Book cover design tells the story of the story. It must convey the spirit and intentions of the author authentically, and it also has a few practical chores to perform. If a book cover design is to accomplish these things in a world of publishing “climate change,” old approaches must be both embraced and questioned. Books are marketed in ways that authors and publishers could never have imagined only a few short decades ago; a new approach is needed. At the same time, a study of the history of printing and design affords powerful opportunities to communicate in fresh new ways.
The notion that a book will be found in a bookstore, picked up, and perused is sadly obsolete, especially as it relates to indie publishers. If you don’t have a contract with a big publishing house, your book will probably never see a bookstore. It makes no sense to design a new cover to fit an old merchandising model. Consider how prospective readers will be exposed to your book, and what information will be presented in that context. The title, byline, synopsis, reader reviews, author pages, and other data are part of every book’s online listing. The cover art occupies only a small portion of the page. And all that data won’t be visible on the tiny, digital cover even if you do pack it into a book cover design.
It makes sense to rethink cover design. If your book is commercial, the cover should convey its practical value. But if your book is literary art, an artistic, uncluttered cover might convey that as well as any blurb or list of testimonials. As a designer, I find that liberating. Continue reading →
Selecting a book font seems simple enough, but important subtleties and fine points of typography are not obvious to the average writer. This article offers insights into fonts suitable for book typography. Though it won’t turn the average author into a professional typesetter, it will inform indie publishers about the kind of guidance they should expect to receive from one. And if economic constraints force you to typeset your own book, the information offered here will help you make informed choices.
Book typography is an unusual art. Its success is best measured by the invisibility of the final result. The reader should not notice the type, and the type should not obscure or dilute the author’s intentions. Yet, the reader should be affected by the type. Reading is an aesthetic experience, and book font selection lies at its foundation. Continue reading →
Writers often ask about the difference between “straight” or “dumb” quotation marks and traditional printers’ quotes, commonly referred to as “smart quotes” or “curly quotes.” Add in the need to distinguish between left single quotes and apostrophes, and the primes used to specify feet and inches or minutes and seconds and you end up with a typographic conundrum that confounds many a capable author. This article examines the various types of quotes and primes and explains how to use them.
Book Design Basics: Straight or Dumb Quotes
Straight quotes evolved to facilitate informal writing situations. When typing into a discussion forum, twitter feed, or comment box, use your apostrophe and double-quote keys for all the special characters (except the “degrees” symbol.) “Dumb” text editors don’t try to figure out which direction to slant your punctuation. “Dumb” writers don’t have to go to the “insert special characters” dialog box or remember special key sequences for each type of mark.
Consider the various punctuation styles needed to render the following example:
Straight quotes make it quick and easy to express a thought. You don’t have to be a typographer to make yourself understood. In the right situations, “dumb quotes” are a smart idea. Continue reading →
After a redesign, the folks at Final Touch should have found a solution. How much money do you think gets invested in branding a product like this? A snappy name might sound good, but type matters. Sometimes the visual message might not convey the intended meaning. Though it’s easy to chuckle over this kerning (letter spacing) faux pas, the consequences of the unintended association caused by the juxtaposition of two simple letters could cost this manufacturer a fortune—even though it might be a superior product. The pink roses don’t help the effect.
What’s impossible to measure is how many consumers who see this product on a store shelf register the unintended meaning subconsciously—like the brilliant arrow in the FedEx logo. So many people have never noticed it, but how many of them have been touched by it nonetheless?
Kerning: Touched by What?
Final Touch is a branding nightmare. Unless they change their name and relaunch, they’ll need a skilled typographer to design a logo that’s visually stronger than the magnetic attraction between the F and the I.
This article explains the tab ruler found on every word processor and typesetting application. Understanding the simple and elegant split ruler and tab functions opens up a world of formatting opportunities.
Digital typesetting and word processing inherited a number of outdated conventions from the typewriter. When producing a paragraph indent on a typewriter, it makes no difference whether you hit the tab key or type a few consecutive spaces, but on a word processor, those approaches create problems as your manuscript moves from editing to final page layout. Though the “two spaces after a period” convention was not descended from the typewriter as is popularly thought, consecutive spaces are generally considered bad practice in the digital world. And though a half-inch paragraph indent (along with double line spacing) is perfectly suitable for manuscript work, the typesetter’s convention has long been to use an indent of one em (the width of a letter “m” in the analog world. In the digital world, the convention is to use the point size of the typeface, so if you’re setting 12-point type, your indent would be 12/72-inches or 1/6-inch). And yet, the old habit of repeatedly hammering the space bar to position elements on the page persists—even to a point where centered elements are sometimes left-aligned text preceded by dozens of spaces. Continue reading →
Introducing the Bad Kerning & Signage Awa rds. If written language is a cornerstone of civilization, type abuse constitutes a crime against enlightenment. These blemishes on the cultural landscape disappear all too easily in the sea of flashing messages, electronic billboards, and shop windows—but once you start looking for them, you’ll see them everywhere. Weak letter spacing, tacky font choice, stretched and distorted text, and generally poor craftsmanship pollute our public spaces.
It’s time to protest! I’ll be collecting and posting examples of some of the worst transgressions on this page. Feel free to submit any particularly heinous examples you’d like to share.
This one wins a Bad Kerning & Signage Awa rd—plus it deserves special honors for exposed wiring, additional irrelevant signage (“EQUAL”) on the electrical box, and for putting that box on top of an attractive cinder block. I almost overlooked the collision in the word “C enter” between the n and the t and the clogged up blob at the top of the r because the spacing after the capital letters was so distracting. The horizontally stretched type on the sign beneath S klu C enter (“We have the THERMAGE”) is the perfect accent.
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This article explores page layout strategies for books based on the Rule of Thirds. A grid system based on traditional guidelines ensures harmonious proportions and placement of objects on a page.
Page layout for books is governed by a range of factors. Trade publishers shipping 30,000 copies of a title realize significant savings by using smaller type, tighter leading (line spacing), and narrower margins. For them, aesthetic sacrifices are smart business. But indie publishers printing short runs are free from the business realities of mass production (POD publishers often order single books made to order). Classic page layout strategies offer an easy way for the small publisher to gain an aesthetic edge over the trade.
I discuss page layout in-depth in an earlier post, and Wikipedia’s Canons of Page Construction is an excellent resource, but though these articles present layouts based on page divisions of 1/9, readers are left wondering, why not 15ths or 8ths? Where did the idea of dividing a page into a 9×9 grid come from? The answer is found in a classic formula: the rule of thirds. Continue reading →
Digital typography offers capabilities that printers working with hot lead type and wood type could only dream of. Digital type can be stretched and resized infinitely, justified within unusual boundaries, or wrapped around almost any shape. And yet, traditional letterpress and wood type specialty shops continue to marry ink and paper. Their work offers a special, organic warmth that digital type lacks. This article explores the differences between digital and traditional type, and suggests techniques for simulating the appearance of traditional print. Though it ultimately fails to reveal a magic formula for turning pixels into authentic printer’s ink, it offers insights into why that goal is so difficult to achieve.
The best source for historical information is old books. Reading about traditional typography is nowhere near as valuable as looking at it. Observe the interaction between ink, paper, and time. I find old design books on eBay that typically cost half of what contemporary books do. My collection goes back to the 1830s. Two of my favorites: The Art & Practice of Typography by Edmund Gress, (1917), and The Manual of Linotype Typography by William Dana Orcutt and Edward Bartlett (1923) are available for online viewing (click their titles in this sentence). These books offer insights into evolving language as much as they do into evolving typography. Above all, they inspire one question: Why doesn’t my type look like that?
Page layout programs like Adobe Indesign and Quark, allow typographers to exert fine control over justified text to remove gaps and “rivers.” The default settings produce “pretty good” results—better than a word processor—but a few small tweaks will dramatically improve the spacing of your text. This article explains how to balance hyphenation settings with word spacing, letter spacing, and glyph scaling to optimize the appearance of justified text.
My last “Book Design Basics” post discussed the importance of hyphenation settings. These should be adjusted to suit the line width and the purpose of the text. A long legal disclaimer in small print in a narrow box can often be set without regard to how many hyphens are required to produce consistent spacing. Body text is likely to be a compromise based mostly on one group of settings. A short blurb on the back of a book cover should be poked and prodded until spacing and hyphenation are ideal. This article explains how to combine hyphenation and justification settings to achieve optimal results.
Disclosure: If you’re reading this article, you’re probably working on your own next book and don’t care about mine (selling books to writers is like selling boxed lunches at a chef’s convention). At the risk of appearing self-promotional, I’m using the blurb from my new book’s back cover as the example text. It offers a perfect, real-world, one-paragraph example of how adjusting hyphenation and justification settings can turn so-so text into a harmoniously spaced, easy-to-read message, but if you feel I’m “slipping an ad into your drink,” you can bail out here.
Still with me? Good. Let’s look at the text in its “pure” left-aligned form:
The spacing is ideal for the font (Adobe Garamond Pro) as it’s unaffected by justification settings; the spacing you see is the spacing designed into the typeface. Many people prefer left-aligned (ragged right) text for this reason, but others prefer justified text because of the neat, tidy way it fills its box. Continue reading →
Hyphens are an important contributor to elegant, easy-to-read typography, especially when text is fully justified as is the convention in book typography. This article explains how justified text works, and how proper hyphenation improves the legibility of your type.
Text justification works by expanding the spaces between words on each line until the evenly spaced words precisely fill the width of the text field. Some typographers hate justified text; they prefer the natural spacing of the type to the artificially expanded spacing, and they don’t mind the uneven right edge. A compelling argument can be made that ragged-right (left-aligned) text is the most legible, but a beautifully proportioned rectangle of text set inside the rectangle of the page is likewise an engaging aesthetic experience. Designers must balance page layout considerations against the need to format text that’s inviting and comfortable to read. Continue reading →