7 Things You Can Do Today to Improve Your Book Design

by | Jun 27, 2011

We all want to make our books better, more readable, more attractive to both buyers and reviewers. Here are 7 things you can do today to improve the design of your book and create a great-looking product.

  1. Use high quality fonts—there are a lot of fonts out there on the internet, and they’re not all equal. Here’s a suggestion, stick with Open Type fonts, which give you much more flexibility and frequently come with alternate characters and other typographic niceties that will improve the look of your book.
  2. Create user-friendly margins—Lots of self-published books could be improved right away with better margins. Print on demand books tend to have tight spines, so make sure your gutter margin is at least .75″ or, if you have a long book, up to 1″.
  3. Use styles everywhere—Whether you’re doing your book in Microsoft Word or Adobe InDesign or some other tool, use the style function. Why? This will help ensure that formatting is consistent throughout the book.
  4. Use the right kind of fonts—Many otherwise decent book covers are worse-looking than they ought to be because they use the wrong fonts. You cannot use a font intended for text—like Times Roman, Palatino, or Garamond—for titles without it looking amateurish. Display fonts can immediately improve the look of your cover.
  5. Stick with two fonts—Use one font for your text, another for display like your title page and chapter titles. Unless you’re an experienced typographer it’s going to be pretty tough to integrate three or more fonts and have them come out looking good. Less is more in this case.
  6. Use hyphenation and justification—Professional-looking books from all publishers are justified and use hyphenation to even out the spacing of lines of text. You should too.
  7. Ditch the clip art—Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your pages have to look “interesting” to hold the reader’s attention. Adding crummy clip art or stock photos will only serve to cheapen your words which, after all, are why people are buying your book.

I could go on, but this list of ways to improve the way your book looks will get you off to a great start. If you’re designing or laying out your book, or getting ready to, keep this list handy and it will help you create a book you’ll really be proud of.

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Photo by Kamil Porembiński

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Jennifer at WriteKidsBooks

    Your reference to “crummy clip art” made me smile. Seen a lot of that in self-pubbed books in my time. Thanks for these easy peasy reminders!

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks for stopping by, Jennifer, glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Anushka

    i am a school girl and we students are gonna publish a book of our own very soon but we are a bit confused about the book cover. the book is a composition of different weird,dark and graceful stories so if any one could help please reply

    • Little Ant

      Did you ever make the book in 2011 or 2012? Perhaps your group has made more than one by now.

  3. Sarah R. Yoffa, The Webbiegrrl Writer

    Joel, although I’m not sure I entirely agree with all the points in your article here, I really loved your linked article on fonts for CreateSpace. I also could not get the link to work (I’m on an iPad right now so it could be a Safari issue) but copying the title and Googling it for the CreateSpace link worked fine. THAT article was amazingly helpful — and thank you so much for the Fontsquirrel link! What a great resource! I fully intend to share it with my blog audience in a Tuesday Tips & Tools blog and will have to credit you. I’ll link to your CreateSpace article. Thanks again for your Indie Author community support with tips, tricks, tools and information. Every little bit helps!

  4. Kevin O. McLaughlin

    Check the way Createspace does their gutters – it seems a little odd.

    I’m looking at the 5×8 template right now. The “outside” margin is 0.5″. The “inside” margin, though, is 0.75″ and the gutter is 0.13″.

    So they’re using both “inside” margin and “gutter” together to make a larger effective gutter. Not sure why they’re doing it that way, but I’ll let you know tomorrow or Thursday how well it worked when my proof arrives from them, OK? ;)

    • Karen Inglis

      Hi Kevin / Joel

      I’ve had the reply below from two of the gurus on CreateSpace so hopefully am okay… I’m posting it here in case anyone else reads this thread. Seems like it’s a terminology issue but the measurements are fine.

      Kevin – will be interested to hear how long it takes to get a proof too! I hope to upload my book tomorrow…

      Replies from CS forum:

      First: 1.9 cm (inner margin) + 0.33 cm (gutter) = 2.23 cm and 2.23 cm = 0.878 inches. If the minimum required inner margin is 0.75″, you’re fine.

      The inner margin of a page (1.9 cm) is the space between the inside, spine edge of the paper and the inside edge of the text block. Word offer in addition to that a “gutter,” (0.33 cm): and additional inside space between the inner margin and the inside, spine edge of the paper. Word misuses the word “gutter,” and, therefore, so does CS. If you set the gutter to 0″, and adjusted the inner margin to 2.23 cm, the text on our pages would not move at all.

      Outside of Word, the gutter is the combined inner margins of a two, facing pages: the space between the two text blocks. And the space between two columns of text on a page can also be called a gutter (it is the space between two text blocks).



      Just to clarify, CS is specifying the “Gutter Margin” setting in Word (the “Gutter” entry they’re talking about is under the “Margins” heading).

      Microsoft’s documentation also refers to it as “gutter margin” with the number being entered there accounting for the half of the gutter (correctly defined, same as the rest of the industry) that’s on a given page. Well, sort of . . .

      The confusion (to me) is that they also have an inside margin setting — so I might have named the gutter margin something else if they are going to display it and the inside margin together, and then used “gutter margin” to mean the sum of the two (which would be more consistent with industry terminology).

      Bottom line, the inside margin and gutter margin in Word added together are what has to meet or exceed the minimum CS specifies.


      • Joel Friedlander


        Thanks so much for the follow-up. Sounds like a completely crazy system to me, but I’m not one of those brave souls who has tried to do a book in Word. I knew there was something awry, but having this information from your research is really valuable.

  5. Karen Inglis

    Hi Joel.

    Just popped on to twitter and saw your link… timing was pertinent for me as I am drawing close to finalising the formatting of two children’s books I am planning to self-publish…

    I’m interested to see that you recommend a gutter margin of at least .75″ when self-publishing.

    I am using a template downloaded from CreateSpace to format the interior of my children’s book, The Secret Lake. The template was auto-generated based on the book dimensions and page count that I input and, when I look at page set up has gutters of 0.33cm…. Should I be worried?

    (The book size is 5.25″ x 8 with 112 pages in case that’s off relevance… and the top, bottom and inside margins when I look in the page setup of the template show as 1.9cm and the outer margins as 1.27 cm – plus ‘gutter’ of 0.33cm…)

    Regard, Karen Inglis

    • Karen Inglis

      Please excuse typos in last post – end of day here! #embarrassing !

      • Joel Friedlander

        Sounds like you may be reading the template incorrectly, Karen. .33 cm is roughly 1/8″ which is much too small a gutter margin. 3/4″ is about 1.9 cm. I just did 3 books at that same 5.25″ x 8″ trim size, and used gutter margins between .75 – 1″, larger on the longer book, which was about 350 pages.

        Hope that helps.

        • Karen Inglis

          Thanks, Joel – I will double check and query with CS – these are definitely the measurements that show up on ‘page setup’ in Word when I open up the interior template I downloaded from them.

          I had noticed elsewhere on their site info that made me query this – but until now have been bogged down in final edits. I will now address this.

          • Karen Inglis

            Hi again Joel – for info here is the link to the templates – I’ve just downloaded again for 5.25 x 8 inches (the right-hand link of the two – basic template) and still see 0.33cm as gutter in Word ‘page setup’ I will email CS now to ask why! As you say, I may be misreading something…


  6. Cathi Stevenson

    I’ve never heard of Garamond being designated amateurish on a book cover. I’m curious as to why you say that. Many of the styles and variations in the Garamond family are not suited for body text, and make wonderful title fonts.

    Some books produced by known publishers and/or designers with Garamond on the cover:

    This version: https://bookcoverarchive.com/spend_generously/the_unbearable_lightness_of_being
    of The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Kundera) published by Harper Collins.

    The Weight of Nothing (Gillis).

    Many of Little, Brown & Co.’s books by Rick Moody:




    Many O’Reilly covers use Garamond. (okay, this might not help my argument, but still….) Network Printing:

    The Type Director’s Club mentions Garamond in DC 55 winners, cover designs:

    8 Book Jacket
    Design: Ena Cardenal de la Nuez, Madrid
    Client: Empu Sendok Art Station (ESAS)
    Principal Type: Elegant Garamond Bold

    Here, https://fontfeed.com/archives/top-ten-typefaces-used-by-book-design-winners/ Garamond is mentioned as one of the top 10 typefaces of book design winners, and it’s used on their example:

    200 Books: An Annotated Bibliography
    By Keith Smith:

    I believe I have found at least another 20 examples where it’s used on current novels, but I can’t double check them all right now.

    • Joel Friedlander

      And of course you are quite right, Cathi, even without the additional 20 (or hundreds) of examples.

      And, as you point out, there are many varieties of Garamond with different properties, some specifically designed as “display” or titling fonts.

      My point here is aimed at amateur book designers who try to use text faces in their book titles. It really doesn’t work very well, so my advice for them is to avoid typestyles primarily intended for text, and to use pure display faces instead, since I think they’ll get a better result.

      It’s not intended as a typographic guideline for pros like you, but thanks for the links to some lovely covers.

      • Cathi Stevenson

        I just found some new ones, too and came to post them. LOL

        What fonts do you suggest for covers?

        Aside from ITC Garamond, is Garamond packaged with any consumer software? I got most of mine packaged with Adobe CS packages.

        My advice is usually the opposite, because I’ve seen some pretty horrendous font choices used. I’d like to make it illegal to use a script font without board approval, hahah.

        • Joel Friedlander

          Can we add Papyrus to the “board approval” list? Please?

          • Cathi Stevenson

            Papyrus was once considered a very nice font. I’m sad it’s suffered due to being packaged with Microsoft products.
            One of my first book designs used Papyrus and I still can’t think of another font that would work as well
            And now I see Perpetua is also part of a Microsoft package, one of my favourite fonts. :( .

            A little off topic: Do you know what I found out today? Hobo was designed in 1910!! Whodathunk? I was in a business that used Hobo for their logo and that sent me researching the font. I seriously dislike it, LOL.

          • Joel Friedlander

            Yeah, I never cared for Hobo, don’t think I’ve ever used it. Half the presentations I’ve seen in middle school use Papyrus, you can blame MS for that? I guess. It could be used well, it would have a narrow range, but when you see it everywhere it just loses something.

  7. Chris O'Byrne

    Joel, what is your favorite font for novels? I’ve found 11-pt to be a great size, but haven’t found that perfect font.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Chris, for novels I usually try Adobe Garamond, Janson Text, Electra. Although I recently set one in Bembo and it was very pleasant. I’m doing a contemporary novel right now in Janson Text, it’s lovely.

  8. Will Entrekin

    Good advice, Joel. I’m still getting a feel for styles, but I have a feeling implementing them is going to make design much easier.

    Question for you: you mention justification, which is something I’ve recently run into. Obviously, print should be full-justified. However, I’ve seen several e-books that have been left-justified with ragged right edges. It looks unprofessional to me, but I’ve seen several authors swear by it and note it’s “preferred” now that more people are reading on smartphones.

    Any thoughts there?

    • Joel Friedlander

      We actually had a guest post here a few weeks ago proposing the same solution, that e-books should default to rag right on smartphones. It makes sense with the very short lines, since you would eliminate the typical big spaces between words, which is much more disturbing to the reader, in my opinion. So smartphones, yes: go rag right.

  9. Kevin O. McLaughlin

    Great article. I agree with the tips 100%! Thanks for linking to your tips for interior font choices, too; Garamond is an old favorite of mine, but I enjoyed scanning the other options you picked. =)

  10. Michael N. Marcus

    A lot of the beauty of a typeface is simply imperceivable when it appears in the common 9-12pt text sizes, but can be revealed and used to advantage in display sizes. Sometimes the look can be helped by a bit of vertical or horizontal stretching, bolding, kerning, contrasting surrounds, etc. which would not be used in text sizes.

    OTOH, an ornate face like Old English works fine for the nameplate (logo) of a newspaper, but would be an unreadable black blob in the text of the paper.

    Michael N. Marcus
    https://www.BooksForAuthors.com (reviews of books for writers)
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series: https://www.silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing.html
    — “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),” https://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661750

  11. A.R. Williams

    In regards to #4 Use the right kind of fonts, what are display fonts? Is there a list of them?

    I know about serif and non-serif fonts and the results they can produce, but I’m unaware of what display fonts are.

      • A.R. Williams

        Thanks :)

        I couldn’t get the link to work, but was able to find it using Google. Retweeted it also.

      • Michael N. Marcus

        How do you resolve this dilemma:

        Text typefaces may have more space between letters than display faces, because small type needs the spaces to be readable.

        However, when a 6-inch-wide book cover is reduced to an online thumbnail, which may be as little as 75 pixels wide, it can be important to have the extra space between letters.

        How can one cover be optimized for two very different sizes?

        Should full-size beauty be sacrificed to provide small-size readibility?



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