Working on the design of Tastes of the Camino was probably one of the most fun steps in the making of this book. It really is amazing to work with a designer and see your vision become a reality. But before you see this evolution, you need to choose a designer and that is no easy task!
When I was vetting designers, I obtained 11 quotes and probably took two months to make a final decision. I admit I was being overly cautious but I had just come out of a very stressful situation with another vendor and didn’t want a repeat of that situation.
The first step in vetting a designer is finding them… Two or three book authors I knew recommended their own designers. I also looked through various cookbooks that I liked… Often authors will either mention their designers in the acknowledgements or list them on the copyrights page. After finding their names, I would search for their contact info on the Internet and contact them. I also reached out to a few “one-stop shop” publishing outfits that also offered design services. Finally, friends and acquaintances made some recommendations as well.
I quickly figured out that the “one-stop shops,” while more economical, didn’t provide the depth of interaction that I wanted to have with my designer. So I eliminated those from the list. As I vetted each remaining designer, I browsed through their portfolio and was able to eliminate some just based on that… If you can’t find a single design that you like in their online portfolio, odds are that you will not like what they produce for you.
I also reviewed quotes and unfortunately, there were a couple of incredibly accomplished designers that I loved BUT I simply couldn’t afford. Other quotes were plain unrealistic. For example, one designer charged an hourly rate (vs. a flat fee) and claimed he could design and layout my book in just 15 hours! In reviewing the quotes, it is important to understand what is included in each quote. For example, did they include the price for illustrations? Also, how many round of edits would be included? These are things you need to understand before making your decision. If it looks too good to be true, then it probably is the case!
Another consideration was their availability. One of my top three designers ended up taking a full-time job while I was going through the vetting process impacting her availability to work on my book. The other was a graduate student in graphic design and we would have to work with his school schedule. This didn’t necessarily remove them from consideration but it was a factor I had to take into account in my decision and in my timeline.
My final consideration was whether I felt I could have a productive working relationship with the designer. This may seem obvious but I can’t stress the importance of this! A creative professional can either break or make your project if their work ethic and professionalism doesn’t match yours. If your gut tells you it will be difficult to work with a particularly designer (or any vendor for that matter), just move on to the next.
I ended up choosing @LuigiPanda. After we had an initial skype meeting during the vetting process, he did one thing the other designers didn’t do. He mocked up a cover and few internal pages along with suggested color schemes. This was instrumental in me chosing him as a designer because I could see his interpretation of my vision. Of course, that mockup got refined after we officially started working together. @LuigiPanda’s quote was structured in a way where there was a flat fee for the cover and a certain number of illustrations and then a per page fee for the layout. I thought this variable component was fairer than a per-hour fee because it was easier to verify how many pages the book had versus how many hours he had worked on my book. He also gave me a pretty realistic and reasonable time frame for completion.
Once I selected the designer, I gave him specs (dimensions, color vs. black and white, etc.) for the book. In order to give him these specs I talked to some printers to get a sense of costs of the different types of trims I was considering. Certain trims can be significantly more expensive than others not because they are larger but because there might be more paper waste in the process or because it might require custom cutting. I had originally wanted a perfectly square book. But when I got preliminary pricing, I realized there was a reason why books tend to be rectangular rather than square! I go into more details on selecting a printer in the next post but I wanted to mention that you do have to know the specs before you start the design process and having a sense of the pricing should help avoid rework. You don’t want to start working with certain specs simply because you envisioned your book that way and then find out that because it is an inch too large, you will pay more or can only work with a more limited number of printers. At that point, you will either have to pay the higher printing costs or you will to pay the designer to resize and possibly re-layout the whole book. In either case, it will cost you more money or time or both!
In addition to the specs, I also sent the designer pictures of the cookbooks I liked as well as graphic design treatments I saw at restaurants, in magazines, and on menus. I also sent him plenty of pictures of the Camino so he could incorporate Camino imagery into his design. With all this material, I hope he got a sense of my style and my vision.
Together with the final manuscript, I also had to provided all the high resolution photography I had taken during the photo shoot, the logo of my publishing company and the barcode that would go at the back of the book.
Once the book was laid out in its FINAL form, I needed to create the index. You will not want to create the index before you have a final pdf file of the book. Otherwise, if you change anything in the final layout, it can alter all the page numbers causing a considerable amount of rework for the index. I initially thought I could create the index myself. But I quickly realized there was a science to indexing and, more importantly, a whole profession dedicated to indexing books. I used Under the Oaks Indexing to create my index and was very satisfied. Once the index was created, @LuigiPanda simply added it to the end of the book to wrap up the project.
The last thing the designer needs to do is to prepare the files according to the specification of the printer. Each printer will have a somewhat different format and sometimes files can get altered in their transmission. In addition, the printer will review the files and make sure they are the way they should be. If they are not the designer will have to fix those files. But a good designer will work through these challenges seamlessly and with professionalism!