Book Design Part II: Interior Layout

Everyone knows a graphic designer. “My daughter just graduated–the top of her class!” “My cousin does CD covers in LA!” “My neighbor is such a good artist!” But book design requires complex training. Many self-publishing authors and new designers attempt it themselves without even studying the samples on their own bookcases, let alone hiring the pros. Examine any well-designed book from a major publisher and count the publishing traditions represented there.

Typesetting was part of my training at an academic journal. Even through the font, font size, leading, and footnote formatting were predetermined, even through it was usually one dense, unillustrated page of text after another, there were still dozens of details to finesse. The pesky footnote challenges from those early Compugraphic days are behind us, but most of the same details still apply in creating that beautifully designed book you will be proud to sign.

To give you some idea of the complexity, here are a few interior details your readers subconsciously expect, any one of which, if ignored, will scream “self-published!” You won’t even appear to be an avid reader

  • Pagination places odd numbers on the right, evens on the left. (If a designer reverses this, run!)
  • Chapters begin on odd pages.
  • Any chapter ending on an even page is followed by a blank page before the next chapter begins on the following odd.
  • Front matter pagination is usually done in roman numbers, with the text in Arabic. With text, the numbers restart.
  • It’s possible to number all pages continuously, all in Arabic.
  • Paragraphs are indented–block paragraphs are used for e-mail and online articles–and there’s no extra spacing between paragraphs.
  • Choose a classic serif font for the text. (Some you would recognize include Georgia, Palatino, Garamond, Bookman Old Style, Book Antiqua.) This is no place to be creative; we should notice your words, not your font.
  • Headings can be either serif or san serif.
  • Font size is usually 12 point, give or take a point, though it depends on the font. (There are 72 points to an inch.)
  • Leading, the vertical space allowed for each line, should be sufficient for comfortable reading without appearing to be double-spaced.
  • Hyphenate sparingly. If full justification is desired, lines that appear too crowded or two spacey need a word divided at the line break. If hyphenation is needed often, then the combined choices of font size and line length are probably not appropriate; adjusting one or both will be more effective.
  • Full justification was once required. Now left justification with a ragged right margin is common in magazines and for narrow columns.
  • Leave no gaps between words. The whole book should carry the illusion that every letter is identically spaced, even though all lines magically end at the same place.
  • If you squint and look at the text without reading it, you should never see a river of space running down the page.
  • Pull quotes, sidebars, and other features are well integrated.
  • Photos and other graphics are placed effectively and attractively near the text they are illustrating.
  • Chapter and author headings are consistent.
  • Kerning adjusts spacing between letters, especially in titles and headings. Consider combinations such as TODAY, where the first three letters each form equal boxes of space, but the AY must overlap to give the illusion of equal spacing.

Here’s an overview of interior design from some book pros at Design Corps who are a joy to work with:

Design Corps on Designing Book Interiors


And here’s more I’ve said about book design:

Book Design Part I: Judging Your Book by Its Cover

Is Self-Publishing Self Punishment?

The Finishing Details, or How to Look Like a Publishing Pro


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2012. All rights reserved.

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