Book Design Basics

As a writer, the process of designing books can be overwhelming. Self-publishing is great for new authors or authors not interested in a traditional publisher, but it means you are in charge of every single decision. Even if you go with a traditional publisher, it can be really helpful to understand basic design so you can have more informed ideas and opinions. You already know what good book covers and interiors look like, and you probably already know some of the basic concepts of design, but you may not know the right terms to use. In this post, I will outline the basic design principles and connect them to the specific parts of a book’s design so you can get a general understanding of how these terms apply to the book design process. I will also add some links to some helpful resources for designing books.

The book cover is a really important part of designing a book—it’s the first impression your readers get—but so is the interior of the book. The interior of a book is easy to overlook because we don’t often think about it, but if the interior isn’t designed well, everyone will notice. The interior is meant to present the text as the central focus so the reader can, well, read.

Much like writing, every aspect of a design needs to have a purpose. There are seven basic design principles: emphasis, balance and alignment, contrast, repetition, proportion, movement, and whitespace. All of these apply to the cover, but they also apply to the interior.

  1. Emphasis in book design is important for the cover because the reader needs something to focus on first, like the title or a prominent part of the design. In the interior, this would translate to the text as the key focal point. The reader wants to keep moving through the story, so if there is something besides the text that is emphasized, the reader may be distracted from the story. Sometimes this is done intentionally so there is a purpose behind the design choice.
  2. Balance and alignment are represented by a cover and also in the white space of the interior. Pages cannot be completely full of text because that would be very overwhelming for the reader. Alignment is often shown in books as centering or justifying the text—not squishing it all into one area of the page.
  3. Contrast creates depth and space within a piece, making it more memorable. This is represented by the typeface on the cover, the chapter heading, or body text. Contrast can be achieved through different weights in one typeface or different typefaces.
  4. Repetition is represented in the interior as the text being aligned the same on every page, the chapter headings being in the same font and size, etc. Readers expect the interior to be consistent so they can continue uninterrupted.
  5. Proportion is a way to convey what the audience is supposed to focus on and what is most important. In book covers, this is conveyed by the size of the title in comparison to a subtitle. In the interior, this could be the size of a chapter heading compared to the body text.
  6. Movement is how you direct the audience to view the piece. So in a cover, the most important information is the title, although placing the author’s name in a way that draws attention can help create movement.
  7. Whitespace gives the viewer room to breathe. In covers, white space can give something importance without making the object larger or creating clutter. The interior is full of white space, and it is super important. A huge wall of text is intimidating, and margins are one way to make the text less overwhelming.

Now that you know the basic terms and principles of design, there are lots of online resources to help you learn more. These are a great place to start. Here is a link explaining book design basics like repetition and the rule of three. This article talks about hiring a graphic designer for your book. You can get some tips for designing the interior of a book here.

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