If you’ve asked yourself this question (which I assume you have), I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you to relax. There’s no need to agonize over your book font choice.
That’s not a free pass to completely ignore it either. But there can be a sweet spot; one where you make conscious decisions about the font you’ll use for book printing without becoming overwhelmed or petrified with all the choices out there.
The typography you use for your book is important. But what’s more important is not precisely the font you choose. Rather, you need to select a font that complements your graphic design and page layout while meeting your reader’s expectations. All while going unnoticed by those same readers.
Here’s the thing: if you pick your fonts well, no one will notice. But if you pick your fonts poorly, everyone will notice.
Font (or typeface) is one of those writing and publishing-related terms you’ll hear often used to describe a few disparate things. I don’t want to get into long and technical explanations of everything that goes into fonts, so let’s just do a few quick bullets with most important info for our post today.
The font is just one of many page design considerations you must balance when creating your book interior. The line length, height, page size, page margins, and letter spacing are just a few elements that are impacted by your font choices. Which can really complicate your decision making, but it can also inform how you simplify the entire process. Just remember that your font and your page layout and everything else that goes into how your book looks is separate from what your book says.
Why Fonts Matter
Any conversation about your page layout and your fonts should start with the job your fonts are doing. Make no mistake, your typeface is the workhorse of your book. The decisions you make about your font inform readers. The way your book looks sends a message (often without your reader even knowing it) about what kind of content they should expect.
And all the while (if they are doing their work well) your fonts will be invisible. The text on your page must convey your words, meet your reader’s expectations, and be easy to read. Without being noticeable. This is no simple task.
Compare these samples of the same copy with differing fonts:
Calibri is Word’s default and looks just fine on the screen. Thick lines, no serifs, ample white space between the lines. Then we have Baskerville, a very common font for fiction novels. Can you see why? It might be a touch hazy on your screen since I’ve screen captured from Word, but the lines are thinner and the serifs create horizontal consistency that leads the eye from word to word.
If I was laying out a novel for printing, I would never use Calibri while Baskerville is my go-to.
Choosing the Right Font
This is what it’s all about right? Creating your custom book so it looks amazing. And making sure every line of text is a pleasure to read. Without being obvious.
Putting all those expectations into perspective, how do we ever decide on a font? When there are literally thousands to choose from, I submit that the right answer is to just keep it simple. Why use a font that looks like Baskerville when you can just use Baskerville?
The most important of your font’s many jobs is to go unnoticed. Using a common font, one you can reasonably assume your readers are familiar with means they’ll likely never think about your choice. You avoid any risk of putting off a reader with an uncommon or inappropriate font.
Yes, a font can be inappropriate. Look at this example:
Here we have three common print fonts with distinct uses. Baskerville is great for long-form novels. Then we have Interface; a great web font that is also used for magazines and textbook printing. And last we have Courier, a classic ‘typewriter’ font, that you wouldn’t expect to see in a book but is great for newspapers. Three printable fonts, each with appropriate uses.
Each of these three has a specific purpose in mind, by design and historical use. In context, the right font goes unnoticed. But could you imagine reading Lord of the Rings in Courier? I doubt anyone would get past the first chapter.
Fonts and Your Book
I like to write in Trebuchet. My Google Docs and MS Word default to Trebuchet. I just think it’s a nice, clean font that looks good on my screen. Yet I would never print a book in Trebuchet. It’s not designed for print, plain and simple. It behooves authors and book creators to separate what looks good on your screen and what looks good in print. The two are hardly ever the same.
So what is a font for printing?
Okay, I won’t leave you hanging. We’ll end today with my top fonts for fiction and nonfiction works. When you’re making your own choices, be sure to keep in mind common fonts for your genre and your own book layout. Finding the right typeface means that it serves the book and reader.
Choosing Wisely for Print
Your Book, Your Way
You’ll hear me and many other publishing industry experts point out that independent publishing and print-on-demand mean you own the entire process of bookmaking. That includes decisions about the typeface you pick for your book. It is your book. If you really want to use Comic Sans for the content, you can (but please don’t).
Much like the cover advice I’ve given in the past, you need to find a balance between creativity and meeting expectations. If you write romance novels, your audience has some expectations (some of it even unconscious) about the way the book should look. The art styles on the cover do not differ from the font in this way—it should serve your book and your readers in equal measure.
Paul is the Senior Copywriter at Lulu, writing weekly blog posts and helping guide content for the company’s marketing. When he’s not deeply entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person, but considers himself cat tolerant.