Studio Musings

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Lessons Learned: Thinking about Book Design

In earlier posts in my Lessons Learned series, I've talked about how I organize my book projects, from developing my outline to using Scrivener software to collect all of my text and research into one place.  As you collect the materials you'll need to produce your book, it's a good time to consider your publishing options. 

Choose Your Publishing Path
You could decide to contact the major publishers to see if they are interested in your project.  If your project is accepted, there are definite benefits to going this route.  Working with a major publisher, you have a sounding board for your ideas and the support of an entire editorial team working to make your book the best book possible.  Most of the major craft publishers, like Lark Books and Interweave, have submission guidelines available on their website.  I tried this route back in 2008-2009, sending out several submission proposals for my first book on freeform peyote beading.  When I never heard back, I started down the path of self-publishing. 

All of the books I have written so far are self-published.  Back in 2011 I wrote a post about my reasons for taking this route to publication; rereading the post, everything still applies.  I've found that self-publishing gives me the greatest editorial control over the content, allowing me to produce the books I want to produce.  But self-publishing also means a lot more heavy lifting on the author's part to create the most polished, professional book that you can.  Each book I've produced has been a learning process, and each book has benefited from my earlier works. 

Gathering and Sorting the Pieces of the Puzzle
For me, producing the book is like putting together the pieces of a several, thousand piece puzzle, made trickier because when I begin, I'm not sure if I:

A) have all of the pieces - often specific projects are incomplete, or still simply ideas, when I begin work on the page layout.
B) have pieces to more than one puzzle - invariably some of my ideas from brainstorming must be left on the cutting room floor (or saved for another project) to produce a cohesive book, but that's not always apparent in the beginning. 

While I continue sorting and gathering, I start working on my next step - deciding upon the specifics of the 'look and feel' of the book I want to produce. 

Developing your personal Page-Layout Reference Library

Look at Your Favorite Craft Books
My goal is always to produce as professional a finished product as I can.  This means my book needed to have a cohesive layout that is visually appealing and makes it easier to access the book's information.  One of the most effective methods I've found to develop my own 'look and feel' guidelines is to study some of my favorite craft books from other media.

Go to the library (or your bookshelves) and choose 3-5 books that you think are both beautiful and extremely useful.  It's safest to use a non-related media so that it's easier to focus on the overall 'look and feel' without getting lost in the information. 

Looking through your selections, use these criteria as a study guide:

1) Overall Book Dimensions:  What are the outside dimensions of the book?  8 1/2" x 11" tends to be the most common size for craft books in the US these days.  If your book is a different size, how does that difference affect its visibility on the bookshelf?  How does the size affect its readability/usability at the craft table?  

2) Typography:  What fonts do they use, and how do they use them?  Most books use different fonts for the chapter headings than the main text blocks.  What fonts do they use and where?  Most books use two or more fonts; a serif or sans-serif font for the main text blocks, and possibly a bolder or more decorative font for chapter headings.  Are the fonts serif, sans-serif or decorative?  Do you like the fonts?  Why or why not?  What are the font's physical sizes relative to the page, and to each other? Make notes on what you see.

3) Margins and Whitespace:  What are the books margins? Do the margins differ for the first page of each chapter from interior pages within each chapter?  Look at both exterior margins - the white spaces around each page, and the interior margins - the spacing between headers, sub-headings, and body text.  Also look at the white space separating text from photographs.  Do the pages feel crowded, sparse, or just right?

4) Columns:  How is the information on each page divided?  Do they use multiple columns?  How many columns?  Do all pages have the same number of columns?  If no, what are the different column layouts?  How did the author/layout editor use the columns to help present the information?  What is the white space between columns? 

5) Images:  Where do the images appear on each page?  Do the images fit within the exterior margins, or do they extend all the way off of the edge of the page?  When images stretch to the edge of the page without margins, this is referred to as "full-bleed" or "bleed".  Note that not all print-on-demand-publishers offer full-bleed printing capabilities, and it may cost extra to produce a book with full-bleed photography. Older craft books made more use of black and white photography due to printing costs; it still costs more to print with color, but it's not as prohibitively expensive.

Most craft books will include both process photos and more polished photos of finished pieces. What background do they use for the process photos?  How do the backgrounds in the finished pieces differ?

6) Illustrations:  How does each book balance the use of photographs versus illustrations in describing their process?  Are their illustrations clear and easy to understand?  What would make them easier to understand?  What do you like best about the illustrations, what do you like least?

Make photocopies or take pictures of some of the pages that you can print and scribble on about what you like and dislike.  Your goal here is to better understand how other authors and editors have used these basic elements of book design to convey their message.  Unless you are already comfortable with a page layout program, don't worry about developing your own templates at this point. Just make clear notes about the elements that you might like to use in your book. I often draw little sketches blocking out sections and pages. 

Some of my favorite books for recent study include Complex Cloth by Jane Dunnewold; Paper, Metal and Stitch by Maggie Grey; and Color on Paper and Cloth by Ruth Isset.  They are all amazing technique books by authors whose work I truly admire. 

Short Bibliography of Books about Typography, Layout and Design
I combined these studies with a couple of books specifically on page layout, developing my own 'course' in book design and page layout.  Here's a quick list of some books you might find useful (I was able to check most out of my public library):

I've found that the time spent developing the design framework for each book project helps me to stay on track later.  It's another way of thinking about and organizing the information; a way of looking at the forest rather than the individual trees.  I don't always manage to follow my rules, but at least they are there as a guide! 

This is my eighth post in my Lessons Learned series, about my experiences with self-publishing my latest book.  Right now, I plan to talk about how I set up my book project using InDesign in my next post.  But I'd love to hear from you: what would you like to see?  Have you found this series useful?  Are there specific topics you're hoping I'll cover? Inquiring minds definitely want to know. 


1 comment:

  1. You could make a Lessons Learned book!

    Honestly, I am not planning on publishing a book so I skimmed your post. However, I did slow down for the typography section. Sometime in the last year I began following which is all about typography, layout, etc... I mostly skim that too but it is fascinating.

    As for finding the series useful- see above about publishing. However, I would be content spending hours organizing things and I have found that part of your series captivating.

    I apologize if this is a re-post google seems to like to eat my comments.