When a manuscript has finished its journey through developmental editing, substantive editing, and copyediting, it’s still just a text document. The actual process from manuscript to book involves more than just slapping on a copyright page and cover. Hundreds of tiny choices must be made along the way: what font should be used for chapter titles, body text, the epigraph? What kind of symbol or image should provide scene divisions? How much white space should the book contain? What should the color scheme of this book be? Artistic and highly specialized professionals guide Stillhouse Press in these decisions, making up the core of our design team.
We rely primarily on two people for the bulk of our design work: Kady Dennell, a freelance designer develops our interior layout and design, while our Art Director, Doug Luman handles cover design and brand development. Like each aspect of Stillhouse, book design is a collaborative process between. It’s important to us to not only develop an aesthetic and marketable product, but also to create a book that serves as a visual archetype to its literary content. For this post, we invited Kady to share some of the intricacies of this process.
The interior design process begins with design inspirations (interior layout and font choices used in other books that are either market matches for the current project or just well-designed products) from the author, the book's managing editor, and Stillhouse's Editor in Chief, Marcos L. Martínez. After the team decides on a direction, I browse through my library of fonts or research online for typefaces that will achieve the desired look. There are many aesthetic “families” that exist in typography, each with its own aesthetic consequences. The style of a font and its placement on the page, while it seems a simple thing, can completely alter the meaning of the content. Consider a sign for a hardcore workout bootcamp written in delicate cursive, or an entire novel presented in bolded comic sans. Neither of these properly evokes the genre, purpose, or central aesthetic of the content that the physical language is meant to represent.
Once I’ve found a set of typefaces that match our intended aesthetic, I then propose two or three layout concepts to the publishing team for their input. These concepts will consist of ideas for page number placement, text size, font, headline placement, and body copy font and leading (the actual justification and margin work of copy on the page). From there, I adjust the layout design and prepare style guides and master pages in Adobe InDesign, an industry staple for publication design. The next step is styling the text for the whole manuscript, which is usually done with two main fonts (one for chapter titles and another for body copy). After all of the type is stylized, I adjust spacing to minimize orphans and widows—the design term for words left dangling across lines or left on lines by themselves. Once the manuscript is laid out in its entirety, I submit the file to the editorial team and they do a comprehensive review of the now fully designed book. Once their comments return, I implement any final changes and design edits, and then the final is ready for print.
The cover is the face of the book. It is the first and often only chance to grab the attention of readers and encourage them to investigate what’s inside. A bad cover—one that is ugly, busy, or confusing to its audience—can lose sales, regardless of the quality of the content within. Alternatively, a good cover aims to convey key elements of that content and inspires the reader to take a closer look.
Our design process varies from book to book. Some manuscripts immediately suggest a strong design direction. For example, the design concept for Matt Fogarty’s Maybe Mermaids and Robots are Lonely emerged more or less as soon as our editorial team began discussing it (for a detailed look, read designer Alex Walsh’s post).
While the exterior design process is constantly evolving, it always begins with a conversation between our art director, Doug; the book's managing editor; the author; and the marketing team. Some authors are more opinionated about the content of their cover than others. Many come to the table with a list of things they absolutely do not want, which gives Doug a good place to start, though the beginning mock-ups are usually born from the manuscript itself. Once a general aesthetic for the cover has been developed, it's up to the designer to produce three or four concepts, which are then presented to the editorial and marketing staff for fine-tuning. The concepts are the narrowed down to one or two options. Usually, the agreed upon cover concept goes through three or four drafts before reaching its final state, which includes the placement of our logo and branding, the cover copy, and the final spine design. At that point, the marketing team signs off on the cover and it returns to Doug for final adjustments and rendering.
Once the interior and exterior designs have been finalized, the manuscript is then submitted it to our printer and a proof is ordered. If everything looks as it should, advance review copies (ARCs) or "galleys" are ordered. These are sent to media and used to proof the book before it is sent out for final printing.