The reading experience of a book is very different from reading on the screen. This is why I know that the printed book is a long way from death. It is a sensory experience to hold, smell, and look at a book.
Because of this, the design of a book is something worth thinking about. It isn’t a matter of dumping all the content into the layout program, adding page numbers and the contents page.
It’s helpful to get to know the language of book anatomy so that you can talk confidently to editors, book designers and printers.
Format This is the finished size of the book. Most printers will have standard sizes such as pocket, A5, A4, C and B format (to name a few). You can actually print any size you like but keeping to standard sizes will be cheaper. When choosing the size of your book, bear in mind the reading experience. For a novel, you’d want something like a C format because it’s nice to hold when reading in bed or in a chair but a history book with lots of photos might be better as an A4 because it’s larger.
Postage is charged by weight and size, so this is an important aspect to think about. A C format book with 160 pages will be cheaper to post than one with 300 pages. The paper stock will also change the weight. Your printer can advise you on this.
Binding Most commercial trade books, non-fiction and fiction tend to be perfect bound. This means that the binding has a flat edge to it, with the title, author name and publisher printed on it. Other types of binding includes spiral (can be wire or plastic and used for workbook, diary publications) and saddle stitch (heavy duty staples, used for thinner books or to save cost).
Paper stock When you open a book, there’s something about the way it opens that is nice to the touch. Stiff, white paper will not be pliable and the spine will crackle when you open it. The idea is to choose the paper to suit the book. Fiction generally uses creamy papers but a book with images might have white so that the images look crisper. The cover stock is also important, too thin and it wears badly, too thick and the book has that non-giving stiffness to it. Again, printers will know what to suggest when you talk to them.
Cover Everyone judges a book by its cover. If you skimp on anything, don’t skimp on the design of the cover. The cover needs to attract your ideal reader and needs to also stand out as a thumbnail image on the computer screen. The blurb is also something that needs special attention. Once you’ve hooked someone to pick the book up with the cover, the blurb needs to make them want to buy it. Keep it under 300 words and make it intriguing.
Fonts When designing the layout, it’s possible to take a week to choose a font, there are so many of them. I always say less is more. Think about your book. Is it casual, professional, new age, academic? If it’s fiction, what is the genre? These factors should determine the style of font you use. Look at other books in the marketplace that are like yours if you have no idea where to start.
White space This refers to the parts on the page that have no images or text. White space is very important in creating a visually inviting page. Think about your margins, how wide are they? Will the page number be top or bottom, middle or right or left in the margins? Is there a running header top or bottom? Again, the type of book will determine the amount of white space you use. You can get away with small margins with something like a text book but a poetry book will require lost of white space and well thought out formatting to the poems.
Images Does your book need them? If the content is heavy duty, images might be good to break it up a bit. Or maybe you need them to demonstrate what you are talking about. Images can be illustrations, photographs, graphs or table. If you choose to use images, you will need to decide whether they are colour or black and white because this will change the cost of printing dramatically.
With a little bit of knowledge, the physical aspects of the book will be less daunting. When choosing a designer, look for someone who has experience in book design because they will understand the book trade.
Most of all enjoy the process. It’s exciting to see your ideas come to life in a printed book.