Road to Publication: The Design Process

UPDATE — May 15, 2014

We have a final cover!

The final front cover with endorsement
The final front cover with endorsement


Originally published April 29, 2014

If you’ll recall, I left off last time having successfully navigated the copyediting stage of book production. For four weeks the manuscript for Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro had been with the copyeditor, which was a welcome break from the revisions I had been doing. However, I wasn’t completely off the hook. The book still demanded much of my attention.

The same day I sent the manuscript to the copyeditor, I sent another copy of it to the designer. I had hired a woman I have worked with in the past on other books (not my own).  From that experience, I knew she had done great work on books similar to mine. My husband, Chris, was involved in the entire design process, and after reviewing the designer’s online portfolio, he agreed she would be a good fit. We requested a quote, and it came back within budget. We were set.

The manuscript had the design elements coded so that the designer would know what level the different headings were intended to be. The book has four kinds of boxes, and each kind received its own set of codes as well. I also sent a design memo explaining what my vision was for the overall tone and feel of the book:

I’m looking for something calm, clean, and friendly. This is a how-to for new authors who are likely overwhelmed with everything they need to know about book publishing. I don’t want anything too big or bold that will add to their anxiety.

I included the format (paperback and e-book), trim size (6 x 9), desired/expected page count (208), and pub date (September 2014). I then detailed what I did and didn’t like in other designs, providing links to competitors for reference.

I also gave my thoughts on the cover design:

I would like to have a road theme (photo or illustration) on the cover to set up the Pothole and Roadside Assistant elements inside. In addition to the title and subtitle, I was thinking about having four bullets on the front cover to distinguish this book from the 75 other books on publishing a book that are out now. Perhaps you can give me some guidance on whether or not that will look good.

My first choice was a little cramped.
My first choice was a little cramped.
Chris's first choice was gray and pointy.
Chris’s first choice was gray and pointy.

Ten days later I received the first set of cover designs. There were three, and to be honest, I wasn’t that thrilled with any of them. I was expecting to be wowed, unable to choose because they were all so good, but that wasn’t the case. There was one that I really liked, but Chris thought it looked cramped, and the one he liked I thought was too pointy and gray. After a lengthy discussion we gathered our thoughts and I e-mailed the designer with our ideas for revisions. All of the covers had photos, so we also asked to see one with an illustration.

By the end of the week we had five more covers to consider. For the revised covers, one was much improved, another I found just as underwhelming as I had the first go-round, and the third, well, the third was an example of too many cooks in the kitchen. Sometimes when you try to tweak a design, you end up with a muddled mess. That’s what we got. The one I had originally liked best was now tied for last place.

The one I almost ran away with
The one I almost ran away with didn’t match the tone.

However,  there was one I absolutely loved! It was so fun and vibrant and welcoming. It was a funky illustration that I thought captured my friendly personality better than the others had. It needed a couple of tweaks, but all in all, I was ready to run away with it. My husband liked it, too, and even if he didn’t, he knew it was going to be hard to talk me out of it.

Shortly before bed, however, he made a comment that I really had to consider. “Do you think that cover conveys the tone of the book?” I was dismayed. There was nothing wrong with the cover. It was great! But . . .

He might have a point, I thought. I slept on it and when I awoke, I realized he was right. Instead, the one I had marked as the runner-up turned out to be the one that best fit the book.

The final cover showing the final subtitle

With the cover finally decided, we were able to really jump into the interior design.

I received the first sample and again, I was a bit underwhelmed. My desire for calm and clean had definitely been taken to heart. But this time, the revisions went much faster. To spruce things up, we incorporated the cover image into the chapter opener, enlarged the chapter-opening box to make it more prominent, and fixed the spacing on the A-heads.  I also asked for some different artwork for the Pothole subchapters, a different style of bullet for the bulleted lists, and a few other small adjustments. In ten days from start to finish, we had a final interior design.

The full design process took roughly six weeks, and I realize now that I should have started discussions about the cover before I even sent the manuscript to the copyeditor. However, with the copyeditor needing an extension and my final revision of the manuscript taking longer than I expected, we actually ended up with the final manuscript file and the final design coming together at the same time. We now have page proofs. I’ll tell you all about it  . . . next time.

P.S. We just received an outstanding review and have decided to add an excerpt to the front cover. Looks like the final, FINAL cover is still to come!

Also in this series

MS2BK: The Road to Publication

MS2BK: Manuscript Development

MS2BK: How I Chose My Path to Publication

MS2BK: Copyediting

Like this blog? Check out Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available through Hop On Publishing,, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Left Bank Books, and other retailers.

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