I recently responded to a question in a writers’ forum from an author who was in the process of designing a cover for her novel set in a swamp in New Orleans. “I chose a ‘swampy’ font that hangs down over the art to make it look like Spanish moss,” she said. For her previous Zombie fiction book, she chose a typeface appropriately named “bullet in the brain.” Though these might seem like obvious choices, their obviousness is precisely what makes them a liability. This article offers a few thoughts on book cover design for genre fiction.
Book Cover Typefaces: You Get What You Pay For
Excellent typefaces often cost hundreds of dollars. Fonts on free font sites are very often either ripped off and renamed or designed by amateurs. Rarely will someone take the time to design a serious typeface and give it away. FontSquirrel and a few others offer some quality typefaces but gimmicky fonts often lack a full set of characters. For example, they may offer only capital letters and might omit dollar signs and other useful glyphs. Like free clip-art that’s available to everybody, free fonts get downloaded and used over and over and over. Paying even a small price for a typeface ensures that 99% of amateurs won’t be using it. Continue reading →
The word processor has placed new burdens on writers to understand how to use italics, big and small capitals, dashes, hyphens, initials, etc. Writers who do their own typesetting often produce mediocre results. Likewise, trade publishers sacrifice typographic aesthetics when they pack tiny type into small margins to save money on massive print runs.
With type being butchered by big and small publishers alike, how do we establish criteria for professional standards in book typography? Though economic costs and benefits are easy to assess, writers and publishers should be able to evaluate aesthetic compromises based on a set of typographic best practices. Continue reading →
Differences between eBook media formats are blurring. Due to a convergence of technologies around HTML5, books can be published through eReader devices, as mobile applications, or on the web. This article examines the pros and cons of each eBook format.
EBooks are based on HTML, the same technological foundation that powers the worldwide web. As the web has grown, so have eBook technologies—at least in potential. The ePub3 standard, released in October 2011 and continuing to develop under the auspices of the International Digital Publishing Foundation (IDPF), describes an eBook as a “website in a book.” Growing concurrently with the Internet are mobile operating systems and app stores (like Apple’s iPhone OS and Google’s Android), and eReader devices (like Barnes and Noble’s Nook and Amazon’s Kindle). If popular mobile devices can render eBook content, web content or mobile applications, which of these media is best suited to the needs of publishers?
“Traditional” EBooks and EReaders
For years, eBooks (in mostly ePub2 format) stood apart from the web and mobile apps in a closed universe; the reader found a book in an online bookstore and downloaded it to an eReader device. Dedicated eReader devices were once exclusively designed to facilitate finding, purchasing and reading books, but the differences between eReaders and tablet computers are rapidly disappearing. Recent offerings come with color screens, wireless web browsers, and mobile operating systems. These eReader devices are no longer walled off from alternate eBook distribution formats like apps and the web. Continue reading →
NITIAL CAPITALS have historical roots in the early days of book design; their use predates the printing press and the invention of moveable type. Today’s initial caps are not as fancy as those carefully rendered in gold leaf in ancient scriptoriums, but their association with classic book design remains strong. Initial Capital letters are often referred to generically as “drop caps” though a drop capital is actually a specific style of Initial Cap.
Some modernists discourage the use of initial caps, citing a host of typographical problems, but “Once upon a time” just wouldn’t be the same without a great big letter “O” at the beginning. Though not appropriate for every book, initial caps announce the beginning of a chapter with classical style. They suggest that the text you are about to read transcends mere data; this is literature.
Illuminated letter P in the 1407 AD Latin Bible on display in Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, England
This post examines different styles of initial caps and discusses the challenges of transitioning smoothly from large initial characters to the much smaller characters of body text. Digital tools and shortcuts make it easy to create initial caps but the easy way isn’t always the best way. Serious publishers understand the subtle differences between good typography and great typography. Many thanks to author and typographer Dick Margulis for editing and fact-checking.
Use of Small Capitals—uppercase characters designed at lowercase scale—is one aspect of writing and book design that isn’t taught in grammar school. We all know every sentence begins with a capital letter and ends with a period. We all should know that writing in all capital letters is the typographic equivalent of shouting—a “capital” offense.
A Small Capital (or “small cap”) is a specially designed character—not a regular capital letter scaled down to a smaller size. Word processors and even some typesetting programs reinforce the abuse of small caps by offering a “small caps” shortcut that scales down the uppercase letters to match the height of the lowercase characters. A real small cap is different from a full-capital letter in subtle but important ways.
This article explores proper use of capital letters, explains the difference between big caps and small caps, and offers book design tips to help you manage abbreviations, names, directions, chapter starts and other typographic challenges. Many thanks to author and typographer Dick Margulis for editing and fact-checking.
I particularly like this section on dashes, hyphens and dots because it goes beyond typographic aesthetics to explore how we can communicate more effectively as writers. The subtle intricacies of hyphens and dashes affect all authors whether they typeset their own books or not. Knowing how to punctuate correctly empowers you to control emphasis and handle challenging sentences that contain parenthetical asides, omissions or incomplete thoughts. Here, good typography is an extension of good writing.
Many writers are unaware that the simple dash comes in several flavors. Because dashes are often used as alternatives for other types of punctuation, they are explained here in context with the marks they substitute for.
Part 3 of Book Design Basics explores better ways to present numbers on your pages. Numbers (called figures) look simple at first glance, but they present interesting typesetting challenges. Many digital typefaces offer several number styles but few designers know what they are or how to use them properly.
If you got to class late, Read Part 2 of Book Design Basics first to learn about optical margins, paragraph formatting and spaces.
Numbers (figures) come in four primary categories. Though they play a very small role in the text of an average novel, numbers still have an important effect on the appearance of your text. Tables, menus and recipes use numbers in different ways than text set in paragraphs. There are two figure styles: Oldstyle and Lining. Each comes in two flavors: Proportional and Tabular. An understanding of their differences allows your numbers to communicate clearly and effectively. Continue reading →
Though I create eBooks and write about them extensively, I’m a classic bibliophile who loves to feel the subtle emboss of letters stamped on paper with metal type. I was rummaging through the garage and came across an old copy of The Progressive Road to Reading Book 2 by Georgine Burchill, William Ettinger and Edgar Dubs Shimer. Published in 1909 and reprinted in 1920, it was probably my father’s elementary school reading book. (See it on Google Books here.) It has me reflecting on what is undoubtedly the greatest achievement in publishing.
When I gave the book to my six-year old daughter, she was drawn to it immediately. It’s different from her other books. The paper is yellowed. The inked letters are not so perfect as the digitally printed ones in her paperback library. It’s filled with beautiful, engraved images printed with a color overlay. Some of the spelling conventions like “to-day” and “to-night” and “to-morrow” are clearly outdated. The line breaks in the type are strange.* It’s charming.
Here is the first of a series of occasional posts that explore the contributions of great typographers and typography books to the book designer’s art. Designers, writers and publishers will benefit from Beatrice Warde’s eloquent perspectives on the craft of typography, the power of type and the importance of the printed word.
“The Crystal Goblet” was an essay included in Beatrice Warde’s book of the same name—The Crystal Goblet: 16 Essays on Typography.
Beatrice Warde – Excerpt from a Lecture to the British Typographers’ Guild
Imagine that you have before you a flagon of wine. You may choose your own favorite vintage for this imaginary demonstration, so that it be a deep shimmering crimson in color. You have two goblets before you. One is of solid gold, wrought in the most exquisite patterns. The other is of crystal-clear glass, thin as a bubble, and as transparent. Pour and drink; and according to your choice of goblet, I shall know whether or not you are a connoisseur of wine. For if you have no feelings about wine one way or the other, you will want the sensation of drinking the stuff out of a vessel that may have cost thousands of pounds; but if you are a member of that vanishing tribe, the amateurs of fine vintages, you will choose the crystal, because everything about it is calculated to reveal rather than to hide the beautiful thing which it was meant to contain. Continue reading →
The self-publishing revolution is (aside from the Internet) the greatest thing ever to happen to freedom of speech and expression, but self-published books are widely stigmatized as poorly produced. Why? Because they almost universally are. Moreover, the declining standards of mainstream publishers do not justify the mediocrity of self-publishers. In fact, self-publishers will find a competitive advantage in applying basic book design principles to produce books that are comfortable to read and pleasing to the eye.
After all those hours writing and editing, why not produce a book that conveys your good taste, attention to detail and care? Here are some simple but powerful book design tips to help your book achieve excellence. Continue reading →