Many self publishers take on the task of laying out their books. If you don’t have a background in graphic design, you should learn a few conventions before you get started. Books are generally divided up into three main parts:
1. Front matter or preliminaries, which include the title page, copyright information, dedication, table of contents, foreword, preface, and acknowledgements. The items that are included may depend on the book, but in general, this area is where these items appear. Often front matter pages are numbered separately with lower-case roman numerals, such as i, ii, iii.
2. The text of the book. All of your chapters are included in the main body of the book and generally the page numbering starts at 1.
3. Back matter. This section includes notes, appendices, glossary, bibliography, and the index. Again, not every book has all these items.
Now you should consider the pages themselves. First, find a book with a pleasing layout. Open it up and lay it flat on the table. You’ll notice that even-numbered pages are on the left-hand (or verso) side and odd-numbered pages are on the right-hand (recto) side.
You’ll also notice that books generally have text at the top and/or bottom of the page. This area often includes the book title, chapter title, and page number. These repeating elements are called headers, running heads, or footers (when they are at the bottom). In your layout software program, you need to set up these repeating elements, so they appear on every page automatically. I’ve written a couple of articles on laying out books in specific software programs that have more information.
Another convention you often find in book layout is that chapter openings always start on a new page, and generally they do not have a running head (even if one appears on other pages). Non-fiction books also may include subheadings or subheads to break up the text. Depending on the complexity of the material, you may want to include more than one level of subheading.
When it comes to book publishing, you don’t want to get overly creative in your design unless you have an extremely good reason. Most books use only one or two fonts; a book is not the place to go nuts with every font on your system. Readability is paramount, so stick to tried and true font pairings.
In fact, there’s no law that says you can’t emulate the design of a book you like. Again, go to your bookshelf and find a book with a pleasing layout. Then use one of the font sites on the Internet like www.fonts.com or www.identifont.com to figure out what fonts the designer used. Get a ruler and measure the margins. Now set up a layout in your software program with some sample “dummy” text, so you can experiment with font sizes and line spacing (or leading). Your goal is to get your page of dummy text to look as close to your model book layout as possible.
Armed with a little information and a bit of common-sense, it’s easy to create an interior layout for a book that readers will enjoy perusing.