Just My Type: DIY Book Design, Part 1

I’ve stuck my foot in the self-publishing door by making two books available as eBooks. I decided to go the Kindle and Nook route and after a bit of trial and error, I was able to cleanly format and upload MOBI files at Amazon.com and ePUB files at B&N.com.  I have even received my first two royalty checks. After a while it became clear that there was no reason to exclude the whole analog sector of the book buying market—those who still turn actual pages.  So I am embarking on the next phase of my self-publishing journey: Print on Demand also know as POD.  There are any number of POD publishers out there but that’s a whole other post for later.  There is a lot of work to be done before I even think about nailing down a printer.

Book Blueprint illustrationThe front cover is done but the whole interior of the book needs to be designed.  Luckily, I’m a graphic artist and I have the tools and experience to accomplish that.  There were a lot of questions needing answers before I could start on it.  What trim size should my book be?  What typeface would be the best choice?  What size margins should I use?  What size type and how much space between lines (called “leading” in the world of typography) should I use?  My initial thought was that there must be plenty of general book design standards out there and that the information should be readily available with a quick Google search.  I was mistaken.

So my aim with this post and the next two is to outline some of the choices that I have made and why.  I hope I don’t get too technical on you and drive you off kicking and screaming.  If you are a do-it-yourselfer, then stick with me because there is some useful information here.

There are thousands of type fonts out there.  Display fonts, novelty fonts, picture fonts, sans serif, serif, script, roman, italic, and calligraphic fonts.  For the purpose of a fictional book my choice was to use a classic serif type face.  Serifs are those little lines or feet that grace the tops and bottoms of each letter.  Times Roman is a serif face.  Arial and Helvetica are examples of a sans serif typeface.  Sans serif literally means “without serifs.”  The advantage of a serif face is that the feet help to guide the eye along the rows of type making extended reading less of a chore.

My decision to go with a serif face was an easy one, but I still had to decide which serif font to use.  Through a little research I found that a majority of printed books use only a dozen or so type faces and I culled my list down to about half of that:

Type SamplesI ended up settling on Century Schoolbook.  It is a nice medium weight font with enough meat on its bones that the thin sections of the letterforms don’t drop out yet it isn’t so heavy that it feels overweight.  It is also wider than a lot of typefaces, which gives it a bit of a contemporary feel, not taking itself to seriously.  The main reason I chose it was because it is easy to read.

The page size is another consideration but a trip to the book store or yanking a bunch of paperbacks off my own bookshelf was all that was needed to make that decision.  The most common size for many trade paperbacks hovers around 6 x 9 inches. So 6 x 9 it is.

That’s probably enough type tech to get you started. In my next two blog posts I will deal with issues of margins, type size and leading, and a quick discussion of orphans and widows.

illustration by Andy Black

18 comments on “Just My Type: DIY Book Design, Part 1

  1. This is a very helpful series. I’m sure I’ll be coming back to this post and your future posts on publishing. Thanks for decreasing the learning curve for us Andy!

  2. My publisher http://www.InfinityPublishing.com offers a free guide that covers the specs (fonts, type size, margins, etc) on what they require to set up a book. It works as a guideline when setting up any book. Infinity’s standard paperback is 8.5 x 5.5. The free book is called “Become a Published Author.” You can request a hard copy be mailed to your door or instantly download the pdf.

    • Jennifer–
      Thanks for the link to Infinity’s publishing guide. As Syms Clothing used to say: “An educated consumer is our best customer.” Arming the independent author and publisher with as much information as possible is the aim of this blog and I thank you for your input.

  3. What is your book about? Century Schoolbook, tho’ designed specifically for Century magazine, came to be used an awful lot in children’s books because of its large, open appearance. I used it in the children’s illustrated storybook Mishka: An Adoption Tale for that reason. Is your book intended for young readers? Or is using it a kind of ironic counterpoint (which can, of course, be a legitimate reason to use a particular type)?

    You threw me when you said you wanted a “classic” type. My fault, I guess, as I’ve been at this long enough that when I hear “classic” I think “Old Syyle,” like Garamond, Bembo, Caslon–you know the litany. Century Schoolbook, of course, is a transitional face. But in ordinary use, I suppose you might say Century Schoolbook’s a classic for it’s heavy usage in the last 90 or so years.

    Keep up the stimulating blogging. It leads to interest in typefaces that, I suspect, many new book designers put on a back-burner when they go about learning to earn a living. And for us veterans, it’s plain fun to toss around our thoughts on why we use the types we use.

    • Stephen–
      Thanks for bringing a little typographical history into the discussion. You are certainly correct about Century Schoolbook being a transitional face and I even mention it having a more contemporary feel, so I can understand your confusion.My book is a humorous (I hope!) story about a man who loses his job, wins a $216 million lottery jackpot, but then misplaces the ticket all within 24 hours. So a type choice that is less rigid is what I was going for. I am glad you find the blog “stimulating” and I hope to find you hanging around so you can keep me on my toes.

  4. Not too technical for me! I love this kind of series. It’s not easy to find posts that give detailed explanation of a process like this, so I’m glad you’re taking it on. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Want to dive in head first into the publishing industry? Attend BEA 2012 – Book Expo America. http://bookexpoamerica.com/ Depending on what category you fall into, “retailer” “educator” “author” etc. you’ll pay anywhere from $99 to $279 to attend all 3 days. It’s in NYC, June 5-7 I attended in 2005. It was amazing. You’ll get more free books, most of them autographed, see celebrities at every turn, and you’ll carry out enough books to make the investment worthwhile. It will also demystify the book industry, which is the best part.

  6. Jennifer, realistically, I see BEA as a pretty good to-do for authors and publishers. What about vendors, like editors, illustrators, and my vested interest: book designers?

    • All fields were represented at BEA 2005. I have no idea if the investment in money and time made it worthwhile for each vendor to attend, but the experience surely made it worthwhile. It’s networking at its best. BEA is working hard to keep pace with the industry. If it doesn’t, BEA will fade away just like the old publishing model has. Bottomline: Print profitable books or perish! The publisher’s creed.

  7. Thank you for following my blog, Writing Tips. Hope you enjoy the present and future posts. Good luck on you book and journey into self-publishing.

  8. I feel your ‘pain’ Andy! Just been to a local book seller to gain inspiration for my own work and guess what…..didn’t pick up two books that were remotely the same!

    As you say, there are NO standards, just designs that work. Every book is a fresh start design wise, which must make being a book designer terribly interesting. But what about us ‘wanabees’ that are trying to learn the business?

    Need to get in touch with my creative side methinks!
    Looking forward to the next post.

    p.s. came via Joel’s ‘the book designers’ twitter feed!

  9. Oops, sorry for the duplicate Andy. Lost the message during the ‘post as’ part, turns out my rant at the software was unfounded!

    I assumed I didn’t have a wordpress.com account and tried again via my twitter, one of these days I’ll catch up with this tech stuff! Delete one or t’other Andy 🙂

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