Book Design Guidelines

Mar 2021 | Resources for writers

Book design decisions you’ll have to make

Before considering what the book should look like you should make sure you are satisfied with the content.

Make sure you and your editor read it from top to bottom and make any adjustments to get it to the final version.

This will come in handy later in the process when you’ll thank yourself for doing this now.

Why? You might be wondering.

Well, in the process of designing the book’s layout there are several steps that mold and shape your book’s aspect and making changes to the manuscript after that point will affect the whole flow of the layout and might even mean it has to be done all over again, so it would take twice as much time and result in added costs.

Trim size

With the manuscript complete, you can now have a rough idea of the number of pages it would amount to. Why is this important to know? For several reasons:

This will inform your decision about what type of binding should you choose. Should you choose a paperback or a hardcover? If your book is on the shorter side (no. of pages) you can go for a paperback type of book. On the other hand there are books that due to their size would fall apart unless they are sewn into a hardcover type of book.

You should try to imagine how the reader would go about reading the book. If it’s a short and sweet novel that they can read when they are in bed, then this should be a book that’s not too heavy to hold for a long period of time. If the book is resembling an encyclopedia that you lay flat on the table and read from then you can get away with a larger format and heavier weight.

See what established publishers are doing. You can safely assume that they have a lot more resources than you when they do market research that influences their decisions. See what trim size do other books in your genre use.

Exercise restraint when choosing a font

Choose font

As Clare Boothe Luce once wrote “…the height of sophistication is simplicity.” Try to not go overboard on the variety of typefaces you choose for your book. This decision will go a long way to maintain consistency throughout your book.

You should know that not all fonts are created equal. Some of them are optimized for maximum legibility and for maximum printing efficiency.

Try to go for established fonts that have been tried and tested and that were designed to be used for blocks of text. One good example of this is Garamond.

A good rule of thumb is to go with a serif font for the body text. That’s because the little feet on every letter make it easier for the reader’s eye to go from one letter to the next – it creates a visual rhythm that makes reading flow uninterrupted.

For the headings you can have a bit more freedom and choose a typeface that speaks to the character of your book. But try to keep things legible first and foremost.

Assuming you take your work seriously and want that message to be discernible from your written work too, you should steer clear of fonts like Comic Sans, Papyrus, Brush Script, to mention but a few…

Running heads and feet

Running heads and feet

What are they?

Running heads are the little bits of information that you can find above the body text on every page. They can include your book’s title, the title of the chapter you are reading, the author name, the page number, or none of the above.

That said, you should pay attention to the fact that the space they take up is limited and this will be something to consider when you choose your chapter titles.

The running feet are usually reserved for the page numbering, but that’s not a rule “set in stone”. You might have seen books that have the page numbering on the running heads, and that’s alright too.

How do they impact your book design?

Every design decision you and your designer make should be with the reader in mind, after all you are producing work that would and should be enjoyed by all your readers.

The little details like the running heads and running feet are intended to help the end user navigate your written work and to provide a point of reference, remember what we said about rhythm, this counts to that end too, and creates consistency.


Colors Birds

You’ll have to decide if you want your book to feature coloured images, or some other coloured graphical element, or if it will be monochrome from start to finish.

This choice comes with it’s own implications.

You should consider the genre of your book and let that inform your decision. If you write books for children, it would go without saying that your little readers would enjoy a colorful book. The same goes for Cook Books, or for works that feature artworks, like an art history book for instance.

On the other hand, if your book is a novel, or a memoir and your intended audience is mainly adults, you can go ahead and choose all black text.

The other aspect that weighs heavily when you make this choice is the cost.
Due to the process of printing, the monochromatic books will cost less to print than their colourful counterparts.

That’s because of the steps involved in the offset printing process that requires a plate for each colour that’s going to form the final image.

Cover Design

Book Cover Template

This the last one on the list, but not the least important. Far from it – since the Cover is the first impression for anyone that comes across your book and a great marketing asset when promoting it.

We left this to the end because by now you’ll have a pretty good idea about the trim size and the number of pages.

How do these come to influence your book’s cover design?

You should know that the first step in designing a book is to set the file size – that means the total width and height of the book cover plus some extra millimeters to allow for the book to be trimmed by the printer. The total size of the cover should also include the spine.

But what size is the spine supposed to be?

Remember we said it’s important to know the number of pages in your book? Yes, this is what tells you what the spine size should be. There are online spine width calculators that will estimate this measurement for you.

Now that you know the size, it’s important to set the correct color space. For a book that’s intended for printing you should use CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key). This means that the cover you have for your eBook (that’s in RGB) won’t work well for print.

After all the technical requirements are met, it’s time for the creative part 🙂

As there are a myriad of genres, design trends and many other factors that might influence this aspect, we’ll refrain from recommending anything too specific here.

But I will say this:

Look at how other books from your genre look – this is not to copy them, but to get the overall look and feel and to help you find the sweet spot between your cover art being original, but still be recognized as part of a broader genre by the readers.

Adhere to good design principles. Think about contrast, readability, aesthetic equilibrium.

Have a clear concept in mind. With sites like Pinterst it’s easy to like and want too many things and ultimately be overwhelmed by the diversity of options out there. Take a step back, and remember less is more when it comes to design.

Don’t forget to enjoy the process, as you should enjoy everything else you do in life.


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