by Jenny Kimura, Collaborative Designer
When people ask me what I do for a living and I say, “Designing books,” many people are excited—after all, it seems like a glamorous job for people who love art. And it is! Getting to do my dream job is truly a dream come true. But now that I’ve been working as both a full-time designer at a Big Five publishing house and also a part-time freelancer for many small presses and indie authors, I can definitely say what, to me, are the unglamorous parts. Here are five questions I wish I had known to ask when I was getting into book designing, and my own responses now that I’ve had some perspective.
1. What is the most time-consuming part of your job?
Definitely getting book files print-ready! Not only do those responsibilities include color correction and delivery of book files that are to printer specifications, but they may also include anything from cleaning dust specks off photo scans, to converting files to the correct color space, to making tiny art corrections like erasing stray marks. Sometimes a font looks great, except the capital G looks more like a C and needs to be adjusted. Sometimes a little bit of extra art needs to be fudged, and I’ll spend my day making it look seamless. It’s really the nitty-gritty stuff, and sometimes I do love it. But I could also easily spend the entire day doing just one of these things, which makes me feel like I’ve wasted my day (even though I haven’t!).
2. If you were allowed to give one job responsibility to anyone else so you didn’t have to do it, what would it be?
I think most people would say emails/admin work, and I would echo that, but I would also say that having to double-check that I’ve made text corrections to an interior is the worst. Making the corrections is fine. Going back and making sure I haven’t missed any or misinterpreted a correction? That tedium is my designer purgatory!
3. What part of your job do you wish you had more time for?
If I had all the time in the world, I’d spend so much more time on different interior layouts and cover layouts. Usually, I shoot for about five to six different type ideas when it comes to covers, and three to five mockups for interiors. But I always feel like there are more options I wish I could try that I usually don’t have time for, since books are always on tight schedules. I’d also spend so much more time unearthing new artists for covers—there’s never enough time to do the full sleuthing I’d like to!
4. What are your least favorite book cover trends that are popular right now?
You know when illustrated characters on a cover are just standing on the type, and the people have dimension, with shadows and highlights and everything, but the type is just…perfectly flat with no shading? Why are they floating in midair yet appear to be sitting on the type? It’s super cute! Just the logic side of my brain screams into the void when I see it.
5. What do you think is a major misconception people have about book designing?
I think a big one is that my job is to make the cover simply “pretty” or “scary” or “adventure-y.” All those things are often true, but there are so many more behind-the-scenes considerations that go into it. Something as simple as how long or short the title is (and the length of each word in the title) can really influence how a cover looks. The author’s feedback (especially if they dislike certain cover trends, fonts, or imagery) is a major factor, as is feedback from other publishing professionals working on the book. Sometimes, an idea that you thought would be clever ends up being too clever and you have to scrap it. Or sometimes everyone likes it, but you have to change the colors because it looks too much like another book out on the market. Even though sometimes I see covers out there and I wonder why the designer of that book made one design choice or another, I always have to remember how many other voices in the decision room there might have been weighing in. Book design is truly a collaborative process—it’s never just one person, and it’s never as simple as sticking type over a nice piece of art.
Jenny Kimura spends her time designing books by day and also designing books by night. Her favorite bookstore ritual is to leaf through new books to find illustrator names and admire special printing effects. She is a full-time book designer in New York and a part-time freelancer for Indigo: Editing, Design, and More.