What makes a good ebook designer
Ebook designers are a fairly rare breed. They must have an unusual combination of design, publishing and technology skills.
And there’s been little incentive to develop these skills because the market today for custom ebook design is still small. This situation will remain while production standards for ebooks are low and cheap automated conversion services fill the need well enough.
But changes are afoot: new devices and formats allow (and will soon demand) a much higher level of design, and sales of some ebooks are high enough to justify a bigger investment in production.
A good ebook designer will have a profile similar to this:
- Great digital design and digital typography skills
- Understanding of traditional book layout principles
- Understanding e-readers: their limitations, capabilities, and usability issues
- Understanding of web or software development, testing and quality assurance procedures
- Willing to work for lower pay than a web designer or developer with equivalent skills
This is quite a departure from the resume of a traditional book designer. And the last point, while slightly tongue-in-cheek, points to a recruitment and training problem the industry faces as it tries to bring web designers into the digital publishing industry, and to retain print designers who have upskilled.
Publishers who plan to bring ebook design and production in-house will have to consider how to acquire or develop these skills.
When to hire an ebook designer
Here are some situations where hiring an ebook designer might be your best approach.
- Poorly prepared manuscript. If your manuscript has not been thoroughly prepared, an automated service will produce a poor result. A designer is more forgiving. A well-prepared manuscript will still generally save time and reduce the cost of a custom designed ebook. This is probably the worst reason to hire a designer: it’s a much better idea to properly format a manuscript as described in the section on Preparation.
- Adding advanced formatting or rich media. A designer will help if you plan to add advanced formatting features, especially those offered in the new EPUB3 and KF8 formats. The same issues will apply if you plan to add rich media like audio and video to your publication.
- You’re a perfectionist and you really want your ebook to look the best it can. As well as great design, this will mean lots of tweaking and testing for each target reading platform. There are plenty of differences in the way that even a simple ebook is rendered by different e-readers. As your design standards increase, so do the problems caused by incompatibilities among e-reading devices.
- Testing and quality assurance. You might hire a designer just to help you with quality assurance, and improving the design of ebooks that were produced using automated services. This might be especially important if the ebook was produced from an original print design that won’t work well in digital form.
- Fixed layout ebooks. These tend to be graphics-rich, like children’s books, and need several design executions to accommodate different screen sizes and orientations.
- You want a great cover. Even if you don’t custom-design the rest of the ebook, consider hiring a designer for the covers. A plain ebook produced using an automated service will still benefit from a great cover. And a print book designer won’t necessarily understand the special requirements of ebook covers.
Where to find ebook designers
Your traditional book designer will not, in general, be the best choice to be your ebook designer unless they can convince you they’ve brought in, or learned, the requisite skills. This caveat applies even if your designer produced the printed book using design software like Adobe InDesign or Quark Express which includes an export to EPUB.
Ebook design is still a rare skill so chances are you’ll be working remotely with your designer.
Global freelance marketplaces
One of the best ways to find ebook designers (and many other specialised services) is to use one of the online freelance marketplaces. These will not only help you to locate and evaluate ebook designers — who work for clients around the world — but provide tools to manage the project and the progress payments.
Here are some well-established freelancer sites with contractors offering ebook design services.
We’ve recently seen new entrants who have taken this concept and created specialist marketplaces for book publishing services.
- Mark’s list. (http://www.smashwords.com/list). This is a list of well-priced ebook formatters and ebook cover designers produced by Mark Coker of Smashwords. Its emphasis is on low-cost providers.
- Ebook Architects. (http://ebookarchitects.com). US-based. Founder Joshua Tallent is a well-respected expert in ebook production. Handle simple or complex projects for authors and publishers of all sizes.
- EbookPartnership. (http://ebookpartnership.com). UK-based. Matt and Diana Horner offer custom design for reflowable and fixed layout ebooks and apps. Distribution service includes key UK e-retailers.
- Some ebook conversion services offer custom design services. Examples are BookBaby and Lulu.com.
The #ePrdctn group
Keep an eye on the lively and valuable discussion happening on Twitter via the #ePrdctn hashtag. It’s a global group and will lead you to some excellent ebook designers and production experts. (If you’re unfamilar with Twitter, hashtags and the arcane world of social media, you might want to sign up for Digital Marketing 101).
- The #ePrdctn group (Twitter.com/#ePrdctn)
Find out more about this topic on our Digital Publishing 101 useful resources site.