How to Make a Professional Book – 10 Top Tips

Getting started on a book project can be daunting. You want to create a beautiful book and end up with a professional-looking result.

Here are 10 tips from Blurb’s very own professional photographer-at-large and accomplished book-maker, Dan Milnor, that, if followed, will make for a successful, professional book.

1. What is it?

What is the purpose of your book? Is it a photo book, will there be text? Is it a catalog or portfolio book? A catalog typically represents a specific body of work for a specific purpose, like an exhibition. A portfolio is about your best work but might not tell a story. A photo book has a theme, story, etc.

2. Size matters

What trim size will best suit the project? Reference other books and consider the various price points. Bigger is not always better. The world has changed and so has our ability to ingest visual information. Sometimes, depending on the circumstance, a smaller book, or a set of smaller books, can be equally as impactful as a larger more traditional book.

3. Tell a story

Books have a story, a narrative, or an arc. This means that you need to choose your imagery accordingly. Does the viewer have everything they need, not only to understand, but to keep reading or viewing? How are you arranging your content? Consider how the order affects the message—tell a story.

4. Edit, Edit, Edit.

One of the biggest mistakes we see, and most common, are books with far too many images. A good exercise for book-making is to take any story you have completed: a trip abroad, a family gathering, or a work trip, for example, and reduce it to the ten best. What are the ten best images that will make your book? Only print what you need to get the story across, nothing more. Think a single image per page as opposed to pages with numerous images.

5. Sequencing

Sequencing a book sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of choosing a cover and editing the work. But sequencing which images come first and which images go last can make all the difference. When people talk about literature or film they refer to “narrative arc”—how audiences are taken on a rollercoaster ride of plot and action. The same applies to your book. Start strong, end strong, and give the viewer an arc in between. Just because you love a certain image doesn’t mean it should come at the very start of the book.

6. Cover design

Don’t judge? They will. Look at other books, gather inspiration, and play with various options before making your book cover. Good book covers are typically simple, easy reads. Sometimes the cover works as a trick to get someone to slow down and crack the book open. Here are some of our favorites from 2017.

7. Typography

With most books, think about two fonts, three at the most—title, body copy, and captions. Don’t use a default font found in your font folder. Use something that fits with the story you’re telling. Typography is critical and is an art form in itself, so you have to respect it to make a successful book.

8. Page layout

Think about consistency and flow. Less is more. Whatever you choose, try to be consistent. Experiment with image size—just because you have a 10×8 book doesn’t mean you have to make the images 10×8. Often a smaller image has more energy. Busy pages make for busy readers, so slow it down and keep it simple. Let your photographs speak for themselves, and give them room to breathe. We asked our own designers what makes a great layout. Here’s what they had to say.

9. Proof it

New tools and technologies give us the option, ease, and affordability to create sample or proof books. I highly recommend doing so. If you’re new to book-making, take the pressure off and have some fun by printing a sample of what you think your perfect book is. Even after hundreds of books, I still print samples when I feel a bit unsure. Plus, catching errors at this point will save time and money later.

10. Ask for feedback

As photographers, we fall in love with our own images. We were there and know what it sounded like when we made the photographs, we know what it smelled like and we had the experience of making the work. The problem is that the reader wasn’t there. So just because you love an image doesn’t mean it works in the book. Get a second opinion. Make prints and give them to someone else to edit and sequence. You will be surprised at what comes back.

Share your top tips for making a professional book in the comments below.

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