Design and Print Production Considerations for a Book in the Grief and Loss Genre

This week I was discussing a book interior layout project with a client who is self-publishing in the Grief and Loss genre. As I spoke with her about a wide variety of topics related to the preparation of her book, a few thoughts came to mind that might also help others self-publishing in this category. 

Self-publishers face a myriad of options but don’t always know what suits their genre best. Making thoughtful decisions about your book’s physical appearance and layout will ensure that your final physical product reflects the heart of your book.

Photo by  Kelly Sikkema

Photo by Kelly Sikkema

1. Choose off-white or cream-colored paper instead of white.

There’s something about the warm tones of cream-colored paper that just gives a warmer and more approachable feeling to your less-than-approachable topic. Black words on white paper feel a bit stark and academic — white paper is often the stuff of office work and text books. There is no hard and fast rule about this, but cream-colored paper is most often used in this genre and feels more welcoming. If you’re self-publishing at CreateSpace, cream and white are your only two paper options.

2. Choose matte cover paper instead of glossy.

A flashy, glossy cover screams “exciting” and “new” — not really what most authors are going for when approaching the topic of grief. Opt for a matte cover paper, even if your cover design has photos on it, to lend a more subdued, respectful tone to your serious topic. Whether you’re printing on demand with a printer like IngramSpark or CreateSpace, or working with a traditional publisher, ask about cover paper with a matte finish.

3. Consider a smaller format.

A smaller, easier-to-read format lends itself to being picked up when the reader has a few minutes to spare. It makes your book easier to tuck in with a gift or to mail to a friend going through a hard time. If your book is made up of short readings, poetry or stories, a small format is particularly natural; consider a size of around 5.5x8.5” for your book. But do let the nature of the content dictate the size — some years ago I laid out this Notes from Susie book interior and it was a standard 6x9” size. This 400-page collection of the deceased author’s writings would have been too thick in a smaller format. The same might go for books that are compilations of longer essays or a Grief and Loss genre book whose nature is more academic than coffee table.

4. Choose colors that suit your genre.

In Western cultures, usually cooler colors in the purple and blue spectrums are most associated with the subdued themes of suffering, healing and grieving. Purple has liturgical ties, and blue might remind the reader of water, the sky, or Heaven. (Green probably starts to feel too earthy or medical, unless your book’s theme leans that way.) Neutrals can also be a good choice. In many Asian cultures, white is the color of mourning; and in many Western cultures black or grey is associated with death or loss. Research your audience and work with your cover and interior layout designer(s) to pick colors that best convey the material you are self-publishing. Discuss colors ahead of time, or if your designer picks colors you were not expecting, feel free to ask his or her reasons for doing so.


If you are looking for cover design or interior layout for your book in the Grief and Loss genre, I’d be happy to help you take these ideas into consideration and make your book more approachable and shareable when people are hurting. After all, you wrote it to reach those people, right? Now you’re on the home stretch — make smart design and print production choices to make sure your book catches your intended audience’s eye! Contact me here to learn more about working together.