Now that you have decided to self-publish, it’s time to consider the design elements of your book.
Most writers know they need to create a great book cover design, but good design principles for the interior pages are often neglected. This results in a poor reading experience for the reader. That means you might be losing readers and getting bad reviews for your book simply because you failed to design it properly.
If you don’t want to get bad reviews, you need to make sure your book layout is professionally designed.
To do that, take the time to understand the rules of book layout and design – both for the cover and the interior pages of your book.
A book layout is pretty much like a floor plan of a house.
When you incorporate good design principles into a floor plan of a house, it results in a well-built house.
In the same way, when you plan the layout of your book based on good design principles, you will achieve a great looking book with no hassles.
The layout and design of your book will depend entirely on the type of book you are writing or creating. Is it an eBook or a paperback? Does it have images and illustrations or is it text-based only? And who is your target audience?
For example, if you are a young children’s book author, then the children’s book layout will include images and pictures. It will be colorful and will have easy-for-kids-to-read kind of typeface, while not having too much text.
This means the layout of your pages may not be the same across all your pages as each page will be different from the other.
But if you are writing a suspense novel targeted to adults, then your book will be text-based. In this case, you must plan your text so that your pages look appealing and are well designed.
Whatever kind of book you plan to self-publish, you need to know six key rules of book layout and design.
Without these, your book will look shabby, unorganized and put your reader off even before they flip to the second page.
So to start planning your book layout and design, you must first consider these important aspects.
Here are the six most vital rules for page layout and design you should never forget.
The margins of a book are the blank area that surrounds a body of text on every page.
Every page has a top margin, a bottom margin, an inner margin and an outer margin.
One of the most important elements of book layout and design is the use of margins. If you know how to use your margins then you are creating a visually appealing page.
If you look at the anatomy of a book you will notice that pages are bound together or stitched up. When you open the book, the text looks like it is in the center of the page.
This is because the margin on the inside of a page, also known as the gutter, is always larger than the other margins —the top, bottom and the other side (depending on the page).
The size of the top and the bottom margins will also depend on where you place your running heads and feet — information such as author name, book title and page numbers.
Running heads are little lines of text in the top margin which provides important information to the reader like the book name, chapter name and page number.
Sometimes the page number is in the bottom margin making it a “foot”.
Ideally, the bottom margin is quite large, and it provides a balance of white space after a block of text on a page.
Margins allow an ample amount of white space which is pleasing to the eye and allows the reader’s eye to move through the text without any strain.
Sometimes you need to include a bleed area which extends beyond the page margin or the printing area.
The bleed area is that part of the page which goes beyond the trim line – so that when the page is printed, this area will be trimmed off.
If your book has an image, photograph or other elements that go all the way to the edge of the page, then a bleed area needs to be added.
This ensures that when a page is printed and trimmed there are no unprinted edges or white space.
This article gives you margins recommendations based on your book size.
When you are self-publishing, you need to keep your printing costs under control or you’ll never be able to earn a profit.
Since printing costs are mostly based on the number of pages, some authors try to reduce the number of pages to be printed by reducing margins and line spacing.
This creates a tight layout and makes your book look congested, leading to a very unpleasant reading experience.
A perfectly balanced page layout will include a fair amount of white space which balances the text and images present in the book.
As mentioned before, adequate margins are your first starting point for creating that much-needed white space.
Here is a great article on white space and the role it plays in effective design which will help you understand the concept better.
Line spacing- or leading as it’s called by typographers – is another important element. It balances white space and text by keeping each line of text adequately separate from the line of text above or below.
Starting a paragraph deep within the sink area is another way to give your reader a pause before they start reading the next block of text.
The sink is when you start your text almost in the middle of the page with a lot of white space above it.
It is also a clever way to add white space in a book while signaling a change in your storyline.
This area of white space is a great opportunity to add a little motif or graphical element.
You can add a bit of interest in this area by using a different font in the first line of the paragraph or starting the paragraph with a drop cap.
A drop cap is when you use a large capital letter at the beginning of a text block or paragraph and it has the depth of two or more lines of normal text.
3. Line Width
Another aspect of text placement to consider is line width.
You have probably noticed that some books have text blocks in two columns or more rather than having a single block of text.
The width of each text block (line width) should enable the reader to keep track of the words they read.
This becomes difficult when line widths are too long.
In this case, it’s a good idea to place text in two or more columns. The ideal characters per line are 65, but this greatly depends on your writing, the typeface used and the size of your book.
There are hundreds of fonts to choose from. But the best kind of font is readable and pleasing to the eye.
The kind of typography that you choose depends on the type of book you are planning to create.
Most books use serif fonts like Garamond or Baskerville as the smooth curves of the fonts makes it easier for the eye to follow.
But many other genres such as cookbooks and art books use sans-serif fonts like Verdana or Arial for a modern look.
You don’t have to stick to one type of font in your entire book.
This means that one typeface must consistently feature throughout all chapters in the book. But you may use different fonts for titles, heads, feet, break-out boxes and sidebars.
Break out boxes and sidebars are generally included in non-fiction books and include extra text and helps make the main text more readable by breaking up a large block of text into various sections.
A sidebar is a small article which appears next to the main text, usually to the side of the page.
A break out box contains text relating to the main topic and could be a list, quotations or a factoid. This boxed information is generally short.
When readers scan a page they may see the boxed information first, so it’s important to include text which complements the main topic on that page.
Text in the sidebar and break out box should appear in a different font and font size to distinguish it from the main text.
Sidebars and break out boxes must also have a headline to indicate what the text is about.
There are no other hard and fast rules for using typeface than trying to find a balance between the different fonts that you choose to use in your book layout.
This is done by identifying the purpose for a particular typeface in your book. Once you have identified the purpose of the main typeface, you will realize that you may need another one or two typefaces to signal a change in context or meaning in the layout.
Don’t go overboard and pick a maximum of two typeface families for best results.
A typeface family has a variety of weights and italics – so it will include bold, semi-bold, italics and small caps.
Font size also makes a difference. The ideal font size is between 10 and 12 points. This size is good for reading and gives your book page layout a clean, well-balanced and finished look.
Use larger font sizes for headings and if you are using all block letters than go for a sans serif font.
All photographs, images, and illustrations in your book must make your book look great.
This means that the layout of the book must incorporate them properly so that the pages look beautiful and well designed.
Again, achieving a balance between all the elements in the book plays a key role.
So, the visuals in your book must balance typography, text placements and other elements on the page.
It’s a great idea to give the visuals in your book some space to breathe on a page — this means isolating one visual at a time with text to offset it.
For example, if you are creating a cookbook you may want to place the photo on the left page while having the recipe on the right page.
Sometimes you may have an image and text on the same page like in a children’s book.
But it’s important to remember not to crowd all your images together. Let each image be part of the story that you are telling in your book.
6. Widows and Orphans
Another thing to look out for is single lines that get isolated from a paragraph. If a single line of text moves on to the next page or next column of text at the top, it is called a widow. A single line of text or a few words is an orphan when it isolated at the bottom of the page or a paragraph.
First, this makes your page layout look shabby. Secondly, it impedes the reader’s reading experience as it causes them to pause mid-paragraph.
To avoid this, you may have to rework your text layout which can be tricky.
This can be done by reworking your text or adjusting tracking and kerning options in your layout software.
Tracking adjusts the space between a group of letters, words or whole paragraphs.
Kerning will adjust space between two characters.
Both tracking and kerning are font-dependent. So the adjustments you make for one kind of font is not the same for another.
Check out this post on how to deal with widows and orphans.
It’s Time to Design Your Book Layout
Book layout involves many aspects of design and getting it right depends on consistency.
This is achieved with planning and making decisions about your book at the beginning of the layout and design process.
Because what you choose to do with one page needs to be consistently done to other pages too.
So, don’t ignore these six important rules of book layout and design and soon you’ll have a great story and a good looking book too.