The corner stone of all great novels these days is phenominal book design. With companies charging upwards of $600 to create a custom cover, most self-published authors tend to ask friends to design their books or simply go the task themselves. This is a HUGE mistake.
The first thing a reader sees will be your cover. From front to back cover, you need your novel to be seemless. You need to catch the eye of the reader and suck them in so they have to purchase your novel and once they do, the interior design along with the story itself, needs to make the reader happy that they spent $16.99 on absolute perfection. YOU.
So, the question remains, where can you get great book design from concept to final product without breaking the bank? Well, I caught up with Christopher Katz, owner of Pequod Book Design to discuss his company, his secrets (sort of but stop being nosey) and quality book design. Visit his site at www.pequodbookdesign.com.
What made you decide to go into book design?
It was sort-of by accident, really. I made the acquaintance of a lit-mag editor, Jason Cook, while inquiring about his publication, the Ampersand Review. We got to talking, and he asked if I had any suggestions for a reading venue in Boston (my hometown) for one of his poets, Ben Lowenkron. I made some calls and landed them a gig at this great independent bookstore, Newtonville Books, just outside of the city.
I’m an amateur photographer, so I snapped a few pictures of Ben during his talk, did a little bit of fun Photoshopping, and sent them off to him and Jason. Turned out he really liked my images and eventually asked if I’d like to take a crack at this book cover that he’d been wrestling with. (Up to that point, the designers he’d been working with weren’t giving him what he wanted.) The book that he was trying to complete was the Re:Telling anthology.
Though it took several iterations of the cover to complete the task, I was hooked. I asked Jason if I could take a shot at the internal layout as I was building an idea about what it should look like. He was agreeable, so I learned some design software, read everything I could about book design and typesetting and had at it. Being a devout reader (and book lover, generally) helped me to tweak the cover design and interior so they complemented each other. Jason and various contributors loved the way it came out, and I was really happy with it.
I couldn’t wait to start on the next project. After the very positive reception of Re:Telling, Jason kept me on as Ampersand’s designer. Needless to say, I credit Jason directly with getting me started in this business, and giving me a shot. Based on Re:Telling and other stuff I’ve done with him, I’ve been getting many outside requests for cover and book design. I decided to make this a “real” endeavor earlier this year, and so Pequod Book Design was born!
What inspires your designs?
One thing I try to keep in mind is that I work for the publisher (in most cases). This means that they are counting on me to not only to make a beautiful and poignant cover, but also make the book sell-able. The customer who browses needs to feel compelled to take the book into their hands (or click on the image) and thumb through it. Part of that is making the object look like a book. Strange, right? A cover and a bunch of pages in between should look like a book, but there is a certain, specific geometry that goes into a cover design that makes you realize that this is a professionally made book and that you can trust its contents. I believe that a lot of this goes on in the subconscious.
So, finally, what inspires my designs? Research. I take what I know of the contents of the book, I try to figure out the target audience and do research on that genre’s successful book covers over the past, say, 10-20 years. I study those covers, then (purposely) forget what I have seen. What’s left in my memory are the vague patterns of the design. Then I start the design process where I incorporate elements from that book’s concepts as interpretations.
How long have you been designing books/ creating ads, etc…
As of this writing, roughly a year. I love it and I see it as something that I will always do.
What services does your company, Pequod Book Design, offer to it’s clients?
We do everything shy of writing the text and funding the publishing run! We do as much or as little as the client would like. We offer cover design (front, spine, back), consistent internal design and typesetting, promotional services like print and web ad design. To keep pace with the times, are now offering eBook creation.
One service that is not really spoken about, but much appreciated by all small publishers is how the book designer is the advocate for the publisher with the book-printer. We (the designer) spend an awful lot of time wrestling with the printer pre-press department to get the proof (and the print run of course) just perfect. We argue the technical details to get the job done to our and the client’s expectations.
If the client decides to go with an on-demand printing service, we format all of the electronic files and templates required for submission and help them as needed.
What is your favorite part of the book design process?
There comes a certain point in the design process when the cover actually starts to look like a book cover. Normally, I go through about a dozen iterations of the cover (more or less) and usually about the sixth one finally starts to look like a cover. That is one of the points in the process I really love. I feel accomplishment (and relief) at that point. I normally show the client the last two or three versions (a small percentage) of the covers, and by that time the design is coherent and melded, mostly.
The other very satisfying part is completing the final draft of the interior. It’s so satisfying to see all the edits incorporated, the copyright page built, the chapter heading art in place, etc. It’s like seeing a child grow up to be successful right before your eyes. It’s really something to see a manuscript turn into a book.
Do you ever plan on writing a book of your own?
Absolutely! I love writing and have taken several classes to try to learn more about story structure, plot, character development, etc… I have been writing for some time now, and have just started to submit my work to some lit-mags. I’m always wrestling with a few pieces, and when I can carve out a few moments, I work on them and love doing it.
What is your favorite book and who is your favorite author? Why?
Wait–is this a trick to get me to say Moby Dick, because the ship in the book was named ‘The Pequod’?
Seriously, the question is impossible to answer in the singular. I just have too many books and authors that I love. Here’s a few to give some sense of what does it for me:
-David Foster Wallace. Any of his books, and especially his nonfiction. Incredible. Made me want to be a writer.
-John Cheever, Collected Stories. A master of the short-story art form. Almost untouchable. His story, Reunion, is as close to perfect as any story I’ve ever read.
-Don Barthelme, The Dead Father, fantastical, hilarious story with incredible dialogue. Somewhere in Chapter 17 (I think) there is a short story embedded in the text called “A Manual For Sons.” This story alone is worth the price of the book. I read and re-read this before I start writing anything
-David Sedaris. Any of his books. One of favorite humor memoir and essay writers.
-Bill Bryson. Any of his books. Hilarious and interesting travelogues. The top in terms of the casual travel essay.
-Kevin Wilson, Tunnelling to the Center of the Earth, linguistic acrobatics that actually complement evocative stories and great characters. The new Southern Gothic.
-Donald Rae Pollock. Knockemstiff. Wow. Just wow.
-Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita. The most beautiful prose and the best flawed characters I’ve ever read.
-Herman Melville, Moby Dick. My favorite ‘journey’ book of all time with wonderfully real and relateable characters. Oh, and one hell of a boat.
Do you have anything you’d like to say to future clients and authors out there?
The thought and care you invest in your book’s design is the easiest way to influence the sales and positive reception of your book. Hire a designer that is right for you that will listen to what you want, read the manuscript (or a portion of it), and collaborate with you. Give the designer some artistic freedom, and they will give you something that may be beautifully unexpected and perfect for your book.