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2. What You Can And Can't DIY When Launching Your Book: Design

2. What You Can And Can't DIY When Launching Your Book: Design

2. What You Can And Can't DIY When Launching Your Book: Design

Part 2 in a 3-part series on what you can - and can’t - do yourself as an indie author. Part 1 covered DIY editing. This article goes over the two different types of design work that go into book production, and what that means for you as an indie author.

Part 2 in a 3-part series on what you can - and can’t - do yourself as an indie author. Part 1 covered DIY editing. This article goes over the two different types of design work that go into book production, and what that means for you as an indie author.

Part 2 in a 3-part series on what you can - and can’t - do yourself as an indie author. Part 1 covered DIY editing. This article goes over the two different types of design work that go into book production, and what that means for you as an indie author.

Book Design

What is book design?

Sometimes called “interior layout,” “book layout” or “typesetting,” book design is the process of formatting the ebook and print versions of your book. It takes into account things like font type, size, and spacing, page margins, and trim size (trim size is the size of the page, ex 5x8 inches). A book designer will make sure things like images, tables and other special formatting look legible and professional.

There are two types of layouts to choose from when designing an e-book specifically: fixed layout and flexible layout. Books where things need to be in an exact location on the page, such as picture books and cookbooks, require a fixed layout. In all other cases, you’ll be using a flexible layout.

Does it apply to me?

Do you have a book? Yes? It applies to you. 

Can I DIY book design?

Yes! There are tools to make this both possible and easy. Which tool you use depends on whether you are preparing files for print or ebook, for fixed or flexible layouts.

In most cases, you can use a tool called Atticus. With Atticus, you import your manuscript from Word (or Google docs), then the tool allows you to export a fully designed file ready for upload. They offer themes so you can choose the general style that matches your book. For example, the styling for horror is quite different than for a non-fiction business book. Then you can export a PDF to use as your printed book, and/or an EPUB to use for your ebook.

Other tools you can use instead of Atticus:

  • Scrivener - the grand-daddy of the book layout softwares. It’s a bit clunky to use, but it has been around for a while.

  • Vellum - similar to Atticus, but for Mac computers only.

However, if you have a fixed layout book, you’ll need to use some more specialized design software. Examples of design software you can use:

  • Adobe InDesign - the industry standard software, but it is expensive and has a steep learning curve.

  • Affinity Publisher - a more affordable alternative to InDesign, but with an equally large learning curve.

If you’re not comfortable with design software, and you need a fixed layout design, you’ll want to hire someone to do this job for you.

Cover Design

What is book cover design?

It’s the cover of your book. For ebooks, this is just the front cover, and it has a specific vertical format. For printed books, the size and shape of the cover vary depending on the trim size (ex: 5x8 inches, or 11x8 inches). Unlike the ebook, the cover design for your printed book will have three parts:

  • Front cover design 

  • Back cover design

  • Spine design

All of these parts will be present in a single book cover PDF file that you will send to the printer, or upload to your print-on-demand service such as Amazon’s KDP or IngramSpark.

Does it apply to me?

Yes. Always.

Can I DIY book cover design?

I’m going to take a very opinionated stance on this and say: no. If you’re not a professional cover designer, then you should hire one. 

“But what about Canva?” you ask. Look, if you are a professional designer, then you likely have more appropriate tools at your disposal such as Adobe InDesign or Affinity Publisher. Canva is an excellent tool for many things, but it does not replace the years of experience that a professional cover designer will bring to your book.

People do judge a book by its cover, so make sure yours is as professional as humanly possible.

Sidebar: If you enjoyed the simplicity and honestly of this advice, then you'll love Frontlist. It walks you through every task in the book production and book launch process, and even helps you find vetted vendors to work with (if you so choose).

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As indie authors, it’s important to know when to DIY and when to hire a pro. Hopefully, this brief guide will help you make the most efficient choices for you. 

In part 1 of this series, we covered the different types of editing. Next up, we will do the same type of analysis for DIY illustrations.

About the Author

Tara Kelly left a cushy Silicon Valley job to pursue writing. Since then, she’s published a book on UX design, as well as seven children’s picture books under the pen name Kelly Tills where she tackles topics like neurodiversity, gender, and why you shouldn’t steal bananas from a monkey. Tara is the co-founder and CEO of Frontlist.io where she helps other indie authors launch their books on their own, and without falling prey to the predatory underbelly of the author services industry.

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