If anyone has questions about book/publication design, or design in general, feel free to ask.

Going to be even more terminally online for a couple of days, so if folks have questions about design - especially editorial design (books, magazines, publications, etc) - feel free to hit me up in the comments. Let's build a little public repository of cool information.


  • Hi Geoffrey,

    Thanks for putting this thread up.

    By way of introduction, I specialise in book interiors and generally avoid cover design.

    Everything you've said to @Yasmine Patpatia is spot on. One thing I'd add is that smaller publishers might ask an author to subsidise anything outside their usual product spec (such as printing some pages in colour) to the extent that, in the academic sector, specific research grants exist to provide funding for these subventions.

    I agree that cost is more important than quality for small publishers, especially in the current climate, and I've seen a lot of work go in-house to young trainees.

    Always on the lookout for new clients and have been considering Upwork etc myself, so thanks for the words of warning in your reply to @Iris van Dijk!


  • @Geoffrey Bunting thank you so much for your insights, it's very helpful! I will defnitely email some art directors and have a look at book design studios. I hadn't thought of that.
  • @Iris van Dijk As a rule, art directors at major professional publishers (your Penguins, etc) have a pretty solid list of book designers to whom they turn outside of their in-house staff. That said, there is never any harm getting in touch with them, introducing yourself and your work, and letting them know you're after book design work. After all, people retire, move into other sectors, and relationships can sour - so, too, do art directors move and new ones take their place, whose lists might not be so robust.

    So, if there's a publisher you want to work with, find out who their art director is, find their email, and have at it. It takes a bit of research but what doesn't?

    One thing to bear in mind, illustration is heavily favoured in that level of book design. If you apply for a job at Penguin, for instance, you're better off being an illustrator with a grounding in design (or a willingness to be taught it) than a book designer with a grounding in illustration, or a specialised book designer.

    Smaller publishers are probably harder to get work with as, more often than not, they have a single in-house designer or they're working with some very cheap, very untalented freelancers because cost is more important to them than quality. With smaller publishers, however, you're probably looking to reach out to whoever runs that house.

    Another avenue is book design studios themselves, who may be looking to outsource work in busy periods.

    for all of this you need a strong, robust portfolio of book design work that showcases your work at its best.

    Independents looking for freelance designers is a little more complex. There are Facebook groups and online communities you can get involved with, often lorded over by self-appointed self-publishing gurus and made up from folks who have bought their courses, where people are always complaining about not finding book designers. The catch being that a lot of authors who buy into that kind of stuff realise shortcuts don't really work, don't make any money, and then decide to start doing book "design" on the side. They're terrible and dirt-cheap, but they are aggressively defensive about their territory, especially when it comes to meaningful design professionals who threaten their workflow by, you know, not being amateurs exploiting people's thirst for cheap shit. So while there's work to be had in there, it's not great for the mental health given you'll constantly be under attack from people who don't care about design.

    That said, the jobs are quicker and easier to manage when you find the right client.

    One thing is for sure, stay away from bidding sites or any site that suggests it can help you find clients. This stuff does not exist - as much as design needs a sincere and well-managed directory like Hire-an-illustrator. Sites like Fiverr, Upwork, Reedsy, 99Design etc: all exploitative, shitty platforms that should be dropped in a bin but that a lot of clients (exactly the kind of clients no one wants) frequent.
  • Hi Geoffrey,
    Thank you offering to help! I would love to know how one would get on the radar of book publishers in order to be able to design book covers. For a long time, I have been wanting to get into book design but haven't had any luck with getting clients / getting in touch with the right people. I was wondering if you could provide any advice for this!
    (btw, love the poster!)
    Thank you!
  • @Yasmine Patpatia Traditional publishing generally doesn't go direct to publishing, but rather through a route of finding an agent and that agent selling the book to a publisher.

    Yes, going direct to small, independent publishers cuts out the middle-man, but that's where that significant drop in design / service quality kicks in, just be aware of that.
  • @Geoffrey Bunting thank you for this! It’s given me a lot to think over.

    Based on the challenges you’ve highlighted, I would love to go down the traditional route - but would need to find a small publisher willing. This feels equally testing.
  • @Yasmine Patpatia Design for a book you're writing depends entirely on how you intend to publish it. If you're looking down the route of traditional publishing, if you secure and agent and publication everything - including design - is handled for you. Now, the quality of that is dependent on where that publication comes. In the typical traditional route it's heavily professionalised, but there are publishers who are essentially self-publishing the book for you (often those who publish a lit mag or lit mags) and the quality there is significantly reduced because they simply have no budget, a smaller audience, and generally aren't book designers. This is separate to vanity presses which are exploitative.

    If you're self-publishing, then it's up to you to organise everything - editing, marketing, design, typesetting, etc - so you'd need to engage a professional book designer to handle your cover and a typesetter to lay the book out. Some do it themselves, and the results are as you'd expect. The difference obviously being you receive the majority of the returns, whereas you only get a cut from traditional publishing, and the quality control is drastically reduced across the board.

    Finding professional designers isn't easy for self-publishing. It's an industry that is very... dubious. A lot of self-publishing authors who bought into self-publishing gurus' promises of greater returns turn to book design when they don't make any money, it's why so many self-published books look beyond terrible. Similarly, a lot of general designers, illustrators, and other creatives will offer book design services that aren't much better. It's a specialised discipline with a lot of aspects that a lot of folks neither see in the finished project or understand when they undertake it.

    Nor is it cheap. Typesetting can, depending on the length of the book, cost as much as cover design and for that the lowest prices you'll see from professional book designers is £300/$350, but it's more likely to by £500-700 in self-publishing.

    There's no shortcut for this stuff, no matter how much unprofessional designers would like to pretend there is. There's no meaningful directory as there is with illustration, the industry is replete with exploitative bidding sites, and authors-turned-designers are full of terrible advice. Self-publishing isn't really where it should be and while individual success is possible, as an industry it's mostly a net negative.

    So, if you do find a designer, you're going to want to keep hold of them.
  • Hi Geoffrey!

    Where to start! I’m in the process of writing a book at the moment which is near completion in word form. I have no idea where to begin in terms of the design part or publication.

    Any chance we could have a chat about it? Yasmine

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