Pagination Styles: Shall We Kill the Widows & Orphans?

by Joel Friedlander on October 20, 2010 · 114 comments

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In Brief: In book design we have to decide which style of pagination to choose. This article presents both so you can make an informed choice.

People often seem to divide themselves neatly into two camps: shirts versus skins, innies versus outies, grow it out versus shave it off. And so it is in book design. There’s one decision every book designer has to make on most every book of prose they work on: squared-off pages versus no widow or orphan lines.

Okay, you need to know what “squared-off pages” and “widows” and “orphans” mean when talking about book pages, so let’s look at those first.

Pity the Widows and Orphans

Text consists of letters built into words, which are strung into sentences sequenced into paragraphs. There are probably about 90 words in a typical paragraph. That means in a manuscript of 75,000 words you will be dealing with over 800 paragraphs and 5,000 line endings.

Because there are so many paragraphs, there’s a kind of random distribution that happens in books. If you get to the bottom of a page and there’s only room for one more line, and that line is the first line of a paragraph, you will have an odd look at the bottom of that page. This is a widow:

book design for self-publishers

On other pages, just the last line of a paragraph may bump to a new page, leaving a stub of a line at the top. That’s an orphan:

book design for self-publishers

Now some people hate these widows and orphans, and they will do anything to get rid of them. And since they don’t look very neat and tidy, you might think that’s a good idea.

But wait! There’s another entire group of people who, although they don’t like widows and orphans either, prefer them to the alternative.

What happens when you eliminate the widows and orphans? You lose your squared-up pages.

Let’s take a look.

To Square or Not to Square: That is the Question

Here is a spread from a book. Notice that the widows and orphans have not been changed, and the right-hand page has an orphan line at the top.

book design for self-publishers

You can change this globally throughout the book very easily. In Adobe InDesign we use the Keep dialog on the Paragraph menu. This allows us a lot of control over what you might call the infrastructure of the paragraph and how it behaves on the page:

book design for self publishers

You can see here I’ve instructed InDesign to keep at least 2 lines together at the beginning and end of paragraphs. This will eliminate all widows and orphans. So why isn’t everyone happy?

Here’s the resulting spread:

book design for self publishers

You’ll see that there is no longer an orphan line at the top of the right-hand page. But the line that moved there to keep the orphan company had to come from somewhere, and it left a space at the bottom of the left-hand page. We now have a different number of lines on these two pages, and they are no longer “squared off” at the bottom.

Which One Will You Choose?

For many years I preferred this second method of pagination for the books I worked on, unless a client specifically asked for squared-off pages. I don’t like the way widows and orphans look, and the way they make spreads look untidy. Book designers don’t like untidy books.

Recently I’ve become more flexible and now do many books with squared-off pages. I find the disturbance of the occasional widow or orphan less bothersome than that missing line at the end of the page.

When it comes time to do the layout and pagination of your book, you or your book designer or the personnel at the company you’ve hired to typeset your book will have to make this decision. And you’ll be ready to decide which part of the world of book design you belong to: with the widows and orphans and squared-off pages, or banning widows and orphans altogether.

As a self-publisher, it’s one more thing you get to decide. Which one will it be?

Ed: After this article was posted I received an email from frequent commenter Michael N. Marcus, in which he said:

Years ago (maybe on my college newspaper) I learned that an orphan was the lonely entity at the bottom of a page, and the widow is at the top. To remember this, I visualize the “widow’s walk” at the TOP of old seaside homes.

I found this fascinating because when I learned this nomenclature long ago it was the exact opposite. It was the widow at the bottom of the page (always a full line) that had been “abandoned” and left behind, while the orphan (always a short line, since it’s the end of the paragraph) that had been left without the rest of its “relatives” and forlorn at the top of the page.

Wikipedia has this to say:

In typesetting, widows and orphans are words or short lines at the beginning or end of a paragraph, which are left dangling at the top or bottom of a column, separated from the rest of the paragraph. There is some disagreement about the definitions of widow and orphan; what one source calls a widow the other calls an orphan.

However, Chicago Manual of Style prefers Michael’s usage, and readers should be aware of that.

Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, original work copyright by elbragon,

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    { 109 comments… read them below or add one }

    Mary April 16, 2015 at 6:38 am

    I work in electronic publishing – can someone please inform me about widows, orphans and hyphens in electronic publishing? Where and when to eliminate them in electronic publishing, including websites and electronic newsletters?



    Joel Friedlander April 16, 2015 at 11:19 am

    Mary, you don’t really need to worry about widows and orphans on websites because there aren’t any “pages” as there are in books. In ebooks, it’s not very practical to try to address these issues because the user can change the typeface and size quite easily, which would completely change the “pagination” anyway.


    Mary April 16, 2015 at 11:28 am

    Hi Joel:

    Thanks, however, what about article titles in electronic newsletters? Articles containing links that point to several different websites?


    Joel Friedlander April 16, 2015 at 11:31 am

    Mary, widows and orphans do not refer to headlines, only text flow. And I don’t see any connection between “articles containing links” and the subject of print book pagination, which is the only place widows and orphans occur.


    Vikk January 31, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    Wow. I’m exhausted. Interesting, though.


    Chris Behrens August 31, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Great info. Dealing with all of this now. I hired Jera Publishing to design my interior. Almost done. Facing pages end equally, but not every page ends at the same line…notmuch we/I could do about this. I have 3 widows or orphans, they are 3 lines that finish on the odd-numbered page, a few words in each line from the facing page. Not much I could do about it.

    So my question now: do I have the page numbers placed at the top to avoid the varied spacing look? Will it be noticed? Hopefully not. I like the look of things as they stand. Page number on bottom, centered. Author name and title centered on top pages. Thinking about moving page numbers to top corners. Thoughts? It is a children’s book. Got a very positive review from Kirkus. Also, good comments fro m Writer’s Digest. Wondering why I am dealing with formatting now. I used Xlibris to publish it this past spring. Somehow, their pricing slipped by me, price is tooooo HIGH, 19.99 plus shipping, or 17.99 plus shipping on Amazon. I am going the Createspace route, to lower my price so needed new files.

    Page numbers, best at top? Or really not an issue?


    Joel Friedlander September 1, 2014 at 11:20 am

    Chris, not a big issue. Best advice is to look at lots of books selling to the same market your book in intended for, and see how they handle these details, and which looks you like, then just go for it. Good move, going from Xlibris to CS, good luck with the book.


    Chris Behrens September 1, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    Thanks, Joel!
    My Xlibris version has the numbers in top corners, and I feel this takes the spotlight off the bottom of the page. Don’t want anything to distract a reader. Think extra spacing on some pgs. between page numbers and text could distract. Just draws attention to it. Plus my artistic background tells me to move it. Learned in Photoshop class about the “Rule of Thirds”! I requested Jera to place #’s at the top corners. Waiting for reply. The past few weeks has been a crash course in book design, WOW! So much to do! Jera is doing a nice job. And I had my Photoshop Professor redo my cover file. Thanks for the reply. I did look at several books and the page numbers vary from top to bottom.


    Debbie March 26, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    I’ve found that adding .1″ or .05″ line spacing in a few paragraphs on a page is negligible, but will move an orphan to the previous page. But what I struggle with is leaving a fairly large (±1″) blank space at the bottom of a page when there is not enough room for a sub-heading and at least two lines of text. How do you handle that?


    David Bergsland March 26, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    Often the only way to deal with such things is with editing or rewriting. I understand that is not an option upon occasion, but it may be the only solution. You can usually make two to four paragraphs a line longer in the previous pages.


    Michele DeFilippo February 26, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    A line break between paragraphs certainly makes squaring off pages more difficult, even if you use a full line space between graphs (ugly). Even with a half-line of space between graphs, you’ll eventually wind up with a page that is longer or shorter than the facing page, especially if you have the “keep” options set to “first two” and “last two.” You could use vertical justification to change the amount of space between graphs but this can be noticeable, too. Unless the book is a how-to guide or a cookbook, where a line space between graphs can actually help the reader, I’d try to talk the client out of this.


    Moon February 27, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    Thanks, Michael!! I just wanted to be sure I wasn’t unaware of some great solution to this problem but it seems I was right in thinking there isn’t a good one and, as you suggest, I’ll have to try to talk my client out of it :). I’ve been using InDesign for a long time but am still learning… I’m not sure what you mean by “use a full line space between graphs,” or “change the amount of space between graphs.” What graphs?


    Michele DeFilippo February 28, 2014 at 10:44 am

    Sorry for the abbreviation. I was referring to paragraphs. If the line breaks between paragraphs are a multiple of the line spacing used, then the text on facing pages will still line up side to side, which always looks nicer than if it doesn’t. For example, if your text is 12 point on 13 points of line spacing, you could set a “space above” value of 13 points. This inserts what I called a “full line space” between the paragraphs. It will still look ugly, though.

    You can refer your client to bestselling books from major publishers online to demonstrate that a line space between paragraphs is not generally used without a specific purpose, and it is, in fact, one of the marks of a self-published book. You might succeed, and if not, well, you’ve done your duty. :-)


    Moon February 28, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    Oh, riiiight, para – graphs :| eep! Yes, that makes sense, and I was looking today at a nicely laid out John Adams bio that I’ve been greatly enjoying (by McCullough) and noticing how it achieves squareness — by using complete line spaces, just as you suggested, above and below block quotes and other such places (and using indented paragraphs, also as you seem to be recommending). I really appreciate your responses—very helpful. Now I just hope I can come to a good agreement with my client! Thank you again, Michele!


    Michele DeFilippo March 1, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    My pleasure, Moon.

    Joel Friedlander March 1, 2014 at 11:56 am

    Thanks for your expert commentary, Michele, much appreciated. This question pops up continuously, and I’ve certainly done a lot of books in both the “squared off pages” version and the “uneven bottoms” version, and in many cases defer to the client’s preferences once I’m sure they understand the differences.


    Michele DeFilippo March 1, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    Yes, indeed, client preferences always win the day. :-)


    Moon February 26, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    This is an excellent article! I have, however, a client who has requested both squared off pages AND line breaks between paragraphs—instead of the standard indented paragraphs. That doesn’t seem possible (or maybe my line breaks are not the right height?)—should that be possible??


    Marla Markman May 24, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    Great analogy, Doug! That is so true.


    David Bergsland May 17, 2013 at 10:45 am

    Tracking is not mentioned much because it changes the color of the paragraph. When you move the letters closer together, the paragraph looks a little darker. It throws off the type color of the entire page, lessens the effectiveness of the subheads, and so on. When setting books, tracking should never be used to fix runts, paragraph widows, or whatever you happen to use for their name [I was taught they are widows, myself]. Of course, you should never make absolute statements either.


    Joel Friedlander May 17, 2013 at 11:20 am

    While it’s all too easy for inexperienced users to get bad results by messing with the tracking settings in InDesign, I’ve found that careful use of this tool can solve a lot of these widow/orphan problems as well as bad hyphenations and other line-fit situations. But you have to be careful.


    David Bergsland May 17, 2013 at 11:42 am

    I recommend that it’s better to use the width field. You can change the width of the characters ±4% or so invisibly. Tracking ±5 works. You can see ±10 in many cases.

    Remember, the best solution is editing or rewriting IF you have that option.


    Ian Barker October 22, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    David, What is the “width” tool? I’m using tracking to fix this problem, and it seems to be working alright so far. What is an acceptable variation?


    David Bergsland October 22, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    Width is horizontal scaling. You can do that ±4% and no one will notice. Tracking works very well but it obviously makes that paragraph look darker or lighter. Tracking really cannot be used except as an overall setting in your paragraph styles or for a paragraph off by itself. In body copy, any tracked type can be noticed [except in ePUBs which do not support it].

    Doug Gibson May 24, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    Wonderful how this thread keeps going. I’m so glad I read to the end. I’m just finishing up a client’s interior layout and I was looking for specific advice on tracking and spacing alterations (something that I have luckily had perfectionist editors take on in my staff designer positions).

    For my money, I think Joel’s right when he says that it’s attention to such small details that add up to a professional-looking layout. And we shouldn’t apologize for being so painstaking with details. I’ve know artists who work and rework a painting again and again, and agonize over the appearance of individual brush strokes. The little things matter, even if readers aren’t conscious of them.

    Again, great thread. Thanks for starting this discussion-two and a half years ago and counting!


    Michael L. White April 30, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    There’s another alternative you can try, though it may not work in every instance. In MS Word 2010 (not sure of earlier versions), you can condense or expand the character spacing within the words of a paragraph. You can do this from the Font dialog on the Advanced tab (just use the Ctrl + D keyboard combo to quickly access it). I recommend selecting the entire affected paragraph and either condensing or expanding the character spacing, starting at .1 pt and incrementing up to 1 pt. You can exceed these parameters, of course, but just be careful not to condense or expand too much or you will sacrifice one aspect of visual appeal (clear, readable typeface) for another (“squared” pages). I hope you and your readers find this helpful.


    Marla Markman February 22, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    I can understand your obsession. I’m anal editor who has OCD over comma and hyphen placement. So you’re in good company! We’ve all been there.


    bowerbird February 22, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    michele said:
    > Reader’s won’t notice if some spreads run
    > longer or shorter than others by a line, but they
    > will notice bouncing page bottoms side by side.

    in a print-book that’s true. because the memory of
    where the previous spread bottomed out is vague.

    but in an e-book, where each page overlays the last,
    along with absolute certainty the book didn’t “move”,
    it becomes totally obvious if your page-bottoms vary.

    > (3) force justify the page, which changes
    > the line spacing and is almost always noticeable.

    first, i’m not all that sure that it is that “noticeable”.
    especially if you look at pages in one-at-time-mode.

    one _can_ spot different line-spacing on facing pages,
    since the lines won’t “line up” across from each other;
    but i’ve seen zero evidence people consider that to be
    a “flaw”, not if both of the line-heights are reasonable.

    and indeed, when you explain to them that you have
    shifted the line-height a wee bit so the bottoms balance,
    they agree it’s a good solution to the worser problem
    (of unbalanced bottoms) and the worst problem of all
    (namely, the presence of pesky widows and orphans).

    although, to be perfectly honest, some people even
    view our concern against widows/orphans as evidence
    we have a serious problem with obsession/compulsion.



    Michele DeFilippo February 22, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    Yes, Bowerbird, I meant to say that facing pages with different leading values would be noticeable.

    I know what you mean about the obsession issue. Just this week, I giggled at the memory of a former neighbor who would flip out if all the hangers in the closet were not facing the same way. Then, I thought, wait…isn’t that what people think of us when we go on and on about typesetting standards. :-)


    J.M. Ney-Grimm February 22, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    …some people…view our concern against widows/orphans as evidence we have a serious problem with obsession/compulsion.

    LOL! But i do care. Since I’m talking print, not ebook, here, I’m going to try the squared bottom using short folio/long folio values on my next POD and see how it looks to me.


    Michele DeFilippo February 22, 2013 at 8:26 am

    If it makes you feel any better, J.M., 2- and 3-line paragraphs drive even book designers crazy. There are several ways to square up pages with such a manuscript. In order of preference, when tracking adjustments don’t do the trick, they are: (1) design the book so that the bottom margin on facing pages can be a line shorter or a line longer, or both; (2) allow the first line of a paragraph at the bottom of the page, something we usually avoid, or (3) force justify the page, which changes the line spacing and is almost always noticeable. As the author, you can also change the manuscript to minimize the short graphs for a better layout.


    J.M. Ney-Grimm February 22, 2013 at 9:08 am

    …2- and 3-line paragraphs drive even book designers crazy.

    LOL! That does make me feel better!

    I tried changing the manuscript (since I am the author) to solve the problem, but eventually decided that was a slippery slope. When I have my publisher hat on, I’m in very different mindset from when I have my writer hat on. I couldn’t be sure I wasn’t damaging the story with the changes I was making. The bottom line: as a writer I’m always going to be using 2- and 3-line paragraphs at times for reasons of pacing and emphasis. I decided that I as book designer needed to learn to live with that!

    So my first POD has page spreads where the left or right is one line longer than its opposite. I put the page number in the running header along with author/title. I felt the “ragged” bottom would look better if I didn’t have it “bouncing” up and down over a page number.

    One trick I may try in future is looking at scene breaks when I need to either add or subtract vertical space. There can be some wiggle room there, especially if the last line above the scene break graphic is a partial line.

    One trick I did use: a few paragraphs that were splitting unfortunately across the page break just happened to feature a last sentence that fit exactly on one line, perfectly justified! In those cases, I allowed that last sentence to stand alone at the top of the page. It looked good to my eye, much better than a widowed line that ended even a smidgeon before the true margin.

    I did try doing matching long folios, but really did not like that. Matching short folios were better, although they still bothered me. So I’m currently allowing non-square pages. Guess that’s the production value for my house!

    One thing I still wonder about: what is the limit to how much I should change horizontal scaling before it becomes jarring? I always try to get what I need from a troublesome paragraph with 99% or 98%. Sometimes, in desperate situations, I’ll go to 97%. Once I devolved to 96%. Yikes! Lower than that, I’ll look for another solution. But I’d love to know what the pros do!

    Thanks for your advice, Michele!

    (BTW, my middle name is Michele. I’ve never “met” anyone with the single l spelling variant before!)


    Michele DeFilippo February 22, 2013 at 9:58 am

    Funny that we share the same spelling of Michele. It is indeed unusual.

    Facing pages should end on the same line, except at the end of the chapter, of course. Reader’s won’t notice if some spreads run longer or shorter than others by a line, but they will notice bouncing page bottoms side by side.

    I would never allow on line at the top of a page, even if it were fully justified. I’d find some way to prevent this.

    As to horizontal scaling, I only change this when desperate, and changes to tracking or word spacing in the paragraph at hand or some other paragraph in the chapter doesn’t solve the problem. I wouldn’t go below 98%, but let your eyes decide. If you can see it, so will the reader.

    Good luck. If you can consider hiring a designer, I’ll be happy to take a look at your layout and offer an opinion.


    J.M. Ney-Grimm February 22, 2013 at 10:10 am

    Thanks, Michele! I very much appreciate your feedback and your answer to my question.


    J.M. Ney-Grimm February 22, 2013 at 7:42 am


    I’d chosen to zap widows and orphans in my book design, but then found myself struggling with non-square pages. I worried about it. Especially after I scrutinized a shelf full of Harper Collins books and determined that they possessed neither widows and orphans nor non-square pages. Now I know that HC poured boatloads of money into the design in order to achieve that result!

    Back in the day, I worked for a small publisher of games – board games, card games, and RPG games. I started in the production dept. doing paste up (before desktop publishing) and drawing maps and floor plans, airbrushing board art. Later I moved into writing, editing, and art direction.

    I learned a ton from that experience, and drew on it when I set out to create my first POD book as an indie writer/publisher.

    The widows/orphans issue had me stymied. At that small publisher, we produced square pages with no orphans/widows. But I was having great difficulty doing that in my POD. The thing is that the game books all had illustrations and diagrams and maps and floor plans. I do remember tossing in small “spot illos” at times to make the page come out right. I suspect that was the difference. My novel has no illustration! And it does have quite a few 2-line and 3-line paragraphs! That really ups the ante!

    So I’d been fretting about the issue. And now, thanks to this post and the comments, I know I must choose. I know that achieving square pages without orphans/widows is a very difficult proposition indeed. (Although I have a few more tricks now for getting there that I will try, courtesy of the comments.)

    Thank you, Joel, and thank you, commenters. This was incredibly helpful!


    Len Rattini November 7, 2012 at 8:17 am

    Ongoing when reading your blog info there is always something new to learn. I just leaned about orphans, widows and squared-offed pages. Good timing for me as I’ll be contacting an internal book designer shortly.

    Thanks Joel for the good info.


    Michele DeFilippo August 30, 2012 at 9:13 am

    Sandy: In book design, there are several ways to create the “book block” and different publishers often employ different standards. For example, some publishers want all the pages to end on the same baseline, while preventing the first line of a paragraph on the bottom of a page and the last line of a paragraph at the top of a page. The only way to achieve this is to vary the line spacing from page to page via vertical justification. Personally, I can see this difference in spacing and don’t care for it.

    Other publishers ask that facing pages end on the same baseline, but allow other facing pages (or spreads) to end one line shorter or one line longer than the bottom margin. This method allows the line spacing to be consistent throughout the book, and I think it’s less distracting to the reader than the first method.

    It’s not possible to bring up widows that are “a few words” long. The type in the paragraph would have to be noticeably tighter or looser to accomplish this, which would also be distracting to the reader. The generally accepted standard for widows is one word of 5 characters or more, including punctuation. This also varies from publisher to publisher.

    The goal is to keep the reader’s attention on the content. If the reader notices the type for any reason, the typesetter has failed.

    Michele DeFilippo, owner
    Great reviews begin here.
    Author of: Publish Like the Pros: A Brief Guide to Quality Self-Publishing


    Alicia Wright Brewster August 30, 2012 at 10:32 am

    “The generally accepted standard for widows is one word of 5 characters or more, including punctuation.”

    Could you explain what you mean by this? It’s my understanding that widows are an entire line at the end of a page, but I’m assuming you’re of the other camp that says widows are the lonely ones at the top of a page. Even with this assumption, I don’t understand.

    Are you saying that a widow of at least that length may be acceptable to some publishers, or are you saying that a widow of no longer than that length can be brought into the prior line with some tinkering–without causing too much of a spacing mess?


    Michele DeFilippo August 30, 2012 at 11:47 am

    The word “widow” is defined in different ways. There are “word widows” that refer to a single word on the last line of a paragraph, and “line widows” that, as I learned, refer to the first line of a paragraph at the bottom of a page. And then there are “orphans”, the last line of a paragraph at the top of a page, which others refer to as “widows”. Now you know why typesetters get gray hair.

    So, an example of a “word widow” that is acceptable under the standard would be … help.” … 6 characters including the period and the quotation mark. An example of a word widow that should be fixed is … it.” … only 4 characters.

    It’s usually possible to bring up such short widows by adjusting the word spacing and letter spacing in the paragraph in minute increments that are not noticeable. Bringing up several words with tighter spacing, or bringing down an extra word with looser spacing would be.

    It takes time to rework paragraphs and the resulting change in page bottom alignment that this triggers. Since longer word widows are not as distracting to the reader as short word widows, most publishers let them go for the sake of production efficiency.

    I know, it sounds obsessive, but if you compare a book page carefully typeset according to these standards with a page laid out in Word, you’ll immediately see the difference in quality.


    Joel Friedlander August 30, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    Thanks, Michele, for your clear explanation. As a fellow obsessive, I also believe these refinements, which may not be significant in one instance, add up to the kind of look we expect from truly “professional” books.


    Michael N. Marcus August 30, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    The somewhat authoritative Chicago Manual of Style says that orphans are on the bottom and widows are on the top. Years ago I was taught a good way to remember this: think of the “widow’s walk” on TOP of many old New England houses.


    Sandy Bornstein August 30, 2012 at 8:59 am

    I recently received my proof copy. I couldn’t understand why my pages were not squared off at the bottom. Your article was extremely informative. It helped me understand why the publisher chose to format my book with inconsistent negative space between the last line and the page number. The spacing caught my eye, especially since it oftentimes was more than one line. After the book is reformatted, I hope that I will be able to eliminate the orphans/widows that are just a few words. A full line or two does not bother me. Thanks again.


    David Bergsland May 17, 2012 at 6:33 am

    Excellent article! But it misses a major additional concept: the paragraph widow. I realize that software developers Aldus, Quark, and Adobe have changed the definition of these things. Actually, Robert Bringhurst was probably the culprit.

    But as I was taught in the 1970s, all of your examples are orphans (isolated column fragments). They can be easily controlled with the Keeps Options in your paragraph styles in InDesign, as you mention. (If you’re writing in InDesign you can simply rewrite the paragraph to fix the problem—adding and subtracting words, phrases, and sentences to make it work. The real problem is widows (short paragraph end lines of less than two complete words or eight characters). These have to be fixed by hand—always!

    I’ve quit fighting this fight and now use Orphans, Column Widows, and Paragraph Widows to describe these things. But this is yet another reason to write in InDesign so you can keep these things cleaned up as you write/create your book. They make a major contribution for good or bad to the reading experience of your book.


    Joel Friedlander August 30, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    David, thanks for your valuable comment. As a professional designer and typesetter, I’ve spent most of my career working on books written by others, so changing copy to correct layout problems was almost never an option—you had to work with what you were given, leading to lots of creative ways to get rid of egregious widows and orphans.


    Andreas Krauß March 14, 2012 at 10:19 am

    True, Michael.

    But the two solutions (only one usable) were given with the other options in mind. But altering the text per se isn’t always desirable. Also, using abbreviations in a fiction book’s always tricky.

    But it would certainly work for non-fiction books– as long as it isn’t overdone. I wouldn’t use more than two abbreviations per page, and I’d use only the most common ones, those that are easily understood even by a non-native languager. (“WWII” is in, “i.e” is out.)


    Andreas Krauß March 14, 2012 at 6:20 am

    Well, there are several simple ways to get rid of widows/orphans, if you are both the writer and publisher of your book.

    1) Put some graphic element somewhere in the text body of the page, so that enough text will be pushed downward so that the rest of this page (and the following page!) looks good.

    This is tricky, however, since the placement of the graphic has to make sense within the context of the page. You can’t insert a graphic element for no other reason than design within a paragraph, for instance.

    In my fiction books, I’m going to use several simple b&w graphics of my main character, sometimes just his upper body, as he looks at the reader, he signals “Thump Up!”; those graphics were specifically designed to serve as “place filler”, if you have more than a quarter of the last page to fill at the end of a chapter, but they also could serve as within-a-chapter breaks or as w/o killers.

    2) Modify the text size slightly. Personally, I hate that “solution”, since it screams unprofessional.


    Michael N. Marcus March 14, 2012 at 7:34 am

    Andreas, there are simple solutions that don’t involve inserting graphic elements or changing type size that work well if you are both the writer and the publisher: add some words, delete some words, or change some words.

    For example, if you need to stretch your text, you can change “club” and “pasta” to “organization” and “spaghetti.” If you need to reduce your text, try the reverse.

    You can use common abbreviations and initials so save space, such as “FDR,” “JFK” and “WWII.” In the other direction, “John Pierpont Morgan” takes up more space than “J. P. Morgan.”

    You can also experiment with expanding or reducing the spaces between letters and words.

    On pages with photos, charts or illustrations, you can alter their size or position, or slightly change the space between them and adjacent text.


    Joel Friedlander March 14, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    I’d have to disagree with some of these suggestions. While there may be no difference in your specific text between “club” and “organiztion” these types of changes can’t be made in every manuscript, and there are specific conventions about the use of abbreviations.

    Expanding or condensing letter or word space has to be done very carefully and in extremely small increments and might well be a worse “solution” than the “problem” it was meant to solve.


    Andreas Krauß March 14, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    Hmm. *Are* there specific conventions about how many different abreviations can maximal be used on a single page? For instance: 5 different abb. max?

    Or is this up to your individual judgement?


    Ros Nelson February 8, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    “My” authors allow me great latitude and so, I obsessively adjust any page that does not look right (orphan/widow-wise) with tiny tweaks to the text, letter spacing adjustments, and small (invisible) changes to leading or space after a heading.. for a few examples.
    I hate to think of myself as TYPE A but when it comes to these issues, I have to admit that I fall into that lint-picking category.
    What I love about these comments is that there are so many people for whom typography is important. Obsess On!


    Joel Friedlander February 9, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    Typography = great job for chronic tweakers and other perfectionist types, don’t you think?


    Ros Nelson February 9, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    leo with virgo rising — big picture thinking with attention to detail. . . a perfect setup for making books!


    Alicia Brewster January 25, 2012 at 8:53 am

    Hi Joel,

    I know this was a while ago, but thanks for this post! Very informative.

    I typeset a book for the first time a couple weeks ago, and I tried my best to find a medium between these two worlds. My rules were (1) squared-up pages are a must, (2) orphans are an absolute no-way, (3) widows are a maybe, and (4) page length can be +/- one line.

    I used Adobe Indesign. In practice, my rules meant that I pulled down (or rolled up) the bottom margins on facing pages to avoid orphans. Any margin change to one page was also made to its facing page. This required some experimentation, because sometimes, changing one margin meant introduction of brand new orphans! For particularly ugly widows, I did the same. I defined “ugly” as cases in which the widow was a short line (thus emphasizing its loneliness) or where the widow just looked odder than usual on the page.

    This was time-consuming process! But I was really proud of the results, and I think I’ll do it the same way next time around too.

    I’m new to typesetting, so if you’ve got any feedback on my “rules,” I’d love to hear it.


    Joel Friedlander January 25, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Alicia, I admire your bravery and determination diving into book typography. It’s not as easy as it may look!

    It seems to me your rules #1 and #4 are in direct opposition, since squared-up pages are generally all the same length.

    I don’t think I’ve ever done a book that varies the bottom margin, but I can see why you would do that. It would be fastest to simply create new master pages with varying bottom margins and apply them as needed.

    In the end, the important thing is that you like the way your book looks. From the sound of it, that appears to be the case, so congratulations and good luck with the book!


    Alicia Wright Brewster August 30, 2012 at 10:34 am

    Oops. I had my terms mixed up. I meant facing pages, not squared-up pages (I think).

    This site is a wonderful resource, by the way!


    Paul Brookes September 28, 2011 at 2:29 am

    I have some experience of using Latex, which I think is a good (and quick) option for typesetting when the layout is basically text, such as in novel or biography.

    You can set it up to kill widows and orphans *and* have squared-off pages. It’s presumably doing this by subtly altering the spacing between paragraphs, but in such a way that the spacing is the same for facing pages. I imagine the vast majority of readers wouldn’t notice this.


    Joel Friedlander September 28, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    Paul, I would be interested in exactly how Latex is doing that, whether it’s the space between paragraphs or between lines that’s being adjusted. Although I haven’t seen pages that I know of which were justified that way, I’m a bit skeptical it would yield a great result. However, I’m sure you’re right that very few people would notice.


    Paul Brookes September 29, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Joel–if you’re interested, I was recently experimenting with setting a whole novel in Latex (Great Expectations, lifted off Project Gutenburg).

    The file is here (PDF, 1.15 MB). I’m not a designer, but I think the the layout looks professional. I’m pretty sure Latex is altering the paragraph spacing, as the leading looks the same to me. But it’s a more appealing alternative than going through Quark, InDesign (or even Word) page-by-page and fixing everything manually.


    Suzanne Semsch August 24, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    Hi Joel,
    Looks as though I’m joining these replies late in the game. I just want to say that I really hate pages that are not squared off at the bottom! I would much rather see a widow or an orphan, top or bottom. When I told CreateSpace that I didn’t like uneven pages they replied “but this is what we recommend.” Well, I said, please not in my book, thank you.

    Thank you for bringing the subject up again. I saw a little back and forth the other day between you and Walton. I don’t remember which side each of you were on, but it was interesting to me that people are so opinionated about it. Anyway, you have just offered the best definition of widows and orphans that I have previously read.


    Joel Friedlander September 28, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Hi Suzanne, thanks for the comment. My aim here is to explain the situation so people can make their own informed choice. And it so often depends on the specific book, too.


    Clay Rivers June 5, 2011 at 2:33 pm


    You’ve got a great resource here. As a former art director turned writer, the look of the page is very important to me. I’d have to agree with you and the minority of typographers with traditional definitions and design practices, 1) Widows — dangling single lines of a paragraph at the top or bottom of a page, 2) Orphans — the final word of a paragraph sitting alone on a line, 3) Paragraph grids and consistent leading exist to maintain a regular rhythm on the page which make for a more enjoyable experience for the reader.

    But that’s the beauty and terror of do-it-yourself page design: everyone’s free to design their pages however they like.

    Keep up the good work!


    Joel Friedlander June 5, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    Clay, thanks very much. “Beauty and terror,” that about sums it up.


    Michele DeFilippo November 17, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    If you click on any book designer’s name here, you can visit our websites and compare offerings to see which book designer best meets your needs. I’m sure all of us would be able and willing to help get your book ready for printing, using all our expertise. :-)


    Joel Friedlander November 17, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    Good point, Michele. You can probably tell from the comments who the typographers are, and I encourage readers to check them out.


    Vio November 16, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    I read the whole blog and now I have many more questions than I had before, especially since I understood that there are few rules, and even these are somewhat flexible.

    Well, I am at my first book, English is my third language (learned at 30’s) and had no choice but to hire an editor (glad I did). We’re almost ready to publish. I seriously consider self publishing because I believe that the royalty of 2-10 percent of sales is a crime (grand theft) and worth of capital punishment

    Regarding the book design, I already have the cover, have talked once to Joel (phone conversation) about the design, yet I am still not sure what to do because now I see that you (the pro’s) have many and different takes on almost everything.

    I do not care much about hyphenation, orphans, and squares – the designer should decide on these, based on book esthetics. My opinion is this: a beautiful book need not be perfectly square (unless is 8×8 or similar) …however, it should look nice, be easy to read, have a pleasant but simple layout and nice fonts – that is the opinion of a design laic, one who read many books.

    My book is non-fiction (physician-assisted suicide), and is about 340 pages long (#12 Times Roman, double spaced). No pictures, just couple of tables, bunch of empty space at the end each chapter’s last page…which I personally do not find offensive in any way.

    These are my questions:

    1. What format would work best, and would Perpetua 12 or 14 (I love it!) be a good font choice for the paper copy and the PDF or is there any trend in fonts and design?
    2. What can I expect to pay for its “complete” design?
    3. My web page has technical issues that I am working hard to correct (so far not much luck – guess I need a professional designer there) however, if you are interested here it is:


    Joel Friedlander November 17, 2010 at 3:54 pm


    I don’t think I’ve ever set a book in Perpetua, although I have used it for display.

    Most non-fiction books like the one you describe are done in 6″ x 9″ or 5.5″ x 8.5″ format.

    The range of pricing for book design and layout is very large, and you’ll do better querying individual designers to get real, specific estimates for your book.

    I’m sorry you ended up with more questions than you started with. But you’ll get the best book by hiring a designer who knows how books are supposed to be put together and working collaboratively with them to get a book that can compete in the marketplace. I hope that helps!


    Sherri Keller November 9, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    This is interesting. My typography teacher in college taught us that the lone line at the top or bottom of a column of text was called a widow, and a lone word on a line at the end of a paragraph (like “collection” in your first example image) was an orphan. This is the first I’ve heard of the line at the top of a column called an orphan.

    Have you ever heard of that usage?


    Michael N. Marcus November 9, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    Sherri, I learned that the orpan is at the bottom and the widow is at the top, and have always used the terms that way. I remember by thinking of the “widow’s walk” at the TOP of old homes near the coast in New England.

    Michael N. Marcus
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series:
    — “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),”


    Sherri November 18, 2010 at 7:58 am

    Thanks, Michael. So are the lone words on a line called anything? Other than ugly, that is. :)


    Joel Friedlander November 22, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    I call them orphans, Sherri, but if you read through the article and comments you’ll see that I’m in the minority here. Thanks for stopping by.


    Joe Gannon April 18, 2014 at 8:00 am

    A “widow” is the last line of a para carried to top of next page, generally not acceptable in trade book publishing.
    An “orphan” is the first line of para left behind on previous page, and is now commonly accepted in trade book publishing.
    “An orphan is left behind, whereas a widow must go on alone.”

    A single word turnover (or worse yet, partial word turnover) at the end of a para is a “runt.”

    David Bergsland August 30, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    I always thought it was Bringhurst who put that widow/orphans as both paragraph fragments. I was taught that orphans can be top or bottom paragraph fragments and controlled by software. Widows, on the other hand, were taught as short last lines of a paragraph. I was taught 8 characters, or at least two words (though that looks a bit short to me still).

    Sandee Cohen started distinguishing paragraph widows and column widows. I think that’s the most clearway to do it.


    Marla Markman October 25, 2010 at 11:16 am

    Great post and discussion. I’m in the Maggie camp, since I also worked for a magazine and book publisher where everyone–edit and art–was quite obsessed with correcting widows and orphans and spaced-out text lines, either by rewriting the sentence or manually adjusting the kerning. It was also forbidden to allow more than three hyphens per page, unbalanced pages, or incorrect hyphenation breaks. Although our books and magazines looked beautiful, this practice was exhausting at times!


    Joel Friedlander October 25, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Marla, I’ve been down that road also, although not in recent years, and I wonder how many people are still paying this kind of attention to “commercial” copy. And the encroaching influence of ebooks certainly isn’t helping people gain an appreciation of careful typography either. Thanks for your input.


    bowerbird October 21, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    michele said:
    > a publisher who allowed only two hyphens per PAGE

    i’d just turn hyphenation off, then examine any loose lines.



    Michele DeFilippo October 21, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Thanks, bowerbird.

    Gee, I wish I was smart enough at the time to think of that! :-)

    Next time, I’ll take your excellent advice.


    Michele DeFilippo October 21, 2010 at 8:23 am

    Great comment, Maggie. We once worked for a publisher who allowed only two hyphens per PAGE, which of course can’t be specified in any layout application. We had to manually look for and eliminate the extra hyphens line by line through manual tracking and word space adjustments. This publisher would not allow long or short spreads, either, and preferred to rewrite text to eliminate widows and orphans. Talk about spending an enormous amount of time on a job! To some, this scenario would seem like punishment, but “the typographers curse” is truly an addiction, and as crazy as it seems, we’re able to find satisfaction in scenarios like this. Professionalism, thank goodness, isn’t determined by the end-user’s awareness of the standards.


    Michael N. Marcus October 21, 2010 at 11:32 am

    >> “the typographers curse” is truly an addiction, and as crazy as it seems, we’re able to find satisfaction<<

    I never read a printed book without a red pen clipped to it, and about one out of ten pages gets marked. Sometimes the markings lead to emails or book reviews. But most of the time the markings are just for my personal perverse pleasure. I am happily obsessed with copyediting.


    Joel Friedlander October 21, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    That’s amazing Michele, I think that would about drive me up the wall pretty quickly. The different editors with their varied requirements for hyphenation, widows and orphans and other esoterica of the printed page are bad enough. But it’s getting hard to find people who will actually pay for that kind of laborious handwork. Thanks for an interesting comment.


    Maggie October 20, 2010 at 4:26 pm


    This is a great thread, and I’ve lost count of the different ways I’ve begun to reply, but they all sounded stiff and awkward. So I’m jumping in with both feet, and am probably still sounding a bit clod-footed, but if I don’t take the plunge now, I never will. So here goes.

    As a freelance book designer and typesetter (non-fiction and academic) for the past 30 years, I’ve become acutely sensitive to the nuances each publisher brings to the puzzling art of page makeup. All too often different imprints within the same publisher lived by different book production rules, and I’ve had to learn each and every one of them. At a major non-fiction house, one production editor allowed three hyphens in a row; another only two. Someone else was okay with widows but her colleague despised them. A veteran in the next cubicle obsessed over kissing type and passive voice, even though the latter was an editorial, rather than a production decision. Others allowed short/long spreads, but never a short spread backed up by a long. None of them, however, tolerated orphans or loose lines, and you’d be shot for even thinking about feathering.

    So, while I created the pages each editor demanded, I honed my craft and formed my own judgments about what makes or breaks a page. This also, in a subtle way, formed my demands and expectations as a reader. According to several friends and family members, I’m too fussy about typography. “Just let yourself go and enjoy the read,” I’m often told.

    I try. I honestly do, but I continue to stumble over widows, orphans, unbalanced spreads, loose lines, and inappropriate hyphenation. I’m afraid that being a typesetter has (for me, at least) often compromised the reading experience … even with those books that are definitely worth reading but whose design gets in the way of readability.


    Joel Friedlander October 21, 2010 at 12:12 am

    Maggie, what a thoughtful and inclusive comment. It’s a pleasure to have your contribution. There are so many approaches to books, so many guidelines and yet so much room for personal expression.

    The “typographer’s curse” of not being able to look beyond the typesetting all around us is pretty familiar to me too.

    Seeing the passions involved in these issues is interesting, and makes me want to put on some armor when I write my H&J post!

    Thanks, sincerely.


    Michael N. Marcus October 21, 2010 at 11:43 am

    >>books that are definitely worth reading but whose design gets in the way of readability.<<

    Even books with flawless typography can be unreadable by some readers.

    I own a book called "Semantic Antics: How and Why Words Change Meaning." I love reading about words and thought I would get a lot of pleasure out of it. Unfortunately my prime emotions are frustration and outrage.

    Some unnamed book designer chose to use a smaller-than-normal page size, and in order to squeeze in all of author Sol Steinmetz’s text into a reasonable number of small pages, she or he chose a tiny type face that looks like what gets printed on the back of a credit card.

    When I was in advertising, this mini-printing was scorned as “FLY S**T.” It has no place in a commercial book.


    Mike Lipsey October 20, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    Just happen to have on my desk “A System of Practical and Scientific Physiognomy Vol. 1, by Mary Olmstead Stanton, Philadelphia 1890. 600 pages of densely printed nonsense with footnotes and many illustrations, captioned in tiny text. And whoever set it didn’t seem to have any of these problems. Have computers taken the skill out?


    Joel Friedlander October 20, 2010 at 4:23 pm


    It would be impossible for me to express to you how different it is setting a book in metal type, as opposed to any kind of digital equipment. The terrific expense of any corrections changes the entire workflow of production. Much time and effort is expended up front on samples and “cast offs” in which you perform a lot of math to calculate how long each chapter will be, how many lines will be cast for each section of the manuscript, and so on.

    Today, with text formatted in InDesign, a book is amazingly elastic and amenable to programming rules into the styles. You can make these babies jump through hoops, shrink or stretch in many, barely discernable ways.

    Also, from a typographic point of view, pages full of “tiny” type are much easier to deal with since there are so many inter-word spaces to adjust.


    Michael N. Marcus October 20, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    Joel, how much freedom do you have for making changes to improve the appearance of text you are formatting? Do you contact the author for every change?


    Joel Friedlander October 20, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    No, they are responsible for the content, and I’m responsible for the formatting, so things divide pretty easily. They rely on me to make their books look good, and I accept their content as the “given.”


    Moriah Jovan October 20, 2010 at 10:24 am

    Squared-off pages, no contest.

    OTOH, I’ll do whatever I have to do to make sure to minimize widows and orphans before giving up and letting them stay.


    Joel Friedlander October 20, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    I agree, Moriah. Most of them can be eliminated with just a little work, and it’s well worth doing.


    Tina Henderson October 20, 2010 at 8:54 am

    In the last image, the page bottoms are not aligned because the verso (left) page is one line short. If you also make the recto (right) page one line short, then you will have a balanced spread, a short spread.

    A long spread would have one extra line on both the verso and recto pages. A designer usually specifies that it’s ok to use short spreads (but not long spreads) in a book, or vice versa.


    Joel Friedlander October 20, 2010 at 9:24 am

    Tina, that’s a totally legitimate way to approach this, and I probably should have mentioned it so thanks. However, I have never used this method because I find it even more disturbing than the unbalanced bottoms, but that’s just a personal preference. When you design a text block to have a specific position on the page, and balance the white space with the typographic material, I don’t want to upset that. And when there are dropped folios, these changes are even more noticeable. But, to each her own. Thanks for your contribution.


    Tina Henderson October 20, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Joel, that’s interesting. Every publisher I’ve worked with in the past 18 years (save one, which allows feathering) has used long/short spreads. The balance of the spread above is thrown off by having just one page short. To me, that’s very jarring. Anyway, I guess that’s one reason I rarely use drop folios.


    Joel Friedlander October 20, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    I’m glad you suggested this Tina, because it clearly gives people a third option. But you’ll have to pull those drop folios out of my grip because I’m not giving them up!


    bowerbird October 20, 2010 at 7:51 am

    ok, first of all, let’s all admit that the number of
    readers who care about this is extremely small…

    but if we’re gonna be designers, i guess we can
    be obsessive-compulsive among ourselves, right?

    so let’s point out that there is another choice too,
    which is to eliminate widows and orphans and then
    create balanced bottoms via a very slight adjustment
    to the leading of each page. this is what i prefer, and
    — because it makes both camps happy — this is what
    i have my software do, by default. i should note that
    this makes the strict-grid-purists cry “foul”, but they
    don’t have a leg to stand on, as far as i’m concerned.



    Joel Friedlander October 20, 2010 at 9:27 am

    Bower, I guess you’re one of the type-obsessed, since you’ve obviously thought about and addressed this in your own books. Your solution is one I would not use and would not endorse for DIY book designers. Changing the leading from page to page would be a most disturbing variation in my opinion, and I suspect it’s one that even moderately-aware readers would take note of. But that’s the beauty of an art that can be practiced by many to their own satisfaction: everyone can find the solution that works best for them. Thanks for chiming in.


    Michael N. Marcus October 20, 2010 at 10:37 am

    I was working on a book today, trying to square-up the bottoms of some spreads. I’ve never been satisfied with changing leading (except within a text box–which is a special case and is “allowed” to look different).

    This book has a lot of bulleted grafs, normally separated by 8 pts. By increasing the spacing to 9 pts on some pages I achieved square bottoms, and I doubt that readers will be aware of the additional seventy-seconds of inches inserted in a few places.


    bowerbird October 20, 2010 at 10:40 am

    joel said:
    > Bower

    bowerbirds are birds who build nests
    that are called _bowers_. i am the bird,
    not the nest. so you should not call me
    “bower”. you can call me “bird” for short.
    or “bbird”… but definitely not “bower”…

    > I guess you’re one of the type-obsessed

    obviously… :+)

    > since you’ve obviously thought about
    > and addressed this in your own books.

    actually, i said i put this functionality in my
    _tool_. it’s an authoring tool. for authors. :+)

    it’s a free piece of software, and it kicks ass,
    and it solves a lot of e-book creation pains,
    so you’re gonna see lots of people using it…

    > Your solution is one I would not use and
    > would not endorse for DIY book designers.

    that’s probably because you’ve never seen it.
    in action.

    > Changing the leading from page to page would
    > be a most disturbing variation in my opinion

    it’s very difficult to see if/when it has been done.

    especially because the bottoms balance perfectly.

    > and I suspect it’s one that even moderately-aware
    > readers would take note of.

    i know that you’re definitely wrong about that…

    even a highly-skilled, trained, and experienced
    book-designer like yourself will have problems
    in reliably detecting if/when it has been done…
    (unless you actually count the lines on the page.)

    i’d be happy to send you (or anyone else) a .pdf,
    so you can do a test yourself. you’ll be surprised.

    > But that’s the beauty of an art that can be
    > practiced by many to their own satisfaction:
    > everyone can find the solution that works
    > best for them. Thanks for chiming in.

    i’m not saying my “solution” works best for me…
    who cares what “works best” for me?

    i’m saying it works best for the authors who want
    to self-publish their work and have it _look_good_
    with little time, energy, money, and learning curve.

    i’m also saying it “looks good” for the readers too,
    but i have already established they don’t really care.



    Joel Friedlander October 20, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Bird, it’s pretty difficult to have a conversation about a piece of software that no one here has seen or been able to work with, so I’ll wait until you release your “wonder child” into the real world to evaluate it.


    bowerbird October 20, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    joel said:
    > it’s pretty difficult to have a conversation about
    > a piece of software that no one here has seen
    > or been able to work with

    um, ok, fair enough, i guess…

    but we’re discussing the issue on a theoretical level,
    are we not? and certainly you can grasp the idea…

    and what’s important, i think we can agree, will be
    the _results_ from the tool, and those are shown in
    the .pdf i offered to show to you, and everyone else.

    you can even do the experiment yourself, if you like.
    your pages above are variable, having 26 or 27 lines.
    so just run out a spread where you adjust the leading
    so a 26-line-page and a 27-line-page bottom-balance.
    most people won’t find the difference to be noticeable.
    they can’t even reliably pick the page with more lines.


    Tina Henderson October 20, 2010 at 7:40 am

    You forgot one option: using long or short spreads.


    Michael N. Marcus October 20, 2010 at 8:47 am

    To Tina: What are they?


    Cheryl Anne Gardner October 20, 2010 at 5:51 am

    So nice of you to explain that this is a choice. I, personally, am a squared off page designer. I don’t mind windows at all. As for orphans, I only let them slide if they take up at least 3/4 of a line. If the orphan is only one or two words, then I will do some fiddling elsewhere to eliminate it while keeping the squared off page, if possible. This takes a lot more work, but I think it’s worth it in the end.

    I hate when a line is missing at the end of a page because then I am not sure if the time line is changing in the narrative, and it can get confusing.


    Joel Friedlander October 20, 2010 at 9:22 am

    Cherly Anne, I now agree that for most books the squared-off bottom is the way to go. When laying out books for clients I only “kill” the most offensive orphans, where just one or two words appear at the top of the page, otherwise I leave them in. Thanks for your comment.


    Michael N. Marcus October 20, 2010 at 5:40 am

    >>And you’ll be ready to decide which part of the world of book design you belong to: with the widows and orphans and squared-off pages, or banning widows and orphans altogether.<<

    It doesn't have to be "either/or."

    As a self-pubber and one of those weirdos who enjoy formatting pages, I can alter the content of my pages (changing words, changing size of text boxes, changing size of graphics, changing space around graphics, changing spaces above and below text boxes, perhaps changing leading) to achive square or close-to-square pages, AND wipe out the lonely orphans and widows.

    Michael N. Marcus
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series:
    — "Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults),"


    Joel Friedlander October 20, 2010 at 9:20 am

    Well, Michael, there are very few people who can take on the roles of author, book designer, editor and layout artist by themselves. so you are in a special class (but you knew that already). For most people this will represent an “either/or” unless they are willing to foot the bill for extensive changes at the page proofs stage of production to re-write and correct all the offending paragraphs. Can’t wait to see your new books!


    bowerbird October 20, 2010 at 10:56 am

    joel said:
    > Well, Michael, there are very few people who can
    > take on the roles of author, book designer, editor
    > and layout artist by themselves. so you are in
    > a special class (but you knew that already).

    but more and more self-publishers are in this class…

    > For most people this will represent an “either/or”
    > unless they are willing to foot the bill for extensive
    > changes at the page proofs stage of production
    > to re-write and correct all the offending paragraphs.

    i keep forgetting that this blog only cares about p-books.

    with e-books, a great number of paragraphs can become
    an “offending” paragraph, depending on rewrap/reflow…
    so e-book software has to solve this problem _generally_.
    (and because the software is solving the problem, it means
    that you, as an author, don’t have to worry about it at all.)

    but even for the authors who want to output to print/.pdf,
    your notion about “footing the bill” for “extensive changes”
    is becoming quickly outdated, i am so sorry to inform you…

    there is no longer a “stage of production” that involves
    “page proofs”. my authoring-tool can run out a .pdf in
    a matter of minutes. and it’ll warn you about situations
    where there is any difficulty in resolving widows/orphans.



    Joel Friedlander October 20, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    Well Bird, there may come a time when page proofs, author’s alterations, and widows and orphans are rendered obsolete, but for the vast majority of people publishing today, they are all too real, involving real delays, real money and real work. This article is mostly concerned with printed books, since a lot of these situations are eliminated with ebooks, which don’t actually have “pages” as we know them.


    bowerbird October 20, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    well, a .pdf e-book does indeed have pages…

    and i am of the opinion that _every_ book
    should have a paginated form that serves
    as the “canonical version” of that book, so
    we can continue to use page-numbers as a
    pointing mechanism when we reference books.
    (every page of every book, old and new, should
    be on a web-page, where people can comment.)

    “the vast majority of people publishing today”
    might still be hiring book-designers, i dunno.
    certainly the corporate publishers still do that.
    but i’m guessing that very few self-publishers
    are hiring out. and they’ll outnumber the big6
    very soon, if they haven’t already passed ’em.

    i’ve made money designing books myself, so i
    don’t wanna hasten the demise of the profession.
    but as far as i can see, the writing is on the wall…


    Michael N. Marcus October 20, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    >>Can’t wait to see your new books!<<

    Neither can I.

    While I have no pretensions of creating “a thing of beauty,’ my books are getting better looking as my design skills evolve, and my toolbox grows.

    A few minutes ago I bought Adobe Garamond Pro. Ironically, the typeface cost as much as some self-publishing packages–which include page formatting!

    You may recall that somehow AGP appeared in one of my MS Word documents, but I could not use AGP for new work. I like the face a lot, and made the investment.

    I’m using 12-pt AGP to replace the 12-pt Calisto body copy in an updated version of my “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults).” The very first version of what what became this book was published in 2008 with 13-pt TNR text.

    Initially I was shocked to see how weak the 12-pt AGP looked on my screen, so I switched to AGP-Bold, which looked better on screen. I did some test printouts, and the bold looks too bold and the regular font looks normal.

    Chapter titles are now (at least as of this moment) 26-pt Britannic Bold in black below 12-point “chapter 6” in Tahoma Bold in gray.
    Folios have moved from drop position to margins. I’ve removed marginal indicators of “dirty” contents on specific pages and removed “dirty parts easy to find” tagline from front cover. I realize now that this treatment may have been too sophomoric (and helped my attacker), and could hurt the book’s acceptability.

    I started to launch this book back in June but halted publicity because of he cyber attack (still unsolved by the FBI), and am relaunching the book on 11/1).

    Other books are getting prettier, too.

    While looking at spreads of my “Get the Most out of a Self-Publishing Company,” I felt a little bit cramped or confined. A spinoff (of the spinoff), called “Beginner’s Guide to Self-Publishing” has all recto chapter openings, and openings start halfway down the page. A year ago I regarded this as a shameful waste of trees.

    After all of my bitching about the design of other self-pubbed books, I think it’s time I pay almost as much attention to form as to content.

    I previously thought that style just didn’t matter for the interior of a book sold online (except for avoiding typographical disasters), but I now want to provide a better experience.

    If done right, even a chapter name can be an interesting graphic element–not merely a bit of information–and can enhance the reading experience.

    It’s may seem weird for a WRITER to be saying this. I’ve always had an appreciation for the appearance of my text. Years ago, when I was an advertising copywriter, I had a good reputation with the art directors because I was always willing to “chop copy” to make an ad look better. Back then I learned that most people noticed only the illustration and headline. Very few read the body copy that I worked so hard on, so if I eliminated some words to makie the ad look better, then there was a better chance that my words would get read.

    It’s now 2:46 a.m. here in the east. A more normal person would go to bed. Instead, I’ll keep changing Calisto to Garamond, and will go downstairs and see if the dog is ready to come in.


    Joel Friedlander April 19, 2014 at 11:33 pm

    Thanks, Joe.


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