A blog post about the book covers I designed

GA_medium header4


I’d like to share with you a blog post written by a client and friend of mine about the self-published book covers I designed for their company, Growing Agile.

I hope it doesn’t look too much like bragging, but I’m really proud of this, and I think I should be too!

Here’s a link to the blog post as well as my description about the cover process, how I approached them, my rough thumbnail sketches, and thoughts behind the design I done. They also give their thoughts on the whole process as well.

LOVE my job! 🙂


My book about two questionable cats

Thought I’d share with you a little project I’ve created.


I’m working on a book about my two cats. Yep, a crazy idea… I know. It’s a personal project I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. Not a cat book though.

Somehow it became what it is now. I’ll be sharing a page or two every week, and I’d love to know what you think. Any tips, advice, insults or just a plain ‘Hi, keep at it!’, would be most appreciated. Working on a book from this perspective is unfamiliar to me. Usually I’m the one putting together things like this – not creating it. I don’t know exactly where it is going yet, or where this will end up. All I know – right now – is that I need to get this out my system – ever felt like that? And show it to the world (scary as that may be), finish it and start the next project.

I hope to see you visiting The Tail of Tales blog or facebook pg too 😉

“Words are life”… The Book Thief

This is such a beautiful movie. It’s about writing, reading, hope, courage, perseverance, trust, love, hate, war and so much more. It made me appreciate the simplicity in books and in life! The very things we sometimes take for granted. Click the trailer below the poster to view what it’s all about. A movie I need to watch once more…


Typefaces and FONTS

Taken from the Floating Frog www.thefloatingfrog.co.uk/

Taken from the Floating Frog http://www.thefloatingfrog.co.uk/

Did you know there’s a difference between a font and a typeface?
If you didn’t, not to worry, neither did I.

typeface is also known as font family. For example, Helvetica is a typeface. Or Caslon Pro is a typeface. Some typefaces have large font families like Helvetica. Some have smaller font families like Arial.

A font is a particular style of a typeface. For example, the bold, italic or roman of that typeface. The font sits within the typeface family – just like children. Each child has a different personality. So too with fonts. Some are bold, some light, some heavy, and others are even bold italic!

Wikipedia has more information should you like to go into a bit more detail.

There are thousands of different typefaces, and there’s a lot more in-depth descriptions on the web – one being The Font Feed.


Some TIPS on using typefaces and fonts

  • Headings generally look good in a sans-serif. The term sans comes from the French word meaning without. Sans-serif fonts are without serifs. An example of sans-serif is Helvetica Neue LT Std – see image below. A serif is a typeface with serifs. For example, Palatino LT Std – see image below. When it comes to body text styles, I often use a serif typeface. Using serif typefaces for body texts doesn’t always apply to all books, especially in ebooks. Sometimes using a sans-serif throughout a book can look great for computer or cellphone reading. That is, we need to look at the usability of reading – where it will be read on – before we implement old text rules 😉 However, for printed books, it all depends on the kind of book you are designing, and the market you designing for. Remember, the typeface you use contributes to how a book is read – with strain or with ease. I think we all prefer the latter!

sans vs serif

  • One can get overwhelmed when choosing typefaces. There are so many that it can become confusing or even intimidating. Experienced designers should have a general knowledge on typefaces. Knowledge comes with time, study, practice, research, and by looking at everything around you… In the street while driving, while shopping, and even while watching television. This doesn’t always have to be learnt through an expensive course. The most obvious route is to read. And read more! It’s a good training ground in becoming aware of typefaces. So next time you are reading, take a moment, and look at the text on the page. Does it look good? Is it easy to read? Could it be better and how?
  • In book design, it helps to choose a typeface with a large font family to support your design. I’ve made the mistake where I once chose a really cool typeface. Loved it! Got it approved! Only to realise afterwards that it didn’t have an italic or a semi-bold font. Those ‘designy’ typefaces are perfect for headlines or for logo use.
    Also, if you using the typeface for body text throughout the book, then a good tip is to test the italics. Sometimes the italics can look awful within the body text. So test the bold and italics to see if you like the way it sits within the text before you make a final decision. Bear in mind, the bigger the font family, the better you are able to show variety in font without using another typeface. Sometimes you just got to… keep it in the family!
    Try to keep it as simple as you can. Don’t complicate matters. A good rule is not to use more than 3 different typefaces within a single book design.


A final note when choosing a typeface, and this goes back to when you designing the spec grid, is to look at the character and line spacing of that typeface.

Character spacing is called kerning.

Spacing between the lines is called leading.

These differ between typefaces and can either result in a pleasant reading experience, or a very strained one for the reader. Depending on who your market is – choose carefully and appropriately. Practicality is just as important as pretty. The typeface selection will play a vital role in keeping within your book’s extent. Some typefaces take up more space on the page than others. So when making up your book’s grid, take your time and play around with the different typefaces.


Hope you found this post enlightening. Is there something you’d like to add? As always, feedback is most welcomed! 🙂

Something to watch… Chip Kidd interviewing Neil Gaiman

I’m inspired by Neil Gaiman and the way he goes about his writing career. Chip Kidd is a graphic designer best known for his incredibly clever book cover designs.

In this video, Chip talks to Neil about his comic book career, his writing, and some other fun stories too! But I won’t say anymore. Watch it yourself. It’s a wonderful conversation about books  😉

The book grid

A4 grid

What is a book grid?

It’s the PRE prep work before the actual work… if that even makes sense. The grid establishes things like what the baseline height will be, how many columns to use, the page size setup and which typeface would look good together. It’s a page spread/s – see example above – on what some of these terms look like.

Body text

First step towards a grid setup is to choose your typeface and size of your body text. Typeface is the font family you’d like to use throughout the book. And body text is the main running text throughout the book. Choosing fonts takes a good working knowledge of which font styles work best with each other. I never use more than 3 typefaces in a book. More than that, and the book will start to look unprofessional and messy. But, this is dependent on the style of book you publishing, and the market you designing for. So do your research!

Side note: Kerning is the space between characters/letters. Leading is the space between lines of text.


Columns is a vital part of a grid setup. You can have a 3, 4 or even 6 column grid (see image above). Again, you’ll need to know the basic structure of the book. The heavier the text or box features in a book, the more columns you may have. This allows for design flexibility – especially within tight page extents. The lighter your text in your book – the less columns you may have. The grid allows for a consistent flow of text throughout the book and gives a good indication of how many words per line you can manage. A very important aspect if you want your book to stay within its page extent.


Headings usually (not always) are sans-serif, and body text is serif. But this all depends on the kind of book you publishing and whether it’s an online or printed format. ‘They’ say sans-serif reads better online compared to printed material. Heading size work in conjunction with the body leading size. Each component in book design is wired together in some manner. Nothing in book design works in isolation. It’s a connected bunch of wires working together to makeup one entity in the end.

Footer and Running heads

A header or footer is text or graphics that is usually printed at the top or bottom of every page. A header is printed in the top margin; a footer is printed in the bottom margin. That’s the basic explanation. Some of these can get quite creative, like having your headers running down the side of your page. For something like this, you’ll need to work closely with your printer or check visibility is clear on an electronic device. Nothing irritates a reader more than not being able to read the text. Especially page numbers! They are important in a book for many practical reasons including as a reference source.


Lastly, the baseline is the lines on which your body text sits (see image above). The baseline grid is a formula which uses the body text leading size. This is why its important to get your body text approved first. This is also why it’s important to get the foundation of your design grid right. Like building a house – if the foundation is wrong, the house will eventually fall apart. So lay your foundation down correctly, and the job will look good and run smoother 😉

Feedback is fuel for improvement! so feel free to comment or ask questions.

Next, I’ll talk about the spec design.

The spec handover

Snapshot from Google of book layouts

Snapshot from Google of book layouts

This marks the beginning of the book design process for a designer. It starts with a meeting to discuss the book with the editor, publisher, creative director and designer. Usually, the author is not part of these discussions. Here we discuss what the book is about, and what editorial has in mind for the book. Below are a few points which are given to the designer by the editor. As you’ll see it’s quite a lengthy meeting and a lot of preparation goes into this by the editor. A good editor will ensure that the brief has covered all of the following:

Spec design brief

A spec design is a shortened versioned of what the text pages of the book will look like. It’s planning out how text, colour, images and boxes will run throughout the book before it’s typeset. This makes typesetting a lot easier and provides a consistent flow of text/images throughout the book. A lot like product branding and a lot not! 😉

handover post image

This is the information you give to the designer:

Title of the book.

Colours that will be used in book: CMYK or Black and White or any Pantone Colours.

Size of the book. I always prefer it in millimetres – width and height.

Page/Book Extent: the amount of pages in the book which makes up the spine size. This info stipulates how thick or thin the book will be.  It also tells the designer how wide to design the gutter. The gutter is the middle of the book or the fold area. Thick books need more ‘breathing space’ so that text doesn’t end up running into the spine/gutter area, thereby making it hard for the reader to read.

Dummy text. This is provided as a word doc. It’s basically all the features, texts, main heads, chapter texts, part page texts (if any) extracted out of the manuscript by the editor. This is styled (tagged) according to style sheets like the body text, Head A to B, C, or D, feature texts, chapter text, content page texts – everything that could possibly be in the book which needs to be designed. This gives the designer an indication of how to design the heading hierarchy in the book. Which heads or subheads need to be larger than others. [show eg.] NB. The designer doesn’t know the book as well as the author/editor, so the more guidance you provide the designer, the better design you will get.

Preferred typeface (font family). The editor can suggest typefaces if they are knowledgeable on the subject. I wouldn’t use more than 3 typefaces in a book. Remember to leave some room for the book designer to add their expertise as well. After all, it’s why you hiring them in the first place, so ensure they have the knowledge and proven experience do to the job right.

Indicate how many levels of heading. Head A – the main heading, Head B – second main heading, or Head C which is a third level heading.

Longest and shortest headings. To establish how large the font size of headings should be. Remember, this all affect book extent, and what affects extent – affects budget!

Boxes or special features. This plays a huge role in the setup of a printed book. If there are a lot of boxes, then design the margins with more space to accommodate boxes. If there are no or little boxes, then the page design can be a bit more simple and cleaner looking. If the extents are heavy as in school text books, then try to work the boxes into the body text rather than separate them. Novels or literature books, have a less complicated page layout. It doesn’t require lots of different box features or headings. So in this case, there’s more room to ‘play’ with space.

Will the book be translated into other languages? In South Africa we have 11 different languages. Some publishers cater for all 11! Translations tricky because if a book is designed in English, it will not accumulate the same amount of space in another language. For example, an English heading that takes up one line of text will not consume the same amount of space in Afrikaans or Italian. So in this case, the designer needs to design 3 specs. One for English as the generic (or main) spec. Have it checked and signed off first, and then make up the other language spec from the English generic. This process can be complicated if it’s not approached correctly from the beginning. Using an experienced book designer can save you a lot of headache!

Footers (page numbers/folio’s) and Running Heads. Establish where you would like this to occur – top or bottom of pages or both.

Other book references the designer could use. Perhaps other books you admire or feel your book would work well with a few adjustments. References are always welcomed with designers as sometimes the visual explains better than the verbal.

Is this a first edition or not. First editions are usually special editions and designers need information such as this. If it’s a second edition, then sometimes this is based on the first edition design with only slight changes. In this case, provide the designer with the open design files – it could save time. Time saved is money saved.

Contents, Chapter Opener and /or Part page texts. Specify which page the chapter page will open on – left or right page. Or if this doesn’t really matter. Things like, will it always fall on a right-hand page? This is designed as Master Pages by the designer.

Lastly, the scheduleDeadlines. The designer needs to know what your book schedule is. We start with looking at the last stage – ie. the print date. We work back from that date. We then create 1st proof, 2nd proof until we reach a final circulation date. If dates are missed in the schedule, then accommodation from either the editor or designer needs to be made or you will miss your print date. And if you miss that, well… be sure to get your ass-kicked by your publisher.

Drop me a comment in the comments below if you have any questions.

Next, I’ll be talking in more detail about the book grid, so stay in touch!