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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Benefits of Publishing for Businesses and Entrepreneurs

When you think about profits from publishing, don’t just think about book sales if you’re a business owner or entrepreneur. The profits from the book sales are often just one aspect of a book’s value. In fact, some businesses and entrepreneurs can profit from publishing even if they give away their books. Books are, for example, a good way to increase speaker engagements and that means more opportunities to build your brand and promote your products and services.

Here are a few benefits of publishing:

  • You gain credibility as a published author
  • It is easier to get speaking engagements if you have published
  • Printed books have a physical presence that reminds people of your business
  • Books can be shared, spreading your message
  • Books are a form of visual branding
  • Books can reinforce your sales pitch
  • Books can reduce consultation time
  • Books are a longer lasting form of advertising

Reasons Independent Publishing is so Profitable for Businesses

Independent publishing is especially profitable for businesses and entrepreneurs because they are often in a unique position to sell direct and not have to rely on retailers who take 40–50%.

If you are, for example, a restaurant selling a cookbook to clients, a gift shop selling a photo coffee-table book to tourists, a local museum, etc., you have your own point-of-purchase with lots of high-value prospects—more than enough to sell your inventory of books. Likewise, a speaker selling books at events often has no need for an ad campaign. Businesses and entrepreneurs may already have a special website or blog. These factors reduce setup costs and increase income. For authors in these situations, the math shown in my post (The Math Publishers Don’t Want Authors to Know!) will fit your situation well.

Sell Your Advertising!

If you go all out and publish a full-color and very beautifully designed business book, the costs might be $16,000–$20,000 (which is mostly print costs). This cost divided by 4 years, is an advertising budget of $4,000–5,000 per year, assuming the unlikely event that you make nothing back from selling the book. This is a low advertising budget, but remember, you are selling the books. If this investment gave you 3000 books sold directly at $19.95, the gross income from the books would be around $60,000–65,000.

If you had a nicely designed black and white book (color cover, but no color inside), the print costs would be much lower, but if it is a valuable guidebook or how-to book (finance, investing, diet, health, etc.), you could produce the book for less and still have a similar price point.

You could avoid the largest cost—the upfront color print costs—by using print on demand (POD), but POD results in a higher unit cost with many print limitations, meaning the book may be harder to sell and harder to turn a profit. POD works best for B&W paperback books. It is important to evaluate the type of book and your retail price when considering print options. (I’ll discuss that more in a future post.)

Because the book is advertising for your business and you are selling it, your advertising actually makes you money rather than costing money.

Publishing is one of the best low-cost forms of advertising. The value is particularly clear when you add the profit from selling the book with how the book is generating additional revenue by increasing the cachet and visibility of your business services and/or products. This makes independent publishing a very powerful and effective promotion strategy.

Give It Away Free and Still Make Money!

In many cases, it is worthwhile for businesses to publish books, even if they decide to just give away the books for free. The free book strategy is not just a good idea when publishing PDF eBooks that go viral on the web—books that have no print costs. Free books can be a beneficial strategy even when publishing very nicely printed books. It really depends on your business, the type of book you are publishing, and your clientele. Auto showrooms, for example, have long understood this. They give away small, but nicely printed, booklets that show off their cars and products. People take these and show them around to friends. Books have physical presence, can be shared, and exist as reminders of the product. This booklet is a low-cost way to influence a high-cost purchase decision. The same is true for free tour guides that feature local businesses and historic sites.

Some books can also be used as a type of upsell, such as when a customer buys a subscription, product, or service, and gets the book for “free.” This too helps influence the purchase decision.

If you’re a business, be sure to read my post The Most Important Thing to Do When Publishing.

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