A bookshelf at Kinokuniya that shows how manga is often sorted alphabetically by book title.

What Cover Design Says About Genre in Manga

Manga was one of the largest growing genres in 2021. Despite its growing popularity, in many US bookstores manga is not sorted by subgenre. This can make it more challenging for readers to find the books they’re interested in. Given this context, it’s extremely important for information about a volume’s genre and intended audience to be conveyed through the cover. Manga genres are also defined differently than in US publishing. They are usually primarily categorized by gender and age. This post will be exploring three different manga covers. All three of these are titles that would be considered young adult genre-fiction in Anglophone literary spaces. However, because of the way manga is shelved, they must each distinguish themselves.

Death Note written by Tsugumi Ohba, illustrated by Takeshi Obata

Right away, this cover of Death Note implies darker themes with its extreme color contrasts between black and pink. There is also death and religious imagery in the skulls and cross shape, hinting at the different topics this book will examine. There is also a demonic creature that shows the incorporation of the supernatural elements. It very clearly depicts a teenage boy in a school uniform. This places it in the shonen category, aimed at young men.

RWBY by Bunta Kinami

The focus on RWBY’s cover is the two female characters, Ruby and Weiss. In this image, the two important characters are given contrasting color schemes, expressions, and poses. Fantasy elements are implied through their outfits and weapons. In contrast to Death Note, they are not shown in traditional school uniforms even though their attendance at school is important. What’s interesting is that the manga came after the anime, so in this situation, the priority is emphasizing the characters, the name, and that this is the “official manga.” Ruby’s signature scythe, easily recognizable to people who watched the anime, is one of the clearest elements on the cover.

Tomie by Junji Ito (1996 edition)

Tomie by Junji Ito (2016 edition)

Tomie by Junji Ito was initially published as a serial in a horror-themed magazine meant for adolescent/teenage girls and then put together into a volume in 1996. The earlier cover highlights Tomie, a young woman, continuing with the theme that the protagonist often aligns with the intended audience. The style of the artwork, the dark clouds, and expression on her face as well as the red text hint at the genre—horror. Years later, the author has become well-known as a horror manga artist and writer and, as a result, the intended audience has shifted from young women to horror readers. This is reflected in the newer 2016 cover. The genre is still very clear with the black cover with the red splotch. Tomie’s age and gender are not emphasized as clearly as they were in the first cover.

photo of a full bookshelf with white arched box reading "Inside Ooligan Press:". Centered white box with Ooligan fishhook logo. White text bar across bottom reading "Book Branding Design"

Creating a Book Branding Design Guide: Why and How

A section of Amazon book pages has been catching my eye lately. Authors and publishers have recently been getting creative with the “From the Publisher” section—taking advantage of the space to post some beautifully designed blurbs and headlines.

When I first noticed it, I immediately thought about how similarly designed blurbs would look in a social media campaign, or how elements from the designs could cohere a book’s tipsheets, press release, and other materials. As it happens, other managers at Ooligan had been thinking similarly.

At Ooligan, everyone is a designer, editor, proofreader, marketer, and publicity specialist. So, our efforts, while always noble, are not always cohesive and streamlined. Some book project teams have had beautifully designed social media campaigns (Short, Vigorous Roots and Court of Venom
are recent examples), others have had lovely designed tipsheets, press releases, and other marketing and publicity materials. But it varies, depending on the design interest and experience of each team. How can the design department support all project teams and cohere their design efforts?

A book branding design guide! Each book project team could use a design guide to help make each title’s marketing and publicity efforts easily recognizable, to help define and convey each book’s voice, and to help designers learn to work with design principles and implement brand guidelines—useful skills to have beyond our time at Ooligan.

I have worked with brand guides before in other organizations, dutifully following the guidelines for typography, color, logos, and aspect ratios. But I had never built one and wasn’t sure where to begin. Book marketing is about making people aware of the books they want to read but don’t yet know exist. Who wants to know about this particular book, and what do they need to know about it? And, how do we best speak to them? What is the distilled essence of this book? What makes it special? How can we convey that visually?

I turned to Adobe for help getting started, modifying their advice to better fit with our specific mission. The following elements form the new basic book branding brief for each title.


I began by creating a color palette based on the book cover’s background color, plus a lighter and darker version, adding secondary colors that matched the tone of the book, hoping to keep our cohesiveness from becoming stale and to offer designers a little flexibility. I found through trial and error that an exact match to the cover materials is not as important as conveying the right mood, and made slight modifications to the color swatches used in the covers, including each color’s HEX values for consistency.


Selecting type was more complicated. At Ooligan, we use Adobe Creative Suite programs to design our books, along with the fonts Adobe provides us license for. But most designers in the press don’t have their own full-time access to the software, and many prefer to use Canva. Fortunately, Canva has loads of fonts available for free, and so we were able to choose some similar to what the book designers had used, selecting fonts for headlines and body text that complemented each other and matched the aesthetic of the book cover and content.


We often go to Pixabay, Unsplash, and Pexels for images. Sometimes our books will have some of their own graphic elements to incorporate into our marketing and publicity campaigns. Canva also has quite a few little graphic elements available for free use. We put together a document with some photographs, png files, and Canva graphics for designers to use when creating their posts and documents.


The project managers can use the above elements to make templates in Canva for their team to use for the various social media dimension requirements, as well as blurbs and quotes for them to feature or incorporate into their designs. These design elements can also be used later in creating other marketing and publicly collateral.

Ooligan is a teaching press, and we are all learning every day. I see this new design process as an iterative one; we are already constantly adjusting what works and what doesn’t, and will do so with each new title. The team for The Keepers of Aris by Autumn Green, our next title to be published, has been busy designing away in preparation for their upcoming social media campaign and book launch. I look forward to seeing their designs!

photo of a full bookshelf, white arc band with text "Inside Ooligan Press", white square with Ooligan fishhook logo, white bar across bottom with text "Good Golly, a Galley!"

Good Golly, A Galley!

Prior to starting at Ooligan Press, the term “galley” applied to art and boats. I’ve since learned what a galley is and its importance in the book publishing industry.

A galley is an unfinalized advanced reader copy of a book that, unlike the final product, typically uses the manuscript prior to the final proofread. Before the galley is produced, the manuscript goes through developmental edits and copyedits to the point of practically perfect. Occasionally, the galley is made using the final draft but never by using any draft before the second to last. Galleys can be in hard copy or electronic form, which may make you wonder: Why even make a galley?

To build an audience! Galleys are sent to book bloggers, reviewers, and even authors in hopes that presale reviews will come in and blurbs will be obtained. Authors are given a portion of the galley proofs and encouraged to distribute them at events and to their fans! Giving away free books, even unfinalized copies, seems counterintuitive, but it’s how to build an audience and create excitement around the book!

Now that you know the what and why behind a galley, we can move on to the how. Once the manuscript is edited to almost perfect it is time to start on the galley. Ooligan Press uses Adobe InDesign to create their galleys, so we will be using InDesign processes to go over the steps.

  1. Open InDesign and create the layout for your galley (remember to have an even number of pages).
  2. Save your work here (continue to do so throughout the process)!
  3. Start creating paragraph types for the title, author, dedication, body, body without indent, chapters, glyphs, and folios.
  4. Create a new parent page (for the front matter), apply it to the first three pages, add folios to the bottom of the page for page numbers and the title/author’s name.
  5. Drop the manuscript into the InDesign document.
  6. Remove the trailing white spaces, multiple return to single return, multiple space to single space, and tabs from the text.
  7. Apply your paragraph styles to the operative places (ex: body paragraph to every paragraph but the first one after a chapter or section break.
  8. Remove folios from any page that starts a chapter. You can do this by applying the “none” parent page.
  9. Go through the manuscript and apply any italics to the text in InDesign, create a character style for each paragraph style this step changes.
  10. Play around with the paragraph styles you created until you’re happy with the overall look (be aware that the some fonts are protected and that you can download fonts from Adobe).
  11. Play around with the margins to fit the ideal amount of lines per page, but keep in mind the binding used and how people hold books.
  12. Confirm that every page has at least five lines, if there is a page with less than five lines change the tracking of a large section of text prior to those lines but do not go over roughly twenty lines.

The above list clearly applies to people with at least some knowledge of how to use InDesign. These are also just the basic steps. Creating a galley seems straightforward but, as the old adage goes, the devil is in the details. In this case the fun is there too! Finding the best fonts for the title, body, and folios, making sure you find fonts that look good together and match the theme of the manuscript, and finding glyphs for the folio, chapter, or section breaks that are unique and relate to the story are the things that make a galley unique and special.

References for galleys and their purposes can be found on Scribe Media and Career Authors.

pile of brightly colored books

Not All Fonts are Cover Fonts

Choosing a font for a book cover is a critical decision. Strong cover typography can help draw target readers towards your book; weak cover typography will quickly suggest to potential readers that the book is unprofessionally produced, and that might very well turn them away. There’s certainly a lot more to typography than mere font choice, but font choice is an important start, especially when you’re starting out as a cover designer. With a seemingly infinite number of font choices at your disposal, how do you sort out the “good” ones? Here are some helpful tips for choosing effective cover fonts.

1. Not all fonts are title fonts.

And preemptively, not all fonts are professional-grade. If Tip number one is sticking to title-bound fonts, Tip number zero is to stick to credible foundries, and sticking to Adobe Typekit fonts is a great way to do that. Moreover, avoiding “free” font websites will keep you out of potential trouble with licensing issues.

Even in the pool of professional fonts, not all of them are built for cover typography. There are plenty of wonderful body text fonts out there, but they’re built such that they have advantages for body text typesetting that don’t translate well to use on covers. Steer clear of using these fonts as your cover title font. This would be like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, and we can’t have that. You wouldn’t use a display font for your body text, and the logic of that goes both ways.

Adobe Fonts can be helpful in suggesting whether a font is destined for cover typography or not. Even simply witnessing how Adobe presents the font and shows it off can offer clues as to whether or not the font is meant for display purposes. And as always, you can look to professional book covers to get ideas for examples of professional cover fonts. When it comes to book design, imitation is more than a high form of flattery; it’s a reliable learning method.

2. Tailor font choice to the book’s intentions.

On top of being credible, cover fonts should be appropriate. Of course you wouldn’t use a script font for body text. You also wouldn’t use a script font on the cover of a sturdy John Grisham-esque suspense thriller. It’s critical to choose fonts that match your book’s intentions, fonts that agree with the book’s content, and fonts that speak to the book’s target audience in tones that are both assuring and exciting. When designing a book cover, your goal is to attract the attention of your target market without misleading them, and that begins with selecting an appropriate font.

Again, looking to comp titles might be your best strategy here. Study the conventions of different genres to learn patterns about their cover designs. For example, romance novels often have decorative script fonts with fancy flourishes on the letterforms. Contrarily, contemporary mystery novels typically showcase crisp sans serif fonts with breathy, spaced-out typography. When choosing a font for a book’s cover, if you ignore context, you’ll miss the mark every time.

3. Typography’s work isn’t finished after the font selection.

As self-publishing pro Tucker Max expertly advises on his blog Scribe Media, “The fonts on professionally designed covers are never just typed onto the cover … Even the perfect cover font will look unprofessional unless it is worked into the overall design.” This is where using professional-grade software really elevates your work. InDesign allows you to expertly manipulate typographical elements such as spacing, shading, relative sizing, lines, and more. Once you’ve chosen the right font for your cover, spending some time and energy tailoring the typography to your specific uses will mean the difference between an amateur-looking cover and a professional one. Invest time into simply playing with the typographical capabilities of InDesign; maybe try to recreate some of your favorite covers. The more well versed you are in typographical manipulation, and the more comfortable you are with your tools, the more successful you’ll be.

It’s an important job, cover design. And picking the right cover font might just be the most important decision you’ll make in that design process. But following these three tips can help guide you along toward producing successful cover typography.

A collection of charts and logos on a laptop at a workplace

Meeting InDesign On Its Own Terms

If the only word processors you’ve ever known are Microsoft Word or Google Docs, the first time you start up Adobe InDesign you may feel as if you’ve upgraded cars from a Geo Metro to a Lamborghini. There are new sounds and behaviors, and although the controls seem the same, it’s obvious that there’s more “going on” with InDesign. The good news is that like many other professional-level tools like InDesign, we only use a small number of its features on a day-to-day basis. The bad news is that over the lifetime of a book, that exact “small number” changes, and by the time the manuscript is all placed, the layout designer will have checked or changed nearly everything the computer needs to know about how to format the book. The best way to become fluent with a tool like InDesign is to practice, practice, practice.

“But how am I supposed to practice making books or magazines if I don’t have any?”

Now’s the time to imagine one up! Perhaps you do your own writing on the side or have friends who write. Try placing it into a fake book page just to see how it looks. If you’d rather not, then all you need to know is that between “educational purposes” and “terms of fair use” you can use pretty much anything you want. Scour Wikipedia for a good-sized article with some pretty images. Hit up Pinterest boards or a few Tumblr blogs. Copy and paste is your friend. But do keep your sources handy! If you make something you like, you may want to use it as a portfolio or demonstration piece, and then of course you’ll look like a fool if you don’t have your sources.

“I have some digitized Polaroids and my bassist friend wrote a bunch of really good copy for her snowcore/crust punk band. How do I make this look good?”

Use Benjamin Franklin’s method that he used to teach himself to write better.

  1. Find an example you like, as close to ideal and as real as you can: a magazine spread, a book, even a stack of index cards—InDesign won’t care!
  2. Examine the example and take notes on the stylistic choices, the dimensions, the margins, etc.
  3. Wait a while. Ben Franklin liked to wait a week, but some of us prefer as little as a day or an hour depending on deadlines.
  4. Attempt to recreate the original using only your notes. Do not look at the original; the point is to exercise your memory and creative powers. Emplace your own text if you like; unlike Ben Franklin, we’re practicing with layout and design, not the writing. In the end it doesn’t matter what the text is.
  5. Compare your reproduction to the original. Take more notes! Don’t worry if you didn’t do as well as you wanted; memory is an imperfect function and creativity arises from that gap between your memory and your uncertainty.
  6. Repeat these steps until you’re done, you’re sick of looking at the text, the deadline arrives, or your friend quits the band.

By using some other material as a “seed,” we take a shortcut around that dreaded blank page. Each time you try, you’ll learn more about which tools are critically important and which ones are less so. Taking notes is shown to improve one’s powers of recall and help you take on objectivity about how well you did. When you know how far off the mark you were, you’ll find it’s easier to reach it the next time you try.

InDesign is complex. Even those of us who use it regularly still have to look up small questions like “how to set lining numerals.” Many of the help pages on the Adobe website include video tutorials and example documents you can try out yourself to examine specific features and tools. Finally, there are several font websites out there that provide fair-use fonts for anyone to add, in addition to Adobe’s own typekit. Above all, don’t give up! InDesign might be daunting, but there’s nothing in there that practice and exploration (and judicious application of undo) won’t take care of.

small sailboat on blue waters with a city skyline in the background

An Author’s Guide to International Book Covers

You’ve written a book, and it’s been published—now what? First of all, congratulations! It’s not easy to get to this point. If your book has done well in the domestic market, you might consider trying your chances abroad. Like any new venture, research is key. A quick perusal of international editions of books reveals that they all have different covers—even American books published in England (or vice versa) get different covers.

So, why do international book covers exist? As the publishing world moves further into the digital age, the practice of separating copyright by territory or country is becoming less common. More and more often, publishers retain “world English rights,” i.e. the rights to publish a book in English in any English-speaking country in the world. Despite this change, many publishing professionals, especially those who work in rights, have pushed against the growing tendency for world rights, and their motivations largely have to do with covers and marketing.

It may sound oversimplified, but many people don’t realize how different markets are in different areas. What sells well in Boston may not sell well in Houston or Los Angeles, and this is doubly true for different countries. Even when a publisher or agent is absolutely sure that the novel they have will do fantastically in another country, they are always aware that the book will have to be repackaged to fit its new market. This includes the positioning, the promo, the tagline—and the cover.

If you want your book to sell well in a new market, it’s always best to have marketers and designers from that area work on the foreign edition. They will know which elements of your novel will appeal to readers in their country and how to entice those readers to buy your novel.

Now that you’ve decided to publish your novel internationally, what kind of cultural considerations should be examined for your new international book cover? Not paying attention to cultural norms and differences can lead to a lot of issues down the line and can dramatically impact sales. If your designer is not part of the edition’s target culture and market, or if you are designing your own book cover, research is absolutely necessary. Do a deep dive into how covers in your genre are designed in your target market—pay attention to colors, symbols, fonts, figures, patterns, ethnicity of figures shown, etc. Always do some beta testing—send your concept art to readers in the target market and see what they think. It’s important to be open to suggestions! It’s hard to predict cultural impact, and remember that while you may be an expert on your book, you’re not an expert on your book’s target market.

Book production is a collaborative process, and publishing internationally is even more so. Lean on your community and grow new ties as you go on this journey. We live in a global digital age, so you might as well make the most of it!

Design Trends In Contemporary Romance Novels

Romance novels have recently started gaining popularity. In light of the world’s current emotional climate, readers are looking for more feel-good stories to help lighten their spirits and escape reality. With the ever-growing popularity of the genre, there has been a surge in the number of contemporary romance book releases. I thought it would be interesting to explore the current cover trends and see how these trends have shaped designers’ choices.

It is important that designers capture the light-hearted, feel-good nature of a contemporary romance story through its cover design in order to gain the attention of readers. Here I will break down the design elements that I feel are the most prominent in some recent releases in this genre.

Color Choices

There has been a recent trend in color blocking and using bright colors in cover designs, specifically the use of colors such as yellow, pink, and light blue. These covers have minimal backgrounds and use these bright, eye-catching colors as the main backdrop, making the rest of the colors in the cover’s design stand out. The use of such bright colors alludes to the fun and happy nature of these romances. Having these simple colors as the background also creates a great spotlight for the rest of the elements in the cover. Designers seem to be keeping the overall color choices to about three or four colors per cover, and then incorporate those specific colors into different elements of the design. Simplicity is key!


Having people on book covers can be a big no for some readers. It is typical for romance novels to have real people displayed on their covers, and this frequently draws people away from these types of books. Readers do not want other people to see the cheesy “cliche” books they are reading. However, contemporary romance novels have recently incorporated illustrated characters, silhouettes, and other imagery into their designs. Most of the characters on these covers are faceless, but there are some instances where they have minimalistic features. I believe these are excellent choices and do a great job drawing in readers with these simple yet beautiful illustrations.

Font Choices

A majority of the recent covers in this genre have used sans serif fonts, with the occasional serif font sprinkled in. There is a lot less formality in a sans serif font, and it alludes to modernity. Sans serif fonts help contribute to the clean, minimalistic designs that have recently been seen in this genre. I think this is an excellent choice for these dynamic designs. These new and “trendy” designs are very eye-catching. The beautiful designs attract readers and intrigue them to learn more about these fun stories. I cannot wait to see what other beautiful covers will come out of this genre in the next couple of years.

How do you feel about these stylistic choices? Do you like these vibrantly illustrated covers as much as we do?

Personal versus Professional Branding in the Business of Book

In the age of social media, the art of personal branding is a vital aspect of ensuring the books that authors and publishers are putting out into the world are making it to the right audience. Everything from the cover design to the publishing business logo to the author’s Twitter account are all part of the message telling readers that this is a professional publication.

So what is the difference between personal branding and professional branding? Why does it matter, and when is it better to use one over the other? Let’s start by defining what each one is. According to Pamela Wilson of Big Brand System, a nationally recognized company that specializes in building online presences for both businesses and individuals, personal branding is “built around you—your personality, your interests, your lifestyle.” On the other hand, professional branding is “built around an identity that you create for your business.” This is not to say that a personal brand is not professional or that a professional brand cannot have a personal aspect or touch to it. More specifically, a personal brand focuses on an individual and a professional brand focuses on the business.

This is important for bookselling because, as mentioned above, branding fits into almost every aspect of writing and publishing. If you are a publishing company, you will need to have a brand for your business that represents what your goals and missions are. It should represent just what sort of books you will publish. Within your company, it is likely that you will either have inhouse editors and design teams, or perhaps you will work with freelance editors and design teams. In either case, these editors and designers likely have their own personal brand, even if this falls under the umbrella of the publishing company. They have a specific way they represent themselves to the authors and agents with whom they are working. If they are freelancers, they more than likely have websites, portfolios, and business cards with their own logos and individual branding that reflects the way they want to present themselves, both online and off.

Authors, too, have spent time building their images. At one point in time, we looked to the author’s personal history or biography, their book cover designs, and even their work itself as the evidence of how this author was meant to be perceived. I’m sure many of us remember high school or undergraduate Shakespeare classes where we discussed authorship debates. The things that we use to define a play or sonnet to be “Shakespeare’s” are the marks that his work has revealed with consistency: iambic pentameter, sonnets and the syllables and rhyme schemes therein, and the themes of the plays. This, for all intents and purposes, could be considered Shakespeare’s personal brand.

It is still more important today for authors to build their personal brands. So much of life’s interactions are done online these days, from Twitter to Instagram, Facebook to Snapchat, LinkedIn to TikTok, and email or personal web pages. Many well-established authors have, at very least, some form of social media. Many others have websites that are also linked to social media. In all of these aspects, they have learned the importance of building their online personas, or in other words, their personal brands.

A common misconception of personal branding and social media, especially among novice authors, up-and-coming artists, and other such individuals, is that self-promotion is a bit of a narcissistic trend when it is in fact a rather vital aspect of the success of one’s personal brand. It’s important to have that presence and persona in order to network both online and off, as well as aid in the success of your book sales. So yes, it is self-promotion, but for the purpose of self and for the purpose of your audience finding what very well could be their next favorite book. You want your work to make it into the right hands: the right agent, the right publisher, and the right readers. Making sure you are well-represented through a personal brand is the foundation on which you will build your career. Make sure it reflects yourself well.

Should You Design Your Book in Microsoft Word?

Mon, 03 Aug 2020 16:00:16 +0000

There are many stages to publishing a book. You have to write the manuscript, go through multiple rounds of editing, do marketing and publicity for its publication, and of course, it has to be designed. In the world of self-publishing, all this planning and work falls on the author, which, to some, is a great position to be in as it gives them complete autonomy over the entire process. However, this also means that, unlike working with a traditional publisher, the cost of these also falls to you—and it can start to add up very quickly. This leads to having to make some tough decisions and prioritize certain parts of the process over others.

One piece of advice given to authors to help them save money is to lay out and format their book in Microsoft Word as opposed to something like InDesign or hiring a professional book designer.

I can see the appeal of this. Word is a program that is familiar to most of us, especially if you’re a writer. It’s a lot cheaper than InDesign, which is a more professional tool that is also very technical and has a steeper learning curve.

However, there are many reasons why Microsoft Word isn’t the best tool for this kind of work. So, before you commit to doing all that work in this program, here are a few things you should take into consideration.

First: Word can be very difficult to control. If you have a book with elements like images, graphs, sections, etc., it’s difficult to get them to sit exactly where you want. You get very little precision when it comes to design and placement, which leaves a lot of room for mistakes. Some are small, but others will impede the readability of your book.

Second: Word has limited options for customization. With Word, you have a limited number of fonts you can work with to truly customize your work and make it stand out. While you can download custom fonts and use them, only system fonts will transfer over from one person to the next. So, all that work you put into your layout with all of your customization will disappear when you hand over the file to someone else and transfer it to another computer, as there’s no way to embed or package these elements to prevent this from happening. There’s also the issue of version compatibility. Since each version of Word is so different, chances are your design will not transfer over to the latest version.

Third: Word is not set up for print production. Currently, there are no options for setting up bleeds, no control over spreads, no way to package files, and Word also works in RGB as opposed to CMYK (the print color mode). All these seemingly small details can cause so many problems when you go to print as they can cause things to be off-center, your colors to be off, or your fonts to go missing, just to name a few potential snags. While there might be some workarounds for these, from what I’ve seen they don’t always work out, so there is no real solution.

These are just a few of the reasons why you wouldn’t want to use Word for layout and design. If you’re doing something very simple and straightforward that you’re not looking to put into the consumer market, then I see why this would be a good option for you. But if you’re going for something that looks professional and enhances the reading experience, Word is not going to be your best option for that.

While it may seem like the interior design of a book isn’t quite as important, it’s actually one of the key pieces that brings your book to life. Think about it: your reader interacts with the interior design of your book just as much as the story itself. How they gain access to the story is through its design. If your book isn’t laid out correctly and efficiently, the reader can’t get to the story, which will affect their experience and overall perception of the book.

Whether you want to invest in the interior design of your book is entirely up to you, what your goals are, and what you want from your publishing journey. As a book designer, I am a bit biased, but I also understand that designing a book is a lot more than just putting words on a page and picking a nice font. There are so many rules and finer details that make your book legible and something that readers want to look at, even at a subconscious level.

A Brief Guide to Children’s Book Design

We all likely remember a children’s picture book (or several) that we adored as children. Personally, I had an affinity for Go, Dog. Go!, a Dr. Seuss-esque beginning reader written and illustrated by P.D. Eastman. As one of the earliest introductions a child gets to literature, a picture book’s design and content are important to consider at every stage of production.

According to the article “A Brief History of Children’s Publishing and the Art of Visual Storytelling,” pictorial storytelling has been a foundation in many cultures since the dawn of time, dating back to early cave paintings. However, the original “picture book” only dates back 130 years ago, from artist Randolph Caldecott.

Since then, picture books have evolved to serve different agendas, from educational, such as teaching the alphabet, to more “edgy” topics in recent years, such as tackling what it’s like to be a child of divorce. With every change, however, according to editor and illustrator John Shelley, one thing remains consistent: the design of a children’s book must keep a child interested and entice them to turn the page.

Shelley explains that there are four types of illustrations in children’s books. The first type is a “boxed” illustration, meaning the image is completely contained within straight, abrupt edges. This can be achieved by placing a border around the image or by cropping the image to give the edges a sharp, clean line.

The second type of illustration is called a “vignette,” or an illustration that has fading edges. The borders are more loose, giving the image a sprawling, this-was-drawn-right-on-this-exact-page feel.

The third type is called a “spot” illustration. These are the small, free-floating images sprinkled throughout the pages.

Finally, “bleed” illustrations are images that are situated up to the edge of the page. Some bleed images span the entire two-page spread, and an elaborate bleed image can be effective for a highly-detailed climactic point in the book. These illustrations require an attentive designer who knows not to allow important parts of the illustration to fall in the gutter, the place where the pages are bound at the spine. If there is any action or a central character in the center of these full-spread illustrations, they will get swallowed by the gutter.

Shelley argues that with these four different types of illustrations, designers can play around with pacing and the mood invoked by a picture book. For example, let’s say an illustrator used four spot images to show a character—let’s name him Fred—running to catch the bus. The first image shows Fred grabbing his coat, the next shows him closing the front door, the third shows him running down his driveway, and the final shows Fred stepping on the bus. By strategically placing these images, you can create a sense of urgency that you would not get from a vignette or bleed image showing him stepping on the bus with text saying “Fred raced to the bus.”

Shelley also explains that the way the images are placed in relation to the text is imperative. A picture book’s goal should be to get the young reader to want to flip the page, eager to learn what happens next. So, for example, if the image of Fred rushing to the bus is placed on the left-hand page with the text “Fred raced to the bus, knowing if he missed it, he wouldn’t make it in time to present his project at the science fair,” the reader will find out whether he made it or not by simply looking to the right-hand page. But if you place that image and text on the right-hand page, the reader must turn to the next page to discover if Fred caught the bus in time. Shelley argues that a picture book’s illustrations and text should lead the reader down the page and to the right. The bottom right corner should be the ultimate goal of a page’s design.

Other aspects Shelley mentions to consider for designing a children’s book include identifying patterns to maintain throughout the book and the use of large and small images to create drama or draw focus to specific details. The most important items to remember, however, are the following: First, consider both the images and the text, not just one or the other. Second, remember your audience: both children and the adults who purchase the books and read to them. Third, keep in mind that the ultimate goal of a picture book’s design is to keep the reader moving forward. And finally, don’t be afraid to experiment and break the rules.