See You on the Bookshelf

8. The Interior Design


We’ve already talked about the cover. Now we talk to designer Jason Henry about the book’s interior – about the invisible work that goes into turning the manuscript into a printed book.

Jack: Previously on See You on the Bookshelf, we talked about copyediting.

Regina: I read the manuscripts. I look for consistency issues – grammar, spelling, repetitive language …

Jack: And a few weeks prior, we talked about designing the cover.

Jacqui: People looking at the cover would go, oh, you know, that’s such a simple cover. But behind those simple ideas and simple concepts and covers, there’s actually normally a lot of work.

Jack: This week, we have another episode about design. Except instead of the outside of the book, we’re talking about the design of the pages inside.

Jason: I usually get the manuscript about the time that it goes to copyediting. By the time it comes to me, the text is pretty much final.

Jack: And that’s Jason Henry.

Jason: I’m Jason Henry, and I’m a senior designer here at Dial Books for Young Readers. And I design all types of children’s books, from board books all the way up to YA.
I went to art school here in New York – I went to Pratt – and I studied graphic design and illustration. And a big influence of mine, Bert Waggott, who’s a designer who was teaching at Pratt – I was taking one of his intro design classes and just really took to graphic design. And so Burt actually pulled me aside from class one day and he said, hey, you know, I have this friend who works at Penguin and they’re actually needing some help in the office – just scanning and filing and everything like that. So essentially an internship. And he’s like, would you be interested? And I was like, yeah, absolutely.
That internship actually happened to be with Dial, and this was probably like 18 years ago? And so I called up the number he gave me and I ended up coming to Dial and learning around children’s books, and I just really fell in love with it. Also, having an illustration background, children’s books for me were so fun. And it was really a way of essentially just visual storytelling, in all of its forms. And so that’s really what drew me to it. And I interned at Dial for about a year and a half. I’d come in one day a week or two days a week when I time off of class, and I just saw the work of all these amazing authors and illustrators, and I knew that this is what I wanted to do.
And so when I graduated, I was fortunate enough to land a job full-time here at Penguin with another imprint – Dutton – and a few years ago I kind of circled back around and came back to work for Dial.
Having spent a number of years working in publishing on lots of different types of books, I’m still excited about each book that I have the opportunity to write. Each book is so different and has its own voice. As a designer, it’s just really an amazing thing to be able to help bring that story that the author has – those pictures that the illustrator has for the cover, or the interior – and help bring that to so many people. So  that’s really why I love what I do. And why I’ve been here for as long as I have.

Jack: Interior design, or sometimes simply called book design, is all about the reading experience. Try this: find a book around you and flip to the copyright page. Chances are, you’ll see in the fine print, “designed by” so-and-so, or “book designed by” so-and-so. That’s referring to someone like Jason.

Jason: You know, I think design in general is meant to visually convey something in a way that’s going to be clear and get your message across. I’m essentially taking the words and laying them out on the page in a way that’s going to be readable, get us to a certain page count.
Books are printed generally in groups of 16 pages. So when a book prints, it’s going to be a variation – it’s going to be a sixteenth of whatever the final count is. And so those are all considerations that I think of. There’s just something very intentional and special – the way that the interior of books are designed and laid out – that really, without you really being cognizant of it, gives you an experience.

Jack: The design of a book’s cover is meant to be visible and expressive. Whereas the design of the books interior is trying to be, in a lot of ways, invisible. Here’s our art director in the UK again, Jacqui McDonough.

Jacqui: A cover design has to be quite immediate. You have to catch someone’s eye straight away. In terms of interior design, it’s a much more considered process. You go into things in much more in-depth detail. I mean, quite often on the cover design, the designer hasn’t even necessarily even read the book. They’ll sometimes have a brief from the editor.
But obviously, if you’re working on the interiors, then you are more likely to read the book. You’ll have much more in-depth knowledge of it and be much more involved. And it’s actually a smaller team involved in that process. You know, cover design – there are lots of people involved. Lots of people with opinions on the cover design, Interior design, it tends to be a much tighter group. It’s usually the editor, the author sometimes, and the designer. And very few other people. And so you just work it out between yourselves. There’s a lot less involvement from the wider world. So it’s a very different process.

Jack: It’s pretty common for the cover designer and the interior designer of adult books – or even YA books – to be different people. That’s maybe less the case in children’s, especially when you have picture books or novels that have illustrations sprinkled in. Both Jackie and Jason, for instance, will often design the covers and the interiors.

Jason: Here at Penguin, we have a team that focuses just on the jackets for young adult across all the imprints. And that’s great because that’s a team with a core focus on the YA market and that type of design.
So with what I do, I get to, here at Dial, work on a whole scope. And so if it’s board books for the youngest readers, yes, I’ll design essentially the whole package – cover, interior, you know, the whole thing. Same for picture books and also for a lot of middle grade; we have the opportunity to design the covers for those too. Because a lot of middle grade now, or at least a number of books I’m working on, are kind of heavily illustrated in middle grade.
I worked on some graphic novels; I designed Roller Girl and a couple other titles. And so those, it’s more like the image that’s on the cover is going to be heavily relied on on the interior. So that’s why we have one designer that’s going to work on the whole book, essentially, as a package.

Jack: In the case of See You in the Cosmos, it was more of a split. Jacqui and her team did the cover, which was nearly completed by the time Jason started on the inside.

Jason: After it goes through the editorial process, and then through copyediting … then it comes to me. Then what I do is I take that file, which is usually a Microsoft Word file, and I’ll read it on my phone on my commute or something like that. I’m also reading it as I’m designing it too, as I’m going through, so I take that text and I bring it into InDesign, which is the page layout program, and I start to play with type.

Jack: You probably know by now that See You in the Cosmos is about an 11-year-old named Alex, trying to launch his iPod into space. What you might not know if you haven’t read the book yet, is that the story is told through the recordings that Alex is making on his iPod.

Jason: I thought this was so great, the way that it was structured – almost like this is a transcript of Alex’s Golden iPod. I started to look at a number of different typefaces, which are literally fonts, trying to find a font that almost has a transcript-y kind of feel. And also something that’s going to be age-appropriate in size, and also convey the general feeling that the cover designer in the UK was having. So you take all of these thoughts and considerations and you’re distilling it down into a font.
And so I’ll take the Word document and the text, and I’ll just start trying different typefaces and different sizes of typeface, and work with the space in between the lines, which is called leading. So between each sentence that’s on the page, there’s a gap. And part of the designer’s job is to figure out how much space is going to be between each line, which equals how many lines are going to be on the page. And then that helps determine how many pages the book will be.
This manuscript, it doesn’t exactly have chapter title. It does have chapter titles, but I kind of love what you did with the recording markers and then the timestamp for each of them. And so design-wise, when I was looking through it, I was like, okay, how am I going to show that visually on the page? And so I think I set them all flush-left, and then we have the little icon of the rocket that we picked up from the cover. And I’m thinking, okay, if this was a transcript of something, it would probably all be very simple and flush-left.

Jack: Now, you might have the impression here that book design involves a lot of math and mechanics. And there is a bit of that. But it’s first and foremost, I think, about the reading experience. Book design or interior design is sort of a visual analog to copyediting. It’s about clarifying the words, and the voice, and the feel, of a manuscript, through a thousand invisible choices.

Jason: It’s very much a fluid process of playing with design choices and typefaces, and I’ll do a number of different layouts, and then I’ll show them to the editor – and to the executive art director – after everything is approved. And we’ll just kind of go back and forth, working on how we’d like the interior to look. So there could be, you know, two to three different rounds before we nail the look.
And then I pull together the entire book and do what’s called a first pass. And usually that will go back to copyediting, editorial … go back to the author. And then it’ll eventually come back to me again to make changes, and at that point we have kind of a rough idea of, okay, this is getting pretty close to what the final book will be like. And then I send the files out to the printer to print for ARCs for the sales materials.

Jack: ARC stands for Advance Reader Copy. In some places it’s known as a galley or a proof. ARCs are sort of like these near-final printed versions of the book.

Jason: Generally, the ARCs are going to be used by sales and marketing and other departments to promote the book. So I was saying sales materials, ARC, kind of interchangeably. But you know, design-wise, if you compare the ARC to the final copy of See You in the Cosmos? It’s going to be pretty similar. Some things might change. I think maybe the title page we worked on in between the ARC and the final book. We’ll do little tweaks. But as far as the designer’s process goes, the ARC, layout-wise? What you actually see on the page is very close to what you’ll see in the finished book.

Jack: Holding the ARC in your hands – to me, it’s the first moment that the novel actually feels real. This manuscript that’s lived mostly as a Word document is now a physical, tangible, paper book.

I got my ARCs in mid-October of last year – that’s more than four months before the publication date. And this lead time, as we’ll see in the coming weeks, is necessary for some of those other departments – like sales, marketing, and publicity – to do their work.

Jason: When I talk to people about what I do, I get a lot of, “Do you draw the pictures? For picture books and things like that. I get that a lot. And then, when I talk about typesetting and stuff like that, it’s tough because I think generally people who don’t have an understanding of the process, a lot of times think, oh, it just kind of comes this way. And design in a lot of aspects – good design is essentially invisible.
Like I was saying, when you’re trying to find a typeface that fits the story, but then is also readable for the audience … those are choices that a designer makes. There’s a lot of intentionality in that. And that’s what we spend a lot of time on. Not just the designer, but the editor and art director – we all kind of have these looks at it and bounce ideas back and forth. And my wife, who’s not in design herself, I would explain, say, in the second pass of the novel there are editorial corrections or copyediting corrections – that someone actually goes in and enters that in … I remember, she was like, oh wow, you do that? It doesn’t just automatically happen.
So there’s a lot of invisible work that goes into these books, and a lot of design, all across the board in all different areas, that you really don’t see unless you have a peek into it.

Jack: And that’s what we are hopefully doing here – giving a peek into book design, and into the rest of the publishing process.

A big thank you to Jason Henry of Dial Books for Young Readers. You can see – or maybe not see – the results of some of the invisible work that went into the novel; See You in the Cosmos is available now, anywhere books are sold. Thanks also to our UK art director, Jacqui McDonough. Music for this podcast is by Saint Benjamin (now known as Ben Johnson Music Factory).