Basics terms of typography for text pages

Almost the most important task in preparing your text pages is to make them user-friendly. There are of course no absolute rules concerning typography, but there is ‘good practice’. Unless you have a specific reason to be different, why would you experiment?

Basic typographic terms in a book

Chapter Headings
The font is going to be larger than the text, but how much larger? This really is one area where you can exercise your own aesthetic judgement, you can even change the typeface and nobody is going to throw up their hands in disbelief. I’m rathger conservative. The chapter head is a signal to the reader that a new scene is starting, it’s not the announcement of a revolution. I’ve used the same typeface as the text (in my example Caslon) and only bumped the size to 12pt (the text is in 10.5pt).

Full-out paragraphs
The first paragraph of a chapter shouldn’t be indented. If you have a line break anywhere, the following paragraph should also be ‘full out’. (a line break is what you see here between sections – a blank line)

Indented paragraphs
Most paragraphs in your book will have an indent. I habitually used a 4mm indent.

There should be no extra space between paragraphs unless you are making a point ie a scene change. In this cases use a full line space.

Text must be justified
This means you get a straight line both sides of every paragraph (also known as justified left and right). Only break this rule in very special cases – maybe if you have a letter than is supposed to have been hand written, or a poem. In which case you can increase the indent and set it ranged left, unjustified right (sometimes also called ‘ragged right’).

Orphans and widows
These are, strictly speaking, words or short lines at the beginning or end of a paragraph, which are left isolated at the top or bottom of a page. If this single word was the only one at the top of a page it would need to be dealt with (there is lots of advice on the web describing the various methods of dealing with this). If the single word is at the foot of the page it isn’t quite such a problem, but will visually give you more white space at the bottom than on the adjacent page.

Page numbers or folios
Always centre of a page in a novel, usually the same face and font as the text. Don’t get clever with them, they are functional not decorative.

Style sheets
These make formatting your text so much easier and it’s less likely you’ll get a rogue font or typeface creeping in. If you are not familiar with style sheets in MS Word it’s time to address that. On Google you will find many videos and blogs on this issue, but I have added guidance on this site.

Choosing the page size

There are many factors governing the precise measurements for text pages and margins, but here are the basic terms you are going to come across.

Names for areas in a page layout

What size should my book be?
There are no hard and fast rules other than it makes good sense to opt for a ‘popular’ size. I would recommended 12.9cm x 19.8cm (5.1″ x 7.8″). This is called B Format and is common and acceptable in both the US and UK. (this size has been traditionally used for ‘trade paperbacks’ in the US and ‘literary fiction’ in thr UK)

Don’t try to make these too small just in order to cram more text on a page. Again most printers will make recommendations, often specifying minimum sizes. The inside margins (or gutter) will commonly be larger on a paperback than the outside margins as a tight binding can make it difficult to open it flat. (those of you who habitually ‘break’ the spine when reading a paperback book can skip this advice)

Suggested margin sizes for B Format layout
These will work for most print suppliers and are what I use for my novels. I’ve given measurements in inches and mm. (alternatively, just find a book that looks right and measure the margins and page size – then copy)

Margins for a B format paperback