How to publish a book: Designing

I’m a publisher at Cambridge University Press and I’ve written a blog post on the traditional process of publishing a book. I’ve split this blog post into three parts – planning, designing and developing. This is part two.

Designing a book

There are books devoted to book design, and I’m not about to write another. Also, as a non-designer, this short introduction to designing a book is very un-designery with a focus more on product design. 

Now that’s out the way, let’s look at how we use a book design, or design spec as we call it in the publishing industry, and at what point it feeds into the book publishing process. The spec provides all the information needed on the final layout of the book – the colours used, the font sizes, the font type, paragraph styles and character styles. The publisher would generally provide a detailed brief to the designer on the intended target market for the book, suggestions on colour and font use, and all components needed in the book. The spec is also where the publisher develops out all the book’s features. For example, if you need an activity box, a table showing currency or some way to display dialogue or poetry, this is all designed as part of the spec. It is good to be as specific as possible with these components as it is a hassle to go back to a designer for a new feature once the spec design process is over. I’ll go into the details around textbook components in another post but see sample styles for various features in the gallery below. This type of detail is less relevant for novel publishing as opposed to publishing educational or children’s books.

There are three primary audiences for a design spec – the publishing team (publisher, author and editor), the typesetter and then finally the reader. 

The publisher 

When designing the spec, the publisher specifies all the components required in the book. Once the spec is complete, this is the first time the publisher can see how these features will look on the page and how much space they will take up. The publisher can also see how the text will flow with these features. They can also use the design spec to finalise their book plan and writing template, discussed in part one of this blog post. For the author, it is useful to see a visual representation of the manuscript they are writing and how the various components work together. The designer can create a stylesheet for Word which will help the editor organise the content in a structured manner as well as get a precise idea of whether the content will fit on the allocated number of pages. Typesetters generally required a styled manuscript to layout the book (or at least it makes their work a lot easier).

A styled and edited manuscript, ready for typesetting

The typesetter

The typesetter is responsible for taking the edited manuscript, along with the illustrations and images, and turn this into a printable book. Generally, they will use Adobe InDesign along with the spec design, but there are some alternatives to this. I’ve seen some exciting applications using web technologies such as XML and CSS. The edited manuscript will be styled (in Word) by the editor, and then the typesetter will apply these styles to the document in InDesign. They will make sure the content fits on the allocated pages, add correct levels to the headers (along with the associated styles), format lists and text-boxes, create beautiful double-page spreads as required and generally work with the editor to fix any issues they encounter. The typesetter provides pages to the editor for proofing, who sends back corrections to implement. There would be approximately three cycles of this process between editor and typesetter, before the book is ready for the proofreader. The result of the typesetter’s work is a finished PDF document, now ready to print.

A set of pages, with editor’s mark-ups for typesetter in yellow

The reader

The last and most obvious audience for the design spec is the reader. The design of a book should provide cues to the reader on how to consume the content – what is important content and what is additional, how to find specific information, and where you are in the book. This signalling to the reader is why there needs to be consistency in how components are displayed, for example, all key or glossary words are bold and of a specific colour or text extracts from a newspaper or magazine are in a yellow box. Colour is an essential tool for positioning the reader in the book. Each chapter can have a primary colour, and if the reader identifies that green = geometry, they will know they are in the geometry section if they open the book to a green highlighted page.

Do you have any questions you’d like answered? Ask them in the comment section below.

And finally, the third part of this blog post on developing your book.

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