by Vinnie Kinsella, book designer and publications consultantVinnie Kinsella

As a book designer, I love bringing a manuscript to life in book form. If you’re an author, you are probably aware that the look of the product changes a lot between the proofread Word document and the final approved InDesign files. What you might not imagine is just how differently I as the book designer see the manuscript compared to how you, the author, see it.

It’s true that you and I are both looking at the same thing: a Microsoft Word file containing all the words of your creation. But like two people staring at the same abstract painting in a modern art exhibit, we see it differently. So what are some of the things that I see when you pass your manuscript along to me that you don’t? I’m glad you asked. Here are just a few things that our eyes perceive differently.

You see: A polished manuscript needing to be formatted to meet a printer’s specifications.
I see: Thousands upon thousands of letters, numbers, punctuation marks, and paragraph returns that must be put into a form that is both aesthetically pleasing and functional and that enhances the content without overshadowing it.

You see: A page with margins.
I see: A spread with two pages, each containing a text block with a fixed number of lines and precisely defined margins—margins that allow enough room on the outside for readers to hold the book without covering words with their thumbs and enough room on the inside to not force readers to curl the book back in order to read it.

You see: Those really creative parts of your story that contain journal entries, emails, news articles, and text messages to push the narrative forward.
I see: The need to make each of these elements visually distinct without having them clash, which can be a challenge, albeit it a fun one. It’s an even bigger challenge when I must figure out how to translate those distinct elements into an ebook, which allows readers control of the book’s visuals in a way that print books don’t.

You see: An amazing set of images that fit perfectly with your content.
I see: The need to check all images for potential quality, rights, and color conversion issues that could arise. I’ll also need to address challenges with placing images as close to the corresponding text as possible without introducing white space or awkward page breaks.

You see: That really fun chapter title that is five times as long as the others.
I see: The chapter title on which I must base the font size of all the other chapter titles if I want them to have a cohesive look.

You see: An impressive use of abundant multisyllabic words.
I see: A book that will have lots of line-break hyphens.

You see: Visible words, letters, numbers, and punctuation marks.
I see: All of the hidden characters Word doesn’t show you: extra spaces between words and sentences, extra paragraph returns, manual tab indentations, unnecessary page breaks.

You see: Quotation marks and apostrophes.
I see: Inch and foot hash marks than need to be turned into quotation marks and apostrophes.

There are many other things I see differently than you do when it comes time to format your book, and that’s a good thing! It’s my job to see what you don’t and to make sure nothing I see gets in the way of your readers’ enjoyment of your writing.

With all of that said, there is one more way in which our eyes differ, and it’s a significant one. When I send you that designed PDF for the first time:

I see: The proof copy of your book.
You see: Your book as a book for the very first time.
I see: The excitement on your face.


Vinnie Kinsella has been doing desktop publishing and design since the days of the Commodore 64 and dot matrix printers. When he was in fifth grade, he used the program The Print Shop to design birthday cards for all his friends, and he’s been a designing fanatic ever since. He says the wackiest thing he ever designed was the April Fool’s edition of his high school newspaper: The Falcon Flyer, which involved a lot of Photoshopping.

Currently on Vinnie’s nightstand: A List of Things That Didn’t Kill Me by Jason Schmidt.