Erika on an Associate Editor’s Role in Interior Book Design

The following is a guest post by Associate Editor & Copy Manager Erika Spelman about her role in the process of developing a book’s interior design.

Of the responsibilities of an AMACOM associate editor, one of the most creative is collaborating with the designer of the book’s interior pages. We want to get just the right look and feel for the book. The design of the interior can greatly affect the experience of reading a book, so AMACOM takes this process very seriously.

First, the book’s editor and the marketing department determine what basic style they are looking for. Then the associate editor goes through the manuscript and identifies what kinds of elements there are to work with. We look at things such as headings (how many levels are there?), numbered and bulleted lists (are there paragraph lists with italic lead-ins?), sidebars (should they be shaded, boxed, or set off some other way?), figures and tables, and so on.

The associate editor gives any instructions from the editor to the designer along with a list of codes for the elements identified. He or she prepares a sample coded chapter for the designer to typeset that contains all the elements that will appear in the book. The following are some questions the associate editor needs to consider:

  • What are the longest and shortest examples of chapter titles and headings? We need a design that will accommodate both lengths.
  • Does the book have enough items of visual interest? If not, a few examples of the things we might try include using a more interesting chapter opener, differentiating end-of-chapter summaries with a special design, and highlighting key sentences by repeating them with a special design to liven things up.
  • What is the desired length of the book, and what is the actual length of the manuscript?

Making sure the design of a book has the right feel while taking into account the desired length is of utmost importance and can be very challenging. Target page counts are partially dependent on the length of other books of that particular type on the market. AMACOM also takes into consideration how much it will cost to produce the book (paper and printing costs) vis-à-vis how much we will charge for the book (which is also related to the cost of competing books). However, it can be difficult for authors and editors to gauge how long the manuscript should be to achieve the desired end result. We don’t want to sacrifice the overall look and feel of the book by squeezing the text into too few typeset pages if the manuscript is long or by stretching it to an inappropriate extent if the manuscript is short.

The associate editor calculates how long the sample chapter should turn out to be, and then we see what the designer comes up with. If the design is too tight (or dense) or too open (with too much leading, or space between lines), the designer can play with the type size and leading, the spacing around headings, the width of the margins, and how many lines are on each page, among other things. Even then, there is an element of uncertainty, because we are estimating how long the book will turn out to be based on just one chapter.

Once associate editors get the design sample, we circulate it to the editor, the marketing director, and the managing editor of the production department. We note any special things they should pay attention to. Everything gets taken into account, including legibility, the appropriateness of the fonts to the subject matter, the design of the table of contents, and the running heads, to name a few things. Sometimes a design is just not right for the book and we have to ask the designer to start over. Sometimes there are just a few tweaks. After careful consideration, we select a design we like, and a book’s interior comes to life.

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Erika Spelman is an associate editor and copy manager at AMACOM. She shepherds books through the production process, helps set house style, and serves as a resource regarding style, word usage, and grammar for the company. Prior to joining AMACOM, Erika worked as a principal manuscript editor at West Group and as a proofreader at Counsel Press. For freelance copyediting and production opportunities, visit the AMACOM Books website.

See earlier blog posts from Erika including: Erika on the Noble Art of Proofreading and Erika on the Top Ten Copyediting Mistakes.

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2 responses to “Erika on an Associate Editor’s Role in Interior Book Design

  1. Good post! It’s a pleasure to see someone gets the working relationship between a traditional publisher’s editorial people and a book’s designer. The proper give and take makes a successful book more likely.

  2. Pingback: Erika on an Associate Editor’s Role in Interior Book Design |

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