Book Design: 7 Tips to Find the Right Designer

by Tamara Dever and Erin Stark

Excellent book design is crucial to each title’s success. But often, authors ask why they need to hire professional book designers to handle the task. If you’re mulling it over right now, read on for insight from expert designers about what they bring to the process. 

First off, in the opinion of many marketers and salespeople, a book’s cover and interior design have a great deal to do with whether reviewers and potential readers investigate it further. It’s a fact that professional design can be critical to a book’s sales success. The best design goes way beyond aesthetics. It’s a tried and true sales tool — when used correctly, it reflects and elevates an author’s message for a book.

Because the best book designs are so important, you’ll want to be sure you work with an experienced professional who specializes in covers. Where can you find that person? What information do you need to provide to ensure the design efforts’ success?

7 Book Design Tips to Ensure Sales and Success

  1. Look at many samples of a designer’s work. If you can’t visualize your book within that work, don’t hire her. Most designers have a range of abilities, but won’t be comfortable drastically changing their style for one project (and your book will suffer for it).
  2. Talk to the designer and listen to your gut feeling. It may seem obvious, but if you don’t click right away, don’t hire them.
  3. Talk with other clients. Ask specific questions such as: Was your deadline ever in jeopardy because of the designer? Why? What was done to remedy the problem?
  4. Ask previous clients how many front cover designs were you given? Did the designer use your initial ideas or discard them? (A good designer will do at least one layout using your idea and the show others with her own.)
  5. Find out how many years of experience she has and how many books she has designed. Does she know the elements of a book cover or interior? Does she understand how creating a hardcover book cover is different from designing a paperback? Make sure the designer also has production experience. Can she handle getting the files into pre-press properly? Ask to speak with printers that have worked with the designer you are considering.
  6. Keep in mind that designers are not usually illustrators. Illustrators draw or paint custom pictures to be used on a book cover or within the text. Designers pull together all the elements of a cover or page — it could include stock or custom illustrations or photographs, embellishments, colors, and all text — to create an overall design that is visually pleasing and, above all, sellable.
  7. Sign a written contract with the designer. It is not wise to work with a designer who doesn’t use a contract. The agreement should cover accurately what will be produced for you, the timeline for production, and the agreed-upon cost. Unless the contract specifically states that ownership is being transferred, the designer will automatically own the design he creates. Note that the design firm often reserves unlimited rights to use images of the cover and interior pages for their promotional purposes.

For self-published authors, it may be tempting to spend a few hundred dollars for a finished cover. But don’t do it. It often leads to a book that no one wants to distribute, promote, or buy. Do you then want to spend more time and another couple thousand to get it done right the second time? Trust us; it happens all of the time. Expect to pay a flat fee of roughly $1,500 to $3,000 for a good cover and between $10 and $25 per page for a quality interior layout. It Is worth every penny when you choose to work with a reputable firm.

How to Find the Best Book Designers

If you’re wondering about who are the best book designers, they are the ones who focus entirely on the field. Be sure to work with a graphic designer who specializes in book design. While many designers could assist with some aspects of creating a book, one who is a specialist can guide you through the entire process. They will bring experience and knowledge that help you avoid pitfalls and save you both time and money.

How do you find that perfect designer to add to your publishing team? Ask other publishers and authors whose book covers you admire. You also can find publishing association websites with resource listings. Most printers, book marketing firms, and editors can recommend excellent designers as well. In all, you’ll get better sales results and the respect you deserve with high-quality cover and interior designs. The chances for a favorable outcome will increase when you hire a carefully-selected, experienced book designer paired with a gifted editor and a great PR team. They, together, have your best interest at heart.

About the authors:

Tamara Dever is the founder of TLC Graphics, the award-winning book design and production firm with biblical values providing customized support to small publishers with big dreams. This premier team takes manuscripts through editorial, design, printing, and beyond to create beautiful, salable books. Tamara is a board member of SPAWN, mentors aspiring designers, and has authored articles and presented classes on book design and self-publishing for over ten years. You’ll find their portfolio at Tamara resides in Austin, TX with her husband and business partner, Tom, their two children, two dogs, and a horse.

Erin Stark is an award-winning interior book design specialist with over 18 years of experience. She is an invaluable member of the TLC Graphics team and has been presenting classes on book design and self-publishing for more than ten years. Erin lives in Olathe, KS, with her husband, Brian. They have two children and several foster kittens at any given time.