Readability is Critical. It is a book, after all.
Someone will buy your book because they want to read what you have to say, whether fiction or non-fiction. It is critical that the book be readable. Part of readability is how well it is written, but it is also dependent on the font. Many, many fonts were designed for display only (that means headings and titles, not paragraphs of text).
As an experiment, try reading the text on the left as quickly as possible while still reading every word. Now try the right side.
You have written probably at least 30,000 words and perhaps upwards to 100,000 words. That is a lot of reading and if the reader must work hard to determine what each word is, they will abandon your book. It is absolutely critical that the fonts of the text of your book be a font that was designed for reading. It doesn’t matter how much you love that wedding script. It is too much work to read a paragraph of it, let alone a page or two.
If you are not trained in layout and graphic design, but you want your book to be readable then let an expert layout and typeset your book for you. At the very least get advice from an expert. You want all the hard work you put into writing to be well received by your reading audience.
Fonts Have Personality, Choose Wisely
Every font has a feel, a subtle message. Some are more obvious than others (think script wedding fonts or the childish comic sans). Yes, even the pile of serif fonts on board your computer. Each one was designed with a purpose. The designer uses the height of the lower case letters, the uniformity of the thickness or the stress of the thick and thin lines, the openness or density of the letters, and so much more to build in a feel or nature of the font. Because of this font personality, there will be fonts that are better suited to your content than others.
I have a long-standing love of fonts. In fact, I design and sell fonts. So I am pretty intimate with their nuances, their personalities and their designed purpose.
When laying out a book, I talk to authors about their manuscript and what they want it to say to the world, then I choose fonts that will support their message.
Also, font selection plays a significant role in branding – in establishing the consistent look and feel of your books. Readers can sometimes pick up a book of a particular author they are familiar with and recognize that author’s work only because of the look and feel of the interior of the book. So, font selection is an important decision – because of the subtle messages they carry, because of your branding, and because of their readability. All these factors should weigh in on the font decision.
A Confusing Mess of Competing Personalities
A book with poor typesetting (poor font selection, styling and layout) is rather like sitting down with a friend over coffee. You look forward to the conversation but the five screaming toddlers at the next table are a constant distraction and the conversation is lost to screaming toddlers. You are left with a conversation that was not very enjoyable or memorable.
You don’t want that to happen to your book – the wonderful words and meaning lost to a cacophony of misused fonts.
The overall look of any given page should be unified and cohesive. That does not mean boring, but the font and layout should not be so obvious as to distract from the content.
There is an art to choosing fonts and font pairs. Working with fonts a lot you get to know their personality, their character. You learn what fonts get along well on a page and which ones do not play nice.
When I provide publishing services for a book, I take a look at the scope of all that needs to be formatted. Are there block quotes, journal entries, newspaper articles, quoted letters, poetry, and a myriad of other things that need special formatting? Once I have the overall picture, I make a plan of how to style each bit so every page is beautiful and not a hot mess of competing bits demanding your attention and distracting from the words like screaming toddlers.
Hierarchy refers to the levels of headings and subheadings in your document. It is important to reader comprehension that this hierarchy is very clear as they are reading through. The design of the headings must support comprehension, not cause the reader to flip back a page or two to understand the structure.
This comes down to utilizing an effective combination of font size, font weight, space before and space after in each heading style to ensure consistency and comprehension.
Take a look at the spacing before and after the titles on the left. It is either the same or close to same above and below. It is not overtly clear which paragraph the title belongs to. This is a consistent problem with manuscripts with headings formatted by clicking on buttons on the formatting bar. The title is left hanging in the middle between paragraphs. Part of good layout is positioning the heading closer to the text it is affiliated with.
Yes, these are important decisions. It won’t matter how well you make your point if the reader does not understand the framework or structure of your text.
There are a number of ways people attempt to emphasize text – bold, italic, underlining and all capitals. Each of these formats serves a purpose, most of which are not emphasis.
All caps in body text, no matter the venue, always mean screaming. Always. All caps should only be used in titles or logos, never in body text.
With typewriters, underlining was the only way of marking a title or emphasizing a word, because the slugs or strikers only produced one sized font. Underlining for emphasis came about because of the limitations of the typewriter, not as a typesetting means of emphasizing. In proper typesetting, the only place you should use underlines is for hyperlinks.
Bold is common means of emphasis. In non-fiction, limited use within the text is acceptable. It is not used within text in fiction. Mostly bold is reserved for use in headings. Bold is a thickening of the font. It has really only one design purpose – to allow letters to hold up when enlarged in headings. The major problem with bold is that at the point size of body text, the thickened letters can cause the normal holes in letters to close up and disappear, making it more difficult to read any lengthy passage.
Exclamation marks often show up in great numbers in new author’s work, even in non-fiction. An editor once told me that more than ten in a book is too many. Just recently I saw a book that had five in one paragraph. The thing about emphasis is that if everything is emphasized, nothing stands out. If everything has an exclamation mark, then it begins to read like bad acting.
Italics. Now that is the sweet spot of emphasis. But remember, a little goes a long way when emphasizing.
The other use of italics, particularly in fiction is to indicate thought or thinking. I often use italics as a means of marking journal entries, quotes, letters, or other special sections.
The Degradation of Two Spaces
Yes, I am a typesetting snob. The two spaces after a sentence was always incorrect typography.
Historically, Gutenberg’s press used moveable metal letters. These block letters were assembled or typeset to be used in printing. At the end of the sentence, they added a spacer block before starting the next sentence. Each letter block was as wide as the letter required. For example, the i block was narrow and the w block was wide. You can see how wide the w is compared to the i or the space in typeset fonts.
When the typewriter came along, each slug needed to be exactly the same width – the space, the period, the i, the w – all the strikers were the same width. This produced monospaced letters. Along with the distortion of letters (squashing the wide ones), many letters had enormous extra space around them. The letters became so spread apart with masses amount of extra space throughout the text that one space at the end of the sentence became lost in the sea of space. So, because of the limitations of the typewriter, two spaces were added at the end of a sentence to differentiate between the gobs of space everywhere else. The double space was a degradation of proper typography
Now that we use digital keyboards, we have access to fonts that are properly typeset and thus have returned to properly spaced letters (no longer monospaced). We can finally ditch the horrible appearance of two spaces at the end of a sentence. Throughout history, even during the typewriter era, all professionally printed documents used typeset fonts with one space at the end of the sentence.
Your manuscript should follow the proper typesetting rules.
Double spaces after a period is a significant hallmark of a non-professional layout. But before you go through your 200-page tome and correct the two-space error, rest easy, my friend, It is one of the things I automatically check for and correct. I run your manuscript through several programmed corrections that will ensure every instance is detected and corrected, and it takes a matter of a couple of minutes.
All the left ones on the sample below are incorrect.
All the right ones are correct.
Notice the curved quotes (opening with a single or double 6 and finishing with 9s). Double curly quotes are used for quoting. Single quotes are for a quote inside a quote or apostrophes.
Indicating feet and inches is the only appropriate use of the single and double prime, It is not a viable alternative to quote marks or apostrophes. Again, because of the typewriter’s limited space available for slugs, only primes were added and curly quotes fell by the wayside. You should set Microsoft to insert the proper quotes when you hit the single and double quote key, or learn the keyboard shortcut to insert the proper curly quotes into your blog posts.
For my clients, converting primes to curly quotes is part of the programmed corrections that happen with your manuscript, if if you have primes throughout, don’t worry. It will be fixed.
The typography world is not limited to just hyphens. There are dashes too. Their length is measured against the moderately sized letter n and the large width of the letter m – thus en dash and em dash. Each has a specific purpose, and no, the hyphen should not used globally to fulfill every need.
Minimally, you will probably need at least a hyphen and an en dash. You should learn how to produce dashes on your computer. For example, on a Mac you can type an en dash by holding down the option key and hitting the hyphen key. Voila. An em dash is option plus shift, then hit the hyphen key.
Hyphens are for hyphenated and some compound words. Knowing when to add hyphens is a bit of a learning curve. There are rules based on the location in the sentence. If you are not sure, the free version of Grammarly can identify and suggest the correct hyphenation. And you can always check if a word is a compound word, a hyphenated word, or two separate words by checking the dictionary. It is a rare manuscript that comes across my desk that has hyphenation and dashes right. Take some time to check all the grammar and spelling warnings in Microsoft Word and employ a good editor.