Pulling Back the Curtains: Interior Design

The world of book design is fairly mysterious to most readers, and doesn’t cross the mind of many. I myself didn’t realize that I could be a book designer until I graduated from college, and while searching job boards realized that my love of books and design made me the perfect candidate for a career in publishing.

Recently, cover designers have gotten a lot of press, with people like Chip Kidd and Peter Mendelsund becoming quasi-famous. But have you ever thought about what happens inside the cover and how an author’s word document turns into the pages you read? That’s been part of my job in working with Swoon Reads. I take the word document and put it into an InDesign file. InDesign is a layout program and is part of the Adobe Creative Suite. Once the text is in InDesign, I can manipulate it and decide on things like fonts, font size, leading, tracking, how many lines of text will be on each page, what the margins will be and how the overall design of the interior of the book will tie into the tone of the story and cover. Below are a few graphics to help explain the various parts of the design.

Swoon blog

This is what my InDesign set up looks like on my computer while I’m working on the book. The blue guidelines you see are part of the baseline grid, which helps insure that the text aligns across pages. The “folio” is publishing lingo for page number. I decide if I want the folio to be above or below the text, centered, or on the edges of the page, if I want any ornaments around it, what font it will be set in, etc.

Velvet_blog image2

The leading is the space between the lines of text. If I want a book to be longer, I might make the leading slightly bigger and make the size of the text larger. The tracking is the space between individual characters. I might increase the tracking if a certain font looks too tight, or I might do it to get a more airy look on a chapter title.

Sometimes there are additional elements I have to take into consideration too, like letters, emails or text messages that the characters in the novel send. In the example below, I used a font called VAG Rounded to resemble a smart phone text message.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 4.17.10 PM

Once I have all the elements designed in a way I’m happy with, I’ll share them with the creative director and editor. If they like the design then I’ll go ahead and write up what we call a “composition order,” which is instructions to a type setter, otherwise known as a compositor.  The compositor will follow my instructions for each of the elements and create a “first pass,” or first draft, of the novel that is fully designed. From there I’ll review what they’ve done and mark any design mistakes or changes that need to be made. And then it’s almost time for the files to go to the printer!

About the author - Ashley Halsey

I’m a designer, illustrator, and painter. I moved to Portland, Maine after working as a book designer in New York ...

See More
Report comment

2 comments on "Pulling Back the Curtains: Interior Design"

Karole Cozzo on Dec. 3, 2014, 3:19 p.m. said:

Karole Cozzo


The first look at those pass pages is a big moment – “oh my gosh…it looks like a real book now!” Thx for what you do.

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Catherine Tinker on Dec. 3, 2014, 8:48 p.m. said:

Catherine Tinker


Love this insight! I remember using InDesign senior year of high school to make our chapbooks, but we didn’t go nearly as in-depth with baseline grids and such. I was our class’s designated techie, too, so I had to help quite a few of my classmates with formatting theirs.

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.