Most small publishers understand how important cover design is to the success of their books. But often, interior design is either overlooked or created without knowledge of industry standards and what ultimately makes a book readable.Most small publishers understand how important cover design is to the success of their books. But often, interior design is either overlooked or created without knowledge of industry standards and what ultimately makes a book readable. A bookstore buyer can tell when a book has been designed by an amateur and may label the book self-published if it doesn’t meet industry standards. Following are five keys to professional interior book design.
Keep it simple, silly. This is probably the most important bit of advice we can offer. Overly designed books that use lots of different fonts and have lots of different design elements within the text are hard to read and often look amateurish. The best book designs are relatively simple, allowing the reader to work through the material at a steady pace without a lot of distractions. Consistency of design is the key to professional looking books, and it’s easiest to keep the design consistent if it is simple.
#2: Don’t Be Foolish With Fonts
When choosing the fonts you will use in your interior design, choose carefully. Don’t use crazy specialized display fonts that many readers will quickly be able to identify because they come standard with many types of software. For instance Brush Script, Comic Sans, and Curlz are all fonts that many people will quickly recognize. Easily recognizable fonts, particularly if they are unusual, will distract the reader and diminish his/her experience with your book.
It is also important to limit the number of fonts used in a single design. For instance, you may use one font for chapter titles and numbers and another font for the primary text, and that might be it. You may also use variations of a particular font for the headings within the text, and that font may be the same font that was used for the chapter title. In general, if you stick to two or three fonts, you’re probably safe.
#3: Guidelines for Font Size and Leading
Appropriate font size and presentation is critical to the readability of a book. The industry standard for the primary text font in trade books is 10.5 to 11 pt. font on leading that is about 3 pts. larger. Leading is the amount of space from baseline to baseline, meaning that if a font is 10.5 pts. on 13.5 pt. leading, there are 3 pts. of extra space between lines of text. If you use 11 pt. font, you should use a minimum of 14 pt. leading. The leading is critical to readability, and not having enough can quickly tag your design as amateur.
#4: Tips for Running Heads and Folios
A running head is the text that is usually placed at the top of a book page near the page number, which is also called the folio. Running heads and folios should be unobtrusive and should not distract the reader. They are typically set in a font that matches the primary text font or the display font used for headings or chapter titles. The font size should be a point or two smaller than the primary text font. The folios should be set in the same font and the same size. The folios can be bold to set them apart from the running heads. The running heads can be italic to differentiate them.
Occasionally, you will see a book that breaks lots of rules with the placement and design of running heads and folios. That type of design work should be left to the professionals. It is very difficult to be creative with running heads and folios and still end up with a design that is attractive and not distracting.
Deciding what text to use in a running head is also part of the design process. Common information to use in the running heads is author name on the left-hand pages and book title on the right-hand pages, book title on the left-hand pages and chapter title on the right-hand pages, or part title on the left-hand pages (if the book is divided into parts) and chapter titles on the right-hand pages. Whatever you decide, be sure that it is consistent throughout the book.
#5: Final Word on Margins
There are four margins to consider on a book page: top, bottom, inside, outside. The margins of facing pages (a spread, or a left-hand page and a right-hand page) should mirror each other. Therefore, we don’t talk about left and right margins, we talk about inside and outside margins.
The top and bottom margins should be a minimum of half an inch. For instance, if the top margin is half an inch, then the running head/folio would butt up against that margin and the actual text on the page would start at about one inch from the top of the page. It is best if the bottom margin is between .5 and .75 inches.
The inside margin, also called the gutter, should usually be at least .75 inches. If your book is longer than 304 pages, you might consider using 1 inch as an inside margin. Note that this is 1 inch on each side of the spread (a 1 inch right margin on the left page and a 1 inch left margin on the right page).
The outside margin should be at least .5 inches, and generally should be .75 inches for aesthetics. You can use a measurement between those two points, also.
If you follow these general guidelines, you’ll be well on your way to designing and producing a book that will be readable, clean, and professional.