How to Know If Your Book Manuscript Is Ready for Interior Design and Formatting

Every self-publisher or author is excited to finally see his or her book formatted for print. So excited, in fact, that the temptation is strong to jump the gun and send the book formatter a manuscript that isn’t quite ready for formatting.

Sending your designer a manuscript that is unfinished or missing information is a lose-lose: it’s expensive for the author and frustrating for the designer. Here are a few ways for you to avoid “surprise” costs by making sure your book manuscript is truly ready for the formatting stage.

If your book manuscript is ready for interior design and formatting, you will be able to answer “yes” to the following three questions.

Has your book been professionally edited and proofread?

I list this first because it is a complete must. Professional editing and proofreading is essential, not only for the quality of your final product, but also to keep the cost of formatting your book from exceeding what your book designer quoted you. Every book should be proofread again after layout, but at that point, the proofreader should only be finding minor typos or layout issues, not reworking paragraph structure or removing full sentences.

Have you merged your manuscript files into one Word file?

If you haven’t done this yet, merge all your various Word files, etc. into one file with your whole book in it — from title page and copyright to references and appendices. Having this all together (and waiting to send it until you have all the needed info) is the best way to save yourself from paying extra charges if your book designer has to bill for admin tasks like ordering and merging Word documents.

Have you collected the printer specs that the designer will need?

Your book interior layout designer can’t start on the layout without knowing the page size, or if there are any special requirements from the printer. For example, print-on-demand book printers like Kindle Direct Publishing (formerly CreateSpace) or IngramSpark have their own particular requirements listed on their websites. It’s good to get a quotation from a printer and show your book designer the specs you have given the printer — this means fewer surprises for both of you when the final layout is sent to the printer. Some designers will help you communicate with the printer; be clear with your designer if this is part of what you need his or her help with!

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If you can answer “yes” to the questions above, your book may be ready for formatting! But yeah … I get it.  You’re anxious to see what your book will look like, and can’t wait to get started. Maybe the manuscript is still being edited, or the proofreader needs an extra week. There are perhaps two things you can get your designer to start on before your full manuscript is ready for formatting. They are:

Get your designer to start on the book cover design. It’s great to have your book cover designed ahead of time for marketing purposes. The front cover can be designed virtually any time after you have a finalized title and a book summary.

Get your designer to create a sample interior layout. Sometimes you may need a sample book interior layout to pitch your book to a publisher or as a sneak peak for your readers. Depending on how your book designer works, he or she may be ready to create a sample layout with a manuscript that is not finalized. For example, last year I created a cookbook interior layout sample for a client who then came back to me this year with the full cookbook contents ready for formatting. For any book layout, your designer should send you a few samples pages before the whole book is formatted.

You’re bursting with excitement (and so am I!) It’s wonderful to see your book in its final format! Hang in there — you’re close to the finish line! Don’t turn your final files over to your book designer until they’re really ready!

If you reached the bottom of this post, you must be pretty serious about finalizing your book manuscript and beginning the book layout stage. Let’s talk about what you should do next.

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:

" 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.