Everyone always talks about the cover of a book, but how about the interior? I’ve got many self-published books through Print On Demand, and I have to tell you… They don’t always look that pretty on the inside! In fact, they often look like someone simply printed the eBook, stuck a cover on it, and that’s that. They don’t all look like that though, so I knew some people did take care of the actual interior.
I don’t really believe in coincidence, so I wasn’t at all surprised that I met Stephen Tiano, freelance book designer and layout artist, around the time I was pondering that exact question. Lucky for me, Stephen agreed to be interviewed about his job and what it entails exactly! Without further ado, allow me to introduce him.
Hi, Stephen! Welcome! Could you tell us a little about who you are, and what you do? And how long you’ve been doing it?
Hullo, I’m Stephen Tiano. I’ve been a freelance book designer and layout artist for over 27 years. In that time, I’ve worked on about a hundred books—when I first started, it was just laying out books using templates provided by the publishers, but eventually I started creating the designs and templates for these books, and I’ve been doing so for the past 20 years. I come to this fairly well prepared: before book design, I worked in publishing and typesetting as a copy editor and proofreader. So, I not only have a very good sense of how words and pictures should appear on the printed page, but I often catch little things that a copy editor or proofreader has missed.
Even though we still say ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’, this is precisely what we do, and having a solid cover is the topic of many a discussion within both the traditional and indie communities. But you’re a BOOK designer, not a COVER designer. What does being a BOOK designer entail exactly? How is it different from being a cover designer?
Well, I’m not an illustrator for starters. But I do design covers using art that is supplied or that I source. While I’m not always hired to do covers, I think it makes more sense to hire me to do both the interior pages and the back cover/spine/front cover. See, I think the covers and spine, along with the interior pages, should be approached as an organic whole.
My job when designing interior pages is, first of all, to get the author’s words—and pictures (whether photos or illustrations)—on the page in a way that is easily read and understood by the reader. That means that, however tempting, a book’s design should never be so ‘interesting’ and fun for the eye that it distracts the reader. A book’s design should never make the reader’s attention wander off; it should never be about the designer.
Interestingly, I recently walked away from a very pricy, long-term project—maybe 24,000 pages in MS Word to appear in five to seven books—because the self-publishing client was more interested in his ideas about designing the presentation of his work than in making his work accessible to readers.
Why should writers consider hiring a book designer? I’m assuming there are quite a few authors out there who try designing their own books.
My feeling is that authors shouldn’t design and lay out their books for the same reason they shouldn’t edit them. After staring at their words on the page or screen for as long as they worked writing their books, I think it’s easy to lose perspective about how best to present those words (and pictures, if any) in a way that engages readers, and keeps them interested ‘til the end.
These days, there are two types of books: the print book and the eBook. When you say you are a book designer, which of the two are you talking about?
I first got involved in publishing, copy editing, and then proofreading in the infancy of computer typesetting, so there were no eBooks at that point. Plus, I’ve always loved print books since I was a little boy. Opening a new book and smelling that new book smell has always been special to me. On the other hand, I suppose I would’ve given my right arm to have all my textbooks as eBooks when I was a high school and college student lugging them around on the subway years ago.
That all said, I’ve done eBook versions of a couple of the books I’ve done for print. But, I’ll only do them as fixed page epubs or iBooks. I won’t work on Kindle versions where the human reader can completely alter the layout by changing typefaces and, more importantly, type size, thus changing how everything falls on the page.
Print books and eBooks obviously need a different treatment. Is there much difference between how you treat a print book and an eBook?
Well, you certainly have to consider the size screen human readers might be viewing an eBook on. Then, too, there’s the issue of pictures. Fortunately, screen resolution is much less than print, 72 or 96 dpi compared to 300 dpi for most print (newspaper print used to be 1270 dpi; fine art printing 2540 dpi). Even at the lesser resolution, however, with enough images epub files can grow large, so that’s a consideration.
What type of book do you prefer working on, the print or eBook?
Everything I said above notwithstanding, I prefer working on print books. It may be a leftover feeling from when I thought I would write for a living. Now I get to see my name inside every book I design. It’s not quite the same as a byline, but I like the feeling. And there’s still nothing like cracking open a print book and smelling that new book smell. Anyone can get a quick eBook done, but a print book is still an investment of time and capital. So, I think there’s more of a sense of value to print.
Could you tell a little bit about the process? From the moment an author contacts you, looking for a book designer?
Once we strike a deal, they send back a signed agreement with a 1/3 deposit on the work, and I begin.
I start with typeface samples I believe are fitting for the material and book. I usually try to send at least five or six pairings for text and display material—headings, captions, tables (if any). Then I move on to combing through the text file and noting every design element that will require a style to be set for it. Once the client gets back to me with a choice of the typeface combination they prefer, I begin making sample pages, creating master pages and styles to turn into a template once we’ve talked through what works and tweaked what things they wanted adjusted.
After that I begin making pages and thinking about the back cover/spine/front cover. The back cover require some decisions on what kind of info will go there: a brief synopsis of the book, blurbs, a bio and author’s photo? The front cover, once a decision is made on any illustration or photo, is pretty much mine to work out and submit for approval.
The spine can’t be finalised until there is a final page count. Often a printer will provide a template on which to place the back cover/spine/front cover copy and any graphics or art. They require the dimensions of a page and the number of pages. The spine is calculated by multiplying the interior page count by the multiplier for a single page of whatever paper the pages will be printed on.
So, once you’ve designed the entire interior, the author sends it to their proofreader and you’re done? Or do you stick around until the very end?
Actually, no, I’m done when the client approves and I upload the final PDFs of the interior pages and back cover/spine/front cover (if I haven’t been hired to do only the interior pages) to the printer. I occasionally deal with the printer to find out certain details: any specs for making the final PDFs, or sometimes info about ink coverage on each page.
For those of us who have never worked with a book designer, or are about to hire a book designer they never worked with before, do you have any advice?
Find someone you’re comfortable entrusting your book to, someone who explicitly feels their job is to turn your work into the best book it can be, and who believes the most important part of the job is making a book that faithfully conveys your work to readers. At the same time, find someone who will make a book that readers will want to own, enough so that they’re willing to pay for the privilege.
I love that, so that they’re willing to pay for the privilege. Speaking of which, what are the average costs to book designing? Let’s say someone has written an 80,000 word romance novel without any added illustrations except for the cover, the back, and the spine.
To design and lay out the book described above, I would charge anywhere from about $2,400 to $3,300, depending on the complexity of the text. Even though a book is text only, it might have all kinds of text elements inside. Besides body text and headings, there are things like magazine articles, letters, menus, business cards, handwritten notes, and more.
Thanks for this, Stephen, this has been absolutely useful, and it’s obvious you love what you doing. So, last but not least, what is it exactly that you love most about being a book designer?
Creating a book interior that does a really good job of presenting the author’s work and a front cover that invites the reader in, making a kind of promise as to what they’ll find inside, and then an interior that keeps that promise.