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How to Hire a Book Designer
by Gayle Martin   
Not "rated" by the Author.
Last edited: Saturday, November 20, 2010
Posted: Sunday, December 28, 2008

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Congratulations! You’ve just finished writing your book. What’s next?

As authors we know that the real work begins when our manuscripts are finished.  And whether you are self-publishing or working with a publisher, there are a lot of decisions to be made.  Some authors will leave the creative decisions for their books to their publishers.  And in the case of traditional publishing these decisions may be out of the author’s hands.  But today authors have more publishing options than ever before and many are choosing these other options. 

When I took a survey of authors I discovered one of the most common reasons many are steering away from traditional publishing is because they want more creative control over their books.  But with creative control comes additional responsibility.  What author doesn’t want to have his or her book to look just as polished and professionally designed as those produced by the major publishing houses?  But how do they go about doing that?  Many authors may have no idea where to look for help.

I’m lucky in that regard.  I was a graphic designer long before I was an author, so I could do my own typesetting and create my own book covers.  However the vast major of authors probably don’t have a background in art and design.  But those of you who don’t have an artistic background need not despair. There are plenty of options out there.

Some self-publishing companies have on-line templates to help authors create the look and feel of their books.  For an author on a limited budget with little or no graphic design skills this can be very helpful.  If your book is intended for a small, select audience this is probably all you will need.

Other authors may attempt to “get creative” with software programs such as Word.  Unfortunately the end result can be a book that looks homespun or amateurish. That’s because graphic design, like other artistic forms, is a discipline.  It takes hard work and many years of training to become a graphic designer.  It’s simply unrealistic to assume that a template or a software program will turn anyone into an instant graphic designer, and there is simply no replacement for a professionally typeset and designed book.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons why self-published books are often looked upon with disdain by book reviewers, bookstores, and the media.

If you are working with a small publisher they may handle your book design for you, just like the big publishers do.  Subsidy or partnership publishers may also help you with typesettng and book design, and any extra costs involved are well worth the investment for those who lack artistic skills.  These publishers will either have an in-house designer, or they will have designers they can refer you to.  But if your publisher does not offer this service, or if you are self-publishing, you will need to hire your own graphic designer. Qualified book designers can be found, if you know where to look. Here are some tips to help make the process easier.

  • Associations and e-groups.  Most authors belong to associations or e-groups, many of which have on-line forums.  Post a message that you are looking for a book designer and ask others who they have worked with.  Chances are you’ll get some good responses.
  • Google or other Internet search engines.  Keywords such as graphic designer, book designer, or typesetter, will yield dozens, if not hundreds, of results.
  • Art schools.  If you are on a tight budget you may want to consider contacting the art department of your local college or university.  Better yet, if there is an art college in your community, contact them.  Art students, particularly those who are getting ready to graduate, will jump at the chance to have a paid commission in their portfolio.  Oftentimes their work is as good of quality as a professional but they mostly likely will not charge as high of a fee.  However one word of caution here.  Book design is a graphic design specialty that some art schools may not teach.


Once you have your referrals you will need to look at samples of their work.  These days many designers have their portfolios on-line.   When you see something you like you should contact the designer, either by phone or by e-mail, as soon as possible.  Designers can get very busy, so the sooner your book is in their queue the better.  Introduce yourself, let him or her know what you are looking for, and, most importantly, be upfront about your budget.  This can save both of you from some nasty surprises down the road.  Some designers may want you pay a portion of their fee up front, while others may not bill you until the job is complete.  Not everyone works the same so be sure you have an agreement, in writing, that you are comfortable with before you proceed any further.  If something doesn’t feel right move on.  There is no shortage of talented people out there.

You should also have a general idea of how you want your book to look before contacting a book designer.  Remember no a designer is a mind reader, so If you are unsure I would recommend visiting your favorite bookstore and looking at other books that are in the same genre as your book.  Never ask a book designer to work on speculation, such as asking him or her to create a "sample" for you, to help you decide who to hire.  Would you ask your doctor or your income tax preparer to work on speculation?  Why should you expect a creative service provider to work any differently?   If you don't see anything reasonably close to what you are looking for in their portfolios simply tell them thank you and move on. 

Once you've found what you are looking for and have hired a designer the following tips will make the process of creating your book easier and more fun for both of you.


  • Give your designer as much information as you can.  The more you can tell him or her about what you want the easier it will be for them to do the job.  And don’t be too embarrassed to hand them some little stick figure sketch.  They won't laugh at you.  As a matter of fact they might just thank you for making their job that much easier
  • Offer your designer a copy of your manuscript.  This can be especially helpful if you want excerpts on your back cover.  Just don’t ask the designer to review your book – that’s not their job.
  • Do you want to include photos or illustrations?  Not all graphic designers provide photography or illustration services.  Ask if they have photographers or illustrators that they work with, or if they can help you find an illustrator or photographer.
  • Have a fair and reasonable deadline.  Graphic design is an art and art takes time to create.  You will not get good results if the job is rushed.
  • Remember that no designer can crawl into your head and see what you’re seeing in your mind’s eye.  What they create will be their interpretation of your ideas.
  • Rough layouts are just that. They may contain some “greeking;” a filler text that will indicate where copy is to be placed. Rough layouts are not the finished product.  Don’t fret if they lack polish.
  • Be clear and upfront about who owns the rights.  This should be clearly stated in the contract.  As a general rule you will have the right to use the design for your book cover and your book’s promotional materials, such as websites, post cards and bookmarks.  But should you decide to use the design for something other than your book, or if later on you should decide you want someone else to change the design, you may need to obtain the designer’s permission.

Cultivate a good relationship with your book designer.  Be clear about what you want.  Have a reasonable deadline.  Your book is far too important for anything less.

Gayle Martin is the author of the Luke and Jenny series of historical novels for young readers.  She has a degree in fine art from Arizona State University and attended the Academy of Art College in San Francisco.  For more information please visit her website.








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