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Book design fees

Recently I had occasion to research rates charged by designers for text-based book work. I was trying to determine a reasonable price for a 320-page hardcover collected poems, interior and cover/jacket design. Since I have mainly worked with heavily illustrated books over the past decade I had lost touch with going rates for text-based projects.

According to the 2001 edition of the Graphic Artists Guild handbook of Pricing and Ethics, for an average poetry book a designer might charge $7,500 to $15,000 to design and set the interior plus $1000-$2000 for the jacket. That gives a total range of $8500-17,000. Those figures are seven years old, but several people say the prices in this publication skew high.

For my informal survey I consulted four designers.

Designer A would charge $4-5/pg, depending on complexity, on top of the design charge of $350-$500. Cover design would range from $350-$1000. If there’s a lot of text prep (coding), he charges that hourly ($50). This gives a total of $1980-3100, plus coding, by far the lowest fee in my sample.

Designer B would charge $20-25/page “all in” as a nonprofit/university press discount rate for a non-illustrated book. Plus revisions at $50/hour. This would come to about $6400-8000, plus revisions fee. She says she gets $35-50 per page for an illustrated book from a commercial press, which obviously would as much as double the total.

Designer C would charge $1500 for the jacket + $1000-2500 for interior design + $8-15/page typesetting. When she totaled this up she got $8800, suggesting she favors the high end of her range, and I expect she would much more often come in there than at her low end.

Designer D would simply charge a flat rate of $35-40/page. This would come to $11,200-12,800. He claims “some people charge $65/page.”

It’s interesting to see the different bases designers use for calculating fees and the different rates and totals yielded ($3100, $8000, $8800, $12,800; plus extras) for the same job.

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6 Comments

  1. That’s quite a range. My first thought – based on designers B, C, D – is that we’re undercharging. Then again, our current location provides a significant reduction in overhead costs.

    My assumption is that designer A probably works more with self-publishers and small presses and the others with larger, commercial publishers. (Also, from these rates it’s clear why there is a problem in university publishing).

    For internationally-based designers like us, it poses a dilemma as whether to increase pricing to the evident expectations of commercial publishers (as reflected by designers B, C, D) or to retain a pricing structure reflective of local costs though none of our customers are local.

    I’ve noticed in Web design that fees are mostly consistent for quality designers regardless of location. Perhaps that will be true for book designers also as book design expands into the global market. Or, the global market simply drive down the cost of book design.

  2. Jeff

    Designer A mostly works with university presses. Designer B tends to work with commercial trade publishers. Designers C and D do a lot of work with museums and other art book publishers.

    BTW, I have translated Cortazar and some other Argentine writers, but I have never been to Buenos Aires. I would love to visit some time.

  3. Thanks for the clarification on the type of publishers.

    You should certainly come down to Buenos Aires someday. It’s a great city with a dynamic literary culture.

  4. Excluding celebrities (by which I mean Jewel, not Seamus Heaney), there are perhaps 10 living American poets capable of selling enough books that 3 out of 4 of these prices would permit the book to breakeven.

    Phrased another way, are we sure it’s rational to pay the designer 10 times what we’re paying the poet?

    Note that I’ve zero issue with those numbers as such—if the book sales can support it, fantastic. But the hypothetical example is one in which it is virtually impossible to do so.

  5. Richard

    Wait, poets get paid?

    I think we are generally out of the realm of financial logic when we are discussing the economics of publishing poetry.

    But you point out the basic dilemma of independent publishing.

  6. I would humbly suggest a typesetting compromise. Hire a cover designer. Then typeset the interior on your own.

    If you’re flush, you could hire the designer to give you style sheets — a design for the interior — using the typesetting software of your choice. Learn a system like InDesign and then do that interior typesetting on your own.

    A more low-end, but probably perfectly acceptable, substitute would be to typeset the interior with Microsoft Word. Just remember to use a contrasting typeface, sans serif, for the title of each poem, and then a compatible, readable font, with serifs, for the body of the book.

    Since we’re talking poetry, we’re not talking footnotes or tables, right?

    Don’t let yourself be stopped by high fees for typesetting, but do be sure to find a good professional. If you email me, I’ll give you the name of the designer for my last three covers.

    Or, if it is acceptable, I’ll mention her here: Melanie Matheson from http://www.rollingrhino.com. No financial interest here. I just adore her work, enjoy working with her, too.

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