Stop the presses! Before you print your book, make sure you’re not committing a major packaging faux pas that will diminish retail buyers’ interest. We’ve all heard the statistic: 2,000 books are published every day. That means the competition for shelf space is fierce, so as an author, you have to make sure the physical presentation of your book is flawless or you don’t stand much of a chance.
We receive so many submissions that, despite having great content, have one part of the packaging off, which makes it hard for us, or any distributor, to effectively sell the title. Interior layout is one facet of packaging that can be easily overlooked but remains essential to the professional presentation and readability of a book. I spoke with managing designer Sheila Parr, who’s won numerous awards for her book designs, about common layout errors, and she offered some simple advice to anyone looking to produce a book on their own.
Font and Typography
For fiction and general nonfiction, serif fonts are easier to read on the printed page than sans serif fonts. Size depends on font, but in general text should be somewhere between 10 and 12 points. Stay away from bold type, underlined type, all-caps type, and exclamation points to emphasize a point—this can come across as unprofessional.
SP: When picking a serif font, don’t use Times New Roman. Times has become a sort of default font,and it can have an unfinished look about it when printed. For a more polished, professional look, try something like Caslon or Garamond. To emphasize a point, italics can be a better solution than bold or underlined text.
In general, margins are about .75 inches on the bottom and sides, and about 1 inch at the top of the page, though the .75-inch margin can be as small as .5 or as large as 1 inch. For longer books, the margin along the spine, known as the gutter, may be larger. Leading, the space between lines of text, should be several points larger than the text itself.
SP: Margins and leading are usually determined by factors like genre and page count. For example, a dense business book may have a looser layout with wide margins and leading to help the reader better absorb the material, while a novel typically has a tighter layout that keeps the reader moving and engaged.
Words per Page
Too much or to little text per page makes a book difficult to read. Like margins, the number of words per page varies based on genre and page count, but there are usually about 35 lines of text.
SP: In general there should be about 350 to 440 words per composed page. Nonfiction and books with illustrations and graphs are on the lower end of that scale, and novels are on the higher end.
Chapter Headings and Running Heads
Chapter headings and page breaks should match the book’s genre and style and should be appropriate for the target audience. A business book, for example, should have fairly simple chapter headings as opposed to the headings of a fantasy novel, which may have more elaborate fonts or design. When there are other headings within the chapter, create a hierarchy by using varying sizes.
Running heads are the text at the top of every numbered page of a book. They often consist of a combination of the author’s name, the chapter title, or the book title. The important issue here is to be consistent—if you decide to use author name on the left and title on the right, stick with it throughout.
Graphs and Illustrations
If you are using graphs or illustrations, make sure they are high resolution and easy to understand. Try to keep visually presented information simple and relevant to the text around it.
SP: There are whole college courses based on information design—illustrating complex information in a way that is easily understood. My advice: hire an experienced professional to design your charts, graphs, and illustrations.
All of the information that comes before the first chapter of your book (e.g., your foreword, preface, or introduction) is called front matter. There are varying styles of organization depending on the genre or publisher. This content is frequently paginated with lower-case Roman numerals, while the pages that begin your first chapter—the content of your book—are where the Arabic numerals begin, though introductions frequently get page 1, not Roman numerals.
Thanks to Sheila Parr and our production and design teams for all of the great information.
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In case you missed it, the Internet went mad last week when IKEA, the design-savvy Swedish furniture manufacturer, switched the font used in its catalog from Futura, which it had used for over fifty years, to Verdana, a font that was created by Microsoft for reading on a computer screen—and which many contend does not work at all in print. Twitter and the blogosphere exploded with viral disgust over the decision, and design consultant Marius Ursache started a petition asking IKEA to drop the font, eventually gathering over 3,000 signatures. Today, Twitter is still buzzing with re-Tweets about the petition posted by font nerds and remarks like this one from @dvdwlsh: "This honestly HURT me to read. IKEA DESTROYS element of its identity." (There is, however, a backlash to the backlash; @idrathernot says: "futura is a pretentious snob! long live verdana, the workers' font! #ikea #iheartverdana".)
IKEA has responded that it believes the backlash comes mainly from typography experts, and that the general public doesn't really notice this type of thing. But that discounts how widespread the displeasure about the Verdana switch is, and the subconscious effect that design details can have even on typography illiterates. We've mentioned that this type of thing is important before. Here's a great case in point. Your book may never achieve the distribution levels of the IKEA catalog (it is often advertised as the most widely printed book in the world), but do pay attention to font—and never, ever, ever use Papyrus.
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In a previous post on Fonts That Make You Look Lame, we included Comic Sans in a list of five typefaces that are either played-out or just downright atrocious. And who doesn't hate the goofy, amateurish font? The Wall Street Journal recently ran a story about the man behind Comic Sans, Vincent Connare, and the couple who founded Ban Comic Sans, an organization with "global ambitions" to eliminate this ominpresent affront to aesthetic sensibility. Fortunately, Connare seems to have a sense of humor about his creation—according to the article, he and the founders of Ban Comic Sans are considering doing a picture book together. Good idea! I'd buy it.
However, Comic Sans is merely the most visible in a huge group of stale typefaces. Papyrus is a personal pet peeve and also has its own mockery cult. For an interesting debate on Comic Sans, other lame fonts (Souvenir is a "crime against humanity"), and whether anyone even cares about fonts, be sure to read some of the WSJ article's comments.
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Not all fonts are created equal, and not all fonts are appropriate for all uses. The following three fonts are perfect for text-dense interior pages. These typefaces have great legibility and also include multiple weights and styles and extended ligature sets, which allow you to use them in many different ways and situations.
2. Adobe Caslon Pro
3. Minion Pro