Why don't you offer free book interior layout samples?

To my surprise, this scenario has repeated itself three times in the past year:

  1. A potential client will inquire about a book interior layout project.

  2. I will spent a considerable amount of time learning about the project so that I can bid on it.

  3. The potential client will tell me that he or she was expecting a “free sample layout” first.

For example, a British client asked me a few months ago what I would charge to create four sample design spreads for his coffee table book. I spent several hours working for "free" (reading his inquiry, corresponding with him, Skyping with him, learning about him and his project). Then I sent him a price. This was his polite, but unexpected, response:

"...you are competing with one designer offering sample work free, and another charging $12 per page - would you like to reconsider your approach to the sample work?"

Let’s just say that I wasn’t charging anywhere near $12 per page. I didn’t budge on my price, and I didn’t get the project.

Asking someone to begin their work with no promise of payment sounds strange in almost any other industry. But somehow it has become “acceptable” in the online world of freelancing and graphic design. Design crowd-sourcing websites have given some clients the idea that designers can afford to work for free, and unfortunately, many graphic designers succumb to competing for business by beginning a project with absolutely no guarantee of being paid to later complete the project.

Imagine the same scenario, but in the restaurant industry. When you go out to eat, you don't ask five or six restaurants to make you an appetizer for free, sample all the appetizers, and then pick which of the restaurants will be honored with your purchase of an entrée. I mean, maybe you love sampling a wide variety of appetizers. That’s completely fine, if you want to pay for your appetizers at each of those restaurants, as a test of the quality of their cuisine!

No one expects to be fed for free at a restaurant, and I guess that’s why it always surprises me that anyone would expect to be “fed” graphic design for free either. So for the record, here’s why I don’t offer free book interior layout samples.

I don’t offer free book interior layout samples because…

  1. …the initial stage of your book layout is the most time-consuming and most important stage.

During the first stage of a book project, your designer is making both technical and design decisions that can make or break your project. Having a professional final product takes good thinking and planning from the beginning, both in image-heavy books and in simple text-based layouts. Settings related to typography (justification, kearning, leading) and layout (margins, graphics, colours, styles) are all made at this stage and set the course for the whole project. Errors or oversights at this point can cause expensive problems at the end of the project.

In the case of the client above, his coffee table book was going to have stories of significantly different lengths with photos accompanying them. No matter the length of the story, he wanted each story to take up only two pages, or one spread. This takes a lot of planning, to be sure that the design created will be flexible enough to suit such different types of content.

2. …I want your book to be unique.

Most designers who offer "free layout samples" have a one-size fits all template that they use and update for each new book. But as I mentioned above, there is no one-size-fits-all with truly professional book interior layouts. A true designer will treat your book like the unique project that it is, and consider how everything from the typeface selection to the placement of headers and footers suits your book’s genre or audience.

3. …designers doing free work ultimately can’t give as much time and attention to paid work.

Another reason I don't create book layouts for free is so that ultimately, when I do create books, I have the time and focus to deliver above and beyond what I have promised. I don’t have to rush through paid work to make time for the free work I’m trying to fit in to my schedule as well. When a client comes along who understands the value of my work, I'm not busy messing around with unpaid projects. I can complete the work I've promised — and more — within the deadlines. Because professionalism in pricing usually carries over to professionalism in business as a whole.

4. …no book designer should feel they need to work for free.

Sometimes refusing to do free sample book layouts feels a bit like running the only restaurant on the street that doesn't offer free appetizers. But as I take a stand against requests for free book interior layout samples, I educate clients and hopefully help fewer other designers to receive the same kinds of unprofessional requests. If other designers begin to do the same, maybe we’ll receive fewer of those surprising questions: “Would you like to reconsider your approach to the sample work?”


I don’t offer free book interior sample layouts, but I do offer free quotes or even a free half hour Skype consultation about your book project! Whether you’re an established publisher or self publishing for the first time, let’s talk about your next book interior layout project.