How to Provide 5-Star Service to Your Book Design Clients . . . and Get Referrals!

As in many industries, book designers get their best clients through referrals. Referrals can come from independent authors, editors, indexers, project managers, or small to large publishers. But to get a referral from these clients or vendors requires that the referring client is not only satisfied, but enthusiastic about the designer's work. 

5-star service means that you go above and beyond simply fulfilling an assignment. You make your client feel they have been listened to and cared about, they have recieived a design that exceeds their own vision, and they feel that their money has been well spent.

Here are ways you can take your book formatting service to the next level:

1.  Provide options. Clients feel you've added value when you give them options before or after you have quoted the book design project. Whether it's a selection of fonts and leading, page layouts, running head treatments, or cover photos or layouts, let the client participate in the project. Any designer who executes one idea, considers it gold, and refuses to move off that idea is in the wrong business. I don't believe the client is always right, but the client writes the check. It's the designer's job to offer solid options based on his/her experience, and to be prepared to discuss and demonstrate why they're good. You may be able to persuade the client to consider something that will be more effective than their original idea.

2.  Communicate. One of the biggest mistakes when working on a project is to work in isolation and have the attitude that you won't need to contact the client until your job is done. Keep your client in the loop along the way. This doesn't require daily contact. Identify some key contact points when it would be helpful to get client input to give them a heads-up that certain assets will be needed on a specific date to stay on the timeline, or to give them an idea of your progress/next steps. Your client will appreciate knowing that you're on target with the timeline in case they need to line up proofreaders or indexes. Clients want to know that you have an interest in their project and are committed to helping them accomplish your portion of it in a professional and streamlined way. 

3.  Be upfront about cost. Clients hate surprises - especially when it comes to cost. You will have provided a total cost (or range) based on the information you ask about the project before you begin. If the project scope changes along the way, or if the customer makes requests that you know will require an upcharge, inform them immediately before beginning the work. It's far better to get this settled when it comes up, rather than have an uncomfortable conversation after you've done the extra work.

4.  Respond promptly. Make your client feel that they're your only client. Return calls and emails promptly. If you don't have an immediate answer to their question, acknowledge their call, confirm you will look into it, and get back to them as quickly as possible. Postponing communication can escalate a simple quesion into a concern or a problem.

5.  Demonstrate an interest in their project. If the client sees that you care about their project, you will garner their trust. This makes decisions and communication easier. Familiarize yourself with their brand. If they have a website or blog, check it out. If they've published other books, search them on Amazon or ask to see images of the covers or find out where you can download the interiors. If they've hired you as a change from another designer, ask them what they didn't like about the previous work (keeping it impersonal). You may have to tread lightly here, and it may not be appropriate to ask them if you feel it's a sensitive subject.

6.  Keep up to date in the industry. Behind-the-scenes research will contribute to your overall experience level and make you more confident and authoritative when advising clients. Be familiar with what's going on in the book design field. Continue to take software classes in InDesign or other programs that will keep you at the top of your game. Read industry blogs and magazines. Spend time once a week in a bookstore to look at other book layouts and how they look in print. Find books on the shelf that you have designed to see what the printed product looks like, how it is marketed, and how it is selling. 

7.  Follow-up and ask for a referral. At the end of the project - after your client has expressed satisfaction with the result and you've been paid - call them to follow-up. Call them on the phone; this shouldn't be done through email or an impersonal survey. If you're confident that the experience was as good for them as it was for you, it will be an easy call to make. In a conversational way, ask them a few basic questions. Your questions will be different depending on whether your client is an author, an editor, or a publisher, but the goal is to learn how you can improve any aspect of your work and, ultimately, solicit more work.

  • Are there any parts of the process that I can improve?
  • Did you have any preflight or printing problems with the files I provided?
  • Have you had any positive or negative responses from purchasers of the book?
  • Would you keep me in mind for your next project or refer me to someone else?
  • Thank you again for your business!

When you begin to get into the book formatting 5-star service mode, you'll see other ways that you can service your clients better. They'll appreciate your attention and level of service and refer you to others. Get ready to build your client base!


Robin Krauss, Owner and Designer,

Book Formatters