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Getting Ahead: DIY Book Design, Part 4

I know I said this was going to be a three-part series, but it felt like I left you a little in the lurch on Sunday, so welcome to part four. Think of this post as being like a free hidden track on a new CD. I would like to properly wrap things up with a short discussion about running heads, running feet, and chapter headings.  If you have not already digested parts 1, 2, and 3 of this series, it might be helpful to look them over.

Blueprint illustrationRunning heads are not something out of a B-grade sci-fi movie and the running feet that I am talking about are not the type you generally hear very early on Christmas morning just before you are buried under a pile of small children squealing “Santa’s been here! Santa’s been here!”  Running heads display consistent information that appears in the same place at the top of each page.  Running feet are the same thing, except placed at the bottom of every page.

I generally include page numbers as part of a running head or foot.  The running head or foot can be centered or placed towards the outside margin. Placing running heads or feet towards the inside margin should be avoided as they are difficult to read and gives the pages a cross-eyed look.

My personal preference is to use running heads placed on the outside (where they can be easily thumbed through without fully opening each page) and include the page number and author’s name on the left-hand page and the title of the book (or a chapter title might be appropriate if it is a non-fiction book) along with page number on the right-hand page.  If you want to use only page numbers (no book title or author’s name) then it can be acceptable to center them, particularly when placing them at the bottom of the page. Both running heads and feet are used in the book I am currently reading (11/22/63 by Stephen King, which is a good read so far).  The author’s name is centered at the top of the left-hand page, the book title is centered at the top of the right-hand page and the page numbers are centered at the bottom of each page. Here is how I am approaching running heads and page numbers in my book:

Examples of running headsThis arrangement puts the page number on the outer edge of each page so that you can easily fan to the page you are looking for.  A bold and/or italic type face can be used to help set it apart from the body of the book. You can even use a sans serif face to further set it apart. Be sure to set them far enough above or below the text block on each page so that they do not get read as part of the narrative.

Chapter heads are a chance to bring a sense of style and elegance to your book particularly within a fictional book.  White space is your friend.  Don’t be chintzy.  I like to make use of the top third to top half of the page to define the chapter.  Don’t feel like you have to fill the top half of that page with REALLY BIG TYPE.  This isn’t a tire ad. More often than not, an understated approach will give you a more elegant look and feel. An appropriate small spot graphic or an ornament can also be employed with some success.  However, consistency is the key.  Whatever you decide to do on Chapter One needs to work on Chapter Twenty-seven.  Below are a few examples of differing Chapter head approaches:

chapter heading samplesYou don’t need to reinvent the wheel.  Take a trip to your local book store or library and pull 10 or 12 books off the shelf (preferably the same genre as you are writing in) and make notes, sketches, or take photos with your smart phone of the chapter head and page number treatments you like and emulate them. There’s nothing wrong with letting someone else do the hard part for you.

It’s a lot to think about and can be a bit daunting but with the right tools, an idea of what your options are, and some perseverance you can work up a book design that you can be proud of.  If you don’t have the tools or wherewithal to see such a project through, work with a designer or collaborate with your publisher.  At least now you are armed with some knowledge and can make informed decisions.  You know something about typeface choices, leading, margin sizes, tracking, widows and orphans, running heads and running feet, and chapter head treatments.  That’s a lot to absorb so I am happy to answer any questions that have been raised by this series. Let me know what other subjects you would like to see me tackle.

Happy designing!

illustrations by Andy Black
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3 comments on “Getting Ahead: DIY Book Design, Part 4

  1. Ever thought of compiling these four posts into a free e-book for folks when they subscribe?

    It’s just such a good resource!

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