Should Authors Design Their Own Books?

by Joel Friedlander

Sooner or later, as an author who wants to independently publish your own book, you’ll come to the question we all face: should you design your own book? 

But what’s really behind this question is another question that will help us answer the first one: when exactly is it okay for an author to design his or her own book, and when might it be best to enlist the help of a professional? 

Some authors want to hire the best designers they can afford and leave it to a professional to take care of all the details that go into creating a professional-looking book. They want a book that will gain the respect of book industry buyers and distributors and sell head-to-head against books from major publishers. 

Others decide that if you're publishing independently, you can design your own book, too. They either use the tools they have - usually a word processor - or buy complex layout software that comes with its own learning curve. 

As a self-published author myself, I find it exciting that so many people are able to publish their own books now. But as a professional book designer, I'm disappointed that many do-it-yourself authors make questionable choices when it comes to book design. 

To help out, here are some times when it's perfectly reasonable for authors to design their own books, and times when you might want to find a pro to help out.

Four Reasons for Authors to Design Their Own Books

  1. Budget - Many authors’ budgets simply don’t allow for professional design. And even as a designer, I would have to say that putting aside money to hire a book designer should not come first on your list of priorities. I think getting your book professionally edited is the most important use of outside experts, so I advise taking care of that first. If you have no money for a designer, you can try to do a barter for part or all of the cost, but many authors end up doing it themselves to save money. If this is you, consider trying CreateSpace’s free Cover Creator tool.

  2. Control - Some authors are very concerned with how their book looks and have spent a lot of time experimenting with fonts, layout, book sizes and other details of the book creation process. It can be uncomfortable for these authors to give up control of how their book will look, and so they keep hold of the production process to attempt to get exactly the effect they want.

  3. Expertise - There are authors who have a background in graphic design, or who have someone with the required expertise available. For instance, a business owner might have a graphic artist on their payroll to help out with layout and formatting. And some people with an extensive background with graphics and familiarity with the tools of typography can transition to book design without too much of a learning curve.

  4. DIY gene - There are authors who would never consider letting someone else work on their book. Some people just have do-it-yourself genetics. These may be the same people who fix their own roof, know how to repair the plumbing, and change their own spark plugs. They see the design of their book as a challenge to look forward to, and enjoy learning all the new things they need to know to do it right.

Factors to Consider When Deciding Whether to Design Your Own Books 

Whichever one of these four groups you find yourself in, there are some books that lend themselves to amateur design more than others. If you're determined to do your own book design, consider these points and see where your project fits in.

Books with complex layouts - In the case of heavily-illustrated, extensively annotated or graphically complex books, the difficulty involved in creating these books yourself may be overwhelming, creating frustration where you should have enjoyment in the process. If your book has lots of figures, charts, diagrams, sidebars, or lots of typographic elements, don't even try to do this if the only tool you have available is a word processor. 

You write novels - This is the easiest type of book to design if you want to do it yourself. Novels usually have chapter breaks and text breaks and not much else when it comes to formatting. If you get a good quality typeface and lay out your basic pages correctly, you should be well on your way to doing your own book. 

No time to learn new things - Most self-publishers have a "day job" and publish in their spare time. In addition to everything else they take on, becoming their own book designer may demand just too much time, slowing the production of their book. 

You need your book to look totally "pro" - Let's face it, the books we buy from traditional publishers usually look pretty good because they are the product of professionals at every step of the process. Unless you want to devote the time to acquire their expertise, the way to get a professional-looking book is to hire professionals. 

Personal memoirs or private publications - Memoirs are most like novels in that they usually require very little formatting. For that reason, they are good candidates for authors to design. This is especially true if the memoir or other historical book is primarily intended for a small audience.  

Art or photography books - Unless you have experience dealing with color correction and printing, it’s usually best to involve a professional book designer somewhere along the line.

Whichever way you decide to produce your book, the best advice I can offer you is to spend a lot of time looking at book designs you admire, particularly those that have been professionally designed. You'll learn what they are supposed to look like and how they're put together. And if you get stuck, leave a question here in the comments to this article, and perhaps we’ll cover the topic in a later article. Good luck!


Joel Friedlander is the proprietor of Marin Bookworks in San Rafael, California, a publishing services company where he’s helped launch many self-published authors. He blogs about book design, writing and self-publishing at Joel is also the author of the newly-published A Self-Publisher’s Companion: Expert Advice for Authors Who Want to Publish.


This article originally appeared on For more helpful articles and blogs for authors, visit CreateSpace Resources. Reprinted with permission. © 2011 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

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