All graphic design is not created equal. The level of skill is a story often told through the processes that the designer uses, not just the end result. But here’s the deal–it’s hard for you, the author, to know if the designer is doing the job correctly because design software is not your forte, nor should it be.
For designers who specialize in formatting book interiors, Adobe InDesign is the industry-standard software, and it should not be treated like PicMonkey, Canva, or even Photoshop. While Photoshop is great for photo-editing, it should not be used for formatting book interiors or book covers for print. It can, however, be used in tandem with InDesign, as can Illustrator. The key is to use the right tool for the job and to know how these programs complement and integrate with each other.
All book designers are graphic designers, but not all graphic designers are book designers.
Hands down, the most difficult part of my job is going through a document that another “designer” constructed. 95% of the time, there is no structure used. No pattern of styles was implemented. No outline was agreed upon. None of the text frames are connected. The Table of Contents is done the longest way possible, instead of setting the document up correctly and allowing the program to auto-generate the TOC. None of the graphics are in-flow with the text. They’re just random hangers-on that do not travel with the text (sometimes this is okay like in the complex designs. But for a normal book, not okay).
One way to tell right off the bat is to ask the book-designer-for-hire some questions using the proper technological terms found in the world of book design. If they don’t know what you are talking about, then that is a huge warning.
My Top 10 List of Interview Questions to Ask a Book Designer
1) Do you use running headers?
2) Do you use paragraph styles to determine page breaks or do you manually insert those?
3) Will the table of contents be auto-generated or will you be assembling that manually?
4) What margins will you be using for the interior layout?
5) What software are you using?
6) Do you subscribe to Adobe’s Creative Cloud?
7) Will you be converting the text to outlines?
8) When you’re finished with the design, I will need the file packaged. Is that something you can do?
9) How many master pages do you see this project requiring?
10) Where do you obtain your stock images through?
Those are just a few things to get you going. Even if you don’t know the answers yourself, any stuttering and stammering on behalf of the designer should clue you in that he/she doesn’t know either.