How to Make a Book Step 4: Book Design

In this eight-part series, I’ll walk you through the creation of a book using the next release from Practical Fox as an example. As I do the steps to make Life Among the Paiutes, I’ll write about it! You can start with Step 1.

If you are traditionally published, all of the book design will be done by your publisher. You need not worry overmuch about serif sizes and drop caps.

If you’re publishing the book yourself, you are responsible for the design. You can either learn how to do it yourself, hire a freelance professional to do it for you, or use a basic uploader to create an ebook.

Easy-Peasy Ebook Design

If your goal is to simply say “I have published a book,” then creating an ebook on a major platform like Amazon will cause the fewest headaches. You can use your edited Word file or a PDF to upload it into the system, along with a cover you create (more on that in a future post). The system will create the ebook file suitable for Kindle if it’s on Amazon or in the EPUB format for every other reader.

There’s usually a check of some kind to make sure the book is actually book length, and that the cover will work, and that there aren’t any hidden characters in your text that will show up strangely or break the ebook. For simple publishing goals, you can keep the design process simple too. The interior of the book will be rather plain, but it will be easily read by devices.

We’ll cover this more in later steps, but it’s worth noting here, at the point where design becomes part of your production schedule.

DIY Print Book Design

If you’d like to have physical copies of your book out there in the world, and especially if you’d like to sell them to more than your immediate family and close friends, you need to design the books interior.

This is where you choose a font (modern? old-fashioned? serifs?) and the layout. Will chapters start only on the right-hand page of a two-page spread? Will you use drop caps for the first letter of the chapter? How will you number or title the chapters? Page numbers at the top or bottom of the page? There are so many little things to decide when it comes to book design.

It’s definitely something you can learn, but it will take time. It will likely also take InDesign, which is a professional-grade piece of software that can make books look amazing. Learning enough to make your first print book look pretty good will take many hours probably over many weeks. Learning enough to make your next few books look great is a steep learning curve, but it is climbable, and it is rewarding.

For Life Among the Paiutes, I decided to design the book myself since the redesign was the entire point in my publishing it. I didn’t change any of Winnemucca Hopkins’s words, but I did use modern punctuation and create breaks between stories. I wanted more space around the words than the original printing process had allowed, and I wanted a clean, easy to read layout. I took yet another online course in book design, and this time the lessons sank in deeper than they have before.

In my experience, book design is something you learn by listening and then doing. And then listening some more and then doing it again. And then googling the thing you just broke to find out how to fix it. With each book, you get better, but it takes time.

Hiring a Pro Book Designer

If time is not on your side, then hire a professional book designer. The difference between a Word file uploaded to the printer and a properly designed book is something readers do notice, even if they don’t know how they know the difference.

Take, for instance, something as small as page numbers. You might choose to put them in the upper, outer corners of the pages. But on the first page of any chapter, they belong at the bottom in the center. When you think about it, or check pretty much any book on your shelf, that number being moved at the beginning of the chapter makes sense. Having it hanging out alone in the corner would be weird. That’s the kind of detail that a book designer does in her sleep. It takes your book from being a Pinocchio of a book to being a real book. In this analogy, book designers are fairy godparents making wishes come true, and I think that is mostly correct.

I hired a book designers for both Take the Wheel and Skull and Sidecar, and they did more than I could have even imagined with the design. I have heard from readers of both books that they enjoyed little touches like the tire tracks across the page or the silent-movie-style chapter headers. It was well worth the investment to create books that can sit alongside traditionally published books and look like they belong on the shelf.

Next Time

Designing the inside of the book is a whole different process than designing the outside of the book, so in the next post, I’ll talk about cover design.