Elements of book layout design you need to know as an author
You don’t think about the book layout when you read a book, do you? Your eyes are just flowing through the text, eagerly following the characters on their adventures. The last thing you want is to be pulled away from the story by strange spacing between words or paragraphs, or dangling elements, right? Let’s have a conversation about the art of book layout design, and what it means for you as the author.
Book layout elements
Designing the book layout for printing is no easy task, despite what some may believe. It demands time, expertise, and a creative touch. Your story, the heart and soul of your book, deserves to be presented clearly and beautifully. That is why the book layout is so important and needs to be designed carefully. There are specific elements that guide readers through the book.
The front matter
The front matter contains anything that’s before your actual story: the title page, copyright page, acknowledgements, dedication, quote, table of contents, foreword, preface, introduction, prologue – all of these book elements together create an opening for your story.
Divided into chapters or sections, your book content will come to life in the body part. Your book pages will probably contain headers or footers to remind your reader of the book or chapter title and author name. You may want to include the page number in the header or footer area and add dingbat – a tiny character, often used to represent break in the text. Every page element within the body has a purpose, drawing readers further into your world.
The back matter
The back matter is a part where extra information resides. It can include an epilogue, appendix, bibliography, glossary, index, author bio, acknowledgements, photo and some marketing information you’d like to include in your book.
Book page elements
Now, let’s dive even deeper into book layout elements that can be found in the body because that’s the most important part: where your story lives. Each piece exists to provide readers with information and a pleasant reading experience.
1. Chapter opener
Chapter opener is often different from the rest of the pages. It shows the chapter title but also holds space to be more creative during the page layout design. With more freedom, you can choose a different font for the chapter title, include a drop cap (that large capital first letter in the sentence) for decorative purposes, add graphics, or use a dingbat. Chapter opening pages don’t include headers and, often but not always, footers.
2. Headers (or running heads) and footers (running feet)
The text that is placed at the top of the page is called the running head or header. They guide readers through the book pages: which chapter do they read? Who wrote the book? What was the title, again? Most commonly, for books with chapter titles, headers show the book title on the left page and the chapter title on the right. For books without chapter titles, the author’s name goes on the left page and the book title on the right one. The footer, on the other hand, is an element of the book layout that sits in the “foot” – at the bottom of the page. Usually, it’s reserved for footnotes and folios (a fancy design name for page numbers). Of course, it’s possible to break that rule but it has to serve a purpose.
3. Margins and white space
Have you ever picked up a book in a bookstore and felt something was off? The text was too cramped or difficult to read? Many factors can contribute to this, including font choice, lack of contrast, and improper margins. Many tiny details make a huge difference in the reader’s comfort. That’s why designing a book interior is such an important step and shouldn’t be overlooked. White space (also called negative space) is all that unused space around the text in a book. It allows the reader to focus on the text and absorb the words. Margins give space to physically hold the book (did you ever have to move your fingers to be able to read another line? How annoying is that?), allow text to stay away from the spine and provide space for running heads and feet.
Typography is one of the most important elements of the book layout. Font used in a book should never distract from the story – it’s just a form to convey your message. It should be invisible in a way, so the readers can fully immerse in your story. Serif fonts are best suited for the body text, as they enhance readability. While working on a page layout design, it’s important to use white space wisely to ensure harmonious spacing between letters, words, lines, and paragraphs. Small details like these or too many hyphenated words can transform the reading experience into a painful one.
Knowing all these book layout elements and paying attention to them while reading a book can help you recognize a well-crafted book from the one that was thrown together using software that’s not intended for book design (like Microsoft Word, for instance). Next time you visit a library or bookstore, take a moment to compare book layouts. It’s a great exercise for self-publishing authors eager to transform their manuscripts into well-formatted books.