Each year since 1985, the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) Benjamin Franklin Award recognizes excellence in book editorial and book design in fifty-six categories. In 2021, the AuthorImprints-designed Anonymous Is a Woman by Nina Ansary won the gold award for best interior design.
In this article, I want to share some background about our design process, along with the three unique challenges this book presented and how we solved them.
I’ll also explain how self-published book design differs from designing traditionally published books. Specifically, there are five things common to every book design we create.
About this project
Anonymous Is a Woman: A Global Chronicle of Gender Inequality by Nina Ansary (Revela Press) is a 4,000-year historical journey written to expose the roots and manifestations of systemic gender discrimination. The heart of the book comprises biographical profiles of fifty forgotten female innovators and their groundbreaking contributions to the global community.
AuthorImprints completed this project for Revela Press, beginning it in the summer of 2019 and completing it in March 2020. Petra’s stunning artist renderings of the 50 women were complemented by AuthorImprints designer Kerri Esten’s inspired book design.
By the way, the book also won the silver award in the history category.
Three unique book-design challenges and how we solved them
The composition of the editorial matter of the book was unusual. Anonymous Is a Woman is composed of four chapters, an introduction and conclusion, and 50 biographies of varying lengths.
- More than 80 percent of the page count is devoted to the 50 biographies.
- Due to the scarcity of the information available for some of the women, a biography might be as short as slightly more than one page. Others were double that size.
- In other projects, it might have been possible to arrange the order of the biographies by length or edit them to fit. However, these bios had to appear in the order of the subject’s birth year.
- And finally, the author wanted each artist rendering to be prominently featured.
Here are the three primary challenges we faced and how we handled them.
1. Where should we place each artist rendering?
Normally, we would start each chapter or major section of a book on a right-side page, the most powerful location.* Obviously, we prefer to place the art on the right-side page.
We quickly realized this wouldn’t work due to the varying lengths of the text. This design would have required inserting too many blank pages to force that layout.
Instead, we simply allowed each biography to “flow” in its natural order, without the insertion of blank pages. In a few cases, we reversed the direction the woman is looking. For example, a full-profile sketch of a woman looking left on a page—where the bio is on the right—can be off-putting to the reader. We preferred that she be gazing at the text.
2. What to do with all the mostly blank pages
We still had the problem of lots of mostly blank pages. A partially blank page at the end of a chapter is not an issue when designing typical chapter books. But in our case, about 40 of the 50 bios have a second page that is between 25 and 90 percent blank.
We had asked the artist to provide a few small graphics. The idea was to pick one or two for placement at the end of the text so the reader knows the rest of the page is intentionally blank.
Instead, the artist created 20 of these. They varied in color, form, size, and texture. All were in the style and feel of the 50 portraits.
Rather than placing one high-resolution graphic at the end of each bio, Kerri applied them throughout the book, many like brushstrokes on a page or across pages.
When done, 29 of 50 bios use one of these background graphics. The graphics also appear in other locations within the book to help create a cohesive design.
The effect was obviously beautiful and a key reason why I think the book received the Benjamin Franklin Award gold award.
3. How to help the reader discover the contents
As mentioned before, the four chapters plus the introduction and conclusion comprised just 20 percent of the book, 37 pages. Given the international scope and historical significance of each innovator—not to mention our desire to avoid creating a hierarchy between them—we decided to create a separate directory to point readers to each individual woman.
This we placed on facing pages immediately following the book’s standard table of contents.
Such a layout made it easy for the reader to visually grasp the scope and breadth of this collection of forgotten innovators. After all, the biographies were written to stand alone as individual short essays. A additional contents page made it easy for a reader to dip in and out of the contents.
All our book publishing engagements have these five things in common
One term we hear our clients frequently mention is control. Self-publishing isn’t always the publishing path of last resort; sometimes clients choose it because they want to have control and be part of the process.
At the same time, clients are rarely book-publishing professionals. They seek guidance throughout the process, because in the end, they want a book that can compete with the design and editorial quality common to traditionally published books.
Here are five important things to understand about how AuthorImprints designs self-published books.
1. We begin every book project by asking this question: How will the book be made available for purchase?
Most self-published books utilize print-on-demand, POD. The two most popular POD printers for self-publishing are Amazon and IngramSpark. That’s primarily because the books they produce can be offered for sale in online stores.
Anonymous Is a Woman is not a POD book; it was printed commercially. This requires a different arrangement for selling to retailers and listing in wholesale catalogues.
AuthorImprints is unique in that we not only design books, but we manage self-published book distribution. It’s a powerful combination.
2. We welcome client design input early in the process—in fact, we insist on it
Clients send us books and photos of designs they like. If they want a specific look or style, we accommodate it.
For Anonymous Is a Woman, we researched interior design options four months before beginning on the layout process.
3. Because every book is unique, each of our designs are unique
About the only thing our book designs have in common is margin widths. Even then, we’re happy to adjust these to accomplish a particular goal, such as a specific page count or minimizing the number of pages (to lower the manufacturing costs).
But the truly fun part is creating an interior that is in harmony with the cover. Here, we go out of our way to tie these two important, and distinctly different, designs together.
In general, our book layout and design process does not begin until we complete the cover design.
4. It’s a team effort that relieves our client from having to be the publishing expert and project manager
A minimum of three people work on our book designs. This helps to ensure consistency, minimize errors, and interject design perspectives.
This also saves you, the client, time.
5. We follow industry best practices and design standards—we call it Professional Self-Publishing.
There are specific best practices when it comes to book design. At the same time, it’s okay to break the rules—as long as you know when and how to do that.
Winning the IBPA Benjamin Franklin gold award for best interior design was not a goal we set out to achieve. In fact, we didn’t know our publishing client had entered the book in the contest! But we are thrilled for our client and proud of the final product.
Interested in seeing more of our creative interior designs?
Visit our project gallery and click on a book. It will link to Amazon where you can use their Look Inside the Book feature to explore the interior design.
*In book-speak, the right-side page is called the recto in Latin-based languages (books that read left to right). For right-to-left reading books, like those in Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic, the recto is on the left. Both Amazon KDP print and IngramSpark POD support right-to-left reading books.
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