A Book Design Checklist for Your Trade Paperbacks

I’m a big believer in structure. My brain is scatter-shot even on my best days, and it’s important that I have checklists and an organized structure to make sure that the mistakes I do make are new and fresh, and not as a result of, say, forgetting to update the backcover copy on the latest addition to the 223B Casebook Series. That’s why my wife made me this book design checklist.

My commentary on the list with examples will be in italics.


COORDINATE 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. Some kind of cover logo that goes on each book in the series, such as the circle for “The Steppes of Mars.”

“The Steppes of Mars” is a new series that you’ll hear more about later.

BACK COVERS should include synopsis, blurbs, and the website address. Pictures of other books in the series. The price should be listed.

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

I’m a big believer in strong, memorable titles. It used to be conventional wisdom that it took seven repetitions to make a brand memorable. In the online world, that number has grown to the mid-20s. A memorable name can cut through that haze, like tThe first time I heard the name of Faleena Hopkins’ bad-boy romance series. How can you forget a name like the Cocker Brothers?

ENDPAPERS, if that option is available. Use a decorative design that fits the book’s theme, maps, family trees, or anything else that is appropriate and eye-catching.

Unfortunately, Createspace doesn’t offer this. Just between you and me, our goal is to create a book as beautiful as those found at Subterranean Press, but at prices anyone can afford.


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

This will drive you crazy, but you’re hearing hints about books to come with no context or description. That’s because they’re not ready yet to be discussed. Hell, some of them aren’t even written!

Anyway, this is the book plate we use for all our books. We borrowed it from a book about the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. You know, the one where William McKinley was assassinated. No bad karma associated there, no siree.

bookplate Peschel Press

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 Half-title page.

A TITLE PAGE that leaves room for THE AUTOGRAPH!

This is very helpful when we’re selling direct.

author autograph

The photo is of Douglas Fairbanks from “The Mystery of the Leaping Fish,” a Sherlockian parody silent film.


MAPS as appropriate for the series.

A LIST OF CHARACTERS, each with a one or two sentence description at the beginning of the book, prior to the text. See “Dancing Aztecs” for a sample. For “The Bride from Dairapaska” 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

”Dancing Aztecs” is a funny crime novel by Donald E. Westlake. Read his books, especially “Angels,” which is a particular favorite.

Cast list page from “Dancing Aztecs” by Donald E. Westlake

Anyway, one of the fabulous things about publishing yourself is that you can do what you want. Want a cast of characters? Do it! Want illustrations? Go wild! You’re the creator, why shouldn’t you do what you think is right?

A TABLE OF CONTENTS, LISTING THE CHAPTERS. This is especially important if the CHAPTERS HAVE TITLES rather than chapter 1, chapter 10, and so forth. For non-fiction, this may be a detailed, Victorian-style list of subtopics so an index isn’t needed.


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. These can be on the dedication page or can be placed at the beginning of a chapter.

OTHER THINGS THAT MIGHT BE NEEDED in the forward matter: epigraph, foreword, preface, acknowledgements (if not in the back), introduction, and prologue.


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

Left, a page from John Scalzi’s “Agent to the Stars.” Right, a page from Kage Baker’s “The Ladies of Nell Gwynne’s.”

INTERIOR ILLUSTRATIONS, if we want to pay for them and they seem needed.

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.

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

As you can see, we have a particular fondness for these two books. They’re great fun to read, and in their Subterranean Press editions are a joy to look at.

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 Women of Nell Gwynne’s.” The drop cap should be in the same font throughout the series.

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. Non-fiction might get the chapter title or section name.

DINGBATS OR FLEURONS TO SEPARATE SECTIONS OF TEXT within a chapter OR a design line such as a row of grass tops. A series appropriate one and one that is different for each series.

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 Azimoff.

(Another hint from the Steppes of Mars series. Sorry, you’ll have to figure it out on your own.

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.”

A SPEAKER’S INDICATOR SYMBOL if the voice of the narrator changes. “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.

Sample pages from Austin Grossman’s “Soon I Will Be Invincible.”


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

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,” which takes place concurrent to “Martian Tiger.”

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 LEAVE A REVIEW STATEMENT asking, if you liked the book, to leave a review at Amazon.com. Thank the reader for helping other readers discover the book, via a positive review. Positive reviews encourage sales.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS OF BOOK DESIGNERS, EDITORS, KINDLIZERS, BETA READERS, and anyone else who might be important. People do apparently read these.

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

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

Other pieces of back matter include: epilogue, afterward, conclusion, appendixes, notes, bibliography, works cited, and an INDEX.

So that’s the list. Future books from Peschel Press will have these items. Our goal is to make books people are happy to buy and happy to read. And to make some money as well.