HomeBook DesignBook Design – Revisiting Classic Layout for Print and EBooks


Book Design – Revisiting Classic Layout for Print and EBooks — 9 Comments

  1. Did you look into the impact of book design for ebooks? You mention POD (also printed) but I did not see much of the popular theme of printing for ebook devices such as Kindle or Kobo. Here, users can select the size of their font, so the display is almost dynamic, changing with teh preferred font size of the reader. Any thoughts on this?

    • EBooks are specifically mentioned along with a suggested strategy for CSS at the bottom of the article. I actually have a lot of thoughts on eBooks and typography but I’m still “in the laboratory experimenting with ideas.” Stay tuned.

  2. I’m intrigued that page count doesn’t matter to small and self-publishers. All the POD services I use charge by the page – so 25 extra pages can add up and means you might have to increase prices to cover the cost. Also I recently did a really beautifully designed book for a self-publishing author that came to 238 pages. The author insisted I redo the design, including reducing margins and heading spacing, to bring it closer to 180 pages. With the best will in the world I couldn’t bring it below 200 pages (the original design wasn’t overly spacing, just nicely so), and she agonised over the cost of an “extra” 20 pages. Apart from print cost, it adds to weight and therefore postage costs. Perhaps these are uniquely Australian concerns where our printing and postage is much higher than in the US.

    On ebooks, I find you can spend a lot of time on design which is overridden by the ebook reading device – not just from the default view – particularly when it comes to page and paragraph margins, not to mention fonts.

    • If your goal is strictly to retail books, think of your book as a commodity and try to be efficient. But if prospective customer user has your book in-hand and is on the fence about buying, consider whether an “inviting” feel to the text might not tip the scales in your favor. The reader probably doesn’t care if you charge an extra dollar for a book; books are cheap regardless. Given the low profit margin on a $20 book, you can probably buy the same cup of coffee with your per-book royalties if the book brings on a tad less revenue. When you consider the fixed costs of flat-rate shipping on the low end and that big distributors ship by the boxcar-load, the differences in freight cost are also negligible. I’m sometimes surprised when people buy my books without even asking what they’re about; they see them, open them, and want to own them.

      I withdrew my paperbacks from the market; they don’t represent the way I want to be perceived as a writer. For an extra $5 I can deliver a cloth bound, foil-stamped, beautifully typeset, hardcover book. Why wouldn’t I?

      I’m an indie writer who will likely never sell books in large quantities; I can think of a million things I’d rather do than waste my time selling $20 retail products and at least a few of those uses of my time are guaranteed to be more lucrative. Every hour I spend marketing books takes me away from my studio where I can bill hours. Writing is pleasure. Book design is a joy. Publishing is an adventure. But I don’t spend much time worrying about whether I’ll make $5 profit on a book or whether my added pages will suck a dollar of that away. And if I ever have the high-class problem of having to print in volume, a switch from POD to offset printing will widen my profit margin more than a cramped design.

  3. What a pleasure to find other “typography geeks”! When I try to explain what’s “wrong” with a publication or ad’s layout, or what would be more esthetically pleasing to a reader’s eye to family or friends … well, their eyes are almost spinning. Anything that makes reading seem a “chore” is actually counterproductive!

  4. What a cool breeze of elegance to relieve the hot air of frantic hype we indie publishers and authors are sweating through now. Thank you for making sense and standing up for quality. Many winters before digital, excited by the type designer’s art, I ran across some of this. I recall tasting the thrill of Albrecht Duerer’s serif breakthrough of insight. If there’s an Edward Rolf Tufte Award, I nominate you.

  5. Since I got my iPad last week I am, for the first time in my very digital life, considering reading digital books.

    But I will always prefer print. And I will always prefer print properly proportioned, artistically designed rather then financially constrained. I try not to be frustrated when my clients look at the interior design I’ve created for their books and say “but it doesn’t look like a normal book.”

    I particularly appreciate your point that print on demand allows us to exceed the aesthetic employed by traditional publishing. For a few cents per copy, why would we not?

  6. Wow, Dave! Once again you’ve written a brilliantly researched article on a topic not many people seem to be considering these days. As a book production professional myself, I certainly appreciate the time and care you’ve taken to write this post—as well as to hunt down and provide the engaging examples.

    I admit, I’m one of those typography geeks, but I believe that comes in handy when working with self-publishing authors as I do. Someone needs to be looking out for the author’s and book’s best interest when it comes to beautiful, appropriate layout and design, and it’s nice to know there are professionals like you (and me) who care enough to make it a priority. I, too, pick up big house books sometimes and wonder how the book designer could have chosen the font he or she did, not to mention the line spacing or margins. Sometimes the density of the type is an actual detraction, neglecting to provide the seamless reading experience it should.

    With that I say: Long live the legacy of traditional publishing—which can be maintained beautifully, even in POD, with the appropriate attention to the vital details. 🙂