Does Your Book Need a Graphic Designer?

Authors often ask me, their book editor, if they will need a graphic designer’s help after the book is edited and before it’s ready for publication. If you are self-publishing, the answer is always yes, unless the printer you hire offers graphic design as part of the package. (The answer is no if you’re submitting your manuscript to agents or publishers. Should a publisher purchase what you’ve written, they’ll take care of all design issues in-house.)

Expect your book editor to provide basic formatting, using the editing tools available in Word, but understand that only graphic artists possess the special design software that gives your edited manuscript the look of an actual book. In fact, if you send your book to print as a Word document—even a formatted Word document—it will come back looking like a term paper.

Costs and Book Covers

My clients who self-publish have hired graphic designers to do their book’s final formatting for very reasonable charges. If no book cover work is involved, and little to no art is to be inserted into the text, you should be able to get what you need for around $150. If you ask the designer to provide images, or to tweak or improve your book cover—in addition to doing the interior book design of the pages—that is more time-consuming and will add considerably to your cost.

blog-does-your-book-need-a-graphic-designerIt’s better to supply the designer with your own art if you want any (check out the images at, , and especially It’s also better to hire a qualified book cover designer than to create a cheap book cover of your own and then hope the designer will “fix” it. Some graphic designers are skilled both in book cover creation and in final formatting of a book’s interior. Other designers specialize in one or the other—book covers or book interiors. On-demand publishers, such as, typically offer limited book design services in several of their publishing packages.

What to Expect from Your Graphic Designer

Book covers and other art aside, here’s what a qualified graphic designer (artist) will do for your manuscript:

  • Turn the edited Word document into a PDF
  • Adjust top/bottom and left/right margins to suit the desired dimensions of your book
  • Adjust the left and right margins on alternating pages to make room for binding on one side
  • Insert blank pages at appropriate spots, such as after chapters where the last page ends on the right
  • Paginate
  • Insert page numbers into your table of contents (page numbers change when a book goes through its graphic design phase)
  • Add a header at the top of each page (the chapter name usually)
  • Insert attractive display quotes (optional)
  • Insert photographs and/or other art (optional)
  • Start the first word of each chapter with an oversized, decorative capital letter (optional)
  • Place a small decorative image at the end of each chapter (optional)

does you book need a graphic designerYou can visit this link to familiarize yourself with all of these processes, but you don’t want to attempt doing them yourself unless you have graphic design software. If you try to do these things in Word, your book will end up looking disappointingly amateur. (Be careful not to accidentally visit, which is an entirely different printing company, and not the one I endorse.)

Other Things Your Designer Can Do

The following simple formatting tasks do not require special software and can be done either by the graphic designer, by the book editor, or by you yourself using Word:

  • Insert page breaks after each chapter
  • Indent bulleted lists and numbered lists with uniform indentation
  • Place chapter headings in large-sized font and start chapters 1/3 of the way down the page
  • Make the spacing uniform between paragraphs and above and below all lists
  • Bold all subheadings and make them uniform in size
  • Format the book as a downloadable book for Kindle

Most on-demand printers (and some traditional printers) offer graphic design as either an automatic part or an optional part of their packages. Be sure to question whomever you’re thinking of using to find out if they handle all of the items on the first of the two bulleted lists above. On-demand printers typically do, for a fee, but you need to ask for each item specifically, or it may get missed. Private graphic designers, who are skilled in book design, will also have these skills, but again, be sure to specifically ask for each item. And always make sure to proofread each page of your designer’s work, as little slips are common on the first or second proof.

As Always, Beware of the Charlatans

does your book need a graphic designerIf a designer is surprised or confused when you ask whether they adjust the right and left margins differently from each other (to accommodate the book binding on alternate sides of your odd-and-even-numbered pages), say goodbye and look for another designer. Use the margins question as a litmus test to differentiate between genuine book design professionals and the dabblers only claiming to have such skills. If you go with a reputable on-demand printer, this won’t be an issue, but it’s very much an issue if you’re hiring your graphic work from an online private contractor. Just as there are far more fake book editors online than genuine ones, the same can be said for graphic book designers, so exercise discernment in making your selection.

And to answer a question I’ve been asked: no, I am not a graphic designer. My expertise is editing. As a book editor, I do provide basic formatting for authors’ manuscripts, but only graphic designers, with their special training and bells-and-whistles software, can provide the finishing formatting touches that a manuscript requires on its way to becoming a physical book.

Jessi Rita Hoffman . . . book editing by an industry professional