Your interior book design is critical when it comes to making your book presentable and, even more important, readable. Some of the most common mistakes authors and publishers make when it comes to interior book design include omitting hyphens, incorrect margin size, imperfect justification, and allowing widow/orphan lines of text. Designing a book's interior might not seem like as much fun as choosing a book cover design, but it can be if you approach it in steps and follow a few practical guidelines.
Determine the Size of Your Book First
Consider the length and genre of the book before choosing an under- or over-sized trim size. A particularly long nonfiction work about the Napoleonic Wars might be too chunky to be a comfortable read if it's printed in a 6" x 9" format. Similarly, a short but lively romance novel might be best read in a smaller format. You must first decide on the trim size of the book so you can see how your chapter headings, font, pagination, and everything else fits in with the book's overall design.
Don't Get Too Cute with Your Font
Sometimes it's best to go with the tried-and-true and choosing your font is one of those times. Unless you're working on an illustrated or artsy book, such as one of photographs, study the fonts in books you've read and enjoyed yourself. There is a reason why Times New Roman, Garamond, and Bookman fonts are so popular.
Use a Typical Font Size
Again, unless you're working on a special edition or writing highly experimental fiction, use a standard 11- to 12-point font size. It might be tempting to use a large typeface, especially if you have trouble with small print yourself. However, you should reserve large fonts for "large print" books printed specifically for those with vision problems.
Get Creative with Chapter Pages
The start of a new chapter is one place where you can play with font. It is perfectly acceptable to choose a unique typeface for the number and/or title of a new chapter. In fact, using a drop cap for the first letter of chapter text provides a visual "new start" and can improve readability. If you choose to write chapter titles, printing them in larger, bold, or unique fonts sets them apart and adds to the reading experience.
Mind Your Headers and Footers
Be careful not to put too much text in your headers and footers. You must include page numbers, so consider the length of the book title and chapter titles before deciding if and where to place them. Refer to books you have read in the past to see what works well and what you like.
Mind Your Margins
Make the bound, or gutter, side of the margins wider than the margins on the outer side of the page. This leaves enough room for the book to be bound properly, and makes it easier for the reader to bend pages and read all the text comfortably. It can be difficult to read at a steady pace if a book's inside margins are too close to the binding.
Pay Attention to "Special" Pages
These include the pages containing dedications, acknowledgements, indices, copyright, foreword, afterword, and others. The copyright page is extremely important as it will contain legal protections that reserve author rights and provide a shield against potential lawsuits. Make sure you place special pages in the proper place as well. Forewords, introductions, and dedications belong in the front of your book. The afterword, acknowledgements, book club discussion questions, and bibliographies belong in the back.
Whatever you select for each element of your interior text design should remain consistent throughout the book. If you start with a 12-point typeface, with the exception of chapter pages or perhaps the dedication page, stay with a 12-point typeface through the end of the book. And whether you begin writing your masterpiece adhering to the Chicago Manual of Style or the Associated Press Stylebook, be consistent with that as well. Lack of consistency is one of the hallmarks of a poorly written and/or shoddily produced book.
Ask for Help
If you're completely flummoxed or too overwhelmed to know where to begin, don't be shy about seeking help from a guidebook or designer. You've done the hard work of writing the book; maybe interior text design is just not your thing and that's okay.
Be creative and brave, albeit not too brave, with the interior text design of your soon-to-be-published book. For expanded guidance on typeface, lead space, pagination, copyrights, front and back matter, and much more, download the free Pocket Guide to Publishing today!