Why attention to interior design can be crucial to your book’s success

Why attention to interior design can be crucial to your book’s success

February 27, 2023

I’ve enjoyed four very different non-fiction books recently, each one surprising me with how thoroughly enhanced it was by thoughtful (i.e.: great!) interior design. Not just a little enhanced either, but a holistic improvement where I couldn’t tell whether it was the way the words were written – or the way the words were presented – that made the book more resonant, more like an experience. In the end, it was obvious. It was the alchemy created by both.

And I’m not talking about non-fiction books that naturally pair with a cool design such as cookbooks, indoor plant books, fashion… I’m talking about a book on basketball, a book for mid-life women, a book on the tips and experiences of Asian women travelling the world… and yes, a book that you would expect to be creatively designed given it’s all about creativity (more on these books below!).

We already know that book cover design is crucial to a book’s likelihood of being picked up by booksellers, librarians, influencers, media and readers, but it’s the interior design (colours, fonts, typography, spacing, illustrations and imagery) that can also:

  • Heighten the appeal of a book.
  • Set and support the mood and tone of the book.
  • Really zero in on and appeal to the ideal reader/target audience.
  • Greatly improve reader experience of the text and themes, which in turn leads to additional word of mouth referrals (the key to any successful book!).
  • Provide a platform for brand-building (for the author and the book) by way of design elements from the book being repurposed for bookmarks, website material, social media, advertising, promotions, presentations, and merchandise.
  • Improve readability and enable better retention of key concepts.
  • Help readers quickly and easily find and return to key information.
  • Impact readers – and so much so – that they may share the design via their socials, thus amplifying the book’s marketing and visibility.

Of the four books I enjoyed, three were traditionally published and one was self-published. The books that captured me with their content and interior design were:

Asian Girls Are Going Places: How to navigate the world as an Asian woman today by author Michelle Law. Illustrations: Joey Leung, Artwork: Louise Zhang, Design: Evi-O.Studio(Evie O & Nicole Ho), Typesetting by Hannah Schubert. Published by Hardie Grant.

The Joy of Basketball: an encyclopedia of the Modern Game by authors Ben Detrick & Andrew Kuo. Illustrations: Andrew Kuo. Designer: Diane Shaw. Published by Abrams Image.

The Art of Full Time Living: Design a meaningful and connected life by author Natalie Yan-Chatonsky. Designer: Kristine Lindbjerg. Publisher: The Book Adviser.

Creative Acts for Curious People: How to think, create, and lead in unconventional waysby author Sarah Stein Greenberg. A Stanford d-school book. Illustrations: Michael Hirshon. Book designer: Annie Marino. Art Director: Kelly Booth. Production designers: Mari Gill and Faith Hague. Published by Ten Speed Press (imprint of Random House).

Each of the books was a delight to experience. The content and creativity combining for extra zing… or extra pauses and reflection, as the case may have been.

So, can self-published books and indie authors compete on design with publishing houses? Yes. Yes, they can. But it’s difficult. It takes vision, effort, collaboration, creativity, high standards, willingness to listen and learn, and an upfront financial investment—basically, all the same things required for a great book design from a traditional publishing house.

 Is it worth investing in interior design for a self-published book? It all comes down to what you’re trying to achieve and who your target reading audience is.

There are many wonderful designers out there, at all ends of the budget spectrum. Major publishing houses often outsource illustrations and design too, so there’s more than a chance that an indie author can employ the same designer whose work on a traditionally published book impressed you. (That’s how I found Tess McCabe, the cover designer for Look-It’s Your Book!).

For three of my four self-published non-fiction books, I used Vellum for simple interior design. These books were information intense, reference-like. More ‘how-to’ than ‘how-about-this?’.

It made sense for me to use Vellum for interior book design for multiple reasons:

  • The program helped me keep to my book project budget.
  • It assisted me in working with tight deadlines.
  • It allowed me to make changes quickly, economically, and efficiently, which is especially useful when doing print on demand (POD).
  • I’d already invested in the program and understood how it worked.
  • I was targeting info-seekers rather than experience-seekers.

But Vellum (and its alternative Atticus) is not the answer for every self-published author, and The Art of Full Time Living: Design a meaningful and connected life by author Natalie Yan-Chatonsky is a case in point.

Natalie worked with Jaqui Lane of The Book Adviser and designer Kristine Lindbjerg to create a book (and promotional bookmarks) with a unique and beautiful feel. From the book’s fold out cover to the colour palette and bespoke illustrations throughout, the design of this book absolutely enhances the text, and the message Natalie is sharing with readers.

Here, the design done well, means the book will find its way into the hands of more readers than it otherwise would have. It will also be enjoyed more. And that’s a good thing.