Designing Mind: A Chat With Liz Bonadies
Updated: Apr 18
There's a lot more that goes into designing a book from cover to cover than one might think. The other day, I sat down to chat with Liz Bonadies, the amazing designer of all my books. From cover design to layout and formatting, she does it all – and she does it so darn well. But what exactly does novel design take? Indie and self-published authors working on their own designs will benefit from her advice.
Q. You've worked with me on the design and layout of all my books since the beginning with the first edition of The Vitruvian Heir – now in its second edition, The Vitruvian Heir, Book I: The Unraveling. And it's been quite a journey for us both, but now I feel like we definitely have a groove. What's been most surprising for you in this process?
A. I’m not sure it’s surprising, but I have really enjoyed seeing the characters and the stories evolve. We’ve worked together in some capacity for quite a while and I think that has helped make this whole process rather easy. I really look forward to working on your books. I guess the e-books have been surprising – who knew how complicated they would be!
Q. How did you get into design and how long have you been a graphic designer? What's different or more challenging about book design than the other work you do?
A. I had my first graphic design class as a sophomore in high school, and that was it. There was nothing else I wanted to do after that, and now I’ve been working as a freelance designer for more than 25 years.
The first edition of The Vitruvian Heir was actually the first full novel that I designed and there was certainly a bit of a learning curve. Books are somewhat different from other projects, but they’re also my favorite. With a book, you’re dealing with sometimes upwards of 200-300 pages and there’s a lot to keep track of, lots of detail. Then there is the whole e-book process. I think that’s the most challenging aspect.
Q. You've now been through two iterations of The Vitruvian Heir story. Who's your favorite character? What do you love about the story? What do you think sets it apart from other books?
A. Lore, of course! She’s determined and strong but remains relatable on every level. I was instantly captivated by the story, the characters draw you in and you find yourself rooting for them. I can’t wait to read the next one and I’m lucky since I get it early.
Q. What about cover design? You've done the covers for all three of my books: The Vitruvian Heir, Books I and II andThe Clothes That Make You. The Vitruvian Heir even won in the best cover category in the 2016 New England Book Show. What do you most enjoy about designing the covers and which of the three is your favorite?
A. Well, I will give credit to the cover illustrator for The Vitruvian Heir, Rebecca Hope Woods. I think my favorite is The Clothes That Make You if I had to choose, but I also feel like each is uniquely perfect for the story inside. You have had a rough idea for all of them so it has been fun to go through the process.
Q. Sometimes the cover design has come really easily to us and we're working on it as I'm writing the book, and other times, I've finished drafts before we have ideas. What do you think is the most challenging aspect of designing the covers?
A. Most times you have to be able to let yourself change directions, not get too set on any one thing. You may start out with one idea but as you work on the book and get closer to the characters you find your original ideas might not be conveying the story as you first thought. Be willing to change. I think there's a balance in cover design – give a peek into the book but still be intriguing enough to not give it all away. I like covers that leave something to think about. The most obvious solution isn’t always the best one.
Q. What's your favorite book and why?
A. The Bell Jar. There are a ton of reasons why I love this book, but it’s a specific edition that I have. The design is truly beautiful. I also happened to bring it to read on my flight to Paris many years ago, which was one of the greatest trips ever. I’m not sure what prompted me to think it was a good time to read The Bell Jar, but oddly enough, the friend I was traveling with showed up to the airport with the same book. I have a ton of books here but that one always gets a special place.
Q. What's your favorite typeface and why?
A. That’s like asking someone to pick a favorite kid (or cat). I’m much more partial to the older, classic typefaces. If I HAD to pick I’d say Gill Sans. It’s just been a favorite since the very beginning. I’d never set a book in it or anything, but its my go-to.
Q. Where do you find inspo as a designer? What are some of your go-to sites?
A. As far away from a computer as possible! Especially if I’m feeling stuck on something, just getting away from it really helps. Everything can be inspiration.
Q. How do you start the design process with a new manuscript?
A. Well, first I have to read it. You just can’t design a book without reading it for yourself, creating that imagery. You’ve told me about your books, but reading them allows me to visualize my own ideas. Sometimes they're different from what you initially expect.
Q. What advice do you have for other indie and self-published authors who are working on their own design?
A. I know writing is very personal and it’s easy to become very attached to it and the ideas you already have in your mind. Be open to constructive criticism, but hold firm on the things you feel strongly about. Getting other points of view can help you see things in a way you might not see otherwise. And finally, please do not use a sans-serif typeface for your interior text.