Interior Design: You Can Tell a Book by Its Insides
by Tamara Dever
Poor interior design is a silent killer. Oh, you may notice you’re having trouble getting reviews or great shelf placement. If you get past those hurdles, you may suspect that potential buyers are picking the book up and putting it back down—before heading to the register. And then you may be tempted to blame overwhelmed reviewers or finicky distributors or booksellers hooked on blockbusters.
But the culprit may well be a poorly designed interior. What does a poor design kill? Sales, reviews, distributor relationships, and, ultimately, respect. Yup, respect. Doing good business is all about respect. You want to show respect to your readers, to your authors, and to your service providers, and you’d like them to return the sentiment through repeat business and word-of-mouth advertising.
Why is a poorly designed interior a silent killer? Because so many publishers and their authors overlook the contribution interior design can make to success.
It’s common knowledge that the cover is all-important when it comes to grabbing attention. What’s not generally known is that the interior helps those with buying power make the decision to purchase your book, or not.
Think about it. Once you pick up a book, what do you do? You look at the cover, scan the back, and then flip through the pages. Do you take time to read the pages? Probably not, or at least not many of them. If the interior isn’t inviting, if you spot an error, or if the type is hard to read, you will move on.
The front cover may be a book’s billboard and the back its advertisement, but the interior drives the sale.
Design Builds a Brand
It’s your duty as publisher to provide the best possible experience for your buyers. All too often a quality interior is sacrificed for a great cover when they should be given equal importance. Each needs to reflect the book’s subject matter, voice, and audience. The interior also needs to continue the design and flavor of the cover. This raises the perceived value of your product by branding it throughout.
Branding? Yes. A book is not only a literary work, but also a product with a package design and brand, not unlike a box of laundry detergent. OK, the book is the more intellectually significant of the two, but they are alike in that both the book and the detergent are out there competing for attention—and dollars.
Smart publishers know that quality interior design shows that they care about their readers, and that satisfied readers will ask for more books.
And smart publishers who value well-done interiors score points with distributors and retailers both. Why? Because customers see that your publishing brand means quality throughout—and quality sells. Eric Kampmann, president of Midpoint Trade Books, says: “A professionally designed interior is one of our top three criteria for accepting a book for distribution.”
Smoothing the Path Through the Words
The first rule of good interior design is to be a slave to the reader. Nothing is a higher priority than assisting the reader through the written words in a seamless, flowing, and unhampered manner. Unless the book is an art book or a children’s book, its design should go pretty much unnoticed. At best, embellishments can enhance the reading experience. At worst, they will distract the reader from the book’s purpose.
All interior graphics should share typefaces, treatments, and colors (if the interior has colors) with the cover’s design. The designer must make many decisions to properly integrate the cover’s qualities into the interior. For example:
Is it appropriate to use the cover’s predominant image on every chapter heading page?
Which cover font will work best as the main headings?
Which type family will work best for the body copy, being both readable and complimentary to the other type used?
Will the border or graphic treatment on the cover be appropriate for all internal pages, or just the section intros?
The list is long and the decisions are important, not only individually but as a group.
You can explore the difference between effective and ineffective interior design by looking at the examples. They should help you determine ways to make your books hard for booksellers to keep in stock.
Once you focus on the symptoms and understand the repercussions of amateur-quality interior design—the silent killer—you will be empowered to produce books that will not only survive but thrive in the marketplace.
Tamara Dever is owner of TLC Graphics, an award-winning publishing consulting and design firm based in Austin, TX. For more information and samples, please visit TLCGraphics.com/IBPA.