Book Design Considerations

… I have software – Adobe InDesign – that makes the task of designing the interior of a book a joy providing it is set up correctly. …

Considerations BEFORE designing the page layout of a book

I started learning typography when I was 16 – in addition to my ‘A’ level courses I had ‘Typewriting’ on my timetable. I learned to touch-type on a manual typewriter where the only font available was on the type-bars, and several calculations had to be done to get a table formatted nicely. More years than I care to mention later, the situation is dramatically different.

I have a lovely 27-inch iMac so I can view double-page spreads clearly even with larger formats. I have hundreds of fonts at my disposal. And I have software – Adobe InDesign – that makes the task of designing the interior of a book a joy providing it is set up correctly.

There are several considerations before importing the edited text file from the publisher or author:

  • Format – what page size is required?
  • Margins – these will vary according to whether the book is to be produced as a hardback or paperback. Headers (book title, author, section headings) will often be required, especially for hardbacks and non-fiction titles, as well as the page numbers or other navigation markers. The inside margin (closest to the spine) needs to be sufficient for the reader to view the whole block of text without it disappearing into the spine once the book is printed and bound. The outside margin needs to be sufficient for the reader to hold the book comfortably. The image here shows a layout spread with its margins for a Royal format hardback (156 x 234 mm page size – very close to 6 x 9 inches), which is a common format that I work with.

  • Word count is not the full story when calculating the likely extent of a book. Are there parts as well as chapters within each part? Are there lots of short chapters? If so, does the publisher want each chapter to start on a new page or can they be run on? Is there a lot of dialogue? Are section breaks included that require extra space? Are there numbered or bulleted lists that require extra space? 
  • Are there publisher- or author-specific requirements, such as a brand font to be used? 
  • Can an existing template be adapted or does it need to be created from scratch?
  • How many master pages will be needed? For non-fiction titles several may be required.
  • Which fonts have been used on the cover? Are they also suitable for chapter headings?
  • What font size and leading (inter-line spacing) is required so that the text is easy to read. The default leading in InDesign is 120% – 10/12pt for example – but this would be a bare minimum for body text and something around 130% or even more is better. For good readability I will often use 16pt leading – it’s also a good number to use for easy half or quarter line spaces where needed. 
  • How many paragraph styles will be needed? Are additional character styles needed for italics or bold text or other attributes?
  • Are there footnotes or endnotes? These can easily be lost or renumbered if the incorrect import options are selected when placing the text file into InDesign!

This may sound complicated to those who have never had to consider these things for designing a book. But that’s what we’re here for – to guide you through all the necessary elements for getting your book ready for publication.