A lot of eager design students email me, thinking about starting a book design business. I tell them it’s a great idea. There’s a ton of demand. The pay is excellent.
And it’s not that hard, if you know what you’re doing.
Formatting is super easy, if you learn what looks good: you could use my templates package to start and just tweak the fonts for each client. You could send them my recommended font samples (or show them this page) to make some quick design decisions.
For formatting, keep it clean and simple. The amateur overdesigns and loves big crazy fonts and decoration. The professional loves white space and simplicity.
If you’re charging for formatting, you should know that InDesign is better and cleaner (and you can charge more – I charge $349 for InDesign formatting, and about half that for Word formatting, even though Word is usually harder and more frustrating to finish). But if you design in Indesign, it means client swill keep coming back to you with changes.
Update: not offering formatting services anymore, but when I do – I do everything in Vellum because it’s SO much easier.
If you’re offering print book formatting, you’ll probably need to learn ebook formatting and conversion as well, which is a whole different thing. You’ll need to learn a little bit of coding, or at least know enough about Word to format well and then use an automatic ebook conversion tool.
Book Cover Design
Designing book covers is harder. They’re easy to make, and also very easy to screw up with recognizable, amateur design flaws. If you want to skip the learning curve, make sure to watch my free video series on book cover design, and you should check out these articles on cover design as well.
How to start a freelance design business
If you’re ready to start, play around with some samples and make 20 to 50 pieces for your online portfolio. Make a website. Then offer some people free work; ideally authors who already have a platform, but have inadequate design. Offer to review their covers, or do free formatting. Get their testimonials and feature them on your site; see if they’ll link to you.
If you do free work for one big name author, and they keep sending new clients and traffic to your site, and your site is well made and converts (good sales copy, great testimonials, great prices and packages, excellent design samples) then you’ll start getting orders. The more traffic you get, the higher you can raise prices. Don’t be afraid of charging high:
For formatting, I would charge at least $100 for ebook formatting and $200 for print book formatting ($250/$300 altogether). But that’s only if you’re really good at it. You can charge less if you aren’t comfortable with your skills yet, or to get a lot of testimonials.
That said… big cover designers were doing pretty great for the past decade, and right now almost nobody is doing that well; client work and custom orders are way down, and authors who used to buy lots of premades have started showing restraint. There’s still demand, of course, but it’s hard to get visibility.
When I started, I made free covers for a bunch of big authors in the self-publishing space. I went to conferences and networked. I made book cover tutorials and helpful content. Focus on developing your skill first. The trickiest bits are:
#1 photoshopping and blending all the layers together cohesively
#2 choosing the right fonts for the genre and professional typography.
You’re probably going to need to learn a lot about how to start a profitable online business.
But working from home is pretty great.
PS. My book cover designer site needs updating, but you can check it out if you want.
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