When it comes to design, authors need to consider both the interior and the exterior of their book. In this article, I will refer to the exterior as ‘cover design’, and the interior as ‘formatting’.
Book Cover Design
Hiring a really good cover designer is extremely important — perhaps one of the most important aspects of book publishing. Cover design is one of those aspects of self-publishing where it’s easy to take a shortcut and do some kind of hashed together DIY job, but in reality people do make purchasing decisions based on book covers, so unless you have significant design experience, I would strongly warn against not giving proper care and attention to this important stage of the publishing process.
Personally, I have worked with high level cover designers who work for big publishing companies, and have also at times taken a DIY approach. I have a lot of experience using design software, and have been designing my own promotional materials (including posters, flyers, CD covers, websites, etc) for nearly 20 years. This experience means I’m familiar with many of the basic functions of editing software like Photoshop and Canva and can normally produce results to a decent standard.
There are an increasing number of websites that allow authors to use an interface to design a cover by selecting one of a range of templates and simply tweaking the text and design elements a little to personalise the template. This approach can be good for authors who are on a very tight budget, however there are a few notes of caution I would like to sound in relation to this approach. If you are planning to produce a paperback or hardcover book, it’s not just the front cover you must consider, but also the back cover, spine, and any flaps that will form part of the physical cover. Organising all of these different elements is quite a specialist job involving working with templates in a specialist program like InDesign or Photoshop, which is why getting expert help is generally recommended.
If you are only planning on releasing an eBook version, a simple front cover design may be sufficient. My advice in this scenario is to go for a cover that is unique in a striking way. You really want your design to jump off the page when a potential reader is scrolling through dozens of books on a website like Amazon, and so going for a design that is bold and original often works well. There are design experts who advise researching similar books in your genre before deciding on your own cover concept, and this can be a helpful process, though I would warn against directly copying other covers due to copyright issues and also because you want your book to be original and unique.
Some book distributors, including Amazon, actually include cover design software as part of the process you go through on their website when you submit your book, so if you’re really constrained financially or are in a big hurry to release your book, taking a shortcut of this kind might be worth considering. In general, however, I would suggest ‘you get out what you put in’, and working through the design process with an experienced and reputable designer is usually recommended.
You can find book cover designers by simply doing a Google search, or alternatively there are forums such as KBoards where cover designers advertise their services, and usually there is no shortage of choice. Also, increasingly these days there are websites like Fiverr and UpWork where registered users can post a job description and get people to submit proposals in response to your ad, and this is another way you might be able to find a suitable cover designer to work with.
Definitely budget for a professional cover design in your book production plans if you can afford to do so.
Interior formatting refers to organising the style and layout of everything included in your book other than the cover. When formatting a book there are many considerations, including what is referred to as ‘front matter’ and ‘end matter’, which includes elements like an ‘About the Author’ page, an ‘Also By’ page (where you can advertise any other books you have available), dedications, acknowledgements, a table of contents, and so on. Other formatting considerations include issues such as which fonts to use, the style of chapter and section headings, the way paragraphs and quotations are arranged, and other important matters of consistency.
Many of the same principles that I have discussed above in relation to cover design also apply to interior formatting. The leading software for designing book interiors is Adobe InDesign, and it’s not easy software to master if you don’t have relevant experience. There are many other software options available, however, and for Apple Mac users I would highly recommend Vellum if you are reasonably computer literate and are looking to do the interior formatting yourself. For PC users, a popular choice is Scrivener, though I haven’t used this personally. New interior formatting software is coming onto the market all the time, so it’s worth doing some research and seeing what software other authors who are self-publishing in a similar genre are using if you’re planning to do the formatting yourself.
If you’re a non-fiction writer you might also need to consider creating an index for your book. This is often something that an editor can do, but the index needs to be created after the interior formatting of your book is complete, because only then will the page numbers have been finalised. It’s always worth discussing indexing with your editor at the outset if you are planning to create a physical version of your book and feel an index is important. Bear in mind that indexing is difficult and specialised work, and can be expensive. In the same way as there are specialist societies for editors and proofreaders, there are also organisations that are home to specialist indexers. There are benefits to working with an editor who can also put together an index for you, as the familiarity with your book which they have gained during the editing process will make their indexing work easier, and you might also get a discount if you ask them to undertake a combination of both editing and indexing work. Be wary of someone who offers to index your book but can’t demonstrate that they have relevant training and experience, because as I have already mentioned this is difficult and specialised work.
As with so many areas of publishing a book in the 21st century, there are a broad spectrum of possibilities available to authors, ranging from taking an entirely DIY approach on the one hand, to paying experts to assist with every part of the process on the other hand. There is no right or wrong way to do things, and the approach you take will depend upon the considerations of budget, timeframe, previous experience, and the ambitions you have for the book. If you’re writing a memoir specifically to share with family and friends, your approach to cover design and formatting will be different to if you’re aiming to hit a bestseller list. Just make sure you think these things through and make a plan of action and a budget as early as possible in the self-publishing process.
After creating a beautiful book, the next stage in the publishing process is production and distribution.