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Book Designer & Self Publishing coach

Writing for the Best Design

Manuscript Prep.

November 23, 2020

Three ways to consider design while writing your book

The number one way to save money on your book’s design is to consider its design while writing and editing. When you consider the book’s structure and build on consistency, it always makes for a better reader experience. 

It is not nearly as crucial to maintaining consistency in text-only chapter books. Although I still recommend the chapter titles not vary wildly in length. Text-only chapter book consistency is even less important if you are not using right-hand chapter starts.

The 3 best ways to create consistency
in your document’s structure

—1—
Work to keep similar items similar lengths
—2—
Be consistent with headline hierarchy
—3—
Consider spreads

  1. Work to keep similar items similar lengths
    Chapter titles, heads, and subheads, as well as sidebars and callouts, all benefit from a consistent length. If your chapter titles are close to the same style and length, they will play better together in the final designed document. For instance, if you have one chapter title that is long and meandering, and you have others that are short and sweet, the designer will have to pick a type size that will accommodate both lengths, resulting in a choice not ideal for either length. This rule also goes for sidebars. If a sidebar runs over a page or a spread, it becomes a design challenge to make it look like an aside rather than a continuation of your main body text.

  2. Be consistent with headline hierarchy.
    If you are going to use different levels of heads and subheads, do so consistently throughout the entire book. Nothing is more frustrating for a designer than to be halfway into a book design to find the author has changed their writing style and head style by beginning to use a level 3 head midway through. For this reason, as a designer, I rarely design sample page layouts until I can see all of the text. Then I try to design a look that accommodates the simplest and the most complicated pages.

    Head hierarchy and style sheets: One of the best tools for a writer to be consistent with head hierarchy is to use style sheets. Not only does this make the book easier to design, but when done correctly, style sheets can bring you one step closer to having an ebook with linked chapters. Using MS Word styles is one of the easiest ways to format an ebook. Fortunately, it is also a good way to prepare your manuscript to hand off to a designer for print or a publisher for review.

  3. Consider spreads, also known as facing pages.
    Not all books benefit from considering spreads. Books like chapter books do not require you to consider how pages face each other. However, some books require your writing to fit your related content on spreads. Books where each spread contains a different topic, such as a yoga pose, a workbook activity, and a meditation, benefit from considering spreads. Most illustrated children’s books benefit from considering spreads, even before the illustration is created. Typically, in an illustrated children’s book, the text relates directly to the illustration. Depending on the type of book, writing while considering spreads can add continuity and make your book more accessible to the reader and easier to design. 

Three ways to consider spreads:

  • Create some sample spreads. You can mock up your text in a word processing program and write/edit to fit, or work with a designer to determine a word count and then write your spread content staying within the word count. This can save your designer tons of time and your money if your text is edited to fit in spreads.
  • Create a storyboard. Storyboards are terrific when writing illustrated children’s books. You can experiment with breaking up the text and consider how your illustration ideas work with the spread content. Storyboard drawings do not need to be refined. They can be rough stick figures and notes to the illustrator. Storyboards are a great way to visualize how to chunk your content and figure out where you need illustrations. If you are working with an illustrator, this is a great way to give the illustrator an idea of where to leave space for the text.
  • Consult your designer early on. If you already have a relationship with a designer, you can work with them to design sample spreads with your rough text to determine a word count per page that you can edit to.

To practically consider your book’s spreads, it is useful to envision how you want your physical book to look. You don’t have to be a designer to do this.  All you need to do is find other books you like in your book’s genre and imagine how your text would fit in a similar layout. I call this valuable genre-research a fact-finding mission. The Fact-finding Mission is an efficient way to organize your options and gather information to make informed decisions.

The Fact-finding Mission helps to gain clarity on your project as well as to collect information that will serve you in your book’s production. I have created a free Fact-finding Mission workbook that can guide you through the process. You can download it here.

Also, f you are considering designing your own book, check out: Can I Save Money Designing My Own Book?

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