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Book Design Estimates


March 7, 2021

7 tips for getting accurate book design estimates. 

Design is often the biggest investment you will make in your self-publishing project. To get accurate book design estimates, it is best to have a clean manuscript for your designer to review.

As a contractor, your project is important. You want to have a design that serves your content. Besides, you don’t want to pay for something you don’t like or pay for unnecessary redesigns. However, design is an entirely custom service, and the way you work with your designer can really determine how many hours your designer ends up putting into your project. 

Let’s say your designer estimates 20 hours for a project, and with no-fault, on their end, the project takes 40 hours because they were unaware that you would rearrange the chapters or that your word file endnotes were done in such a way that they had to be entered manually. Or maybe the images were not at an adequate resolution and would require redrafting. Does this mean they should bill only the time they quoted? Even when they estimated to the best of their ability with what they were given? Of course not!

But with that said, it is important to have a clear idea of the costs before committing to the design.  The best way to get accurate book design estimates is to give your designer a complete picture of the project.  And the best way to do that is to give them copies of your files.

Seven tips for getting accurate book design estimates:

1. Give your designer an electronic copy of your edited manuscript and your image files.

This way, the designer can see whether the files are clean, structured consistently, and technically sound. They can check and see if the images are at the correct resolution. If there are issues, they can point them out, and you can either fix them or they can put that time to fix them into their estimate.

2. If you need an estimate for budgeting and your files are not ready.

If you don’t have final files, clearly describe your project and let your designer review the files in their current state. They may even have ideas to keep costs down. If they are giving quotes with limited information, you may want to ask for a price range. Low where the files and art are relatively trouble-free to high where there may be unexpected hurdles. This way, you have an idea of the potential cost in advance.

3. Be careful of low book design estimates!

If you are getting competitive prices and an estimate comes in really low, there is a good chance the designer does not understand the job or is inexperienced. 

4. Make sure you understand what the designer requires from you.

For example, when I provide estimates for design on complex projects, I ask that all text is in order in one file. I usually have this written in my job proposal. If a client delivers a bunch of separate files, it will likely add time to the job.

5. Is this a rush job?

If the job is a rush order, some designers charge more. If they are brokering the printing, the printing may cost more too.

6. Do you want to own the source files and have the ability to edit them?

Owning the source files is usually not an option. When requested, it likely will increase the cost of the job. See, Who Owns the Source Files? if you want to know more.

7. Will the book be an e-book?

If the designer knows in advance that the book will be an e-book, they can consider that in the print book’s design and take steps to make the e-book production easier and produce a higher quality ebook.

Because a book’s design is entirely custom, estimating can be challenging.  Especially because you never really know what you will get. When I estimate larger design projects, I typically provide a range from trouble-free to not so trouble-free.  When I review the files, if there are things my client can do to save money, I try to give them the option to do that work themselves.

And finally, the best way to avoid estimating surprises is to give your designer all your files, and if they present a proposal make certain that you understand it. If you don’t understand, ask them to clarify until you do.

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