Indie Book Design Checklist

As a follow-up to our Book Production Checklist post, I wanted to share with you a set of guidelines we’re developing that will guide the design of our books for the Peschel Press line.

I believe it’s important to have paper copies available of all our books. This is not shared by everyone, but the way we do it, the cost is minimal and the return is great.

Here’s why:

It’s Inexpensive: It’s possible to design a book for CreateSpace using Word, a PDF-creator, and an illustrator program such as PhotoShop.

It Gives You Credibility: As a small press, it helps to look bigger than you really are. That’s why you’re advised to pick a name other than your own (e.g., “Peschel Press”). Nobody has to know you’re a one-man-or woman-band . Offering books helps you do that.

It Gives You Another Selling Opportunity: Because it’s so easy and inexpensive to put up a book, it gives readers who want a copy the opportunity to buy one.

It Amortizes the Cost of the Book Over More Platforms: If you spent money on the cover, you can split the cost if you offer two editions and makes it easier to pay it off quicker.

It Helps You Locally: If you’re making public appearances at shows and speaking engagements, selling paper books is a great way to make money off it.

Higher Profit Margin: A 400-page book bought through CreateSpace can sell for $15.99, which is comparable to what the big boys offer. The cost to you will be about $6-7. That’s a huge profit margin. If they buy through Amazon, the profit margin can be, depending on the cost of production versus the price you set, between $3-4, which is still not bad.

I won’t go into the book design and layout process here, but I want to show you what we’re planning to do going forward. Because we control the design process, we can do anything our conniving little minds can conceive. Elaborate drop caps? Intricately designed chapter headings? Full-page illustrations? Essays in the back? Maps and diagrams?


Note: The list below is not intended to be the law and the whole of the law. It is a list of suggestions and ideas that we’ll take into account as we design our books.

The books that we use to illustrate certain ideas came to us because a) they were good books to read; b) we were impressed with their design; and c) we had them at hand.

Book Design Guidelines

(For the fiction line; much of this applies to the non-fiction lines as well)

General Notes

The Kindle should duplicate the trade paperback as much as possible.

More decorative trade paperbacks look better and give more value for the money, thus encouraging the customer to shell out $15 for 0the book.

EVERY BOOK FROM PESCHEL PRESS includes the book catalog at the back.

The text should be in a legible TYPE FONT, and it should be SIZE 11 or larger, making it easy for anyone to read. Not as large as Large Print novels, but not so small as making it hard to read. Compare the text size in Agent to the Stars and The Ladies of Nell Gwynne.

book design page size

The size of the type is critical to the readability of the text, but there’s a tradeoff. Larger type=bigger book=cost more to print and to sell.

FICTION SERIES SHOULD INCLUDE AN EXCERPT (either the first chapter or a synopsis) of another book in the series, a book that hasn’t been released yet perhaps, or better yet, the NEXT BOOK in the series, whetting the appetite to buy more. Thus, when Her Martian Tiger appears, the excerpt could be from Meanwhile, Back at the Demesne. (Meanwhile takes place concurrent to Martian Tiger).

Front and Back Covers

COORDINATING COVER DESIGNS FOR EACH SERIES, including the spine and the back. Same colors throughout a series, plus matching, genre appropriate fonts. Peschel Press logo on spine, always.

peschel press logo

BACK COVERS should include synopsis, blurbs and log rolling, and the website address.

A SERIES APPROPRIATE TITLE FOR EACH BOOK, each title unique, descriptive, and not repeating ten thousand other titles at Amazon.

Front Matter

A BOOK PLATE in the front of each book, tied to the series. That is, The Steppes of Mars books all have the same one, as does Detective X, the Austerrans, etc. This can be as elaborate as the one being used now in 223B Casebook series or a simple frame with ‘This book belongs to’ inside of it. Fonts and designs should be genre appropriate.

A LIST OF CHARACTERS, each with a one-line description at the beginning of the book, prior to the text. See Dancing Aztecs for a sample.

book design character list

Character list from “Dancing Aztecs” by Donald Westlake. Great funny chase novel.

For The Bride from Deripaska, something like:

Debbie: She played the hand she was dealt the best she could

Spotty: Loyal, brave, good, and true

Yannick: A Hand of Kenyatta and a man with a past

Maureen: A flame disguised as a woman

MAPS as appropriate for the series.


A LIST OF ALL OF THE AUTHOR’S OTHER BOOKS, TO DATE. This is a list of titles and the series they belong to at the front of the book. This is NOT the entire Peschel Press catalog; that’s in the back. This lists only the books by Odessa Moon, by Teresa Peschel, by Bill Peschel, etc., as appropriate for the series.


A TABLE OF CONTENTS, LISTING THE CHAPTERS, ILLUSTRATIONS, MAPS, etc. This is especially important if the CHAPTERS HAVE TITLES rather than chapter one, chapter ten, and so forth.


A TITLE PAGE that leaves room for THE AUTOGRAPH!

book design title page

Note that there’s space below the byline to allow room for a signature. Added it to the 1915-1919 edition of the 223B Casebook, so we’ll see if this works.

AN AUTHOR NOTE: This is the chance for the author to say something personal about the book. Most people won’t read it, but for those who do, it is a chance to personally communicate something to the reader, thus giving the illusion of intimacy. The Author Note must include a request for a review on Amazon and other book sites!

Every book needs a HOW TO REACH US section. That is, the website address, how to sign up for the newsletter, and the P.O. Box address for those who write letters, and where our books are available.


A BORDER DESIGN AT THE TOP OF EACH PAGE similar to Agent to the Stars. That is, for the Steppes of Mars series, this could be a row of grasses. The border design, either identical book to book, or merely similar will be distinctive for each series and should reflect the content and setting of the series.

book design page border

Page border from Subterranean Press edition of John Scalzi’s “Agent to the Stars.” It’s a book about Hollywood, so those are sunglasses.

OR A FANCY SWIRLY LINE like Kage Baker’s The Ladies of Nell Gwynn. Again, this will be distinctive to the series, helping to tie them together.

A DROP CAP at the beginning of each chapter, in a font suitable for the type of book. Romantically shaped, space agey, noir, Victorian, etc, plus the first two or three words in a similar font. Again, see The Ladies of Nell Gwynn. The drop cap should be in the same font throughout the series.

book design page border

Fancy page topper from “The Women of Nell Gwynne” by Kage Baker

PAGE NUMBERS, BOOK TITLE, and AUTHOR’S NAME in some kind of regular design, identical for all books in a series. This can be at the top of the page or the bottom as needed, to balance the design elements.

DINGBATS TO SEPARATE SECTIONS OF TEXT within a chapter OR a design line such as a row of grass tops.

book design dingbat

Pretty dingbat from The Girls of Nell Gwynne

The novel Radiance uses astrological symbols to identify where in the solar system the chapter is taking place.

The novel Radiance uses astrological symbols to identify where in the solar system the chapter is taking place.

LOCATION INDICATORS AT THE START OF EACH CHAPTER. Radiance has at the beginning of each chapter a film reel that contains an astrological symbol for each of the nine planets in the solar system. The symbols are defined on an art page at the front of the book. The reader can refer to this subtle design element to figure out where the action is taking place.


LOCATION CAN BE SPELLED OUT: i.e., A coffee shop in the third worst slum in Asimov.

In addition, A TIME INDICATOR, i.e., the year, The Fall Equinox, or a weekday morning at ten AM, if this seems appropriate.

If the book has GROUPINGS OF CHAPTERS, DEMARCATE THEM WITH AN ART PAGE, something as basic as a fancy box with a title in it like Second Shift. Hugh Howey does this in his book Shift.

Back Matter

A GLOSSARY OF UNUSUAL WORDS OR CONCEPTS at the back of the book (I’ve seen this in many fantasy novels).

A SPEAKER’S INDICATOR SYMBOL. Soon I Will Be Invincible uses a ray gun or a cyber eye at the start of each chapter to indicate who is narrating, Doctor Impossible or Femme Fatale.

book design narrative icon

Raygun insignia from Soon I Will Be Invincible

A CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS, such as the terraforming and settling of Mars; a history spanning centuries. This would be repeated in every book in the series. Not every series will need this. Detective X, probably not. Perfect Union? Yes it might.

A SETTING OPENING, at the beginning of the book, much shorter than a prologue, set aside in fancy type. Something like:

Mars had been terraformed for centuries, but the process was nowhere near finished and would not be for many more centuries. There were no fossil fuels on Mars and that made everything different and harder but the citizens still managed to live their lives. They were changing Mars while Mars changed them.

INTERESTING or AMUSING QUOTES THAT ENHANCE THE NOVEL, but whose meaning may not be clear to the reader until after they’ve read the book.

AN AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY, with as much or little detail as seems appropriate. This is separate from the Author’s note.

INTERIOR ILLUSTRATIONS if they seem needed.