Ask the Experts – Book Design

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Topics Discussed Below Include:
Standard Illustrator Contract
Including The Price of a Book on the Cover
Do It Yourself vs. Using a Professional Book Designer
Unconventional Copyright Page and ISBN Location
Printing Technology for Unauthorized Photocopies
Book Size Assistance


I am publishing illustrated picture books and wondered if there were industry standard contracts available. I want a simple but robustly worded contract that I can offer to illustrators I hire.

Do other publishers offer advances and royalties, just royalties, or buy artwork outright. Or is it some combination?

Answer (09/2013):

Dear author/publisher/artist…..a couple of thoughts:

1. Traditionally, the arrangement is 50% royalty to the author and 50% to the artist. This is for the times when both collaborate on the book’s development together. Both elements are considered equally important for an illustrated children’s book.

2. Having said that, however, if the author is driving the deal, he/she can hire an artist for whatever financial and personal parameters agreeable to both. This can be a paid work for hire in which the artist sells all rights to the work for a price, or could be a combination of pay and a smaller portion of the royalties, or might be a work for hire in which the artist gives permission for the art to be used in the book and any marketing for the book, but retains rights for using the art in other venues…….or, or, or. Secondly, if the publisher is driving the deal, the publisher can negotiate either together or separately with the author and the artist. For example the publisher could select and pay the artist and then offer the author a slightly reduced royalty rate….or, or, or…….

3. The first essential goal is to create a deal that both feel will be fair, and that both are pleased with.
(all parties….are in agreement!)

4. The second essential goal is to write out that agreement fully and clearly outlining your shared assumptions for every situation you can imagine and with all descriptions clear about:
who does what?
who controls what?
who owns what? (the originals? the posters? the fabric made from the art? the greeting cards? the character? the book design? and on and on……)
who gets paid what?, when?, based on what set of income numbers?
This does not have to be deep King James version legal jargon, but it must be complete and clear.

Often people working together either know each other or are already friends, so they think they will just be nice, trust each other’s good will and work it all out along the way…..No No No….there is no better way to destroy old relationships (or new ones for that matter) than to start out unclear, and then later need to live with a long series of disagreements over conflicting assumptions. Get very clear with each other about everything, then honor what you sign together. If you cannot talk seriously with each other and get very clear before you start, it will absolutely not ever get better later.

In the end if you sell only a handful of books, neither of you will likely care all that much about the agreement terms….BUT, if you end up selling 20,000 or so, or get a big third party buy that generates a single large check…..everyone will care….not only the artist, and the author and the publisher, but also their spouses and kids, and potentially some neighborhood “trained attack dog attorney” So, treat the author/artist publishing agreement as a business relationship and outline the deal so that everyone can understand it easily.
Once that is done, you can both put all your creativity into enhancing the product and making it sing — and hopefully both enjoy yourselves all the way to the bank. AND THAT IS THE JOY OF PUBLISHING!

~ Donald Tubesing if the Founder and President of two publishing companies, Whole Person Associates, Stress and Wellness Training Materials, and Pfeifer-Hamilton, whose 51 regional and children’s books won 107 major awards including 27 Ben Franklins, two American Bookseller Books of the Year (Old Turtle and The Quiltmaker’s Gift) and three Best Marketing Campaign of the Year Awards. Strengths: Estimating and “from the ground up business skills”, renowned for Marketing campaigns with low budgets and high sizzle, Intuitive Common Sense Consulting.


Should I put the price of my book on the cover or not?

My book is a hardcover, 320-page non-fiction history book with lots of research and illustrations. It will retail for $39.95 US dollars. It does not have a dust cover but rather the artwork, bio, ISBN number etc. are printed on the front and back covers.

I am weighing the pros and cons of putting the $39.95 price on the book cover. Perhaps you can help me with that. If I do put the price on the book, I could include a bar code.

Answer (08/2013):

Unless you are sure you are only going to be hand-selling from your web site or in person, you should definitely have the price and a bar code printed on the back cover. You can always sell the book for less than printed price. There really is no downside to having the price and bar code printed. The upside is that you increase the possibility of more outlets for sales.

~ Julie Murket has been a publishing professional for more than 20 years with extensive experience in the entire book publishing process including acquisitions, editing, design, printing, marketing and distribution. Consultant to self-publishing authors and independent publishers since 1994. Founder/Publisher Womanchild Press (1976-1981); Publisher, Satya House Publications (2007 – present).


I’ve been told by book designers that their services are super important and necessary for the production of a quality book. Especially for print books. A quality, professional product is important to me.

I’m wondering what kind of problems DIY folks typically encounter with formatting and book design, both with print books and with eBooks.

Answer (04/2013):

Everyone has a computer and software to manipulate text and images, so it’s easy to jump to the erroneous conclusion that there’s “nothing to” book design. In fact, it’s a complicated specialty, a mix of art and science, and it takes years and years to become an expert (just as in any other line of work).

Even when authors master the “science” part, being able to create a digital file that a printer will accept, they never get the same artistic results that professional book designers achieve, because they don’t have the training and experience.

Case in point: Authors are routinely told to lay out their own book in Word (by people who don’t know a thing about typography, by the way). This is a mistake. There’s much more to typesetting a book than choosing a font and setting the margins. Authors are always surprised to learn that there are dozens of rules to follow to make a book look like one published by a major publisher vs. one that looks like a word-processed document. Book designers use professional page layout software, plus they know when to follow the rules, and if necessary, how and when to break them.

Curiously, authors who embark on the do-it-yourself route always judge their results to be “beautiful”, but that’s because they rarely compare their results to bestsellers books. If they did, the difference would be unmistakable.

Unfortunately, as Dan Poynter so aptly said, the self-publishing industry has been “hijacked”. In order to reel in as many authors as possible, to get a crack at upselling them on expensive add-on services, so called “self-publishing companies” encourage authors to design their own books on the cheap. These companies don’t care if the author sells a single book; they make their money on the additional services. It’s truly a disgrace that they tell authors what they want to hear, rather than what they need to hear to succeed.

Publishers have always hired experts to prepare books properly: Editors, cover designers, typesetters, proofreaders. They do so because they know crappy books don’t sell, and the money they spend with experts will be recovered many times over in increased sales. Self-publishing means you, yourself, are the publisher, controlling every aspect of your new business. Before the “great hijacking” it never meant that publishers should perform every task themselves, qualified or not.

Please listen to the experts, so your book will have the best possible chance to succeed. Once bad reviews start piling up on Amazon, they can’t be expunged. What will that cost you?

~ Michele DeFilippo owns 1106 Design, a company that offers quality cover design, beautifully typeset interiors, manuscript editing, indexing, title consulting, and expert self-publishing advice with project management and hand-holding every step of the way. Please visit to view samples and build an instant quote, or contact Michele at


We have a client for whom we will be printing their book (but not publishing it). It is an author owned ISBN. We also MAY be asked to do wholesale distribution for it.

Here is the question:

She does NOT want a typical Copyright page. She just wants to list the ISBN info on the 2nd to last page of text as per attached. There WILL be a barcode on the back cover.

So, is this a permissible way of publishing? Also, if they do decide to sell at retail/wholesale, is it ok to not have a conventional Copyright page, but have the ISBN info printed on an internal text page?

Answer: (08/2012)

It’s a good idea to put the barcode and ISBN on the back cover of a book regardless of how it’s sold or distributed. It will look more like a “real” book in the eyes of the buyer, and then the publisher will be all set for retail or wholesale distribution should that option be chosen later. Chicago Manual of Style specifies the order and content of the front matter pages. To the extent that these standards are ignored, the book can begin to look self-published which is never a good thing. I would recommend putting the ISBN where people are accustomed to looking for it. They may not think to search for it elsewhere.

~ Michele DeFilippo owns 1106 Design, a company that offers quality cover design, beautifully typeset interiors, manuscript editing, indexing, title consulting, and expert self-publishing advice with project management and hand-holding every step of the way. Please visit to view samples and build an instant quote, or contact Michele at


I plan to publish nutrition-related worksheets for use by those who care for the elderly. Is there any printing technology available to prevent unauthorized photocopies of a worksheet so customers must continue to purchase the product and not simply make photocopies for future use? For example, blurring of photocopies to render it illegible.

Answer (10/2011):

At first I thought, “No way!” However, the right answer is probably, “Contact a printer of bank notes and/or checks.” Yes, there are technologies that will reveal a “VOID” watermark on a check when photocopied, and there are a variety of techniques used to prevent color copying of currency. However, they are often expensive, and hardly foolproof. Most seem to depend on either “colorblindness” in black and white copiers (they may intentionally be blind to “repro blue,” for example), lack of grayscale gradation/high contrast in the copying process, relatively low resolution, and related techniques. Essentially, they depend upon deficiencies in the copying process. The problem is, all or most of these can be avoided when using appropriate technology, such as high-resolution color scans with accurate color rendition. And the cost may push up your price to the point that folks don’t want to buy. Still, it’s probably worth looking into the products offered by American Banknote and the like.

I understand your concerns about copying. There is and will continue to be disagreements among publishers about how to approach the problem. Sometimes, the approach is to erect barriers. The trouble is, barriers are taken by some as a challenge to overcome. Other approaches are social – if your customers like and respect you, fewer are likely to copy. If they feel that you distrust them, some will copy and actively spread pirated materials out of spite. Others generate enough revenue from the initial sale and other products to make the impact of illegal copying painless. Others make the product so cheap that it’s inconvenient to do anything beside purchase the original ($1-$5 iPhone apps are an example).

And even if you make photocopying/scanning difficult (at, probably, a very high cost that has to be passed along to the consumer), it doesn’t prevent a person from re-creating your works. The number of authors and publishers who try to (legally) produce a “better,” competing product, can be staggering. If you’re successful, they will come. And end-users are often inspired to create their own, “better” version. This is especially likely with relatively short works like checklists and worksheets, where any individual with Microsoft Excel can readily make their own version. The results might look crude, the time they spend at it might seem unprofitable, but their emotional reward (one-upping the greedy publisher) is enough to compensate.

Another approach is to organize your business plan such that photocopying isn’t likely to hurt. Your current plan implies that you’ll be selling relatively small quantities of the worksheet to each end user, and hoping for repeat purchases. If your target customer is an individual care-giver, rather than an institution… Most individuals buy these items on good intentions, but rarely have the discipline to follow through. The number that might use up their initial supply and re-purchase could be small, under any circumstances. Rather, concentrate on that first sale, and, perhaps, provide spin-off products/services that your repeat customers would want to own in addition to the item you’ve already sold them.

Regardless of your approach to copy protection, make sure your worksheets are prominently branded with your name and web address. It will keep your brand name in that person’s mind, and expose your brand to anyone else they might “share” the form with.

In this day and age, it could pay to produce an app for iPhone/iPad and Android devices. Those are difficult to pirate, and, though the development costs are higher than simply designing some printed forms, you’d avoid manufacturing costs.

If you’re planning to sell to senior care agencies and the like, look at how textbook publishers work with schools. These days, they often sell a reproduction license, rather than try to sell more printed copies of workbooks/worksheets. Public agencies are generally required to respect copyrights, so the model is closer to software sales, where end-users know they must buy a copy of the software for every computer user, or one copy per physical location, etc. Licensing deals (in this case, probably a download from your web site) provide you with enough end-user information that you can reach your customer base with upgrade/new product offers, require subscription renewals, and the like. This is hardly a cheap infrastructure to build, but a steady stream of payments with low or nonexistent manufacturing costs (such as a monthly or annual automatically-renewing subscription) is a very nice thing.

It happens that my publishing house is doing many of these things. Our flagship book is a difficult-to-copy travel guidebook with built-in organizer pockets and worksheets. The cost and difficulty of manufacture is very high. Out-and-out copying would be more trouble and expense than its worth, and despite our fair success, even our colleagues in travel publishing haven’t attempted to duplicate our format/approach – it’s something of a print production manager’s worst nightmare. Individuals have been inspired by our approach to build their own version using ring binders and off-the-shelf Mead school supplies – they often spend more, but they love the process of creating it. Once we connected with our readership, we found all sorts of other ways to supply their needs, including related books and travel accessories, and a subscription “club” that delivers supplemental information and dozens of vacation planning worksheets in PDF format. For a while, a “premium” subscriber could request the design of a particular worksheet. Eventually, all the easily-built worksheets that could be made had been made, leaving only overly-complex interactive PDFs (fill-in forms with drop-down lists, calculated spreadsheets, etc.), so we withdrew the offer. In the process, we developed a large library of these worksheets that address most of our readers needs, and that library remains an inducement to new subscribers. We’ve operated on the honor system in regard to copying and copyrights, and have put enormous energy into our customer relationships, such that, although we’ve never copy protected our e-books and e-worksheets (PDFs), we’re not aware of any significant copying or pirating activities. Most people want to be honest, if you make it easy for them to be honest. It’s only when you create “unreasonable” barriers that the good apple goes bad.

~ Dave Marx is the Publisher at PassPorter Travel Press, and co-author of several of the company’s guidebooks. PassPorter guidebooks have received over a dozen awards, including IBPA’s Bill Fisher Award. He’s spent 35 years in the media—print, broadcast, music, and online. Dave also serves on the IBPA Board of Directors.


In a book of historical memoirs we are considering a book size similar to National Geographic (7 x 10”), with a 4-4.25” text width column, leaving about 2” on outer page edge for photos, small design figures and quotes. Does this sound good—or is another size advisable?

Answer (09/2011):

In my opinion the layout proposed isn’t going to work very well. I think you will need at minimum ≤ inch gutters (1 inch if the book is thicker than 180 pages), so even with just 4 inches of text that only leaves 1.5 inches for your border pictures. Even if you are planning to bleed the photos off the edge of the page that still demands a pretty small image. Also, 8.5 x 11 is usually a more economical size to print, particularly if you plan to print 5,000 or fewer copies. You can also print a 7 x 10 inch book landscape (10 x 7), but that’s a pretty expensive option. If the images are only a design element and not intended to be at all informative then you might be able to get away with a ≤ inch image and still have enough room for a ≤ outer gutter. If an image is intended to be informative, then I wouldn’t put it in a book unless it was at least 2 inches. To summarize, I recommend that you wrap the text around the images, extending the material to 5.5 inches with ≤ inch inner and outer gutters, or move up to the 8.5 x 11 inch trim size.

~ Tom Doherty has worked in publishing for more than 30 years with 20 of those involved in distribution at both large and small companies. Since 2000 he has served as president of Cardinal Publishers Group, a full service national book distributor, and since 2004 also as publisher of Blue River Press.

We hope you will find this program useful, but as with any advice, we recommend that you make sure it fits your specific business needs. IBPA does not specifically endorse or support any particular group or service.

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