In the beginning of a book’s design production, a cover designer goes through a careful process with both the art director and the author to effectively capture the correct tone of the book. However, once a cover design is chosen, the goal of fulfilling the book’s tone doesn’t end there. There are many ways in which the interior designer carries the baton to ensure that the book in its entirety maintains the desired feeling.

An interior designer starts by reviewing the cover. The font choices on the cover are directly used within the interior for the half-title page, title page, table of contents, section page openers, chapter titles, and any headings. If the cover type is handwritten, as opposed to digital, then a font that matches the feeling is chosen to substitute.

Then the most important font choice of the entire book (including the cover) is made—the body font. The priority of selecting this font is readability. An effective body font does have some personality, but should not too much. It needs to be very clean and simple to be readable at a small size.

Sometimes I work with authors who request to have a handwritten-style font used within the body text, because they want to emote a personality in an extract or a letter that’s included. Although I understand the reasoning and the desire for this, it creates a huge risk in the readability. When a person reads, they scan the pages very quickly and when you use fonts that aren’t neutral to the eye, the reader’s eyes get tired, and they slow down, and this impacts their overall experience with reading the book. I’ve read books myself that I know that are excellent, but sometimes I have difficulty getting through them, and it’s because of the body font choice.

This doesn’t mean that the body font has to be boring (like Times New Roman). An interior designer does have an arsenal of choices up their sleeve that lend the right energy to certain types of books. A non-fiction self-help book works very well with Minion, which is a nice and clean, open typeface. An emotional memoir could be matched with Baskerville for its elegance. A historical memoir or novel could be paired with Caslon, Sabon, or Janson for its sophisticated feel.

Another request I’ve received from authors is for more than two fonts to be used within the body text. This could be because there are many different voices within the narrative. It logically makes sense to do this, because it would indicate who was speaking when, but sometimes this kind of extensive formatting gets too visually cluttered for the reader. It is always best to minimize how many different fonts are used within a book as much as possible. There are other ways an interior designer can set up the text to indicate change and difference like the following examples:

  • indentation
  • italicizing text
  • the main body font is a serif font, and the sidebars or extracts are sans serif
  • using line rules above and below text
  • using shaded or bordered boxes around text

A lot can be done with only two fonts. Once you explain the effect you’re going for, your designer will work with you to come up with solutions that convey what you want.

After all of the fonts have been selected, there are some additional design elements to consider. If the text contains some time lapse breaks, there is the decision of whether to use a dingbat flourish between the paragraphs, or to keep them as blank line spaces. For this choice, the interior designer again looks to the cover. If the cover contains any flourishes within the design, those might be pulled and used as the section dingbats, or on the chapter opener pages. If there aren’t, then new ones are chosen that match the tone of the cover. And if the overall feeling of the cover is bold and clean, empty line spaces are chosen to match.

For the margins, there has to be a large enough inside margin (the gutter area) so that none of the text gets pulled into the gutter as a result of binding. This is why authors will see that the inside margin of the book is set to be so much wider than outside margins. This is especially important to keep in mind if your book contains maps or charts that’s are double-page spreads. You will need to keep all important information out of the center at a minimum of 1.5.”

For the outside margins, they must not be smaller than .75” because that is the average amount of space a thumb needs to rest on the book without covering any of the text.

But aside from these necessary margin rules, the margins can be manipulated to help a book that’s over 80,000 words maintain a page count that isn’t too lengthy, or a shorter book (40,000 words) to be “puffed out” to a longer page count.

The best thing an author can do to make the interior layout process go smoothly is to communicate to their editor any specific things they’re looking for in their book’s design before it’s laid out. A couple of examples of things to note include:

  • Do you require larger than average type for an older audience?
  • Do you need any special formatting to indicate a separate voice, or letters, newspaper articles, etc?
  • Does the book need to hit a specific page count?
  • Do you have a specific dingbat flourish for section breaks in mind? This isn’t necessary (your designer will create them) but occasionally an author has a certain one they want used.

Making changes such as the ones above after the book goes to layout could result in the revision taking as much time as creating the original layout.

But all interior designers know that sometimes authors don’t realize the book needs something visually different until they see the completed pages. If this happens, the interior designer will offer suggestions of how you can achieve your vision in the shortest amount of time without taxing your budget.