Table of Contents
When self-publishing a book, most authors understand that a strong cover is essential. It catches a potential reader’s attention and tells them what to expect from your work in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
Unfortunately, the inside pages (also known as the book’s “interior”) are not always given the same amount of consideration or attention.
The typesetting (font, type size, line spacing, and hyphens that break the lines) and layout of a good book interior are both beautiful and well-balanced (margins, columns, and illustrations, and art).
The Key Elements of Book Layout
Content-led design is extremely vital for image-heavy books like recipes, photography books, and catalogs, to name a few examples. Authors of text-only publications, on the other hand, should be aware of subject matter and genre traditions, such as typefaces used and chapter divisions.
If you’re unsure about what your material needs, look through publications that are similar to yours and note which design aspects appear.
Let’s check that you understand the three most important aspects of book layout: alignment, margins, and trim size.
Any book with a significant amount of text (which is to say, the huge number of them) relies on proper alignment. “OK, I’ll align up the text,” you could think. “How difficult can it be?” Well, it’s a lot more difficult than you might expect. Both spacing and grids must be properly adjusted to the needs of your book for professional alignment.
Your lines must have constant vertical spacing and be spaced such that they are all roughly the same length (or “justified”) in order to be properly aligned. However, don’t rush into automatic word processor justification, or you’ll come up with some truly awkward results.
You’ll also need a consistent grid, which means the text should be aligned horizontally from page to page. If you’re publishing physical copies of your book, this can be hard because print providers can skew the grid even if you send them a perfectly aligned version.
So, before mass-printing your book, order a test copy if you’re using print-on-demand.
You’ll need to figure out how wide your margins should be in order to maintain a consistent line length. (Remember that “margins” don’t simply refer to the space on either side of your text; they also refer to the space above and below it!)
Fortunately, there is a simple answer to this question. Your outer (or “rag”), top, and bottom margins should all be about 0.5 inches, while your inner (or “gutter”) margins should be 0.75-0.9 inches for a standard-sized book. This guarantees that your text isn’t suffocated when the pages are bound, and that all of your margins are around half an inch wide — just enough for someone to hold a physical copy of your book open.
Your gutter margins can (and should) be thinner when formatting your content for e-book distribution! The industry standard for e-books appears to be 0.5 inches all the way around.
Although most e-book formatting programs will calibrate this for you, it’s still a good idea to double-check before uploading.
The author and title of the book, as well as the page number (more on that later!), are normally found in the top margin. The bottom margin creates a pillow of white space to let your text block stand out. The gutter prevents the text from slipping into the glue area.
3. Trim Size
We’ll squeeze in one more technical detail — this only applies to those of you who print books; if you’re going digital, you can skip ahead! Basically, you want to make sure that the trim size of your book fits the length of the book.
Although there are genre-specific trim sizes the most common trim sizes are:
- Digest (5.5” x 8.5”)
- US trade (6” x 9”)
What criteria do you use to make your decision? Consider the number of words in your book; the goal is to create a book that is neither too thick nor too thin.
So, if your book is over 125,000 words, go with the trade format, and if it’s under 100,000 words, go with the digest format.
If your book is between 100,000 and 125,000 words, the choice is entirely yours! The only difference between the two trim sizes is whether you prefer hardcover or paperback copies. (For hardcovers, a larger trim is preferable.)
Interior Design Details
Let’s focus on a few specific aspects that can help your book flow. Though some design features may appear to be more distracting than engaging, a skilled designer understands that polishing such aspects is essential for a pleasant reading experience!
Typefaces (such as Times New Roman, Garamond, and others) and font styling are both included in typography (bold, italics, font size, etc.). Because typography is genre-specific, you might wish to look into other books in your genre as you work on your own.
2. Running Heads and Feet
Running heads are the small lines at the top of the page that provide the reader with all of the necessary information as they read—author, book title, and page title. When the page number is at the bottom of the page, it is referred to as a “foot.”
They allow the reader to track her progress through the book and return to it if she loses her place. Running heads and feet, which are usually centered or slightly to the left and right of the text margins, provide your text block a great visual frame. They should be small enough not to intrude on the text while yet being readable and clear.
3. Art and Images
The arrangement of your book must be created to accommodate photographs, illustrations, or art of any kind. The text and graphics will interact in various ways depending on the genre. If you’re writing a children’s book, the minimal amount of text on every page will be placed directly on top of the artwork.
If it’s a cookbook, a photograph of the cuisine on the left with a two-column recipe on the right might be appropriate. A proper photography book can include huge, beautiful photographs on each page, short text beneath the photos, and a brief introduction by the artist at the start.
Allow the art to breathe—a single superb photograph is often more effective than a collage of several.
4. Ornamental Breaks
You can use ornamental breaks, dots or dashes, or just add more white space if you don’t want to use ornamental breaks.
5. White Space
White space can be used in a variety of ways, but it can also easily lead to poor design.
The white space in text-only books is largely rags and gutters, the margins on both sides of your content. As previously said, during typesetting, ensure these are appropriately measured; you don’t want your text to be constrained by large margins.
Also, keep an eye out for the space around chapter headings! Each chapter should start with a “sink” that occupies about one-third of the page, with sufficient of white space to cushion the chapter title.
When it comes to image-heavy books, white space is utilized in a more varied manner. The most important thing here is to leave enough visual breathing room between the text and the visuals.
Resist the need to squeeze as many things as possible into a single page; it won’t seem dynamic, just cluttered. Keep in mind that white space is your friend.
6. Signature Details
These are the subtle elements that make a design stand out and distinguish a well-designed book inside from one that was thrown together from a template.
To generate a visual indication for the reader and give them a mental break before diving into the new material, start your chapters or sections deep on the page (called a “sink”).
A sink is an incredible place for a graphic element or a playful design. Set the first line in a different type or add a dramatic drop cap. A nice image can be inserted within the chapter to clearly define sections and give a little visual flair to your website. Make sure it’s not too big and doesn’t contradict the rest of your design.
A strong layout is the result of a series of tiny decisions made by the designer. The most critical aspect, from leading to font selection to margin size, is absolute consistency—if you make a design decision on page three, you must be willing to stick with it for two hundred or more pages!
Consider the following six aspects of the page before beginning your book layout project: trim size, margins, typeface, running heads and feet, art and images, and contrasting lead lines.
The process will flow much more smoothly if you rely on professionals because they are an expert at what they do and trained to make thoughtful decisions at the start of the book layout.
So that, the final output is well-appointed and comfortable for the reader’s eyes.