4 questions to answer when designing academic or historical maps

About 1/3 of my clients are authors or publishers. Some authors pitch their books to publishing companies or work with literary agents to do so, and some self-publish.

I have created maps for a wide variety of subjects. Some authors I’ve worked with have written travel books; some have written history books; some commission maps for articles they are submitting to academic journals. One author I worked with wanted a map to accompany his autobiographical story of international adoption; another author published a book of photos taken on walks near his home and wanted a map to show where the photos were taken.

Walking map of Northeast Scotland photo locations

Read below to see some questions I ask my clients when designing academic or historical maps. These maps are meant to give context to the reader, to highlight places mentioned in the text.

1. What area will the map show?

Do you need to show a high-level overview of countries or regions? Or do you need to show more detailed views, such as of historical sites, or animal habitats, etc.?

Nicaragua Caribbean coast fishing areas
Nicaragua central Caribbean coast fishing areas

We can include a more detailed view as the main map, with a small locator map showing the larger area.

greyscale map of Map of Duaba India with inset showing location on globe

2. What information should be on the map?

Is this map to give your reader a general idea of the geography of the area (often used as a frontispiece map in a book), or will it give your reader more details necessary to help them understand your text?

Greyscale political map of Africa
Narcotics trafficking routes in Iran

3. Who are your readers?

Is your book for adults or children? Is it a university textbook, or for the general public? The style of the map can be tailored to match the tone of your book.

Map of Roman Empire in Europe
Map of Battle of Vimy Ridge

4. Colour or greyscale?

Greyscale maps are common in books, but sometimes a pop of colour can help the map stand out. If you are working with a publisher, find out how much of a cost difference there is for printing colour vs. greyscale images in your book or article.

Some of my clients in academia commission maps for their articles before they’ve submitted them to academic journals. Since they don’t know in which journals their articles will appear, they don’t know if they will need colour or greyscale maps. In these cases, I’ve designed both colour and greyscale versions of maps.

Colour map of ancient sites in Jordan
Greyscale map of ancient sites in Jordan

These are the main questions I ask prospective clients during the initial free 30-minute phone consultation, and I always like to learn about their books and what got them interested in the subject. One recent client wanted to be an archaeologist, and I was one for a while, so we talked a bit about that. And she also spent some time in Finland, and as a child I was on exchange there for a month. So we had a great conversation!

The examples in this post show you the wide variety of map types and styles that are used in books. And hopefully this gives you ideas of what to think about if you want to add maps to your books or articles. If you want a map for your book, contact me for a free consultation. We can talk about how maps can help tell your story.

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