I was just answering some questions on one of the author Facebook groups I’m a part of and it inspired me to write this post. I’ve seen on multiple occasions authors talking about editing and illustrating and then formatting (or design/layout). Firstly, I have a blog post about the The Importance of Hiring a Designer for Your Book and if you haven’t read it and haven’t thought about hiring a designer, it is a must read! This post though is more about the order of things. Should you do illustrations or formatting first?

As a professional graphic designer, I strongly suggest speaking with a designer first. Typically, illustrators are just that – illustrators. They bring your characters to life and help you tell your story visually. While there are exceptions, most are not trained (or interested) to format the book (text, layout, margins, bleeds, etc.) So, unless you happen to hire an illustrator who is a designer or really well versed in book layout (with a portfolio to back it up), you’ll want to find a designer. And find that designer first, so you can get a conversation going. You want to make their job as easy/efficient as possible (to save some $$). When you speak to a designer, and find one that fits you and your book well, they can tell you their thoughts on how your story can come together professionally. Everyone is going to have their own workflow, so having the initial conversation before having an illustrator start their work can be really beneficial to the end result of your book.

As an Example, Here’s How I’d Tackle Each Scenario as a Designer

You want to hire me, before having your illustrations created:

In a one-on-one consultation you’d tell me a bit about your book as well as what your vision is. Maybe you have a grand vision or maybe you have no idea how the book will look. Either is totally fine. I’ll ask if you’ve thought about your book size and where you plan to print and what format you’d like. (same here – if you’re unsure this is stuff we can figure out together). We’ll also talk about timelines and any budget restraints. If you decide to hire me we’ll talk further about those initial items and decide at what point we should get those illustrations rolling. While some factors might shift this, more often than not, I’d have you start with having one illustration done to get the look/feel of the book, characters, scenery, etc. At this point, I’ll start thinking about potential cover ideas and general layout. Think of a rough sketch. This allows us to show the illustrator what we have in mind to bring the story together cohesively. Keep in mind, budget, story line, story length, etc will all play a part in this, so this is merely one loose example.

Pros of hiring a designer first:

  • You save time/money by having the designer come on board early on to help direct the illustrator to ensure a cohesive team and end result.
  • The designer can keep an eye on the illustration process, ensuring the illustrations are the appropriate size for the book (keeping bleeds, margins, space for text, etc. in mind).
  • The designer can point out potential issues that can arise in print (colors, margins, print quality, etc.) to catch them early, preventing having to go back and adjust things later, costing you time and money.

Cons of hiring a designer first: 

  • I can’t think of any – if you have thought of some, please let me know!

You’ve already had all the illustrations done and now hire me to format your book:

While this isn’t my first choice, this is OK – any professional designer should be able to handle this scenario. I would simply work with you on what your are thinking for the overall feel (even though the illustrations will be giving me some of that info, I’d like to hear from YOU what you are envisioning). However detailed, or not detailed your vision is, I’ll take that information to create the cover and first couple of pages as a suggested design (often providing you more than one option). We’ll then work together on edits, revisions, etc. to come up with a good look/feel and then I’ll progress to the remainder of the book. Once all revisions have been made, and you are fully happy and ready to publish, I’ll provide the high-res pdf files required for Amazon KDP, Ingram Sparks, or your printer.

Cons of having illustrations done first: 

  • Hopefully you decided on the size of your book before hiring your illustrator and hopefully that illustrator thought about bleeds. If so, great. If not, then we might be looking at having to get creative. If something isn’t fitting right, depending on how the illustrations were done, I can probably fix or accommodate myself and if not (or it’s too timely), we’d look at going back to your illustrator.
  • If the illustrator thought of leaving space for text, that is great, however, it might be limiting. I often have ideas that go outside the usual box to make your book stand out, but depending on the illustrations, I might be limited in execution.
  • If the illustrator did not leave space for text, once again, we can probably get creative, but it could be limiting or result in more design times. (I can work wonders with Photoshop, but it can get time consuming)

Pros of having illustrations done first:

  • I can’t think of any – if you have thought of some, please let me know!

What if it’s too late and I already have my illustrations and no formatting or designer in sight?!

Don’t worry too much. I think all newer authors are learning as they go (I was and still am!), and once again, if you hire a professional, they will get you through it. I have seen so many scenarios in my 15 years as a designer and that is really a huge portion of the job – troubleshooting. Sometimes we’re given all the information and images perfectly and can do exactly as we’re trained. But more times that not, there is something “out of place” or missing and we have to get creative. It will all work out and I (or whomever your designer is) will help you create the book of your dreams.

In Conclusion

If you’re at the stage to think about illustrations, you should already be thinking about the design. Illustrations are certainly exciting to get to and really bring your book to life, but if you aren’t mindful about the formatting/design of your book, it’s very likely it will fall flat. And whenever possible, have your designer and illustrator work together as a team.

And if you’d like to have a free consolation with me about this process, or other graphic design work, please don’t hesitate to reach out any time by emailing me at Tracy@SpotsOfJoy.com.