Formatting Tips Every Author Should Know, Part One
Guest post by Dafeenah Jameel
Consistency in your book design is as important as consistency in your story.
Readers can be just as confused by inconsistent book design as they are by sudden and unexplained shifts in the plot of your story.
This is why it is important you maintain a consistent theme or look throughout your book. There are places you can be creative, but that creativity should remain consistent. Think of your book design as an invisible map that guides your reader through the story letting them easily follow your story from start to finish in one fluid glide.
Consistency doesn’t mean you have to be boring though.
There are various ways you can use your book’s design to communicate your story with the reader. Like in your…
99% of your book is going to be in one font.
Chapter headings are one of the easiest places for authors to get a bit creative and break up the monotony of the body text in their book.
By maintaining a consistent body text font, you make your book easier to read, but for the chapter headings you can step outside of that one font.
You can be creative. If your book is a thriller, choose a font that shows the suspense and horror that is about to come. Or if your book is a romance, then choose a beautiful bold script for your chapter headings.
By making your chapter headings stand out, you make it easy for the reader to know a new chapter in the book has begun and by keeping the chapter headings consistent your readers always know exactly where they are and what is about to happen. They know they’ve just finished one chapter and are beginning a new one.
Think of your chapter headings as exit signs over the highway. If you’ve ever driven along a major interstate, you’ll notice most exit signs are green with white writing. At least in the US. So when your exit is near that is the type sign you look for. Even though a sign is purple and flashing you might ignore it because you were looking for the green exit sign.
So while chapter headings are a place to be creative the creativity should be consistent throughout the book. This way the reader never misses their exit and they always know when the book transitions are about to come.
The same also applies to scene breaks. Most scene breaks are delineated by a line break or fleuron.
A fleuron or printers’ flower is a typographic element, or glyph, used originally as an ornament for typographic compositions. Regardless of which you use, make sure you always use the same one each time.
Even if you use fleurons you don’t want to use 100 different ones. In book design, less is always more. Using one fleuron for the front matter and one for the scene breaks should be all that you use.
More than that will make your book appear “busy”. It will also cause confusion in your reader as they’ll associate certain fleurons with a scene break so if suddenly a different one appears they may miss the “cue” a scene has changed.
Certain books are told from various characters’ points of view.
Chapter one might be your protagonist while chapter two will be from your antagonist’s POV. By assigning a specific chapter heading style to each you can easily let your reader know which character’s POV they’ll be reading from.
It’s a slight nonverbal cue that the reader will pick up on without ever noticing it. They’ll instantly associate that particular font with a particular character. So if you assign a bold script to your protagonist, then every time they see a chapter heading with that font, the reader automatically assumes this is the protagonist’s POV and without having to add a bunch of filler you’ve already told your audience who is speaking.
It’s a simple easy way to help your reader understand the flow of your book and who is speaking and when.
If you’re going to use font to indicate POV, then it’s even more important you maintain 100% consistency throughout your novel. Otherwise your reader will become confused as to who is speaking.
Since they’ve associated a certain font with a particular character if you use it for another character then they will become lost without ever realizing why. They’ll be jarred out of the story and will feel as if the flow of the novel is not as smooth as it should be. But in reality it had nothing to do with the story itself. It was the inconsistent nonverbal cues that made the story confusing.
In other words, the font becomes your book’s body language. Just as a person using facial expressions and hand gestures to communicate, a book can communicate through its design. By utilizing the book’s design to speak with your audience, you can “show” them without having to “tell” them what is happening in the book.
However if you plan on using the book’s design as a means of communication with the audience, it’s important you discuss this in detail with your book formatter.
Every book designer has their own “base” way of formatting which they’ll tweak to fit each specific book’s requirements. It is up to you the author to communicate this information to your book designer. Even though the book might appear beautifully formatted if your book designer doesn’t know what you want to communicate through the book’s design, then the message will become lost and your readers confused as to what is going on within your novel.
By effectively communicating with your formatter, they’ll be able to maintain the tone you want while keeping a consistent design throughout the book. Both of which will help to guide your reader through the book seamlessly.
Always remember the best designs in a book are the ones the reader never notices.
In what ways do you use your book’s design to communicate with your reader?