How to Make a Children’s Book #2: Interview With Book Designer Astred Hicks

 Tom Weekly Book series

How do you make a book? I get this question all the time when I visit schools. How does it go from being a fuzzy idea in someone’s mind to being a thing we hold in our hands that has the power transport us into another world or into someone else’s life?

I’m doing a blog series to answer those questions, interviewing the creative and publishing team being my new book My Life & Other Failed Experiments (and the entire Tom Weekly series). Last week I interviewed Brandon VanOver, my amazing editor. This week, Astred Hicks, book designer.


Astred, what, exactly, does a book designer do? Do you just create the cover or other stuff, too? Do you actually make the book? (Don’t be modest.)
Technically a book designer creates a visual interface for information, which is a fancy way of saying a book designer creates a space that allows the reader to understand and enjoy the author’s work. From the cover to the layout a designer is involved. But in most cases we don’t physically create the book, like print it and stick it together and send it to the book shop (I say most cases because there are some very small run independent books that the designers have done just that on, so never rule it out!).

Things I personally do are design the book cover, which is a HUGE job. HUGE. Because yes, people judge a book by its cover and you need people to get a sense of the story at first glance and think ‘yes that’s my sort of book’ or ‘hrmm that looks interesting I wonder what it’s about’ or ‘OMG it’s the new TRISTAN BANCKS, take my money!!’

I also design the insides of books and in some cases lay them out (typeset). Which is what I do for the Tom Weekly series. Some novels are pretty straightforward and you can design a sample (i.e this is the typeface, this is how big the margins are and this is what the chapter opening titles look like) and send it to a typesetter, but other books need a designer’s eye for the whole thing, like illustrated books and cookbooks.

My Life Designer Astred Hicks with cherry blossoms.

Have you always designed books or have you designed other things, too?
I’ve been designing books for about 14 years, which is most of my design career but I haven’t always exclusively designed books – in fact lately I’ve been working with a company called The Electric Canvas who do cool building projections (like Vivid) and I’ve illustrated a bunch of things for them, like scenes that were projected on buildings for the White Night Melbourne festival and White Night Ballarat, as well as the Perth and Sydney Christmas lights specials.

I do other bits and pieces for myself and other clients occasionally but my focus is books, books, books. I love ’em and can’t get enough of ’em.

What were your favourite books as a kid?
My all time favourite books as a little kid were The Tiger Who Came To Tea by Judith Kerr and Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. And I can remember being obsessed with a picture book called Little Dracula, in fact one year I dressed as Little Dracula for the book week parade (green skin and all), I do remember loving Fungus the Bogeyman as a kid so I got very excited when you mentioned Tom Weekly borrowed it from the library!

As an older kid I would read books by authors like Morris Gleitzman, Paul Jennings and Roald Dahl. I got a lot of hand-me-down books from my older siblings like The Secret Diary of Adrian MoleThe Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Red Dwarf. There is still a collective chuckle amongst us when someone mentions needing peril sensitive sunglasses for something.


Book designer Astred Hicks dressed as Little Dracula in her school book parade.

What were your influences when you designed the My Life books and all the delicious grease-stains and squashed flies inside?
Boys! Or really kids and being a bit messy and careless with their belongings was my initial inspiration. I wanted the books to look like they had been carried around in school backpacks and swapped on the playground so many times that they were dirty, messy and completely loved. Because while a lot of adults feel keeping things pristine and clean is a sign of love, I feel from a kid’s perspective something that is battered and grimy shows signs of love for stories read and re-read.

That and also as Tom Weekly is always getting in trouble and making a mess the grot has seeped out from those stories to stain the pages around them.


Can you share any tips that could help kids create their own good-looking books from the comfort of their own homes?
Covers are about getting people to notice them, so you don’t have to put the whole story on the cover. The main elements of any cover should be:
– Title of the book
– Name of the author (you don’t have to write ‘by’ when you are putting your name on your book either, it’s a given that it’s by the person who’s name is on the cover)
– Image

Out of those three things what is the most important? Title? Image? You decide, then that should be the biggest thing on the cover. All three elements should balance each other, but there should always be hierarchy (that’s a term we in the biz use to describe the most important element being the biggest,  then the next being slightly smaller, then the next etc. They decrease in size as they get less important). This is a useful tool that helps to direct the viewer’s eye.


When you are designing the inside of your book the margins are important, so make sure you give your design a generous margin. Again the white space (margin) around the edge of the page directs the viewer’s eye to the important text. And not having long lines of text is easy on the eye and doesn’t make the reader tired.

Choosing the right typeface also helps the reader. Make sure it’s readable! Don’t use scribbly, rough fonts for pages and pages of text. It will be too hard to read and people will just put down your book and pick their nose instead (or some other form of entertainment that isn’t reading your book).

Thanks Astred.

How to Make a Children’s Book #1: Interview with Tom Weekly Editor Brandon VanOver

How to Make a Children’s Book #3: Interview with Tom Weekly Illustrator Gus Gordon

How to Make a Children’s Book #4: Interview with Tom Weekly publisher Zoe Walton

You can buy a signed copy of Tom Weekly: My Life & Other Failed Experiments in my online store. Or you can pick up a copy from a range of online retailers.


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