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Which Font Should I Use For My Book?

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.

Indiana Jones 3 Gif about making smart choices

Understanding Fonts

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. 

  • Font – the combination of the family, weight, and size of a letter.
  • Typeface – synonymous with the font. 
  • Font Family – the subset the font is based on; Times is a font family and fonts like Times New Roman or Times Bold 18 point is examples of fonts in the Times family.
  • Serif Typeface – a ‘serif’ is a tiny extension of the letter. 
  • Sans Serif Typeface – plain lettering without a serif.
  • Size – the size of your letting based on the points sizing scale
  • Weight – the line thickness of the letters, and elements like bold and italics.
serif vs nonserif
Sans-Serif vs. Serif Fonts

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.

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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 vs baskerville

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?

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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:

three fonts compared - Baskerville, Interface, and Courier

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

  • Century – Century is one of those great fonts that really bridges the gap between serif and sans serif—which now more and more means page and screen. If you’re writing nonfiction and want to capture the feeling one might get reading a blog from your iPad, Century would be my first choice.
  • Caslon – You’ll find Caslon listed as “Adobe Caslon Pro” often in your word processor. This is another older style, Serif font with many similarities to Baskerville. The main difference to my eye is a slightly smaller character with thicker lines. I love this font for nonfiction that still has casual or lighter subject matter.
  • Baskerville – Top of my list for fiction books. And for good reason. Developed in the 1750s, Baskerville is a serif font that’s been actively used for hundreds of years. Thanks to its clean appearance and fine balancing of thick and thin lines, Baskerville remains one of the easiest to read printed fonts.
  • Garamond – I like Garamond for fiction too. For me, I think of Baskerville for fantasy, literary fiction, and romance, while Garamond hits me as more of a sci-fi or thriller type of font. It has many of the thickness and balance elements of Baskerville, with a slightly more industrial or modern look with less space between letters and a condensed feel.

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.

22 thoughts on “Which Font Should I Use For My Book?”

  1. Hi! Thank you for this article!
    I’m working on a young adult fiction novel about a young woman who’s navigating life after college around the world while learning a lot about herself and her family. I’m wondering what font (and size) for body, headings, and page numbers you would recommend for a novel that fits the description that I just mentioned. Also, the main character has a few poems throughout the novel; what font and size do you recommend those be written in to set themselves apart from the “main” story/text (for lack of better words) but also not be too distracting and still deliver a powerful punch?
    All the best,

    1. Hi Shay,
      Totally my opinion, but I think 12 point font is best for YA fiction. A lot of adult or longer novels will go 10 or 11 point, so you can always play around in that range to see what makes the right file for your book.
      For the body, I like Bembo or Sabon. Both classic fonts for YA books. Headings are a little trickier; I think you’ll do best to think about what will look good with you chapter titles or other headings. This is the part of your book that can get away with the most leeway in terms of font, so I say experiment!
      Finally, for elements like the headers/page numbering I would use a very simple font. Times or Arial most likely. This text is purely utilitarian, so no need to be flashy.
      Edit: Forgot to respond to the question about poetry. I don’t know much about formatting poetry, but I think using italics and spacing (indented with line breaks) would be the simplest way. You might want to do some research about common fonts for poetry though.

  2. HI I am writing a book on my family tree. There is a 90 page section with names only, so I used (not your favorite I see) Calibri because of the clear view of each letter. What would you recommend for the rest of the book. It contains lots of pictures and of course identifications under some of them. Bold or Not? Tks for your help.

    1. Hi Ginette,
      Calibri is a great font for clarity, especially if you went with some smaller sized lettering.
      For the rest of the book, I like using a simple font like Times New Roman or Arial for image captions. Calibri would work here too. Body text is a little different, I’d lean toward maybe Bookman (serifs) or Helvetica (sans-serifs) since that type will likely be a little larger and will stand out.
      Hope this helps!

  3. I am printing a 9 x 6″ US trade paperback, and I had assumed that Baskerville 12 point would be a good choice for my novel. But when I test print it seems small. Smaller than the 12 point size on an A4 page. I’m wondering if something is going wrong with how I’m printing, or whether I just need to up the point size to 14pt for it to look like a good readable point size. Any advice?

    1. Hi Kiya,
      You’ll need to match the page size for your file to the page size of the book you’re making. If you create in A4 but want to print a 6×9, we’d have to reduce the page size, resulting in the shrinkage.

  4. Hi Paul,

    I am writing a self-help book. What fonts combination of Serif and Sans-Serif do you recommend to use for the best printing quality?

    Thanks a lot!

    1. Hi Reem,

      I fall back on Caslon for a self-help book. I think this is a good choice because Caslon has an ‘academic’ feel already and helps convey that sense to readers. I would consider using a more impactful font for headings though, maybe Minion or Bembo to grab attention.

      Best of luck with your writing!

  5. Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux

    I would love to have a preview of the font in the font list, rather than having to select the font to see what it looks like. Or a pdf/png guide that shows what your fonts look like.

    1. Hi Rose,
      Great idea! I’ll add that to our running list of improvements for our platform updates.

  6. Bob Robertson
    November 11, 2019 at 5:54 pm
    i’m writing a kind of technical text with personal history as flavor. My target is the airport passenger who might pick up the book to get into the detail during flight. It’s called Expat Secrets, containing specific experiences in my 60 year history as an expatriate, how I’ve found success in U.S., Russian and Indonesian cultures, with specific technical tips and tricks that have worked, yet trying to keep the dialog at high-school level technology. Aro 380 words per page. Any tips appreciated.

  7. Occasionally I come across ‘special’ fonts like BEBAS Kai which is the specified font by Manchester Histories for highlights and promotions commemorating the Manchester Massacre, Peterloo of 1819. See Peterloo People published by SWit’CH – ISBN 978-0-244-18472-8

    1. i’m writing a kind of technical text with personal history as flavor. My target is the airport passenger who might pick up the book to get into the detail during flight. It’s called Expat Secrets, containing specific experiences in my 60 year history as an expatriate, how I’ve found success in U.S., Russian and Indonesian cultures, with specific technical tips and tricks that have worked, yet trying to keep the dialog at high-school level technology. Aro 380 words per page. Any tips appreciated.

    1. Hi Ronald,
      Absolutely! Just be careful to think about how they will complement each other. I wouldn’t change fonts without a good reason – like perhaps your story has a sentient robot and you use a font like Courier to represent the robot’s speech. The font change will signal to the reader the character difference.
      Always be intentional about any font choices and most importantly of all; ask someone else for their opinion!

  8. What about using Times New Roman 14? Bold for headers and non-bold for text. It looks nice in print. Times New Roman aligns nicely on the right side of the page. No matter which font I use, for some lines, since they are justified, there is some extra spacing. How can I avoid that when justifying the text? Or can I can avoid it with different fonts?

    1. Satisfactory justification requires a lot of fiddling around with hyphens at ends of lines and other fiddling such as adjusting of “kerning” or adding extra words just for the spacing.

    2. Hi Sherry,
      Times 14 is a great font for print.
      With the text justification, you can control the space between words and characters using ‘Kerning’ and ‘Tracking’ to make adjustments. In MS Word, those controls are under Format > Font > Advanced. Adjusting the Kerning will change the space between individual characters while tracking uniformly changes the space between characters and words. Both are powerful tools to adjust the white space on your page.

    1. Hi Nancy,
      If you’re asking about a font designed to work best when aligned right, I’m not aware of any. Just about all word processors will have the option to align right, it’s just a matter of looking at font options until you find the one you like best.

  9. Rev. E.M. Camarena

    I like to stick to simple fonts, not using too many. For my books, I stick with Garamond for text and Tahoma (bold, larger) for chapter headings. I will definitely try Baskerville!
    For my newspaper publishing I use Cheltenham or Domine (they are virtually the same) I’ll use some flashier things for the covers if appropriate. Georgia for text on back covers. For a book about Ouija Boards, I did the title in Captain Howdy which approximates the font used on Ouija Boards.

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