Tips for Designing a Book

Hey you! You’re just exploding with ideas, aren’t you? A new story, a great design, a collection of illustrations…but where are you going to put all of this creativity? Well, a printed book is an excellent solution! Years ago, organizing your epiphanies and getting them onto paper would have been a hassle, but nowadays there are plenty of great resources that can make the process much less time-consuming. Here are some helpful tips and assets to get you started with your next fantastic printed project.

Know your content

1. Know your content

From photobooks, to graphic novels, to actual novels, you should understand your content from cover to cover before there is a cover. Understanding how your project lines up with the market that’s out there will help you make some important design decisions. Take a look at how others are presenting their information. If your book is mainly text-based then a smaller size may be more suitable, as opposed to a larger option which may work better for your coffee-table photography collection. These are some typical* book sizes that you’re going to run into during your research:

  • 6”x 9” is a pretty common size for most books and considered ideal for text-based projects. Different companies are going to offer different sizes but 2:3 is considered a good ratio for page size.
  • 5” x 11” or 8” x 12” books often work better for image-based projects or workbook-style endeavors. This is a great size for portfolio projects too!
  • 25” x 8” is a great size for longer books and lends itself well to novels and memoirs.
  • Square books (10”x10”, 7”x7”, 5”x5”) isn’t a typical size for books but that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong choice! Unconventional proportions may be the best way to get your portfolio noticed.

*Every print company is going to offer different variations, but they will generally stick to these trim sizes.

Find a printer

2. Find a printer

It’s important to pick a printer before you start a project, or at least keep it in mind as you design. Some companies may offer templates that you can download beforehand, or they may require certain design specs that can be a pain to change once you’ve finalized your project. The following are a few print companies that I’ve used in the past:

Shutterfly can be a great start for beginners who don’t want the hassle of expensive programs or too many options. They literally advertise their services to be as easy as 1. (Add photos), 2. (Create), 3. (Order). Accessible on-site interfaces along with drag-and-drop templates (which can be adjusted) make it easy to upload those gorgeous family vacation photos and grab a great book that you can share (and brag about) with your friends.

Blurb has a fantastic lineup of products and sizes: Photobooks, trade books, magazines, and Ebooks. Just keep in mind that all of the work is off-site which means you’re going to need a design program like Adobe inDesign to make your project happen. Blurb also offers a wide range of sizes, paper variations, and cover options, which can be great for those control freak designers who want to make sure their work is precisely as they had envisioned. Another plus: If you already own the program, Blurb offers a free downloadable plug-in which you can access right from inDesign’s interface that allows for a hassle-free transfer from desktop to Blurb and off to the printer.

If Blurb presents a ton of options and Shutterfly cuts the clutter, then Lulu is a happy medium between the two. With a conservative interface and a great variety of options Lulu might be a good choice for dedicated creatives who are short on time. (Again, the work needs to be uploaded so be sure to prepare your files accordingly with a desktop design program.) A great inclusion with this company is the option to upload Microsoft Word documents right to the site which is definitely a time-saver if your book is text-based.

All three of these sites offer seasonal coupons! It can be worth it to sign up for their email newsletters as you work on your project to receive discounts that can save you a bunch.

Involve other people

3. Involve other people

Creating a book means investing a lot of time and possibly money. If you’re like me then you want each project that you put together to be worth both you and your reader’s time. If your project looks like it’s going to be long-term, then getting others excited about what you are doing and leaning on them for support when you hit a creative block is a great way to stay on track. You don’t have to be the collaborative type to let others in on your process, but it’s never a bad idea to discuss realistic timeframes and your creative project goals with people that you trust. (Also, an extra pair of eyes to proofread never hurt anyone.)

Ready to start your book project? HALT! Sharpen up your design skills beforehand and learn what NOT to do.