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Choosing the right typeface for your book

The chances are most people don’t notice typefaces and other elements of design in a book; in fact, very often, the fact that they don’t notice shows that the design is working – books are for reading, and nothing should impede that. A beautiful, readable book is the aim here.

Despite this, typefaces do matter and what you choose for your book will speak volumes about you and your intentions for your book.

The main decision is whether to go for a serif (those with the curly bits – for example the well known Times New Roman) or sans serif (Arial, for example) typeface. Some people might choose a sans serif typeface, thinking it looks more modern, particularly because it is ubiquitous on the web.

But books are usually long and the overarching aim when choosing a typeface is to ensure that your book is readable and a pleasurable experience; you do not want someone abandoning your book because it is too challenging an experience just to read the words. Serif typefaces help to flow the text more, making it easier to read – your eye naturally moves along to the next letter or word. Sans serifs tend to be used more for headlines and sub-headings because they stand out more and are usually taller.

Typefaces in books

Typefaces used in book printing are generally not the same as those chosen for websites or other shorter material. This stands to reason: a typeface that looks good on a huge poster is unlikely to be the one that works for small print over 100,000 words and hundreds of pages. Bear this in mind if you are looking at your manuscript on the screen, thinking that it looks very readable in the sans serif font.

Another rule is to try not to mix lots of typefaces – no more than two because any more is distracting – unless of course differentiation is the aim – switching between periods, designating a different style, say letter writing etc.

Some popular typeface choices for books include Garamond, Sabon, Minion, Antiqua, Scala, Bembo and Palatino.

Whilst you may like a particular typeface (or even more randomly like the name – yes, some people have chosen on this basis!), it may well not be the most appropriate. Let your book designer guide you – they have a wealth of experience.

They will also understand and be able to guide you on all the other elements of what contributes to good book design, including layout on a page, headings, ligatures, the space between the letters, the degree of contrast in the letters’ strokes, the amount of white space inside each letter and the x-height (generally it works best when the ratio of the central vertical area of lowercase letters – the height of the letter x, for example – is large compared to the length of the ascenders and descenders).

Illustrations may also be an integral part of your book, and of course a good cover will help sell your book, make it look professional and communicate what the book is about.

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