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Proposed Standards for Book Typography — 30 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this exemplary article, Dave! As a book designer who spends a great deal of time employing the techniques you expressed, I truly appreciate the backup! 🙂 Authors rarely, if ever, understand the numerous elements of excellent typesetting, and your article will be a fantastic reference to help prospective clients realize the time and thought involved in creating their impeccable book. It’s also a great reference for me, so I’m really grateful to you for sharing it!

  2. Excellent post, Dave. I’m going to share it in the hope that it will help all book designers explain what we do to people who insist book layout in Word is sufficient.

  3. If using InDesign, “line widows” (aka runts) can be solved by using a No Break character style and applying it automatically to the last two or three words of a paragraph via the GREP style (in the Paragraph style settings). You could also apply the No Break style manually, but it could interfere with previously applied character styles.

    • Thanks, David. That’s a good tip and it’s appreciated. However, I’m going to stay in “safe territory” by recommending only aesthetic standards. Otherwise, the Quark XPress people will get their dresses up over their heads and even the MS Word Typesetters will insist on weighing in. I”m an Indesign user, but when it comes to standards, I prefer to judge the ends rather than the means. I’ll certainly play with your solution for my own typesetting work.

  4. With regard to the single/double space at the end of a sentence: I was taught that the single space (allowing the sentence to be justified correctly) is called French spacing; whereas more space at the end of a sentence (usually two fixed spaces) was called “regular” spacing. The only places where “regular spacing” is used these days is in elementary level books, where the inexperienced reader needs the additional space to ‘see’ the beginning of a new sentence.

    So regular spacing is called “irregular” or French; but irregular spacing is called “regular” or “English spacing.”

    • Detta:

      The double space is useful not just for elementary school readers. It is also helpful on printed material for seniors or anyone with impaired vision who has trouble seeing things like periods — including public speakers reading something aloud (who may want the sentence ending telegraphed so they know when to modulate their voice).

      • Pat, hardcore style manual folks will argue that the combination of the period, the space, and the capital letter should be enough of a signal but I’m not in that camp. (Herbert Bayer of the Bauhaus actually did away with capital letters in his alphabet). Though the convention in book design (and font design) is to use a single period, I’m all for rules being broken by people who understand they’re breaking a rule. If you have good reason to use double-spaces, I say go for it. Everything in the article is a proposed standard, not an unbreakable commandment.

        • Yes, I agree about breaking the rules as long as you’re aware you’re breaking them. Certainly the special circumstances Pat describes. But those are special, and not normal for book design intended for conventional readers. Readability is the the most important issue, and I’m sure we’ve all made mistakes related to typefaces (a particularly pungent example that comes to mind was a textbook set in Zapf International Light). But the period at the end of the sentence is a convention that we almost all enjoy.

          When I have to give a speech, I type it out with all those bells and whistles because I’m a nervous speaker, but that’s an individual preference. I can’t speak to large-print materials for seniors (yet), but that is worth thinking about. Thanks.

  5. I have found that a non-breaking space is a better tool for dealing with bad line breaks than a soft return. Besides the example you used of single-letter words at the end of a line, the issue I deal with frequently, as a typesetter of Christian books, is Bible references (such as 1 Corinthians) that will break between the number and the rest of the name of the book.

    • Soft-returns also cause problems with reflow to the print layout (which we *shouldn’t* be dealing with at this stage, but life rarely conforms to the word “should”) and ebook export. In ebooks, that soft-return will interfere with the reflowability of the book, which is its defining characteristic. I don’t believe there’s ever a good reason to use a soft-return in body copy; no-break only.

      As for the GREP trick, it’s a good one, but I find the wordspace-based no-break GREP unreliable. I’ve played with this a lot, and have gotten to where just keeping the last few characters together—enough to ensure that the runt is never smaller than the paragraph indent—works for me. I’ll apply more no-breaks manually, as needed, using a “no-break” character style with an export tag of “deleteme” for easy removal once it’s into epub.

      On re-reading my comment, I need to add that I enjoyed the article, and don’t mean to sound at all critical; just offering a trick or two of my own.

  6. I’m hoping to create a checklist from this that’s as objective as possible. Nice to have something reasonably sane to check my work against.

    For the moment, I’m considering typesetting in ebooks the way I thought about streaming video in 1999: it’s just not a problem worth my concern, yet. Eventually it’ll get sorted.

    • The solution to eBook typography is called the web browser. If eReader device manufacturers intend to limit what their technology can do, they’re fools to include wireless web browsers. They run the risk that people like myself will bypass their platforms and their 30% commissions while delivering a much better on-screen reading experience.

      • There ya go.

        The solution for video was to just wait until broadband was ubiquitous, which few people anticipated.

        How fussy is the selling/delivery/security process for books on the web? Personally, I’d much rather folks were reading my books in Google Chrome than on a Kindle.

  7. Dave, an excellent idea well expressed. Almost a mini-course in book typography. I sense you’re swimming against the current of digital typesetting but, as you point out, quality typography has a very long history to it. And although it may be impossible to remove all the subjectivity from standards like these, that’s no reason not to aim for the best typesetting you can get for your book. Thanks for this valuable contribution.

  8. These are excellent sentiments. If only it were possible to have this control in a flowable eBook.
    There are many of these things that are impossible to achieve at the moment. The standard for most eBooks is ePUB, and the latest iteration (ePUB3) does have a lot of promise, however, the device vendors are not implementing these standards fully. Remember, eBooks are delivered through HTML/CSS and this already presents typographic limitations.

    My eBook – eBook Typography for flowable eBooks covers most of the issues. You can find it on the Apple iBookstore

    • I’m working on just this problem and hope to be unveiling something shortly after the end of the year. You can’t solve all the problems, but you can fix more than you might think. P.S. Just checked out your site. Interesting stuff.

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