When you lay out a book, you are faced with many choices. Desktop publishing software programs like Adobe InDesign or Quark XPress are just tools. Good design comes from you.
Even if you use a word processing program like Word to lay out your book, you have the tools to do many things with your book layout. You can change fonts, add graphics and include endless special effects. However, just because you can put 37 fonts into your layout doesn’t mean you should. When it comes to book layout, you want to keep your designs looking professional.
You don’t need to be an artist to recognize good and bad design. It’s all around us. If you need inspiration it’s as close as your own bookshelf, or failing that, your local library. Book design hasn’t changed appreciably in 100 years, mostly because the primary goal of a book is to be readable. As you look through books, you’ll find that page numbers may appear on the top or bottom of the page. The book title, author’s name, and chapter name often appear at the top of the page.
There are two main types of fonts: serif and sans serif. Serif fonts are fonts with little “tails” (called serifs) on the characters like Times New Roman and Bookman. Sans serif fonts don’t have serifs, such as Helvetica and Arial.
Many books use a serif font for the body text. Sometimes the headings will be formatted in a contrasting typestyle, which may or may not be sans serif. When you select fonts for headings, try using a typeface that contrasts with the body text of your document to make the document more visually interesting. Your headings and subheadings break up the page into smaller sections, which makes it easier to read.
Use a minimum number of typestyles and type sizes. You don’t want every line or every word to be a different size or different font. (This look is often referred to as “ransom note” design, as its visually reminiscent of the ransom notes you see in books or movies that are cut out from old magazine text.) The fonts you choose should reflect the subject matter. You might select a more formal traditional font for a book on a serious topic, for example. However, always make readability your primary design goal when selecting fonts.
Good book design is extremely logical. Depending on the complexity of your design, consider how you can use different type styles, sizes, and weights to indicate the parts of your page such as captions, subheads, headings, or pull quotes. Certain areas of a book lend themselves to creative treatments. For example, you often see extra illustrations, drop caps or ruling lines on chapter openings.
Sometimes it’s helpful to use the type size to indicate the hierarchy of importance (although if the hierarchy in your book becomes too complex, this approach can backfire.) In all of your type selections, be consistent so your readers aren’t confused. Remember, your primary job as a designer is to make it as easy as possible for readers to actually read your book.
One final word about fonts: make sure all of your fonts are included when you upload your files to the printer. Missing or problematic fonts are one of the biggest problems you run into at the printer. If you are submitting a PDF, make sure all the fonts you used are embedded in the PDF before you submit it.