How your text should appear in a formatted book

Once you’ve examined some potential typefaces for your book, it’s time to commit to one.

You’ll want to select a single typeface family to use throughout the book (and it should be serif type for your paper edition). For example, if you pick Cambria, then that is the typeface in which regular, boldface, and italicized forms of your text will be used. Sticking to one typeface family will help give your book a unity of appearance. It’s a subtle effect. Adjusting point sizes and using headers or section titles that are in boldface or italics will be sufficient to distinguish titles from text.

Another matter to consider is the various point sizes (called “font size” in MS Word) of your headers and text. This is expressed in numbers, 1 being the smallest; with each subsequent number, the text grows both taller and wider. Usually 10-12 point is a good point size for your text, though each typeface varies a little.

You’ll also want to consider the spacing between the letters, also known as tracking or kerning. If formatting your book in Word, you’re probably stuck with a predetermined tracking. If using design programs, such as InDesign, however, you can adjust this. Generally speaking, you don’t want to adjust the tracking more than 3 points, or you risk having letters run into one another.

Line spacing, or the amount of white space above and below lines of text, also should be considered. In Word, the line spacing size of 1 or 1.15 generally is good. Any more or less creates difficult to read lines of type.

Generally, paper books have no extra spaces between paragraphs. Instead, new paragraphs are indicated by the traditional indentation. An indent of two/eighths to four/eighths of an inch usually is sufficient for the first line, though this varies depending on the typeface. Ebooks can use this method as well, though because they are seen on a screen, no indentations and an extra space between paragraphs frequently is used.

Alignment also needs to be determined. Most books are “justified,” mean that the text (except for indentations where new paragraphs begin) always begins at a pre-set line on the left and ends at a pre-set line on the right. This can be problematic in Word, which unlike design programs does not nicely adjust the tracking between the letters to ensure lines look their best. The result in Word will be extra spacing between words, which looks odd. You can cheat by hyphenating words on the next line so that part of that word goes to the previous line, helping to eliminate the extra spacing. If doing this, though, watch carefully when correcting for typos, which then push hyphenated words to the next line without taking out the hyphen.

Also, watch for how the text ends at the page’s bottom. For the most professional appearance, you want the last line of text to end at the same spot on facing pages. If using Word to format your book, you may have to fiddle with the text a little, hitting returns in the middle of paragraphs and then fixing the ensuing alignment issues by deleting tabs and/or adding spaces between letters. If using headers with different point sizes, getting the bottom lines to line up will be problematic. The solution is to highlight an empty line of text and adjust its point size to either bring up or down that bottom line.

If you have a standard or smaller paperback size for a book – say anything 5.5 x 8.5 inches or smaller – the text should appear in a single column on the page. Trying to include two columns makes the short width text too difficult to read. An exception is the index, where single words on a line of text would leave simply too much white (or empty) space on a page, making it difficult to read (and wasting trees as well, as you probably will have to add pages to your book).

Next, you’ll need to consider what color to make the text and the background. For most books, black type on white paper is a no-brainer. It’s simply the easiest to read. However, if creating a more complex work, such as a picture book, you’ve got the latitude to be more creative; photos could appear on a black background with text in white, or the text could be superimposed over the pictures. Unless you have experience doing picture books, you’ll probably want to consult or hire a professional designer for this.

The half title page, the title page, the table of contents, and the index probably should look a little different than the main part of the book, just to help set them off. For example, on the half title page, make the title and author’s name in a point size that is larger anywhere else in the book. On the title page, however, make the text’s point size smaller than it appears in the rest of the book. The table of contents will use a variety of point sizes and fonts to help distinguish the name of “Part 1” from “Chapter 1” and so on. Sometimes the index appears in a smaller typeface as well. We’ll discuss these matters more in a future entry about page headers and numbers.