Design better books – practical tips
Design better books and practical tips designers can use.
Design better books is a section that includes some of the most common ways to improve the look, structure, and appeal of a book. They are in no particular order. For example; start by choosing typefaces with a range of weights. Create a hierarchy in headlines and sub-headlines.
Note: A number of charts and images are left out of the blog post version of this section. Want the full experience? Buy my book. Just $29.95.
Create Paragraph Styles and Character Styles
When designing Paragraph Styles, create and name the style, and then apply the style’s attributes. A helpful hint is to keep some styles in a group folder, like “Front Matter” for example.
When designing headlines, it is helpful to use placeholder text below headers to see how they look. Create a hierarchy of headline styles. H1, h2, h3, and h4 may be alternative names.
Uppercase and lowercase letters are easier to read. When using all uppercase letters, be deliberate but do not overdo the use of uppercase.
A novel uses limited text and headline styles. When designing a cookbook or a stylistic coffee table book, more styles may be included. See Paragraph styles in Chapter 5 Interior Pages.
Character Styles are handy when Paragraph Styles are too much. The Character Style has a more limited role. Words that are to be bold or italics throughout can be set up. See Character Styles in Chapter 5 Interior Pages.
Body text with emphasis
If using a bold font for emphasis in regular text, make it two font steps bolder than the text font. Type a paragraph to view the weights. The contrast depends on the typeface as well as the font weight.
Two typeface families
One typeface is for headlines and another for body text, but try to use no more than two typeface families to design better books. If necessary, a third typeface might be used, like a script or specialty font for use in cookbooks or chapter headlines.
Typefaces need to pair correctly. Superfamilies are great for this purpose. We use Mr Eaves and another typeface, Mrs Eaves, for text. One way to pair fonts is to look for the same x-height or same shape characters in both serif and sans serif typefaces.
Make type size reader friendly
The readable text size should be between 10- and 12-point, but typefaces can vary in size because of the shape of the letters. They vary too, in their weight, or the thickness of the characters. The height of the lowercase letters can be different among typefaces.
A 12-point font can be too large in some typefaces, especially those with a larger x-height. That is the height of lowercase letters without ascenders. The only constant is the height of the uppercase letters.
Set some sample text blocks of the body copy to see what the typeface looks like in various sizes. It must be readable. The samples should also test line spacing (leading) and line length.
Use ample leading or “line spacing”
Leading is the space between lines. Do not use “Auto” which adds 20 percent between lines; 11-point type would have 13.2-point autoleading. Leading of 30 percent should be the minimum for book text, although the InDesign default is 20 percent. Leading of 30 percent for 11-point type is 14.3-point leading. I use 11/16 for my book. Use 120 to 145 percent of the font size.
Using the reader-friendly examples on the previous page, the same text has leading set to Auto. It looks too cramped and cannot breathe. The previous “Correct” examples with 11-pt with 16-pt leading is easier to read.
Make the length of the line comfortable to read
There are varying rules as to the length of a line. The range is typically about 65 – 70 characters per line, including spaces. Adjust the line length, margins, and text type size of 10- to 12-point for book design to this standard.
Typeface size and use
Evaluate the size and structure of the characters in a typeface before committing to it. Make sure the type size can be easy to read in headlines or body text.
Experiment with type before committing to a style. One example might show 100 + added tracking. A bit of tracking in the headline widens the letterspacing and gives the headline a different look. It is not advisable for body text.
Another experiment is to typeset with no tracking; set it to – 50. Letters that touch should be avoided. The text is too tight to be easily read.
Do not skimp on white space!
Body text that runs the width of a page is difficult for the eyes to follow across the page. Try using two or three columns instead. Design text to be functional and easy to read, but it also needs to be attractive.
- Resist the temptation to make the text type larger than 11.5- to 12-point.
- Do not kill white space by making the page margins narrower.
- Adding two returns between paragraphs adds too much space.
Consistent text paragraph styles
Establish a Paragraph Style and use it throughout the book. You can use one of the following two styles. Either:
- Indent the first line of each paragraph, or
- Use one return between paragraphs. Type the enter key once. It is better to use some space, but less than a full return.
Use one space between sentences, not two
The rule in typing class is to put two spaces between sentences. Typesetting is different. Use one space between sentences in a paragraph. This is yet another important distinction into what goes into the design of better books.
Use typographer’s quotes
Do not use straight quotes or prime marks in place of professional “Typographer’s Quotes.” They are also called “curly quotes”, and can be generated automatically. Go to Edit > Preferences > Type. Check the “Typographer’s Quotes” box because the default is the straight mark.
When typesetting inches or feet, use straight marks. Quote marks can be selected by going to Glyphs > Punctuation.
“ ” quote use “Typographer’s Quotes” in body text
“ inches typeset the prime mark for 12” (inches)
‘ feet use the prime mark for 1’ (foot)
To select a glyph, go to Glyphs in the Typography panel or type Alt + Shift + F11, then select Punctuation.
An often-made mistake is to use a typeface that comes preloaded on the computer or just used too often. If you are working in Adobe InDesign on a subscription basis, you likely have access to Adobe Fonts. Use them!
Script and handwriting capitalization
Capitalizing the primary words in script and handwriting typefaces is most often easier to read. All uppercase letters usually does not work and are hard to read in all uppercase.
Widows and Orphans
Be on the lookout for widows and orphans is you are serious about how to design better books.
A short line or single word at the end of a paragraph. Avoid by editing text or modifying spacing to lengthen or lose the line. A single word in the widow example on the example’s left page is permissible but avoid if possible.
A word, or part of a word appearing alone at the end of a paragraph which is at the top of a page or column. Orphans should be avoided by rewording or changing the spacing to lengthen or shorten a line.
We expect words to be hyphenated. However, when two or more subsequent lines of type are hyphenated, we see “ladders” or hyphens at the end of two or more text lines. It is a an unwanted distraction for the reader in addition to being a typographical eyesore. There is a better way to eliminate too many hyphens. When hyphenated words occur, adjust the type to correct ladders, as seen in the four lines indicated in this paragraph.
Uncheck the hyphenation box for the body text style or adjust Paragraph Style Options > Hyphenation. The body text in this book is “Left Justify.” If it were set to “Left,” the right side of the text would be ragged, meaning each line of type would not go all the way to the right edge. It is
easier to work with Left versus Left Justify, but justified text is a great look for body text, particularly in novels.
To turn off hyphenation, go to Paragraph Styles. Either change the “body text” style that you created or go to [Basic Paragraph] and change all styles based on the [Basic Paragraph] style. Double-click your named style, and the Paragraph Style Options window opens. Select Hyphenation on the left side and uncheck the box for hyphenation.
When there is need of a hyphen, type it in. For a discretionary hyphen that is only visible when needed, right click the mouse, go to Insert Special Character, then go to Hyphens and Dashes. Select Discretionary Hyphen. The short cut is Ctrl + Shift + – for a discretionary hyphen.
When setting a hanging quote or hanging punctuation, only the left double quotation mark is moved to the left of a standalone text block. A hanging quote mark does not appear in the body text.
En and em dashes instead of hyphens
HYPHEN “ – ”
A hyphen is used in the normal course of typing and hyphenates words. It resides on the same key with the underscore “ _ ”. Avoid two letter hyphenations in the last word at the end of a paragraph, like “ -ed ” or “ -ly .”
EN DASH “ – ”
When there is a duration or connection as used in numbers, time, or months, an en dash is used instead of a hyphen. It is best to use the word “to”, but an en dash looks better in charts, for example.
Add one thin space before and after the en dash. In some typefaces the en dash may touch the adjacent characters. This should be avoided. Kerning is another option. Type an en dash: Alt + –
While it is easy to use an ellipsis that is a three-dot character in a typeface, it looks better when it is built. Adding a space between three periods looks too spaced out. It is not only the spacing that should be corrected, but when adding a space between three periods, the line could break and a period or two could flow to the next line.
There can be a difference too in how to a set an ellipsis as it appears in different typefaces. This is yet another reason why classic, professional typefaces are the best choice for body text. Depending on the source, there is not just one way to fix the spacing in ellipses. But, this all goes into how to design better books.
Create your own ellipses
Use periods. Use a “Nonbreaking Space” for the spaces between periods or thin spaces.
Words over the same words
I avoid starting paragraphs with the same words over same words. Stay clear of words on words in paragraphs and in headlines with the first words in the paragraph. I find that when writing for SEO on websites, that this is sometimes unavoidable. But, do correct it for your book design.
Add tracking to small type
Smaller type sizes look better with a bit of tracking (kerning) added. If a type size is smaller than the body text, it may benefit from adding tracking; anywhere from + 5 to + 50.
Captions are often small and should have added kerning or tracking. The amount of kerning depends on the typeface. Avoid using horizontal or even vertical scale as a substitution for kerning. It only skews and distorts the well-formed characters of high-quality fonts.
Star Print Brokers does not use “safe” margins as we only print high-quality books. But that is not universally true. Some POD or print-on-demand services require a safe margin of up to a quarter inch. POD services usually need a safe margin as they are outputting single pages from an output device. The pages can be jostled around which can sometimes happen with a desktop printer.
To breathe or bleed
It does not look good to set text close to the trim. We want to design better books, Try printing out and trimming a page to evaluate. Either give text and images room to breathe or let then bleed. Check with your printer as you want to avoid unnecessary and time consuming file changes.
To bleed means to print an image over the edge of a sheet or page and then trim after printing. A bleed is usually 3 mm, or 1/8 inch (0.125 inch).
Cost to bleed
At Star Print Brokers, there is no difference in cost when printing in Asia, if clients want to print with bleeds. It is best to have a final quote from the chosen printer before beginning the design. Printers in the USA frequently charge more for a book that has bleeds or even heavy ink coverage. The quality is lower in the USA and the cost is higher than with our select printers. We print with a handful providers that we trust and work with … for nearly two decades. They do not have
factories in China. We never print in China.
How to bleed an image
A bleed is most often 1/8 inch; that is 3 mm or 0.125 inch. To set up bleeds for any document in InDesign, go to File > Document Set-up . . . and click Bleed and Slug. Then enter the bleed. See Chapter 5, Interior Pages.
If you need to switch between millimeters and inches, go to Edit > Preferences > Units & Increments . . . and under Ruler Units type in the measurement under both Horizontal and Vertical. See Chapter 6, Cover Design & Binding.
Bolder, bigger, or not
Quite often there is a tendency to add more emphasis to some part of the page design. We run into even more problems when the page is revising several times and becomes too cluttered, too bold, too overbearing. The design soon looks like almost everything is made bigger, bolder, more color is added, and so on. It is gaudy.
The solution to design better books is to reevaluate all the elements on the page. It is better design to have less, so bigger, bolder text or headlines serve a purpose. Calm down the page by using body text in Regular. Consider changing any Bold type to Regular, or downsizing some type, so other type can stand out.
Copyright page text should be smaller than the body text of the book. There is no functional purpose in making the copyright text bold.
Avoid the temptation to make a headline or an element bolder or bigger. Instead, leave the headline alone and lighten up or reduce the size of other typeset elements. Simplify!
Alignment in book design should be consistent. Establish the body text and headline alignment by creating Paragraph Styles. Clean up ragged paragraphs manually or with hyphenation.
Justification for body text
The alignment to use for most body text is Left or Left Justify. The difference between them is the last line of the paragraph. Use Left Justify for the entire paragraph, or the last line will be awkwardly spread across the text block.
Justification for headlines
Utilitarian book headlines versus headlines or subheads for a special use, are most commonly Left or Center. Avoid Full Justify!
Apostrophes, right- and left-facing
When using an apostrophe correctly, it replaces something that is missing. A left-facing apostrophe is replacing the 19 in 1970s . Additionally, there is no apostrophe between “70” and “s” because ’70s is not possessive in this use.
Read more of my book, Book Design: Simple & Professional, Start at the four parts of the book on the blog page.