interior designer, you should choose the former.
There’s nothing more satisfying than holding a flawlessly designed book and knowing that your hard work paid off. Now that you understand book design a little better, your project will open up to so many new possibilities! Assuming you’re finished editing the prose, your next focus in the process of publishing your book should be marketing it to the best of your abilities. Do that, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a successful author in no time!
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