Wednesday 24 October 2012

Some thoughts on book design

There is so much more to producing a book that just writing it, even if the writer is the most important contributor to the process: without writers there would be no books at all.
Yet after all of the editing and rewrites there is still much to be done.
The cover
Books must have a great cover even if they are only being sold electronically. The title must be right too – it must not give too much away but it must entice. The title and the cover are the first two prompts towards a sale. They must attract the reader but they must also represent the contents of the book honestly.
The designer has to make decisions about how and where to include the title, both on the front cover and the spine, and how to integrate the blurb on the back. Even where to display and how large to make the barcode that gives the bookseller information is the designer’s decision.  
The size
This may also be partly an editorial and marketing decision. If the book has a lot of words, a slightly bigger format is recommended. Print costs tend to be per page so using a taller and wider book format keeps the costs down. Plus, a fat stubby book is often physically difficult to read – especially when you are near the beginning or the end.
House style issues
Each publishing house has its own preferences about whether to use single or double quotes for speech and how to express thoughts. Each text must be consistent with itself and with other publications. Many publishers favour Chicago style.
Formatting issues
Most texts are submitted as Word documents. They will be double-spaced, ragged right and all but opening paragraphs will be indented. The published book needs to be single-spaced, the text must be blocked and the indent, even in bigger texts, will be smaller than the Word default of 1.27 cm. Usually it is quite easy for the designer to do this conversion. However, occasionally the writer has used some very strange formatting and the designer has to format the book manually. Forced indents and manually inserted footers and headers can cause havoc.
Because of the blocking of text, some words will be hyphenated across two lines. The designer can set this to a minimum but that in turn can cause some weirdly spaced lines and create widows – singles lines on a new page. The designer has to adjust this manually.
Special fonts
Most publishers use one of the standard fonts.  Times New Roman and Arial are popular and 12 point is normal. Occasionally a text will need an alternative font – perhaps to portray a change of voice or point of view or to include an excerpt from a letter or a magazine article. The designer may not be able use the unusual font the writer has chosen as this may not convert easily to the printed format or indeed may be copyrighted. The designer must make the decision and does have some insight into what works graphically.
Also a text might have a different size font and different spacing – for example a children’s book may have a14 point font and be double-spaced.
Paper weight and colour
This will affect the feel and the look of the book. Normally a publishing house has a house style for this but occasionally a text may demand something else. For instance, a book about death might have black-edged pages or a facsimile of a war-time diary might require thicker sepia-tinted pages.
These decisions are often made between editorial and design staff.

It is clear then that the role of the designer is really important and that the writer has to step back at this point.

No comments:

Post a Comment