If you missed my previous post (Just My Type: DIY Book Design Part 1) you should probably read it first to better understand today’s post where I am touching on margins, type size and leading.
Let’s start with margins. The margins might seem inconsequential, but for a good looking book the part of the page that is not printed on is just as important as the printed part. If your margins are too narrow, the page feels crowded or as if the book has been trimmed too small. The words need breathing space. Margins that are too wide will look like equally unsightly and possibly giving the impression that you are simply trying to trick the reader into thinking you have written a more substantial book by adding to the page count. It’s a balancing act.
The inside margins—the ones that border the spine side of the page—need to be wide enough so the your type doesn’t disappear into the gutter. There is nothing more annoying than having to constantly crack the book open wider in order to read the end of each line. The outside margins shouldn’t be too wide or the block of type will look off center on the page. For a 6 x 9 book I chose three quarter inch inside margins, five-eighths inch top and outside margins and a full inch on the bottom. The extra space at the bottom gives the page an elegance and makes the printed block of type visually appear centered vertically.
Now we come to type size and leading. This is where I get pretty technical, but this is important stuff so don’t go anywhere. Leading (pronounced like the metal lead) is the amount of space between lines of type. Type is expressed in points. I suspect you have heard someone say something like, “Let’s use 10 point type for the body copy and 18 point type for the headline.” Leading, also expressed in points, is the sum of the type size and the amount of space between the lines. So if you have 10 point type set with three points of space between lines, that is written as 10/13 or read as “ten on thirteen.” The higher the the first number the bigger the type. The higher the second number the more space you have between lines. You can even have negative leading (for example: 10/8) but your lines of type will end up mashing into each other or overlapping, so that is not generally advisable for the body of a novel.
I am a fan of white space so I tend towards a generous amount of leading. I also think that, at my age (I’m part of the over 50 crowd), 10 point type can be a tad small. Twelve point type on a 6 x 9 page can start looking like a junior reader or a “Large Print” edition, so 11 point type is my compromise. Leading is one area where personal preference comes into play and you will just have to print out a couple of paragraphs with different amounts of leading and compare them. I did a comparison of 11/13, 11/14, 11/15, and 11/16. The first looked too crowded and dense and the 11/16 didn’t “hold together” as well—too much air. I settled on the 11/15 as my perfect choice. It felt more inviting, less daunting.
Graphic designers will often refer to the “color of a page.” That does not refer to the shade of paper or ink but rather the over all gray tone perceived by the reader when confronted by a page of type. If it is too tightly set with only a little leading, the page can come across as being too dark or dense. Too much leading with loose letter spacing, and the page is considered too light. You want that happy middle ground. Setting my pages with Century Schoolbook at 11/15 gave my pages “good color.”
Is your head spinning yet? I hope you are hanging in there. Next time we’ll look at widows and orphans.