Looking for layout…

Looking for layout people to help me with a brief guide to laying out a book -- I see a lot of people moving into self-publishing and small press these days, and while that's great, I'm also seeing a lot of horribly laid-out books, and I'd like to put a FAQ together at least. So if you know layout, what should you think about when laying out a book? I'd ideally like this to be something like a checklist, where people can go through their book point by point, checking for these.


  • Avoid widows and orphans. Widow lines are single lines which appear at the top of a page and widow words are single words which are on a line by themselves at the end of a paragraph. Orphans are similar lines or words which appear at the bottom of a page. A few of them are okay, but too many, and the book starts looking unprofessional.

  • Use one space after periods. The reasoning for this was only explained to me recently, and I was very resistant up until that point, since I'd been trained in the good old days, and I was an adamant two spaces after a period gal. But apparently if you do that, it tends to create the effect of rivers of whitespace running through your text -- distracting!

  • After a space break, the first new paragraph is not indented.

  • Avoid fonts that are too big, too small, too fancy for regular text, and fonts which display well but don't print well. Fonts which work well for the bulk of a fiction book would include: Times New Roman, Centaur, Garamond, Bodoni, Minion (slightly more modern), Hoefler. You can buy any of these for roughly $100 on the Adobe website, and we highly recommend buying at least one good font set, since the ones on your computer don't actually have everything that you need -- they're partial sets.

  • For headers, like Chapter Titles, you can choose a nice, slightly more dramatic display font.

  • What else? Help!

7 thoughts on “Looking for layout…”

    • Page numbers go on the outside corners of the page, not the inside ones, or perhaps centered at the bottom if you must. Remember, they’re supposed to make it easy to flip through pages quickly in order to find something.
    • Read the first section (“The Parts of the Book”) of the Chicago Manual of Style. Also the “Production and Printing” part, which is Part 3 in CMS14 (I don’t yet have the new edition).
    • If you can, hire a professional. [wry smile]
  1. Okay, so I’ve gotten a rough draft of the guide up — please check that before sending any additional comments. Thanks! I’ll keep updating this as I go.

  2. Hey, what a cool idea!

    Your headings are formatted inconsistently, though – shouldn’t “Paragraph Justification” and “Body Text Typsetting” be bold?

    I like James Felici’s “The Complete Manual of Typography”, though it can be a little intimidating to a beginner.

    Under Paragraph Justification, there should probably be some discussion of ragged right vs. justified text, and how to make the latter not look too ugly if you decide to use it. (Though, I guess most fiction is set ragged right anyway.)

    On cover design: This comes straight out of “The Non-Designer’s Design Book”: Don’t center all the text on your cover or title page unless you’re really sure you want the visual effect that gives. Left aligning and right aligning produce much stronger visual lines.

  3. Wendy, I’m confused — I’m just the H3 heading tag for the headers. They should all look the same — don’t they?

    The rest of your info great, thanks — will incorporate.

  4. I picked this tip up in a marketing workshop and it’s served me well over the years: don’t use more than 3 different fonts on a single page. This includes bold, italics, underline, etc variations.

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