Book Designer, Stephen Tiano

An Interview Full of Tips on How to Design a Book

stephen tiano

Looking for a book designer? Get some advice from this interview with Stephen Tiano and learn tips about how to design a book. Not only is Stephen a designer, but he is also a page compositor and layout artist. He has the full package for getting your book to look professional and wow your target audience.

Let's learn as many tips as we can from his expertise in this area of book design. And then when you're done, head on over to his blog, http://tianobookdesign.com/blog, for more great ideas on book design.


1. Thank you for joining us today, Steve! I really appreciate you taking the time to share your expertise with us. To start out, please take a moment to tell us a little bit about yourself, your business and your blog.

I'm a freelancer--kind of a mercenary, traveling from project to project, while staying put in my own studio at home--working as a book designer, page compositor and layout artist. At least that's how I bill myself: Stephen Tiano, Book Designer, etc.

My blog is another way I try to give a sense to prospective clients of what I do and how I approach my work. I think we live in a pretty remarkable time, when there are all these different ways to get my names out before people who might be able to use my service. My blog is one way to give extended "talks" about book design and freelancing. It's attached to my website, which also contains samples of work I've done over the years.

2. You've had a love for writing, publishing and book design for years. In fact, you say that you wrote your first story when you were just four years old and bought your first computer (an Apple IIe) in 1984. Therefore, you've seen the world of publishing change through the years.

Yes, when other kids were drawing, I was writing--or learning to. I do remember writing my first story at the age of four. I folded a really hard piece of cardboard over the cut pages, so that the book would have a hardback "cover".

I did get my first computer, the Apple IIe in 1984. I had been looking at personal computers for about five years before I was able to swing getting one. I didn't know anything about them, so I was picking them out by how they looked. It's good I had to wait to afford one, because I'd have bought a few different ones that didn't make it through the various shake-outs in early tech that saw many of those first PC makers go out of business.

3. Your expertise is in book design - both in designing the interior of a book and the book cover. In your blog, you talk about how subtle changes in font variations can make a huge difference for the interior of a book. Would you talk about this and possibly even share an example with us?

Well, different typefaces have different looks to them that impart different feels. There are Old Style typefaces that convey a dignified feeling for certain kinds of serious works, and more casual, even playful faces for lighter fare, including children's books.

For one book I worked on a couple of years ago, I used a display typeface for chapter opening and the book's title that suggested a sense of the old West, which is when a good part of the book, about a long-running feud between families in Texas, took place (see example below).

design a book

4. You've been doing what you love for years now and you have built quite an impressive collection of your work. Aside from your experience, what do you think sets you apart from other book designers?

I think that I've plugged away at if for so many years, while my book design practice grew. That's only been possible because I've worked a completely unrelated, full-time 9-to-5 job the whole time, paying bills, while the business developed.

5. You have written a blog post title that caught my attention, "5 'Easy' Steps to Self Publishing a Bestseller." In one of the steps you caution authors about using a one size fits all book design template. What recommendations do you have to any self publishing author who wants to "hit it big" and become successful?

I've said it now in a lot of different places to anyone who will listen ... Though success is never guaranteed, there's a reasonable and methodical way to approach the process.

  • First, you have to write about something people are interested in reading about--in fact, that they're willing to pay money to read.
  • Next, you have to write it well. The odds are really against any book, self-published or otherwise, having great success. The competition is fierce; so many books are published each year.
  • Design--both cover and interior--that doesn't distinguish itself from all the others is setting itself up to not even be glanced at by prospective readers. Most self-published books don't sell more than the 100 or so copies family and friends buy.

An example of Steve's design work below (second edition) - this gives you a simple example of the difference a quality interior book design can make.

design a book

6. On the flip side of things, what are some of the most common "mistakes" you see self published authors make when it comes to book design?

Trying to do it themselves or having their books designed and laid out by cut-rate methods. Doing book design and layout in a word processor, for example ... it's just not the right tool for the job, even though there may be some people who have gotten away with it.

Better to use open-source (free) software, like one of the flavors of LaTeX, that at least provides the tools for more likely good typography. Of course, there's an element of programming to these open-source packages and the investment of time may be daunting to some.

7. What should self publishing authors look for when hiring a book (interior or cover) designer?

  • I think it's important for an author hiring a designer to find one he or she can communicate well with.
  • I would say a self publishing author needs to know that the designer they choose is not designing books for him- or herself, but for the author and the author's readership.
  • The designer should understand that the point of a book design is not about the designer but helping to bridge the distance between the author and readers.

8. You say there's nothing quite as rewarding as seeing one of the books you've designed in print. Is there one project in particular that stands out above the rest?

Usually the latest ones stand out. And the next one I am starting. But of all of them, I guess the engineering texts with heavy math and the recent mini coffee table book on historic Waco are favorites.

I'm also having some fun with one I'm still working on that has transliterated Sanskrit. And the same for an 1,100-page novel I just completed work on--it had so many elements to it that needed design work. It was just enjoyable work.

A sampling of Steve's book cover designs below:

stephen tiano

9. Thanks again for joining us today, Steve. For the last question, please tell readers how they can contact you if they are interested in your services.

Sure, the best thing is for me to just leave my sig:

Stephen Tiano Book Designer, Page Compositor & Layout Artist

tel. & fax: (631)284-3842 / cell: (631)764-2487
iChat screen name: stephentiano@mac.com
Skype: stephentianobookdesigner
email: steve@tianobookdesign.com
website: http://www.tianobookdesign.com
blog: http://tianobookdesign.com/blog/
twitter: http://twitter.com/StephenTiano


Steve has graciously given of his time and expertise to share this interview with us. Make sure to check out his website for more details about the services he offers.



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