Understanding Fonts & Typography

The most critical decisions in book design are those that affect a book’s readability. Whether you choose to design your book yourself or have the assistance of a professional book designer, understanding the fundamental building blocks of typography— the way your words are laid out on the page as well as the fonts you chose to utilize— will give you the power to make your book look the best it can.

I have provided a selection of articles that show off some of my favorite font choices and, most importantly, how to choose appropriate fonts for the cover as well as the body of your book.

5 Favorite Fonts for Interior Design
5 Great Fonts for Book Covers
3 Great Typeface Combinations You Can Use in Your Book

Classic Book Typefaces

It was in Italy that the earliest type designers and book printers created many of the letterforms that influence us today. You could say that our culture has grown up, grown literate, and grown learned through the agency of these typefaces, and I think that’s one of the reasons they have such a firm place in our cultural history. Though these classic designs have many similarities, you will soon find that the subtle differences of each have a sizeable impact on the readability of your book.

Below I have linked to two articles that will describe the historical sources of many classic fonts, as well as show the effects that subtle changes in the shape, size, or angle of individual letters in a font can affect the readability and design of an entire page of text.

Deconstructing Bembo: Typographic Beauty and Bloody Murder
Beautiful Details, Beautiful Books: How to Recognize Oldstyle Typefaces
Typefaces of 1932: Weiss Roman Specimens

Typography on the Book Page

As you begin to lay out the pages of your book in your chosen book design program, you will want to take special consideration to make sure your book looks professional and your content is easy and enjoyable to read. If you are reading this guide you may wonder how to ensure this, so in short: conform to long-established conventions of book design.

Here I have linked to articles that will describe the design of the pages in your book.

The Elements of the Book Page
5 Layout Mistakes that Make You Look Unprofessional
The Title Page
Self-Publishing Case Study: Personal Memoir
Book Design: The Architecture of the Book Page
Project Focus: The Poetry of the Typography of Poetry
Book Page Layout for a Long Narrative
The Typographer’s Curse: Automatic Leading

Finding Your Own Font

Although there are thousands of fonts available online, very few of these typefaces are appropriate choices for book covers or interior book design, as they tend to be tailored for use by artists and graphic designers.

While you search for the right font for you, look back on the guide I created on Picking Fonts for Your Self-Published Book. In that guide, I outline the benefits of Oldstyle fonts, as they retain calligraphic traits of their typographic origins that make them look beautiful as well as read easily on the page. Many new book designers find themselves wooed by typefaces that have eccentric design qualities, but it is important to remember that typefaces that distract from the content of your book will make your book harder to read and, therefore, less likely to be read.

I have linked below an article I wrote about choosing a free font for your book, as well as a variety of font foundries and other legal sources for free fonts.

Finding Free Fonts for Your Self-Published Book
5 Favorite Free Fonts for Interior Book Design
MyFonts.com
Font Squirrel
The League of Moveable Type
Google Fonts

The Coming of the EBooks

Until very recently, the field of book design has been entirely focused on the printed word. As our world has become more digital, however, books and therefore book design have had to become more digital, too. While we don’t yet know what the future of digital book design holds, we can be certain that digitization and the rise of EBooks are going to change typography forever.

Further Reading

By now your book has probably begun taking shape into the great work of art it will one day become. Tasteful, readable, and well-designed typography will help your book stand out from the crowd. If you need more information or guidance, have a look at these articles about typography.

If you are ready to continue to the next step in the book designing process, continue to our next topic, Making Print Choices.