When I format books for authors, specifically books for print, I get asked lots of questions about what a book “should” look like. What authors don’t realize is while there is a sort of “set” format for what a professionally formatted book should look like, the majority of things are really up to the author.
It isn’t about “right” or “wrong” but more about cost and style preference. Each publishing house (or freelance book designer) has its own set of guidelines when it comes to book designing. Some aspects are determined by style guides, but many other decisions are based upon the profit margin or even the publisher (or book designer’s) personal preference.
Verso vs. Recto (aka Left vs Right)
Some may allow chapters (other than the first chapter) to fall where they may naturally throughout the book. Some may insert a blank page or increase/decrease text in order to force chapters onto the recto (right-side) of the book. Neither is right and neither is wrong. It depends on your needs and style preference. Especially if your book is a fiction novel.
The reason some publishing houses no longer force chapters onto the recto (right-side) either with additional text or blank pages has to do with cost. By allowing the chapters to fall naturally decreases the book length, and a decreased page count means the publisher will earn more profit per book sale. This is an important point especially for self publishing authors to consider. Each extra page of a book means increased cost so by eliminating a few pages by allowing the chapters to fall naturally or by decreasing text in chapters so the following chapter will fall on the right side can help cut the cost of printing and allow the authors to increase their profit.
This also allows self published authors to offer their books at a lower rate. When you’re a new author, whose work is not well known, being able to sell your books at a lower price means you increase the chances of people being willing to take the risk of exchanging their hard earned money for your words. And yes, that is how the customer views it, as a risk. Therefore, as an author you want to do everything you can to lower the risk and make it worthwhile for your customers. That doesn’t mean you start deleting half your manuscript. It just means doing all you can keep to lower the cost while still delivering a great product.
What Font To Use for the Body Text
What font to use is probably the question I get asked the most. Believe it or not, each book designer probably has their own favorite fonts which they use most often. (Mine’s Adobe Garamond Pro) For printed materials, you always want to use serif fonts. Those are the fonts with the little decorative edges, known as serifs, such as Garamond, Book Antiqua, Janson, or Chapparal.
One reason I prefer Adobe Garamond Pro over other fonts is not only does it print extremely well, but it helps to lower the book’s page count. I recently formatted a book where the author specifically asked for Book Antiqua, but the final page count was close to 400. That was way too high. The author asked if there was any way to lower it. I suggested switching to my trusty Garamond Pro. Just by changing the body text from Book Antiqua to Garamond Pro, it decreased the page count by almost 50 pages.
Your font should be easy to read without making your book too long or too short. If you have a book that is less than 150 pages then using a font like Book Antiqua makes a perfect choice. It can increase your book length without having blank pages. People won’t feel cheated by paying for a 150 page book where every page has text printed on it the way they would if they purchased one that has 25 blank pages in it. Knowing how certain fonts affect the final look and cost of the book will help you decide which one to choose.
Standard Trade Paperback vs Mass Market Paperback
Another major decision authors face is what trim size to choose. The trim size is the final size of a printed page after excess edges have been cut off. Trade paperback novels are larger and printed with better quality paper and binding than mass market paperbacks. They are also typically what are found in bookstores where mass market paperbacks are smaller, printed on lesser quality paper and with a lesser quality binding. They are typically found in grocery stores, shopping malls, on racks etc. Genre no longer determines if your book is set for trade or mass market.
I usually advise my clients to go with the smaller “mass market” size when they ask me which trim size to choose. The main reason is cost. Printing your book at the mass market size (5×8 or 5.25×8) allows authors to have a book that is similar in appearance to the books people are accustomed to seeing and allows the author to keep their book price lower.
And if you hadn’t noticed by now, pretty much every decision comes down to two factors; production cost and profitability. While many decisions are based upon style guides, such as when to use italics or how much to indent, the major decisions, book size, font, page count etc are not determined by anything other than the cost and profit margins. There is nothing wrong with making decisions based upon what will increase your profit while at the same time delivering a high quality product.
After all book publishing is a business. Knowing how to use it to your advantage is as important as being able to write a best selling novel.