What is Book Design? Self-Publishing 101
Self-publishing a book comes with a lot of steps. You probably already know the importance of finding a quality editor and getting an eye-catching cover for your book, but what about the other part: book design?
Book design—the intentional, interior layout of your book—is a commonly misunderstood aspect of publishing that many authors think can be safely ignored. Depending on what you’re writing and what format you want to publish to, you might not need to spend a lot of time designing your book at all.
Here’s what a basic book design job entails:
Text alignment. Word processors and even your own handwriting are all left-justified by default, but published books are justified on both sides—and hyphenated correctly to keep the text from bunching up.
Chapter headings. There’s a lot more to the beginning of a chapter than simply giving the chapter number and name. This includes breaking the book into sections, placing the chapter heading on the right part of the page, and adjusting the headers and footers as needed.
Page numbers. Where are they? What pages should have page numbers, and what shouldn’t? And how do Roman numerals fit into your book? A book designer will make sure everything is in place so that your production is seamless.
Bonus content. Many traditional and self-published books include plenty of bonus content in the beginning and end, including appendices, about the author pages, and ads for other books or mailing lists. It’s important to know how these parts fit into your book and how to make them look professional.
Anything else. Your book is unique and might have very different needs, especially if you have illustrations or extra features sprinkled throughout. All of that falls under the umbrella of book design.
The two main types of book design you’ll probably look at are ebook and paperback. Here is an overview of each with their differences.
Ebook layout is largely automated. If you use a service like Draft2Digital, you’ll find that the work is automatically done for you, and the only part you’ll have to do yourself is separating your chapters.
Ebook layout needs to transfer across other devices. This is a big one—simply turning your document into a PDF won’t work, and it’s a good idea to have mobi and epub formats ready to go even before you publish. Your book needs to look good on any kind of screen, from desktop to tablet to phone.
Ebook layout requires separating chapters. You will need to find a good way to separate and distinguish your chapters so that ereaders can navigate your book. This can be done either by using headings or section breaks in your manuscript.
Paperback layout starts simple but can quickly become an intricate process, varying from book to book according to each book’s needs. It has a number of different factors and also requires a good artistic eye to make sure the book is pleasing to look at in the end.
Templates are available. Many authors design their own paperbacks and hardcovers, and sometimes the process is as simple as cutting and pasting each chapter into its corresponding marker in the template. But some work is still required to perfect your look, and if your template doesn’t have enough chapters you might need to set up some page styles on your own.
You can hire a book designer. If layout really isn’t your thing, you can hire a layout editor to fix your book up for you. Some book designers like Joel Friedlander turn it into a full profession and can work in anything you want to ensure that your book meets quality industry standards.
Getting That Perfect Layout
Designing your own book is completely doable, and I’ve included more steps on how you can perfect your layout here. You’re also more than welcome to share your own layout tips and tricks in the comment section below or join my Facebook group for self-publishing fiction authors here for further discussion.