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. 

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How to publish a book: Planning

I’m a publisher at Cambridge University Press. As the oldest publishing house in the world (in operation since 1534), Cambridge knows how to make a book. And a lot of people want to write and publish a book. I often get asked about the steps involved, so here goes. The process remains roughly the same if you are publishing a bible, a textbook or a poetry collection, but I will use examples from educational book publishing. This would be considered a traditional publishing process. Even if you are self-publishing your work, you’d generally need to complete the same steps, although with the help of online services some of these tasks can be automated or consolidated.

I’ve split this blog post into three parts – planning, designing and developing.

Planning a book

The more work you do upfront in planning your book, the easier the process is later down the line. One of the first decisions that get made is around the format, presentation and the number of pages. Most people know paper sizes based around the pages of the office printer, the standard A4 (doubling to A3 and halving to A5) or US-letter. There are, however, a lot of other options such as truncated A4 and Narrow Crown, which we use in publishing. The decision on paper size (or trim size in publishing parlance) directly relates to printing costs. Specific formats can be printed more efficiently and more economically. At the same time, the type of book you are publishing influences the size of the page. Think about a textbook and its diagrams and boxes in the margin vs a book of poems – different paper sizes for various purposes. There is a whole lot more that goes into printing, but from a publisher’s point of view, you need to know what size you are developing a book for as this affects how much space per page you have for content.

The second choice to be made is around the presentation of your book. Whether your book is black and white or in colour and what it will look like to the reader. Again this has cost-implications for printing your book. But this decision is led by the purpose of your book. Think again about the textbook and the poetry collection and which type of book would benefit from full-colour. While you may not have a design for your book yet, you should be able to estimate the font-size and font-type based on your target audience. For example, a reading book for a primary school learner will have a much larger font in comparison to a training manual for a professional in the workplace. Decisions around presentation will directly influence your estimated number of pages.

Lastly, decide how many pages you want your book to be. Publishers, so fond of acronyms and jargon, call this the extent of the book. Generally, we try to get this number as close as possible to 16-page sections, i.e. divide your total extent by 16, and if you get a whole number, you are good to go. This is the most economical way to print a book due to the size of the paper used by commercial printers. I’ll write more on this at a later point, and also touch on paper weight, binding, printable extents and other intricacies of commercial printing. If your book is only going to be available digitally then this doesn’t concern you – full-colour and reflowable to screen size will be standard for most e-books.

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Along the Way

Along the Way is a book inspired by Doung Anwar Jahangeer‘s CityWalk. In December 2007 a call went out to Durban’s creative community inviting proposals for an upcoming art festival, Cascoland. Under the theme of “mobility,” the festival was to take place along a specified route with the aim of interaction with public space. As we walked the city it became apparent that the route was less about the buildings, walls and roads—the traditional infrastructure of the city—and more about the people we met along the way. We decided to focus on these people, to celebrate their lives in some small way.

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