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The Studio XB
design process

Xb pencils

—from brief to finished article.

1. Cost quotation

One of the first things you will most likely want to know is how much your project will cost. Once I have an outline of what you need I can calculate a total for you.

When a total is agreed I will honour it. In exceptional circumstances it might become clear at a certain point in a project that there will be more time needed to finish it than has been budgeted for. I monitor the time being spent in real time, so I can normally flag up any potential overrun in advance and we can agree how to proceed. This ensures a satisfactory conclusion all round, with expectations met and no unpleasant surprises.

2. Briefing your project

As the client, one of your responsibilities is the creation of a reasonably concise and focused brief to give to your designer before any work begins on your project. This is akin to settling on a destination before setting out on a journey—without a clear destination, there will most likely be a lot of aimless wandering, which is fine for gap-year travellers but not so good for a businesslike and well-run design project. “I’ll know what I want when I see it” is therefore not likely to be a very effective brief!

It pays to have a general idea in your mind of what sort of finished product you’re aiming to create and, just as importantly, what you’re looking to achieve with it.

If there is anything in particular that has inspired you with respect to your project, do mention it in your brief. It’s also good to mention anything you most definitely don’t want to see. Don’t be afraid of colouring any judgements or leading down a particular path—it genuinely helps me as the designer to know where you’re coming from and what your vision is for your project.

Your brief doesn’t have to be an ‘official’ document with all i’s dotted and t’s crossed—a discussion is fine, where questions can be asked and things clarified. It really depends on the nature and scope of the project.

3. Initial design options

With the brief given, work can start in earnest. The first design stage is the exploration and presentation of options. The aim here is to present a range of possible solutions to promote discussion, so as to determine what best responds to your brief and has the ‘legs’ to go further in development. Although it’s possible that one solution will be a clear ‘winner’, it’s likely, and perfectly acceptable, that elements from more than one solution will be taken forward and combined in some way.

4. Refinement and honing of the design

Armed with your feedback from the initial stage, the desired design elements are then developed and pushed towards something that more resembles a finished state. Further revisions are made, as necessary, based on your feedback, and progress is made towards a final design that works.

5. Production of final files

Once you’re completely happy that the design is ‘right’, that it fulfills your brief and is ready to go into production, final files can be produced. What is created and provided to you will depend on how and where the finished design will be used. Every effort will be made to give you exactly the right format(s) so that your finished design is as high quality, easy to use and flexible as possible, and will be the best ambassador for you that it can be.

Book design⁠—additional considerations

With book design there are some additional specific elements to the overall process—so, before embarking on a book project, there are a number of areas that need thinking through:

Formatting your manuscript

If you’ve just starting typing your book manuscript there are some useful tips in this short article on text formatting that might help you stay organised and save you time later on.

Editing & proofreading

There are different levels of editing which can be applied to your book, depending on how close your book is to completion:

Developmental editing: Recommended if you are still in the process of writing your book. Assistance with structure, narrative arc and purpose, along with detailed feedback and assistance from an objective source.

Line editing: As its title suggests, a detailed line-by-line edit, clarifying meaning and correcting grammar & punctuation.

Proofreading: The final process, checking for typos and mistakes. The professionalism of your book and the clarity of its message can be undermined if this is not 100% accurate.

I don’t offer a full editing and proofreading service, but can recommend trusted partners who provide this specialist support.

Your book cover design

Each part of your book’s cover needs designing: for a printed book, that’s the front & back covers and spine, plus the inside front & back covers if your print specification allows for that. For an e-book you’ll need a front cover at the very least, and possibly a back cover too.

Like it or not, your book will be judged by its front cover, before a single word of it has been read. From an initial brief, I design the perfect balance of all these elements: your book’s title, your name as author, colours, typography and illustrative design plus any other promotional elements such as testimonial quotes. The aim is to end up with a cover which attracts and intrigues people to find out more.

The back cover needs to provide a concise and impactful summary of your book, to help with that instant buying decision. I also ensure that all relevant details are included, such as testimonial quotes, author info, price and ISBN barcode, as needed.

Then, on a printed book, there is the spine—a small sliver of the overall design usually, but so important to get right when your book is on the shelf with other books. The width of the spine will depend on the final page count of your book and the paper used for the text pages, so finalising the cover is best left to the very end of the design process.

In addition, you might want to use the inside front and/or back cover for further promotional, informational or pictorial content. For a printed book, it depends on whether this option is available to you within your chosen print specification.

Typesetting your book

With a printed book, the first thing to establish is a suitable page spread layout (or perhaps more than one, depending on the nature of your book), including chapter headings, body text styles etc.

Once this has been created and approved, the text of your manuscript can be brought into the page-layout application to be formatted and typeset. Some of the styling can be automated, depending on the file format of your original manuscript and the application of text styles within it, but much of this stage will still involve manual formatting to ensure nothing is ‘lost in translation’.

There may be an additional level of design and layout needed if your book requires illustrations, graphics, tables or graphs. I can organise all these elements for you, to ensure that a consistent, satisfying style runs throughout your book.

E-book creation

You might want an e-book version of your book, whether in addition to, or instead of, a printed version. If so, the first thing to decide is what format e-book will best suit your particular book and your intended selling or distribution platform for it. Getting that right will contribute to your book’s uptake and success, and save you the hassle of false starts and blind alleys.

Currently, the three most widely-used e-book formats are:

Reflowable EPUB: This is best suited to books where compatibility with the widest range of reading devices is more important than strict preservation of layout and styling. It’s the ideal—in fact, essential—format for text-heavy books, such as fiction, where layout is uncomplicated and there is little or no illustration. Reflowable EPUB gives the reader maximum flexibility, as the content will flow to fit the screen of their reading device, and things like fonts and text sizes can be altered by them to suit their individual needs and preferences. The advantages of choosing this format are that file size is relatively low (resulting in quicker download time), and you are giving the reader more choice about how they view your book. The main compromise is that complex layout is not possible, and any specific styling elements you set, such as fonts or type sizing, can be overridden by the reader (although text hierarchy—relative sizing of chapter headings, sub-headings, body text, etc—will be retained). This means, amongst other things, that you need to present your content in a simple, single-column layout with very simple styling, simply defining what each text element is in the hierarchy. Any graphics need to be placed between paragraphs, so they maintain their position in the text as it reflows—no design features, such as text wraparounds, are possible. Because of all this flexibility in how the text falls, pages are not a relevant concept in reflowable EPUBs, and fully-hyperlinked tables of contents are a must to help the reader navigate the book.

Fixed-Layout EPUB: This is the choice if you want to try to preserve the layout and styles within your book (for example, to match a printed version as closely as possible), but optimised for reading devices in terms of ease-of-use, file size, etc. As the name suggests, unlike reflowable EPUBs, this format does not rearrange the content, or reflow it, to fit the reader’s screen. Instead, it preserves the layout and styles intact, so you have fixed pages, more akin to a printed book or PDF, but rendered on-screen from code. This format, then, is particularly useful for design-heavy and image-heavy projects such as heavily pictorial lifestyle books, where the quantity of text is relatively low, and retaining the aesthetics of the document is more important than flexibility for the reader. The main downside is that not all e-book vendors currently support this format—Apple Books is the main one that does; Amazon, for example, doesn’t—so you are limiting your potential readership by opting for it.

Fixed-Layout PDF: This is the format that will remain most faithful to a printed book layout. Its use in the book market, however, is relatively narrow, and mostly restricted to things like children’s picture books, user manuals, and giveaway downloads from websites.

Publishing your book

Once the final cover and text have been approved by you for publication, the final files can be produced for you to send to print and/or upload to your publishing platform(s).

For a printed book, these files will be provided to you in the appropriate format for you to print from—normally as high-resolution, press-ready PDFs, with the cover as one piece of flat artwork in one file and the text pages as a separate page-by-page file (with bleed and trim provision as required by your printer). How, and where, you get your book printed is, of course, your decision, but I can help you with any questions you might have before making that decision.

For e-books, you will receive the relevant format files, containing all the necessary data, for a seamless upload to your chosen platform(s).

The final files for all the above are yours to use wherever, however, and as often, as you wish (provided all agreed and invoiced costs are settled within a reasonable time, of course!).

Promoting your published book

Your book will only sell if people know about it. This is simple and obvious to say, but quite tricky to achieve, particularly on a tight budget.

Help is out there for you, in the shape of blog articles, how-to videos, book marketers, etc. Which help you choose to seek out will depend on how much promotion you are prepared to do yourself, and/or whether you feel you can justify outsourcing your marketing, with the associated costs that will bring.

Remember, there’s a reason why it’s called self-publishing—you are ultimately solely responsible for your book’s success (however you wish to judge that), and you will have to put considerable work into the publishing part of the process, beyond the initial writing and creation of your book!

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