The Art of Design
Now that you know what all the elements in a book are, let's discuss how the book comes together to incorporate those elements. The art director has already developed a schedule for the books coming up, far in advance. He has assigned a designer to each book and will oversee their work. Sometimes a publishing company will have its own team of designers and equipment for the layout; others will freelance this work out on a contract basis.
The best way to get a grasp on design is to look at several different children's books. Look at the differences and similarities between books published by the same company. Also compare the books of one company with those of other companies. Are books designed differently according to category (picture book, early reader, chapter book, middle-grade, and young adult)?
The Designer's Job
First of all, the designer must know the trim size and page count for the book. This will tell the designer how much room she has to work with. The designer will then experiment with margin and gutter widths, fonts and their sizes, and leading (pronounced LED-ING; this is the amount of space between lines) to make the text fit in the allotted number of pages. All these components will either increase or decrease the amount of space the text takes up. The designer must also take into consideration the target age group. Early readers, as you know, will have a lot of white space on the page. Young adult books will have smaller type and little white space.
The designer must decide on the display fonts as well, such as for chapter titles. Speaking of chapter titles, the designer must decide how far down the page the chapter title will be placed and then how far from the chapter title the text will begin. The designer must decide where to place page numbers and where to place running heads or feet (right, left, or center).
A designer also has the responsibility of creating a cover design. As already mentioned, the cover design is very important because it influences the buyer's first impression of the book. The designer may create several different cover designs for the same book. Because it is such an important aspect, a meeting will usually be called to get different opinions before a final decision is made.
Do not try to contact the designer about your book. As mentioned earlier, it is unlikely that you will have much involvement in the production process, so if you try to force your ideas on a member of the production team, it will undoubtedly get back to your acquisitions editor. You will be regarded as difficult to work with, hindering your chances for future publication with the company.
If your book has illustrations, you as the author will have very little say in the choice of an illustrator. The illustrator will go through a process of submitting roughs to the art director to get approval before completing the pieces. Once the art is completed, it will be scanned and then incorporated into the layout. Of course, the designer assigned to your book will play a role in this process.
If the designer is working with a picture book, she must decide where the illustration will be placed on the page in conjunction with the text. Look at the various picture books at your disposal. Compare the layouts. Some will have text that runs along the bottom of the page with the illustration taking up the biggest portion of the page. Some will have the text running along the top. Some will place the text within the illustration. And some will use a combination of these. Also look at the sizes of the illustrations. There is a lot of variety in the layout of text with illustrations. The final decision about these things is most often in the hands of the designer with input from the art director.