How to Know a Book Design Is Better Than Good!
It's how you make a reader feel!
Quite a long time ago I studied graphic arts, with the intention of understanding the basics of book cover design. I remember the designer at the time was considered one of the best in the industry. I recall some of his "lessons" as though it were yesterday. Not too long ago I was at a writer's conference and was drawn to a table filled with books. I wanted to see if it were true... that a great book would just "grab" you, and as a potential reader, you would "feel" there was a happy marriage there with the cover design, interior design, and the content shared by the writer. As I discovered at that table... his message was timeless; I did feel the grab!
If you have been reading, writing, publishing, or marketing books for any length of time, you, too, have probably experienced a moment when you saw "a" book and thought, this is exceptional on so many levels!" First, the book caught your attention with very little effort; a closer examination reflected a product that was well-executed... the design reflected the content.
The book that grabs the reader!
You've felt it... a book that just grabs you, with little to no effort! The title was probably relatively simple, but there was "something" about the size, shape, and cover finish that stood out as unique. You felt the book... through colors that were bright and saturated and cover elements that held a deep promise of what the pages held. The font type danced in tandem with the imagery... the borders. Without ever opening the book, you knew, you just knew, it would become a best-seller... a classic!
As humans, it is easy and natural to adapt to standards, which is why a book that is unusual in size stand out. We have grown accustomed, almost dulled to the point of acceptance, that a book is 6 x 9. The square book or oblong shape makes us look again! Instead of being attracted to standard colors to which we have grown accustomed, we are magically drawn to those we find more playful, and although we have long been conditioned to believe hardbound books with beautiful jacket colors are a cut above, the book that has an unusual finish may more easily win our hearts - there being something more tactile in a softer coating that makes a book "feel" more approachable - consciously and subconsciously.
And then... you opened the pages.
Inside, you discovered the art of a designer who knew how to carry the intensity of the cover into the interior of the book. Unusual endsheets, flyleaves or divider pages. Photos were artistically placed as solid bleeds, extending off the page to give it an appearance of infinite viewing - leaving you with an added feeling of depth and visual interest - a treatment that echoed and reinforced the title of the book.
Ah! The feel of paper...
In a day of technology that supports digital reading, there remain a large number of avid readers who love the feel and smell of paper. They know, intuitively that paper can be a powerful element of a book's design. Subjective... it is easy to forget; powerful because although a reader doesn't think about it, the designer's choice can make the text easier to read, and "connective" through the finger's touch.
Where a designer's art-talent shines...
Books are made for reading - there is no contest to that reality. However, the enjoyment comes in waves when the designer's art is evident in the creative use of a book's design grid. No simple paragraphs here! The designer may have included columns that broke up tedious reading, there may have been simple line drawings or a significant shift visible through the bold use of fonts and color depth. You may have been intrigued there was a wide use of white space... intriguing and playful replacing dull, boring linear paragraph structure.
What did you see; what did you feel?
Granted, you are not the designer so you probably were more aware of what you felt than what you saw! Instead of connecting the typefaces being strategically placed, you probably were drawn to a certain rhythm and predictability. As you shifted back and forth between the text - you probably did not so much see the variances as feeling the delight in the variety; you felt a creativity that didn't mess with readability.
You did not consider the contrast in the typeface, nor did you calculate the weight, darkness of the font, etc. You simply felt how easily you "moved" through the book's pages. You probably didn't focus on the artistically inserted divider pages, you just felt the mental break they provided; some of them you may actually have felt were works of art in themselves. All of these feelings were impressive design techniques not always found in a world rife with books being published just to "get the word out!" You felt them because the designer lifted the quality of the book above competitors by doing little more than using artistic principles to provide the congruence between the content and the tone of the book's overall appearance. Great book design goes beyond typeface and grid design. When your book marries that with paper choice, cover enhancement, etc. each supports the other to reinforce the overall "purpose" of the book.
And that, dear writers, is when you have a book that grabs your readers.