Why Interior Book Design Matters (And How To Get It Done Right)
by Tucker Max
Have you ever started to read a book, and on the first page–before you’ve engaged the actual content–you immediately get a bad feeling and can’t take the book seriously? And sometimes you can’t even explain why?
That was the impact of interior layout and design.
Interior design is one of those things that you never notice…unless it’s wrong. Despite how simple it seems (or perhaps because of it), interior layout is one of the major factors that separates amateurish books from professional ones.
How complicated can layout out the inside of a book be? We’re about to find out.
Before You Start Interior Layout
Before you even start the interior layout discussion, you need to decide on the size of your book. Changing trim sizes down the road can be a big hassle, so it’s worth getting this figured out first before any work is done.
There aren’t any hard and fast rules around trim size, but there are general trends. Trim sizes are always measured in inches, with the horizontal measurement first, then the vertical.
The most common book size is 6 x 9. It works for books of any style and is generally the industry standard.
At Book in a Box, we tend to use 5.5 x 8.5. This slightly smaller size tends to be more common with business books. There are a lot of books that are 5 x 8 as well, but I’d consider that the lower limit before the book starts looking awkwardly small.
These are the trim sizes that CreateSpace offers as “conventional” book sizes:
Why Is Interior Layout So Complicated?
Interior layout is easy to dismiss. It’s just formatting words on a page. Google Docs does that automatically. What’s the big deal?
The first thing to realize is that there’s a lot more that goes into designing the interior of a book than you might expect. These are just some of the decisions that must be made:
-trim size (as explained above)
-color vs. black and white
-other physical considerations (paperback vs. hardcover, paper stock, etc.)
-design elements in the header
-sidebars (if any)
-if/how you want to incorporate illustrations, photography or other graphics
There are also all the more nerdy publishing details that your proofreader should have caught but likely didn’t, like making sure you’re using the right dashes in the right places (hyphens, em and en dashes all have distinct uses). The same goes for quotation marks (straight vs. curly vs. foot/inch marks—all different things), mathematical symbols (× vs. x) and nearly every other symbol you can (but won’t) think of.
And, because it’s a book and you don’t want anything slipping through, it’s also crucial that it’s manually checked for widows and orphans (the single line at end of a paragraph that ends up at the top of the next page, or a single word on a line by itself), or any other formatting that can come across as unprofessional or ugly.
But, truthfully, that’s only a small part of the problem. The main reason that it’s so complicated and expensive is that nobody wants to do it.
Interior layout is hard, tiring work, and requires a lot of hours from someone with at least a strong baseline of design skills. Most designers went into the field because they love working on beautiful, creative projects. Interior print layout has those elements, sure—but also demands a lot of precision and “boring” practical considerations that designers don’t always like to be constrained by (not unlike, say, industrial design).
So who does offer high quality interior layout? There are some people who just love the detail of things like typography and layout. But most of them are not like that. Many are the type that have decided they’re okay with using their talent working on comparatively plain pages that don’t feel so creative, as long as they get paid extremely well for it.
Which leads us to a divide. The interior layout world is fundamentally split in half. Some of the options are extremely cheap ($100-200). These are the people you can find on sites like Upwork, or that you get through CreateSpace if you have them do your design. Frankly, they won’t do a very good job.
The other half are expensive, usually $1500-2000+. These are the people who would rather be doing other things, so they charge high rates to make it worthwhile.
There is one other option, which we’ll get to later in the chapter. We just wanted to paint the picture and provide the logic before explaining the options, as the huge discrepancy in prices can be a bit jarring if you don’t understand it.
Should I Skip a Print Version Entirely?
As you’ve seen already in this chapter, print books are a lot of work. So why should you even do them?
The reason is actually that you should do them precisely because they’re a lot of work. The book market is flooded with thousands of new authors every day. As you know, it can be difficult to stand out.
Because of how challenging doing a good print book is, and how embarrassingly ugly it can be when done wrong, a lot of new authors are veering away from the challenge and publishing in ebook format only. In many circles, this has started to be a dividing line between books that should be taken seriously, and books that shouldn’t. Many people see ebooks as “not real books” and dismiss them as less impressive than paperbacks.
We tend to disagree with this, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it. Creating a high quality paperback or hardcover version is one of the most powerful ways to make sure your book is taken seriously and seen as a “real” book. We wouldn’t skip this step if credibility is a key goal of yours.
What Should A Good Interior Layout Look Like?
This is not an easy question to answer. Like we said earlier, very few people notice the interior layout–unless it’s wrong, then it is a huge problem.
Here are the major elements of interior design. We are listing them out, not because we expect you to learn them. We are listing them for two reasons:
- So when you hire a professional interior designer to layout your book for you (which we highly recommend), you have a list of things you can discuss with them, and,
- So you can know what good versus bad looks like.
How to Do Interior Print Layout
Like most steps in this process, you have two options: you can do it yourself, or you can hire someone more talented than you who does it professionally.
As we’ve already discussed, doing a cheap interior can completely change the perception of your book. But, if it’s the only option that works for you financially, there are some ways to do it yourself. The easiest one is to use a template. You can download templates here.
But those are for Microsoft Word. If you really want to go all out, you need to learn Adobe InDesign (Hint: Don’t do that, if you value your time at greater than $0)
If you’re going to hire a designer, there are basically three options:
1) The Cheap Route: There are two ways to find cheap interior layout designers. The first is directly through CreateSpace. We’ll dig into the specific details in Chapter 11, but for many of you CreateSpace will be the best way to publish your book. While going through the publishing process, they give you the option to hire them for interior layout. They’re not better or worse than the other options of a similar price, but they make things simple.
The other cheap route option is to use a freelance marketplace like Upwork. As we described earlier in the chapter, the quality of these designs is really low. It’s easy to delude yourself when you’re looking at a computer screen to think that the PDF looks good, but we’ve tested this path enough times to know better.
Only use one of these cheap options if you’re okay with the book not looking entirely professional. We’d honestly recommend doing the DIY template option as a better alternative to hiring this quality of designer—that’s how bad it usually turns out.
2) The Expensive Route: The other alternative is to hire a real pro. More than any other part of the book creation process, except maybe editing, there’s a huge gap between good interior layout designers and bad ones. If you hire a bad editor, they’re worse than useless. If you hire a great editor, they can completely transform your book. Same goes with interior layout.
If you want to go down this route, we’ve checked out the work quality from a lot of the various options. The ones we’d most highly recommend are:
–The Book Designers (~ $2000)
–1106 Design (~ $1500)
The problem with the companies in this space isn’t their quality; the quality is good. The problem is the price and the turnaround time.
Because they’re in an industry with so little competition, they’re able to move slow and overcharge. But if you just care about someone doing a great job, these firms are excellent places to turn.
3) The Best Route: Well, we think the best route is to just go with someone who does everything for you, like Book In A Box. But we’re biased.