Designing the Book, Pt 2

Last time we talked about typography. Today I’m going to talk about setting up a page and what to look for.

Margins… margins, margins, margins. If this is a new term for you, this is the empty space around the block of text on the page. There is a top margin, a bottom margin, and left and right margins. For an ebook, they can all be the same if you want. For print, however, you must take into account the binding of the book.

If you open a book from your bookshelf, you will see the pages are attached to the spine of the book. Open up a book and take a look at it. Do the words get buried in the spine? This portion of the page is known as the gutter. You don’t want your words to end up in the gutter. If readers have to practically break the spine of the book to read the end or beginning of a line, it hurts the book. Make sure that inner margin is large enough to accommodate the binding. In Word and many other programs used for book design, you can mirror your pages, so what is the inner margin of your left page is the same as the inner margin of your right page. This keeps the text in front of the reader, not wallowing in the gutter.

Now that you’ve got your margins set where you want them and the typeface chosen, move back away from the page and look at the print. You want to notice the black against the white. Can you see little white spaces running down your paragraphs between words? If they are so noticeable that they form “rivers,” you may need to play with your spacing. This is easier to do in programs like InDesign than in Word, because you can manipulate the leading and kerning of lines and individual letters. If you only have Word, it is even more important for you to choose a font with good built in letter spacing. Having white rivulets running vertically through your paragraphs can be very distracting for the reader.

Do you see why typesetting takes time? After all, you want your book to look its best. Most authors choose to hire a designer so they don’t need to worry about all of this. Can you blame them? Book design isn’t just slapping your book together and sending it off to the printer, and it never has been. With the ability to self-publish your own print book through Lightning Source, CreateSpace or Lulu, you’ve got to pay attention to these details if you want a readable book.

I know, it’s a lot to think about. As if the writing and editing wasn’t enough to worry about, right? But when you’re holding your book in your hand and it looks great inside and out, is pleasing to the eye as you read, and it tells an engaging story, you’ve got it all. Don’t stop too soon.

Designing the Book, part 1

You’ve put in months, maybe years into writing your book. You’ve edited it, proofed it, and you’re almost ready to unleash it on the world, to pacify all the clamoring readers. But have you thought about how to design your book? That’s right: design.

Take a look at a book from your shelf. At first glance, it is merely a bunch of pages connected together filled with text. But somewhere along the life of that book, someone designed how it would look.


Take a look at several books. If you look closely, you’ll see that not every one uses the same font. Are some easier on your eyes than others when you read them? Have you ever had the experience of picking up a book to read and then putting it down because it was hard for your eyes to follow the line of type? Choosing the right font is extremely important.

Most books use a serif font for the main text. Serif fonts are like this one you’re reading now. They have lines crossing the ends of the letters. The lines at the bottom of each letter help the eye to follow the line of text. Times New Roman, Garamond, and others are common serif fonts found on most word processing programs like Microsoft Word.

Sans serif or gothic fonts do not have these lines at the ends of the letters. Arial, Helvetica, and similar fonts definitely have their uses, but they aren’t used very often for the text in a book because they aren’t as easy to read in paragraphs as serif fonts.

Once you’ve chosen a font for the bulk of your book, you can branch out for chapter headings, title page, and so on. Make sure the fonts you choose look nice together. Not every combination works. Again, take a look at the books on your shelf. Study the different fonts they used together. When you’re just starting to design your own books, you can use these as a guide. While you may not know the names of the fonts used (not every book lists the names of the fonts anymore), you can find similar styles.

That being said, most fonts are not free. Sure, some come with your word processing program. But to get many fonts, like Minion Pro and others that are commonly used, you must go to a font site and purchase the font. Some are relatively inexpensive; others are quite costly.

Front Matter & Back Matter

Organize your front and back matter in the proper order. Do you have an introduction? A dedication? Acknowledgements? Table of contents? Each of these have their place. In the back, you may want to include a page about you, or add the first chapter of your next book.

Once you’ve got your book organized properly, you’ll need to set proper margins, page size, and so on, but those topics deserve a post of their own. So, study the books you have. Make sure your book is easy on the eyes, and we’ll talk more next time.