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Let dusting “go” in your home
Ask family to honor writing time
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Just Do It, like Nike!
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Hiring Your Design “A” Team

Jump to:  Cover Designer, Interior Design, Novel Editing & Plotting


Extensive marketing research reveals that when a potential buyer picks up your book, it will be judged by its cover and by how it looks on the inside. Your book has less than seven seconds to make an impression. If you manage to capture the buyer's attention, your content needs to be as well crafted as the design.

With that in mind, one of the most important decisions an author/publisher must make in the process of transforming a manuscript into a salable book is how to assemble a strong team of freelancers to handle cover design, interior design layout, and editing.

A team of three professional freelancers offers their expertise to help guide, inform, and offer insight into what you can expect when it's time to hire your design “A” team.

Peri Gabriel of Knockout Design will discuss cover design. Vicky Vaughn of Vicky Vaughn Design will talk about interior book design and layout, and Brenda Hill of Novel Editing & Plotting Assistance will share her thoughts about the importance of manuscript editing.

Our reader walks into a bookstore because she loves browsing around. She doesn't have any particular book in mind to buy—she's just looking. As she's just about to walk past a display table, she sees a book cover that catches her eye. It might be a cover designed by…

Peri Poloni-Gabriel

Knockout Design

1.Peri, please tell our readers a little about yourself and your company.

Knockout Design is celebrating its 11th year in book design. I have a background in all aspects of graphic design that spans over 25 years. I graduated from California State University, Long Beach, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Visual Communication Design. With my first jobs in advertising, I moved on to packaging design, event design, freelance design in San Francisco and eventually a design studio where I not only created annual reports, brochures, ads, and logos for clients, but also discovered the world of publishing.

Knockout Design specializes in all aspects of graphic design for publishing: cover design, interior design and layout, sales sheets, postcards, bookmarks, ads, logos, and all supporting graphic design for my publishing clients.

I was born in Southern California and subsequently have lived all over the Golden State. Only recently did we relocate to the Midwest—Chicago suburbs. I am married with a daughter, Nina, and a stepdaughter, Romy. My husband Sean and I were married in September 2005.

How did I get into publishing and starting Knockout Design? I have to blame it on the kid. After having Nina in March 1996, I came back to my job as an art director at a design studio. During the previous year we had been getting more and more cover design work from a local publisher. All the covers seemed to end up gravitating my way, which was fine with me as I really enjoyed this work.

Upon my return from maternity leave as with many new moms, I found I hated the hour commute, being away from my baby and was not happy with my work situation. In July, I received a call from one of the art directors within a publishing company. She said to me, “Peri, if you ever want to go out on your own, I am sure we would have plenty of work for you.” I was not unfamiliar with working for myself as I had freelanced in San Francisco for years. Needless to say, I lined up a few other jobs, came up with the company name (and boxing gloves) and started Knockout Design August 23,1996. I had finally found my design niche.

2.Can you explain what services a cover designer provides?

In a nutshell, a cover designer will take your title, text, and the essence of your book, design a cover that is targeting to your specific audience and turn it into an electronic file that is press ready. I will explain in detail the specific steps it takes to get from A to Z.

3.Why do you think it's necessary for an author/publisher to hire a professional cover designer and not try the DIY approach?

If you are serious about publishing, have your cover professionally designed for a number of reasons. First and foremost, you do not want to look amateurish. An average consumer spends less than 7 seconds on the front cover and 15 seconds on the back cover of a book before deciding to look into the book further or buy it. Now this is only if the title on the spine gets the reader to take it off the shelf! A cover designer knows this, and will design to your target audience to attract their attention and visually sell your book. A professional also knows the standards of the industry as far as layout of a cover and how to create the proper files for the printer.

4.What do you think are the most essential components of good cover design?

Readability - the title should be able to be read from 10 feet away.

Hierarchy of elements - there should be diversity in size of type/graphics to highlight the different components of a cover. The eye should be led through the design starting with the most important element, your title, and proceeding from there to more supportive elements such as the subtitle, author by line, bullet points, endorsements, etc.

Target Audience - It should speak to the intended audience.

“If you are serious about publishing, have your cover
professionally designed…”

5.What questions would you suggest an author/publisher ask a potential freelance designer, prior to hiring her?

What is included in the price you are estimating? How many covers/rounds of changes are included? Are there any costs that are not noted in the estimate? What do you require as a deposit?

When can you start on a project? What is the estimated timeframe for completion once you start?

What other covers have you done in this genre? Can I view them?

Hiring a designer also has to do with chemistry and how you relate to one another. You need to find one you feel comfortable with and can communicate.

6.Are there any particular factors that determine whether you take or pass on a particular client's project?

Scheduling is probably the biggest factor. I will not take on a project if I do not feel I can complete it by the due date. Sometimes I am booked a month in advance so this can be tricky.

Intuition is also an element. If there is something that just does not gel between designer and client from the beginning, most likely there will be conflict down the road. There have only been a couple of instances where this has come into play over the last 11 years, but I have learned it is important to listen to that voice.

Finally, if I feel the particular genre of cover is not my strong suit, I might pass on the cover. Since I have done covers for a diverse range of books from children's picture books, to cookbooks, to novels, to health books, and everything in between, this rarely happens. I do know designers who will pass on a particular project because it is against some of their personal or religious beliefs.

7.What are the steps of the process from when a client first comes to you and when you hand over the final product?

  1. Get a signed estimate and deposit. Schedule the job.
  2. I have a cover questionnaire that is very helpful in giving me basics of the cover such as size, paperback or hard cover, ISBN number, price as well as insight into their thoughts on the cover: color preferences, other books in the same category, any other information that helps me narrow down the target audience and get a better feel for the book. It is also helpful to know if the book is intended to be a series of books. I tend to approach a design differently when I know this information. I normally have a phone conference with the client to pick their brains even more. I also require all the cover text as an MS Word document from the client plus any logos, author photos, etc., which would be used on the cover.
  3. I would then come back with 1-2 front cover designs that I send as a pdf file to the client. I would also notify the client of any additional costs for each cover such as photography or illustration.
  4. From there, the client would make any comments on likes/dislikes, or changes to the cover.
  5. We would proceed with the changes and get approval of the front cover design.
  6. Design for the spine, back cover and flaps for a dust jacket is next. I try to get a flow from front to back cover and create a cohesive design that is easy to read, well organized and pleasing to the eye. If the page count and printer has already been established, I would need the spine size for a paperback or a template from the printer for a hard cover dust jacket. If not, the cover can be designed for approval and then adjustments for the spine/flaps is done right before press.
  7. Final approval and proofing of the cover is done by the client along with any design adjustments at this time.
  8. Once a cover design is complete and approved, I am in contact with the printer for their specifications for making a high-resolution pdf file for press. Many times final files are uploaded via an ftp site and go to press, other times a CD is sent to the printer. I always include the high-resolution pdf file as well as the native files, which include the layout file, fonts, graphics, etc., used to create the cover.
  9. Final payment is due upon completion of the job and a duplicate CD with all files is sent to the client for their files.

"Hiring a designer also has to do with chemistry and how you relate to one another."

8.Approximately how long is the process from when a client initially contacts you until they have a completed cover?

This, of course, can vary. On average, I would say 3-4 weeks although I have done covers in as little as a week and have had others that took a few months because the client did not have all the final information necessary for completion.

9.How do you decide on the “look” or “feel” for the cover?

Communication is the key. The author knows their book inside and out and it is my job to draw out the important elements for a cover. The audience is also a huge factor. You must design not only by knowing the competition but also to attract that target market.

10.How do new trends in the marketplace affect or influence your work?

I am constantly in bookstores and online looking at the covers both in general and in relation to a specific job. Colors, styles and moods of the marketplace are always coming into play to keep the design fresh and current.

Peri, thank you so much for giving our readers such a comprehensive look at what it takes to have a book cover designed. I'm going to encourage readers to go to your website and look at your incredibly diverse portfolio of work!

For additional information, Peri can be contacted at:

Peri Poloni-Gabriel, Owner/Designer
Knockout Design
5304 Velvet Bent Court, Naperville, IL 60564
voice and fax: 630-718-0861

Now that the reader has been captivated by the cover of our book, she opens it and takes a peek at the inside to see…

Vicky Vaughn Design

(Picture of Vicky & Hunter)

1.Vicky, please tell our readers a little about yourself and your company.

I studied graphic design in school. I found my way to book design by wanting to self-publish a book. I thought I would take photos of hands doing things they loved, then write poetry for each, take black and white photos developing the pictures myself and call it “The Coffee Table Handbook”. It was a great learning experience and landed me at the best job I have ever had, Tehabi Books, where I had an incredible mentor who encouraged me to do great design and gave me so much invaluable insight.

Moving out east was an incredible experience. I loved the people, the area, and the publisher I worked for. I went to my 20-year high school reunion, and 2 months later, I was married to the first boy I ever kissed. I moved back to Reno, Nevada, in December 2006. I've been freelancing since and have designed books for: Time Life, Sterling, Storey, Harcourt, BowTie, Arizona Highways (in progress) and Consumer Reports. I love the variety. I love books. I love to read and I love to bring out the design from the text on the cover and the interior.

2.Please explain what services an interior book designer provides.

An interior designer brings all the elements of the book together, using fonts that best represent the work, whether a coffee table book or a novel. They take care to place all the elements that best suit the text while keeping the author's vision in mind.

3.Why do you think it's necessary for an author/publisher to hire a professional and not try the DIY approach?

Sometimes it takes someone from the outside to look in and see the project fresh, to get the vision of the book laid out in a way that features the strength of the work in a cohesive way. Also, hiring someone who is experienced will help get to the final piece faster. Book designers know what elements are needed to put it all together. They can communicate with the printer whether local or overseas. They can be a liaison to making your book happen.

“They can be a liaison to making your book happen.”

4.What are the most essential components of good interior book design and layout?

It's important to have a grid that is aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate. This applies mainly to coffee table books, how-to books, and any books that have a lot of pictures, illustrations, diagrams, etc. The text needs to flow consistently without breaks in concentration and the visual elements have to be set on the page in a way that supports and enhances the text. Or in the case of coffee table and picture books, the text has to support and enhance the images. When designing a large format book, the proper number of columns will make it easier to read because it's difficult for the eye to follow an exceptionally long line of text before reaching the end and having to move a long distance back to the beginning of the next line.

The choice of fonts needs to have a sensibility to the subject. Gift, poetry, and novelty books usually have more elaborate fonts that can be script or hand-drawn and that works with the tone of the books. Business books tend to have very conservative font choices.

Readability is probably the most important factor. Especially with fiction, when a reader will spend extended periods of time looking at the text, the right font choice is crucial. Serif fonts (like Times New Roman) have nonstructural details on the end of some of the strokes that make up the letters and symbols. Your mind doesn't read every word letter-by-letter, so the serifs help your mind “fill in the blanks” and help identify the word right away. Sans serif fonts (like Arial) are best used for headlines and subheadings. Fonts that are too small in point size or with tight kerning (the space between the letters) also create eyestrain, affect readability, and comprehension. Really, the only time people notice the interior of a book is if it's poorly designed and is difficult to read.

5.What questions would you suggest an author/publisher ask a potential freelancer designer, prior to hiring her?

What programs are you using? InDesign (what version), Quark?
How do you like your files to come to you?
What is your experience?
Can I see your portfolio and references?
Are you organized?
Do you meet deadlines?

6.Are there any particular factors that determine whether you take or pass on a particular interior design project?

If we get along from the get go. It is important to feel you are the right fit. It's a process that takes time and communication is the key to a good product. Also if the project is interesting and the person is organized.

“You do not want to over design so
that the book dates itself…”

7.What are the steps of the process between when a client first comes to you with a manuscript and when you deliver the final files?

When a client first contacts me, we talk about the needs of the project and the publication timetable so I can figure out the schedule. Then we negotiate on the price and if we decide to work together, I draw up a contract. When I receive the files, I design and lay out the first few chapters to make sure I'm on the right track. The client reviews the layout and then I lay out the whole book for their review. We go through a first and second pass for any changes, then a final review. Once the final changes are made, the files are sent to the printer.

8.Approximately how long is the process from the time you receive the manuscript and when the interior design is completed?

It really depends. If it is a coffee table book with a lot of research for images, it can take up to 6 months; if it is a textbook with few elements it can take a few months.

9.How do you decide on the “look” or “feel” of what you create for your clients?

I listen to what clients are looking for. Try and get as much information up front. Ask what books they like that are similar.

10.How do new trends in the marketplace affect or influence your work?

It is a good idea to stay current. You do not want to over design so that the book dates itself, but you want a fresh look that will draw in the reader.

Vicky, thank you for giving our readers an idea of what they can expect from working with an interior book designer. I'm going to encourage our readers to take a look at the samples on your website, so they can see your exceptional work.

For additional information, Vicky can be contacted at:

Vicky Vaughn Shea

Our reader doesn't realize the extent of the process that has led her to this moment. All she knows is that the cover caught her eye, she flipped through the book and thought it looked interesting, and she's decided to read the first few pages before she buys it…

Novel Editing & Plotting Assistance by Brenda Hill

1.Brenda, please tell our readers a little about yourself and your company.

I began editing in the early 1980s when I met writers in the bookstore I owned. Since I'd been a proofreader at an aerospace corporation, several writers asked me to check their manuscripts. I loved helping writers shape and polish their work, so I took a creative writing class at the local community college, a writing course from Writer's Digest, and two courses from Gotham Writers' Workshop. I'm a graduate of The University of Iowa's summer writing sessions. I also became Brainbench certified in Written English.

After those series of classes, I founded my editing service. I've belonged to an international critiquing group and have edited for independent publishers. I'm currently a freelance fiction editor and novel writing instructor in Southern California.

My first novel, Ten Times Guilty, garnered a four-star review from Romantic Times Book Review magazine, January 2006. My agent is shopping my second novel, Beyond the Quiet. A short story I wrote was recently released in a woman's magazine and I've just received notice that another will be published in November in The Talking Stick, a Minnesota Literary Journal. I've also been asked to judge a Midwest fiction-writing contest.

2.Please explain what services a professional editor provides.

Most editors offer a range of services from proofreading, which involves correcting errors in spelling, punctuation and wrong word usage, to intensive content editing. Content editing is more involved and takes much more time.

When I've contracted for content editing, and because I'm a nit-picker, I go over everything several times. The first time through, I flag errors as I go, but I'm looking for plain ol' readability. Has the writer incorporated the essential elements a first chapter must have to capture my attention? How does the basic structure flow?

I make suggestions as I see them then I go back over it again. That's where the nit-picking comes in. If something isn't flowing correctly, I'll try different versions, rewording, restructuring, moving and sometimes cutting paragraphs to see if it reads better. I use the Microsoft Word Track feature so the clients can see their original as well as my suggested changes, and it's always entirely their decision whether or not to use them.

“…you must show that you are a professional who knows the craft.”

3.Why do you think it's necessary for an author/publisher to hire a professional editor and not try the DIY approach?

I smiled as I thought about that question, as I could answer in two different ways. The obvious and more professional answer is that no one can see all of his/her own mistakes. As I mention on my editing website, I felt quite smug when I turned my manuscript over to a copy editor, sure that she'd whiz through my perfect document. When it was returned to me with more red markings that I'd thought possible, I was horrified, and my ego took a dive.

The other answer is not so obvious. I've lived in several states and have found that writers tend to structure their sentences according to where they were raised. I've been told I murder the English language when I speak, and I probably do. Thank goodness for those English and grammar classes because now I'm a nit-picker with words on paper. Raised in the South, the speech I heard daily was drawn-out and slurred and the letter ‘g’ was commonly dropped. When I started school, I was shocked to learn there was no ‘r’ in the word ‘wash’ and ‘y’all’ was not a proper word.

When my family later moved west, I was astounded at the different pronunciations of words I'd used all my life. Moving north as an adult was another revelation. When I edited a local writer's work, I found that she inserted local dialect as well. One favorite was the phase, ‘borrowed me’ instead of using the word ‘loaned.’ We all have our favorites, and since we're familiar with them, we don't always see them in our text. Keep in mind that we're speaking about narration instead of dialogue, where almost anything goes. But if you're writing a dramatic piece or if you're setting the scene for a hot romance, you don't want to spoil the mood by saying something like, “He pounced on her faster than a bass on a June-bug.”

4.What are the most essential components of good editing?

A good eye for English and grammar, certainly, but for novel writers, a good editor must also know the craft of fiction writing. That's why it's not always a good choice to have an English teacher, working or retired, edit your work. They may correct your English, which is always a good thing, but will they recognize a point of view drift? Or know that your lengthy flashback should not only be cut, but should be moved from your scene and placed in a different section?

Today's publishers are inundated with submissions, so in order for an agent or an acquiring editor to take your novel seriously, you must show that you are a professional who knows the craft. In order to help you, your editor has to be familiar with the techniques as well. Not only can your editor suggest ways to improve your novel, but a good editor will preserve your ‘voice,’ your style of writing. You want an editor to improve your masterpiece, not change it to where you no longer can recognize your own writing.

5.What questions would you suggest an author/publisher ask a potential freelancer editor, prior to hiring her?

I've heard writers say they've interviewed editors as extensively as they would a nanny for their three-year-old child, asking for the educational background, former clients, and anything else they could think of. That's fine if it makes them feel better. After all, editing is a big investment. But I think of an editor as I would a fine restaurant—the establishment may feature a highly-degreed chef, but if I don't like how their dishes taste, I've wasted my money.

When I searched for an editor, I had little interest in anything but what he/she could do for me, so I went for sample edits to see how the editor actually edited my material.

6.Are there any particular factors that determine whether you take or pass on a particular editing project?

I'm a reader as well as an editor, so I love when a writer with an interesting manuscript contacts me. What luxury to find a story that's well written and interesting; I can't wait to dig in. But the deciding factor is whether or not I feel I can help improve a manuscript—and the time factor involved. Occasionally, because of a deadline, a writer needs editing before I have the available time, so I'll refer them to someone else.

Since I love working with writers, I have only returned a few manuscripts. If the writer has no clue about technique, I'll send the manuscript back and advise the writer to invest in lessons before editing, sometimes suggesting certain books to read.

I've also returned manuscripts when it's obvious the writer has simply pounded something out and expected me to ‘fix’ it. Every serious writer I know has labored over their words making sure each sentence says what it should, agonized over each comma, and even awakened at night worrying about making a dull scene more dynamic. I love working with them, even if the writing isn't quite there. But I have no time for writers who invest very little in their manuscripts. If it's not worth the time to the writer, it's certainly not worth the time to me.

“Every serious writer I know has labored over their words…”

7.How long would you say the editing process takes between when they first come to you and when you hand over the final edited copy?

That's difficult to say because each project is different, but it depends on the writer and his/her level of skill. I usually make several passes over each manuscript, flagging glaring errors when I see them, but I try to read straight through the first time. I make notes and go back through the manuscript, checking for structure and other techniques. If a lot of rewriting is needed, I'll contact the writer and we'll confer on the best way to proceed.

8.Approximately how long is the process from the time you receive the manuscript to the completion of the editing?

The time depends on the length of the novel and what is needed. While I have a copy editor whom I occasionally use for light editing, I mainly work alone, and I'd rather take my time with a project rather than hurry through. I like to allow at least six weeks for editing, and that's not counting a waiting list. Let's face it. Conscientious editors are busy, so sometimes we have to wait our turn. I've had to wait. I didn't like it, but I wanted the service, so I used the time for other things. I've even outlined a new novel or written a short story during the wait.

9.How does a good editor maintain the voice and writing style of their clients?

Other than price, maintaining the writer's voice one of the biggest complaints I've heard about editors, so I read the text before my suggested change as well as what comes afterward to make sure my edits blend. I try to never impose my own style. I may make suggestions, but the final decision is always with the writer.

10.How do new trends in the marketplace affect or influence your work?

The biggest problem I've found with the popularity of text messaging is the habit of no capitalization, punctuation, and the use of shortened sentences. If the writer is aware of this potential problem and works to avoid it while writing a novel, then I feel it's okay. Because I'm a creature of habit, I send emails the old-fashioned way.

Brenda, thank you for sharing your insights and so many solid reasons why hiring a professional editor is not a step to skip! I'm going to recommend that our readers take advantage of the wonderful writing tips and resources on your website!

For additional information, Brenda can be contacted at:

The cover design made our reader pick up the book, the interior design was visually appealing and easy to read, and the first chapter was riveting. The reader carries our book like a newfound treasure over to the cash register and she buys it.

The professionals did their jobs and did them well.

*As a postscript to WOW! readers, I'll share what I've learned from my recent experiences.

8 Tips from the Trenches

  1. Review a designer's portfolio carefully. Make sure their style of art design will complement the tone of your book. For example, if your book is hip and trendy, don't choose a designer whose overall artistic style has an ethereal, Victorian quality to it. The odds are that you won't be happy with the design for your cover.
  2. Request several bids for your design or editing job and compare the estimates. Going with the lowest bid is not always the best choice. You may find that a designer has under-bid the job because she lacks experience and has underestimated how long the project will take to complete. The last thing you want is to be put behind schedule because a designer is trying to hone her skills by practicing on your book.
  3. Choose a freelancer who has a significant body of samples and make sure her samples are in the same genre/format as the type of book you have written. Your results will be much better quality if the designer or editor has solid experience completing projects like yours.
  4. Make sure the software the designer uses is current and appropriate for the job. If the designer is not current, that means she has not updated her skills, which could potentially cause problems when the final files are ready to be sent to the printer. Be very wary if the designer pushes for you to use a printer that they “always” use. It could be a sign that the files they have created are not universal and current industry standard.
  5. Use The Chicago Manual of Style (the publishing standard) as the resource guide for your grammar, punctuation, and style. Request that the editor use the same style manual when editing your book. Consistency is key.
  6. Ask how the designer intends to communicate and transfer materials for the project workflow. Will the communication be strictly via email? Will there be the opportunity to ask questions and discuss ideas or changes over the phone? Most designers are very Internet savvy and will have no problem transferring design samples, contracts, revisions, etc., via email or ftp. But never assume! There are still designers out there who insist on using snail mail and want to receive handwritten notations on “hard copies” mailed back to them! Their inefficiency can cost you to lose precious time on your publication calendar.
  7. Negotiate your contract for the rights to the native files. The native files are the working document, not the camera/print ready files. It helps to have the working document so that if you need to make any changes or, for whatever reason, need to use another designer in the future, you have the work you paid for.
  8. Question the designer about her personal sensitivities. If your book has content, themes, or language that can in any way be deemed offensive, you want to know if the designer has any prejudices that will affect her ability to do her job effectively. She may take on your project, but if she refuses to read your text to make sure it is formatted properly, her prejudices can cause additional headaches and delays.


Annette Fix is a contributing editor for WOW! and can be reached at

Annette is an author and spoken word storyteller based in Laguna Niguel, CA. An excerpt from her e-book, The Hungry Writer's Guide to Tracking and Capturing a Literary Agent was featured in WOW!'s September 2006 issue.

Annette's memoir, The Break-Up Diet will be available in early 2008 from her micro press Orange Curtain Publishing.


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