Moss-dotted steps lead to the central acropolis at Quiriguá, an ancient Maya archaeological site in south-eastern Guatemala. Masters of design, the Maya managed to move huge stones through the jungle from distant quarries without carts or animals for this once great city. (Image © Jain Lemos, Quiriguá, Guatemala; 2014.)

With the necessary elements for your book in place, the next step in The Ultimate Guide to Producing Documentary Books is designing the pages. Life might be super if we had more choices and latitude for book design software but if your designer is not using the latest version of InDesign, then please find another designer. It’s truly the only game in town for these projects and there is no reason to use anything else. Don’t cut corners by buying templates from online vendors or trying to figure out premade instant book maker layouts. These never work no matter how much customization they promise you can add.

During this phase, I find it’s best to work on other production tasks so the designer has freedom to do what they are hired for. Just as with the book’s other contributors I trust my designer’s creative process. Nothing is worse than standing over a designer’s shoulder making suggestions or asking them to try it my way. Besides, I’ve already been involved with many design decisions up to this point and now it’s time to let the professional drive.

The best book design follows a rhythm. That tempo is a structure that feels natural and by the middle of the book, the reader intuitively begins to anticipate what the next spread will reveal. Remember that books are divided into signatures (16 pages) and so that allows for the formation of a pattern.

Here is an example I made for you:

The next four spreads might take a completely individualized configuration as a sort of turnaround between chapters or sections and then the design can return to the primary eight-spread pattern. This organization will largely be determined by the subject matter and the text structure. Here is where your designer’s deep skill set will shine as they create your book’s unique pacing. Overall, you want a recognizable pace that is fresh with transitions the designer has devised using colors, type styles and all of the content elements.

Now leave your designer alone because chances are they’ll be working very long nights and living on take-out while screaming at the refresh rate or someone banging on their door. Resist every temptation to check in on them and instead use this time to make strategic phone calls and concentrate on marketing and promotion! When I return we’ll be Designing the Cover, meaning it’s getting close to publication time.

There is always more to learn about Mayan culture and have you read about the two lost Maya cities that were recently uncovered by an international team of scientists in Mexico?