Book Design for The Joy of Creative Discovery

It is really exciting to work with authors and independent publishers who care about quality and the reader experience. Pasha Hogan’s new book, The Joy of Creative Discovery definitely falls into that category. This book is an engaging collection of interesting activities, writing prompts, art projects, nature excursions, stress-reduction techniques, and much more—all carefully put together by the author to help those who are journeying through difficulties or anyone who wants a happier life.

I first met the author a few years back when I designed her book, Third Time Lucky, an inspirational account of her journey of transformation following a third cancer diagnosis. It includes her insights for living “beyond life challenges.” Her new book builds on the groundwork of her life and experiences helping others get through similar difficulties.

From a book design point of view, this book shows that, even with only a black and white interior, a book can be fun, imaginative, and engaging. I really believe that book design should draw the reader in and add to the whole pleasure of reading the book. Obviously, the approach used for The Joy of Creative Discovery wouldn’t work for all books. I design many business books that require an entirely different approach. But in this case, the author’s writing and content, and her openness to creativity allowed this beautiful book to happen.

This project provided me an opportunity to use both my design and illustration skills. The content and book title—“The Joy of Creative Discovery”—is perfect for visual representation. The cover illustration depicts a confident and capable woman, that we can rightly assume is the author, navigating uncertain waters that represent the journey of life. The illustration depicts an open expanse of rolling sea waves, clouds, a setting sun, and star-filled celestial realms above as well as the real and mystical creatures large and small that inhabit these layers of creation.

Custom cover illustration
Custom cover illustration for Pasha Hogan’s The Joy of Creative Discover
Custom back cover illustration
Custom cover illustration wraps around seamlessly to the back cover.

These diverse cover elements could then be pulled from the illustration to support the different content features in the book. Knowing in advance that the book would be printed in B&W, I used a line-art illustration style that would produce clear results for that print method.

The interior of the book included four main reoccurring features or information categories — “Playtime,” represented by birds (swifts); “Map It,” represented by the sailboat; “Treasure the Moment,” represented by a whale tale; and “Practice,” represented by three jumping dolphins.

Illustrated book
Illustration book elements for The Joy of Creative Discovery

In addition to these categories, additional birds, the Phoenix, and especially the dragonfly reappear randomly throughout the book. There are also a few unique illustrations created in a matching style for special content and projects.

book illustrations
Book illustrations for The Joy of Creative Discovery

Together, these line-art illustrations create design continuity between the pages and cover concept. And more important, they add joy and creativity to the reading experience.

This was definitely one of my favorite recent book design projects.

Illustration title page.
Illustrated title page.

Book Design Tips

Book design project: Navigating Change

One of my recent book design projects is Navigating Change (Flame Lantern Press). This was a fun project and it was a great pleasure to work with the author, Christine Warren. This book, as I will show, illustrates some important things to consider when designing a book.

Book cover design.
Book cover design and closeup of original illustrated cover art.

Christine is a presenter of transformational workshops, a consultant, life coach, and speaker. Her book brings together teachings, stories, and tools to help people move through life’s changes or transitions. In her words, the goal is to help people move through “life transitions with magnificence.”

Book cover design
Front cover of Navigating Change.

Her book shares the principles and practices found in her workshops. Her presentation is divided into four phases represented by the four points of the compass in this diagram.

Custom diagram design for book
Compass diagram created to represent the Four Phases of Change. The interior book design is coordinated with the cover design.

Put in the simplest way, two main concepts converge in Christine’s book—navigating and wisdom.

I put together various cover designs and from those options, Christine chose the compass concept. There are all sorts of books that use a compass on the front cover, so it was crucial to create one that was as unique and original as possible. Generally speaking, compasses have masculine associations, so the additional challenge was to re-envision the compass idea in a way that would balance both masculine and feminine to resonate with her inclusive audience.

Book cover art
I used Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to create the cover art for the book cover. The art is wide enough to wrap around to the back.

The spiritual themes in the book led me to draw inspiration from Gothic rose windows to develop the unique compass needed for the cover. How the two merge isn’t entirely obvious, but the end result has the desired effect. The compass art is worked into a series of translucent layers with a floral lattice-like pattern for the background, plus light effects and a small rose-window-like design at the center, which together transform the compass. The result is a visual image that helps communicate her concept “Conscious Endings, Visionary Beginnings.” It needed to be subtle so as to not be too Western because the wisdom in the book draws on both eastern and western ideas and sayings.

The cover design is carried over to the interior pages by using the compass art for a diagram in the introduction, for the four phase-opening pages and a smaller compass for the sections within each phase.

In manuscript form, most books are just pages of paragraphs with very few other features. Put together in a small format with no special features a book can be uninteresting and more difficult to read. Unfortunately, too many books are produced that way. And that simply would not do for a book that aims to inspire readers. So I was very happy that the author wanted to take this book to a higher level.

This is where design makes a difference. To make the book beautiful, as well as reader friendly, the main text is set on large format pages (7.5”x9.25”) with a generous margins and 12pt type. This allows for some of the content to be moved from the main text into the outer margins—such as special quotes and poems, as well as pull quotes from the main text.

Compass are used in page design.
Page spread showing section opener.

I also created original decorative art used for each of the four right-hand phase openers. This helps the four phases openers stand out and makes the book easier to navigate because each of the four phases can be easily located. The art is an illustration consisting of small flowers, delicate trees, birds, and stars. The idea is simple—to visually communicate how life is interconnected, one of the reoccurring themes in the book.

Decorative book art
Color options of the artwork used for the four opening phases (or parts) in the book.
Art created for sections of book
The B&W version of art that appears in final print edition.

“Michael is deeply involved with his authors and cares passionately about not only the beauty of the physical books, but their success… His patience, attention to detail, and work exceeded my greatest expectations. He is deeply knowledgeable about the publishing world and has a wealth of information to help his authors succeed… There are many people out there offering book design services, but not the caliber of Michael Rohani. I could not be more pleased with the end results of our work together.” —Christine Warren

Need a Book Design? Start with these Questions:

When you are thinking about the art direction of a book cover, start with these five basic questions:

  • The concept: What concept best represents the central idea in the book? The visual concept should fit with the title of the book.
  • Product differentiation: Will the design stand out when compared to other books in the same category?
  • Readability: Will the cover idea be clear when the cover is shown in small sizes on the internet and in ads?
  • Memorability: Will the design be recognizes and remembered.
  • Audience: Will the design appeal to the author’s intended audience?

There are lots of other important questions and issues to consider, such as print options, keyword strength (discoverability), cover copy (use of endorsements, book benefits description, the author bio), retail requirements, BISAC, etc. For this blog post, I just want to focus on the book design.

The design is the first step for communicating what the book is about and for whom it is intended.

It can also make an important difference to how a book is noticed and remembered and the purchase decision. People like books that have a good user experience. If for example, the type or margins are too small, some buyers, without even knowing why, may decide they are unlikely to enjoy reading the book. The more competition there is, the more design becomes important.

Recent Book Design Projects: A Book for Fitness and Inspiration

Scenic Fit San Francisco is one of the most interesting and fun recent book design and production projects to come through the office of Design For Books. If you are contemplating creating a “how-to” or self-help book on any topic, this book is an excellent example of how it is done. Scenic Fit San Francisco is the vision of Tracy Hicks, a super-fit trail runner, mountain biker, and above all, expert personal instructor with over a decade of experience instructing outdoor workouts for groups.

People always say that if you want to be a good writer, write about what you know. That Tracy has done. Her book is a perfect combination of her passion for fitness and her brilliant vision for how to help others get fit and stay fit. San Francisco is her home where she leads workout classes in beautiful scenic locations. This book made me quit my gym membership. Exercising outside is way more motivational. Tracy shows the way to making fitness part of a quality lifestyle experience.

Scenic Fit book cover design
Scenic Fit book cover. This is a full-color offset-printed paperback book.

Her book is an easy-to-use resource for both long-time locals and visiting tourists who want to stay fit while exploring the city. There are workouts on beaches, in wooded parks, incredibly beautiful gardens, and historical locations. Just following these workouts will help you discover some of the best locations and views in San Francisco.

Page design for exercise book
Scenic Fit page design example for workout instructions.

Book design is an important way to add value to a publication and help it stand out among the competition. How the content is developed is very important to how well the design process will work. With clear content development the design will help readers get value from a book without having to read the whole book or struggle to find the information they want. Each type of information category can have its own distinct appearance. These design features become visual tools for navigating the book. This enhanced navigation is created by features such as photos in the table of contents that match the large chapter opening photos and consistent information categories that enable recurring content to be easily recognized.

Book design table of contents
Table of contents with photos coordinated with each chapter opener image.

The book’s well thought out planning and organization shows in the easy-to-follow instructions, custom maps with point-by-point workout routes, beautiful location photos, and enough historical background information to allow you to make a connection with the city. But the book features don’t stop there. The book includes everything you need to make the workouts successful outings and to create a visually interesting book:

  • Area highlights
  • How to get there information
  • Individual route maps
  • Information for parking, restrooms, hours, etc.
  • Public transportation options
  • Things to know before going
  • Exercise benefits
  • Exercises for different levels
  • Time and distance
  • Warm-up instructions
  • Exercise instructions with photo illustrations
  • Links to online workouts
  • After workout stretches
Scenic Fit page design example
Scenic Fit page design showing custom route map, location information, workout benefits, and tip box.

While working on the project we ran into a roadblock trying to find a photographer who could do the scenic location photos within the budget and schedule. Eventually, I suggested my son, Lorenzo Rohani, who was already a young award-winning wildlife photographer. It seemed to me, scenic urban landscapes was easily within his skill set, so it wasn’t long before we were on the assignment while enjoying San Francisco on the side. Visiting the locations in the book while my son was taking the photos convinced me that Tracy’s book is a good guide to San Francisco even if you didn’t do the workouts. San Francisco is definitely one of America’s most beautiful cities and to experience it, you will want to see the locations in her book. I have visited the city three or four times before, but this was the first time I really felt like I was getting to know the best spots.

Page design with photo
Page spread design showing the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. Photo by Lorenzo Rohani.
Page design with photo
Page spread design showing a long exposure photo of the Golden Gate Bridge at night. Photo by Lorenzo Rohani.

As part of the project, I also designed created online web pages for Tracy that allow people to access the workouts anywhere with their cell phones. These online pages help users find the scenic locations and complete the workouts with audio instruction and exercise photos. The workouts in the book include links to this web content.

Cell phone showing exercise workouts
Online workouts for Scenic Fit San Francisco

If you get a copy of the book, you’ll likely want more and that’s coming. The book is a component of a larger body of content Tracy Hicks is developing that include ten additional scenic workouts for a second volume and the Scenic Fit website and blog with many interesting features on their way such as fitness inspiration and delicious recipes. Next time you visit San Francisco, be sure to get a copy of Tracy’s book.

Self-Publishing Success Story: Pacific Northwest Wildlife

Pacific Northwest Wildlife is another interesting self-publishing success story. I met the author and photographer, Aaron Baggenstos, at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. I was there because of my son, Lorenzo is also wildlife photographer.

Coffee table book design, book jacket design, photography book design, self-publishing
Jacket cover design for Pacific Northwest Wildlife
Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
Aaron and Lorenzo at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

As I got to know Aaron, I learned he was transitioning to a new career as a photographer. Making a living as a photographer is a hard thing to do, and I was skeptical that Aaron could sell enough photography. But his vision included the idea of leading wildlife and photography tours. For that I thought, he certainly had the right personality and skills, and I knew I could help him. A beautiful coffee-table wildlife photography book would be a great marketing and promotional tool for letting people know about his skills and talents.

As time passed, we stayed in touch, and Aaron’s portfolio of wildlife photography grew in quality and size. When Aaron knew he was ready to create a book to showcase his new work, he came to me with a project idea.
Early on, we needed to discuss the budget, because one of the biggest challenges of creating a color coffee-table book is the print cost. It is a significant amount of money when you’re just starting a business. There are cost-saving strategies for both state-side and off-shore printing, but it is essential to not sacrifice quality. The book marketplace is competitive, and buyers have plenty of good choices. The book needs to be unique and immediately recognizable. Above all, it needs to be high quality. Looking at the costs, we calculated a cover retail price of $34.95. This left some room for occasional discounts and the retailer cut (usually 40–50%).

Before investing any money in printing, Aaron pitched the book to Costco, the largest American membership-only warehouse club. Generally speaking, getting a book into a store that is not bookstore is a great opportunity, because there are fewer books to compete against and the buyer rightly assumes the books are cherry-picked for the audience. To increase the book’s chances, we were careful to make it conform to important Costco criteria and use good presentation images. They agreed to take 1700–2000 copies, and he could be at locations to sign books. Even with a 50% distributor cut, that could be worth more than $30,000. This one arrangement could cover all production costs and hand Aaron a nice profit. Plus he would still have copies remaining that he could sell and use to promote his business. Most businesses have to spend money on advertising; few get to sell that advertising for a profit! Publishing is one form of content marketing that pays back.

Aaron took my advice and agreed to follow publishing best practices—professional editing and proofreading, design, a marketing strategy, and a printer who specialized in color books. As a designer, I focused on creating a product with a high perceived value that would showcase both his work and introduce him as a photographer. To achieve this, I would do a number of things, including creating custom maps and chapter icons. The maps reinforced an important concept behind the book—travel across the Pacific Northwest—the region where the wildlife habitats are located. This would help communicate the “tour” aspect of his business. The maps were both decorative and functional. The first map is designed to create a distinct and striking table of contents spread at the start of the book. It is a very simple depiction of the Pacific Northwest and shaped to suggest the contour of the globe—no labels or markers. The second map is more functional, giving names and details of the various locations for National Parks and habitats found in the book.

Coffee table book design, page spread design, custom map design, self-publishing
Table of contents design showing custom map design for Pacific Northwest Wildlife




Coffee table book design, page spread design, custom map design,self-publishing
Page spread design showing custom map design for Pacific Northwest Wildlife


The chapter icons represent Aaron taking photos. It is a small touch, but it helps convey and remind the reader that Aaron is the person behind all the beautiful photographs in the book. It also helps communicate to the reader that photography is a skill and an adventure activity that they too can experience.

Coffee table book design, page spread design, chapter opener design,self-publishing
Chapter opener design showing custom icon and text wrap.

Rather than simply “self-publish,” Aaron set up a publisher identity, making himself an independent publisher. He could use this identity for the book and any future projects. I redesigned the logo to create one that would go with the perceived value and elegant style of the book—simpler and cleaner. The new logo was also more functional for applications on book products.

Coffee table book design, title page design, self-publishing
Title page design of Pacific Northwest Wildlife and publisher logo design for Nature’s Prime Publishing.


Coffee table book design, publisher logo design, title page design, self-publishing
Book jacket showing publisher logo design for Nature’s Prime Publishing.

The story of Aaron’s book got interesting again when the Costco buyer changed her mind. While we were working on the book, Costco had agreed to carry a new anthology from a very well-known and famous wildlife photographer. This was not a huge problem because the book would sell. But it was an unfortunate setback. However, I was reasonably confident that if he took a copy of Pacific Northwest Wildlife and showed her how nice it had turned out, the original offer would hold together. It worked. Once they saw the book, the show was on again.

Coffee table book design, page spread design, self-publishing
Page spread design in Pacific Northwest Wildlife

It is a lot of work promoting a book, doing the book signings, and managing the fulfillment with the stores, but Aaron did it, and it paid off. The book remains an important showcase of his photography work in the Pacific Northwest. His tour business grew and now includes amazing trips to Africa, Costa Rica, and Alaska. He has expanded his portfolio vastly and is now an Award-winning wildlife photographer, recognized by National Geographic, Nature’s Best, Outside, NANPA, and the Audubon Society. Recently, several of his images were chosen for both final rounds in the prestigious 2015 & 2016 BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year. As someone who knows Aaron personally, he’s exactly the kind of guy you would want leading your tour and helping you with your photography skills. When I met him, his goal was to earn of living selling photography. Now, he does the photography he loves, but he also makes his living doing something just as valuable—creating memorable life experiences for his tour clients.

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Self-Publishing Success Stories: 7 Secrets Guys Will Never Tell You

One of the great things about my job is that I get to work with decision-makers and experts in a variety of fields, people who make a positive difference in the lives of others or who are on their way to becoming influential. Jackie Brewton is one of those accomplished people—she is the go-to person for people and institutions who need a motivational speaker and teen relationship expert.

If you’re a teen or a parent of teens like me, her book, 7 Secrets Guys Will Never Tell You: A Teen Girl’s Guide on Love, Sex, and Relationships has obvious value.

2-color book design, book cover design, self-publishing
Copies of 7 Secrets Guys Will Never Tell You at the book launch.

When I got the call from Jackie, she had already worked with a designer on the cover, but the production values were lacking. This seems to be happening to a lot of authors. In the last two years, I have seen an increase in calls from people who have hired designers who, it turns out, could not complete the project in a satisfactory way or who have simply gone missing before the job was finished.

From my perspective, Jackie is obviously an accomplished person with a personal brand that matters. My advice was to take the project to a higher level. This process would involve three things: first, refine the cover concept and give it higher production values. Second, add value to the book with a page design that would be reader-friendly, communicate the book’s central concept, and be visually appealing to her audience. Thirdly, use an enhanced print strategy.

To communicate the book’s subject matter—seven secrets about teen relationships and sexuality—I developed a graphic for the cover that combines DNA with heart symbols and numbers in a formulas design. The seven appears to peels back to reveal this formula (the peel-back illusion was part of the original design concept).

2-color book design, cover design, self-publishing
Cover graphic for 7 Secrets Guys Will Never Tell You: A Teen Girl’s Guide on Love, Sex, and Relationships.

In the interior page design, the up-right and inverted hearts were incorporated into the running heads. Rather than have pages filled with nothing more than a long stream of text, design features are added to enhance the page layouts. Pull quotes are added to help draw the reader into the explanations. Design elements are used to make the different information categories in the book stand out—dialogues, statistics, special features, and tables with comparisons. These features are made to stand out by adding a second spot color in the print process.

Chapter opener design, self-publishing
Done right, design adds value. Even if a book is just text and no photos, the design strategy can still make it visually interesting and reader-friendly. Two-color chapter opener design for 7 Secrets Guys Will Never Tell You.

“I can’t tell you how many people have commented on the wonderful job that you did with the design. I’m very pleased with how it turned out. THANK YOU again!” —Jackie Brewton

Always do the math.

Print-on-demand (POD) has revolutionized self-publishing. But is it the best choice? It allows authors to avoid large upfront print costs and simply order books one at a time. This sounds great, and there are some situations when it is a good option. What most self-publishing authors fail to recognize is that the unit price is too high to be competitive and the print options are so limited that the books simply fail to impress buyers who have better options. Offset printing provides more options—better printing at lower costs. This is one of the reasons POD books are rarely stocked in bookstores and professional publishers rarely use the method.

Even though Jackie had a book that could easily be printed POD as a black and white book (it had only texts and graphics—no photos), she could add value to her book by using offset printing instead. That would allow her add another color to enhance the interior and add special effects to the cover, such as a spot varnish, foil, or embossing—options that are simply not available in POD. What’s more, doing her book in B&W using POD would have cost more! For a book that size, the POD unit costs is around $3.40–3.50, or $9.20 with shipping and handling. For example, 1500 copies in POD, with shipping, would be around $5300. By comparison, the same book with 2-color printing and special effects would be around $2.59, or $3885 for 1500 with shipping (36% less). Also, the offset print unit price drops as the print quantities go up.

With lower costs and higher quality her book would stand apart as superior even to other professionally published books in her category which are only back and white. Publishing is very competitive. But done right, the results can be amazing. Only a few months after the books came out, I received a kind letter from Jackie with photos of her book launch and the news that she had orders that already exceeded 3000 books:

“Hi Michael, I hope you’re doing well! I thought about you today and wanted to give you an update on the progress of the book. I’m attaching this link with pictures from my book launch as well as a picture from one of my book signing events. I’ve also attached a picture with my high school English teacher that I mention in the Acknowledgements… I’ve received two large orders from agencies, totaling over 3,000 copies…”

That’s definitely the kind of update I like receiving.

2-color book design, page design, self-publishing
Jackie Brewton at her book launch.


Book design, book launch, self-publishing
Jackie Brewton at her book launch with her high school English teacher.

It would not surprise me if she sold 100,000 or more copies of this book.

Bear in mind that even a small quantity of 3000 copies is close to $48,000 in direct sales or $28,800 at 40% wholesale. The upfront investment necessary to create a professional product pays off.

Jackie’s mission, of course, is about more than book sales. She wants to have a positive influence in the lives of teens, and the success of her book means she can reach a much larger audience.

It’s fine to self-publish, but you still have to compete with publishers who have respected brands, expertise, and experience. To succeed you need a strategy to make your book stand out in its category. Do a good job developing your content and work with book professionals who follow publishing best practices. That way, you’ll create a book that book buyers and reviewers will recognize as a quality product.

“Almost everyone who sees the book comments on how good the cover and interior look. I participated in an Indie Author Book Fair in Athens, GA and met an editor and a graphic/book designer. They both remarked about the great job that you did. Thanks again for making my book look like a traditionally published book. You were definitely a godsend.” —Jackie Brewton

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Market Yourself with eBooks: Volume 2 (Free ebook)

Market Yourself with eBooks: Volume 2

Volume 2 in our new free ebook series Market Yourself with eBooks is now available.

Like volume 1, you can get it for free now and you don’t have to give your email address or fill in an opt-in form. Just click and download. Share the link with whoever you think will be interested.

Volume 1 explains the concept of publishing as a form of content marketing. Volume 2 shares six features of great ebook for marketing purposes. This information is useful to anyone developing a content marketing campaign, especially for business professionals who can benefit from an ebook strategy.

Content marketing, ebook marketing strategy, content development, ebook design
Volume 2: Six Features of great eBook for Marketing Purposes

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR COPY: Volume 2, Market Yourself with eBooks: Six Features of Great eBooks for Marketing Purposes

If you like it, let us know. If you would like an ebook for your business, give me (Michael) a call at 425-771-2905.

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