Designing your own book must be one of the most creative and rewarding of design projects. Whether you’re dipping a toe into cover design, need to know how to typeset pages, or want to find out where to begin with creating your own eBooks, this quick-start guide will show you how to get started with confidence.

We’ll take a look at some of the key things to know about book design—which software to use, how to create designs, how to prepare for print and how to self-publish. Delve in and see your publishing designs come to life!

1. Get started with the right software


Before you start designing a book, whether you intend it to be for print or EPUB (see 7 below), you have to get hold of the right design tools. While graphic designers might turn to Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape or Adobe Photoshop for many tasks, a book design project requires specialist publishing design software.

The market leader is Adobe InDesign, which is still by far the best and most flexible of all publishing programmes.

InDesign-LogoInDesign allows you to set up facing pages for the inside of your book, apply page numbers and chapter headings to master pages (which can be carried across all, or specific sections, of your book), and lay out text and images in a WYSIWYG (‘What You See is What You Get’) format. It might seem a bit like working with Word or Pages, but InDesign is much more advanced, and is the software of choice for professional book designers.

You can download Adobe InDesign CC as a single application, or as part of the Creative Cloud package, which allows you to create, edit and bring in images easily from its sister applications, Photoshop and Illustrator. A monthly subscription can feel a little on the pricey side if you’re on a tight self-publishing budget, but you certainly won’t be skimping on software quality.

Rather than paying a monthly subscription fee, you can instead purchase QuarkXPress as a keep-forever programme. The predecessor of InDesign and former market leader for publishing design is still favored by many seasoned book designers who love its easy-to-use interface.

Quark-LogoDon’t fret if your budget is too tight to stretch to an InDesign or Quark purchase. There are other alternatives which offer most of the same features and are sometimes preferred by book designers for their simpler and arguably more intuitive interfaces.

Microsoft Publisher is included with any Office 365 subscription, so you may find you already have access to it. This is a great entry-level option for designers or small businesses looking to dip a toe into publishing design.


If you’re looking for software that’s completely free of charge, you’re in luck! Scribus is a free-to-download desktop publishing programme for Windows and Linux (unfortunately no version for Mac at the moment).


Scribus is a diverse programme, allowing you to create a range of publications such as books, newsletters and brochures. It also allows you to design and export PDF files with interactive elements such as animation and video.

Are you a Mac user? If you can wait until next year, Mac enthusiasts are already looking forward to the 2017 release of Affinity Publisher, which is a new offering from Apple. Hoping to compete with the big player, InDesign, we can’t wait to see whether it will live up to the hype.

Choose your software of choice, install it and swot up with some Youtube tutorials. You’re now ready to start designing your book!

2. Know your standard sizes and formats

Publishing design has various rules and standards when it comes to the size and format of a book. This is due to a number of factors, both historic and recent. Even if you’re self-publishing, you should aim to stick to a widely-accepted standard format and size—this will make it easier for a printer to mass-produce your book and for a bookstore to shelve your book.

Hardbacks (or hardcovers) are one of the more traditional formats for books—they are made up of a page block, two boards, and a cloth or heavy-weight paper cover. The inside pages are sewn together into batches and then glued onto a soft, flexible spine between the boards.

Stock Photo - stack of vintage books isolated on white background, blank labels, free copy space
A separate paper cover, known in the industry as a dust jacket, is printed separately and folded over the top of the whole cover, with flaps on the left and right edges to allow it to wrap around the edges of the board. Hardcovers, for a time considered outdated and expensive, are enjoying a resurgence in modern publishing. Beautiful cloth-bound covers in a vintage style, such as those designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith, are proving to be very popular, and are a beautiful style to emulate in your own book designs.

Paperbacks (or softcovers) became more widely used with the introduction of new printing techniques in the 19th Century. Cheaper to produce than hardbacks, the cover is made of heavy paper or card and the inside pages tend to be glued to the inside of the spine rather than sewn.
Stock Photo - Closeup woman hand holding pocket book to readPublishers will often choose to release a ‘trade paperback’ after a hardback book has sold particularly well. This allows bookstores to sell the same book at a lower price point.

Both paperbacks and hardbacks come in a variety of sizes, but don’t assume that you can design your book at any old size. Stick to an industry-accepted size and you’ll make life much easier for publishers, distributors and bookstores alike. These are some of the most commonly used standard sizes in the publishing industry:

For hardbacks:

Demy – 135 mm in width and 216 mm in height
Royal – 153 mm in width and 234 mm in height

For paperbacks:

A-format – 110 mm in width and 178 mm in height
B-format – 130 mm in width and 198 mm in height
C- format (known as ‘trade paperback’) – 135 mm in width and 216 mm in height

Also sometimes used for more up-market paperbacks:

Demy – 135 mm in width and 216 mm in height
Royal – 153 mm in width and 234 mm in height

These are standard sizes for most types of book—novels, biographies etc. If you’re creating something a little different, like a cookbook or children’s book, these will also have some rules about preferred sizes which are specific to the genre, but they tend to be a little more flexible on sizing.

3. Create a striking cover


First up—the practical know-how for setting up a cover design…

…If you’re designing a cover for a paperback book, you will need to create a full wraparound cover, with front, back and spine.

Paperback-bookThe width of the spine will be determined by the number of pages inside the book and the weight of the paper stock that they are printed on. Your printer will be able to calculate this for you once you have put together the typeset pages (see 4, below), or you can work it out yourself by using this handy online spine width calculator.

You can use this equation to work out the full dimension of your wraparound cover:
Back cover width + Spine + Front cover width = Full trim width of the cover

Paperback-coverIf you’re designing a cover for a hardback, you will either be looking to create a full wraparound design (probably in full color, which is printed directly onto the hardcover) or die design for the hardcover (whereby the design is printed onto the cloth or board using a die, and often rendered in foil).

Hardback-bookFor a hardcover design, the width equation is much the same as for a paperback:
Back cover width + Spine + Front cover width = Full trim width of the cover

In addition to this, it’s common for hardback designers to put together a dust jacket design too, which has flaps on the far right and left edges of the cover.
Dust-jacketIt’s conventional to put a typed blurb (summary) of the book on the right-hand flap, and an author biography on the left-hand flap. If you’re designing a dust jacket, you can minimize costs by only having a very simple design on the hardcover beneath.

When designing a dust jacket, you need to include the folding flaps in the dimensions, so follow this equation to get the width of the cover just right:
Left flap width + Back cover width + Spine width + Front cover width + Right flap width = Full trim width of the cover

Dust-jacket-coverYou should approach designing a book cover as designing an advert for your book. The cover will be the first port of call for a reader, whether they’re browsing the shelves in a bookstore or scrolling through the Kindle Store.

There is no set rule for what makes a book cover ‘good’ or not but they must meet certain criteria to be saleable. As a general rule all covers must feature the following: the title and author name on the front cover and spine, the publisher’s name or logo on the spine and back cover, a blurb (plot summary) and optional reviews on the back cover, and a bar code with pricing for the relevant territories at the bottom of the back cover.

Whether you design your cover using a photo, illustration or typography, you should always aim to make your cover look striking and attention-grabbing. To get some ideas and inspiration, take some time to browse the huge range of professional designs over on the Book Cover Archive.
Book-Cover-ArchiveYou’ll see that the range of cover styles and themes is incredibly diverse, but they all have one thing in common—they catch the eye and make you want to open the book and explore the story further.

Once you’ve together a draft of your cover design, it’s a great idea to mock-up the design on a blank 3D template, like this one: Vector – Book Set, to see how the design will appear once printed.
Vector - Book setThe 123RF library is a great place to source images and fonts for your book cover designs. Portraits of people make for engaging covers, as do vintage-style photos, which are a big trend in cover design right now.

4. Understand the principles of typesetting

4_TypesettingTypesetting is the process of laying out the text content on the inside pages of a book. Typesetting is a specialist area of book design, and many publishing houses use professional typesetters, either in-house or at a typesetting firm, who spend the time feeding the author’s text onto the pages. As well as arranging and tidying up the text, typesetters will insert page numbers, chapter and section headings, and images and diagrams if required.

If you’re very new to the book design game typesetting can seem a little daunting to tackle yourself. However, if you’re on a tight self-publishing budget there’s no reason why you can’t dive in and have a go. To typeset a book, you’ll need to become very familiar with Adobe InDesign (or your publishing software of choice), and understand how to use Master pages and work with spreads (two-page layouts). Adobe TV (html link to provides a range of helpful videos for getting started, and will help you get to grips with typesetting basics fast.

Here are some important things to be aware of when you begin typesetting:

Font Size – your text needs to be legible, and using the correct font size will ensure this. Print out a sample of your typesetting at true size to assess how easy it is to read.

Typeface –  this is the designer’s term for a font (which is the computerized version of a typeface), and you’ll find that many typefaces are simply not suitable for typesetting large chunks of text. Stick to classic serif typefaces like Baskerville and Caslon for legibility and an elegant design.

Avoid widows, orphans and confusing hyphenation – Widows are single words that sit on their own line at the end of a paragraph, while orphans sit at the beginning of a page. These break the flow of the text, as does unnecessary hyphenation where words are split across pages. Get familiar with adjusting the alignment, tracking (space between letters) and hyphenation in your publishing software to banish them from your pages.

5. Know your publishing options


You’ve downloaded the software, picked a book size, designed a striking cover and typeset your pages…great work! Now you need to think about how to bring the book to market.

If you’re lucky enough to have had your book picked up by a publishing house it’s unlikely you will need to do very much to see your book distributed and sold, as this will be arranged in-house by the publisher.

If you’re taking the self-publishing route, which is becoming ever more popular and achievable for authors and book designers alike, you have a few more options to consider.

You need to decide whether to produce your book as a hard-copy (print) edition or as a digital eBook. In this article, we’ve mostly looked at techniques which are applicable to printed books, but digital (‘EPUB’) publishing is a great alternative if you’re dipping a toe into self-publishing.

To produce a print book, you will need to prepare your artwork (for both the cover and typeset inside pages) for printing, find a suitable printer, and then look at how best to distribute the copies (e.g. to bookstores or via an online bookshop).

Although a digital EPUB lacks the tangibility of a print copy, it’s a great option if you’re on a budget. You will first have to tailor your design to digital requirements (you can do this in any good publishing software, like Adobe InDesign), decide where you want to sell your book (e.g. Amazon Kindle Store, iBooks, or Google Play Store and adjust the cover size to match the requirements of the eBook store you want to upload your book to.

Go Forth and Create Amazing Books!

All-calloutsThis has been a quick and concise start-up guide for getting started with designing books. Book design is a broad area of design, and it can take many years of training and/or experience to feel like you know everything about the process. But that’s not to say you can’t get started with having a go at creating your own cover and typesetting designs today!

Browse the 123RF library for image inspiration to get ideas for your cover designs, and take a trip to your local bookstore to see which designs are being featured or selling well.

Once you’re familiar with the basics of designing and producing your own books, you’ll find that book design is so much fun to do. You’ll never look back!