What is Typography, And How Can You Get It Right?

From Reedsy:

Typography is the art of arranging text in a legible and visually pleasing fashion. It’s not to be confused with typesetting, which describes the technical process of getting text onto a page.

From the lettering on a road sign to the flourishes on a Coke bottle, we see typography at work everywhere. Books, of course, are no exception. Whether you’re looking at the content or the cover, typography makes our favorite stories both readable and memorable. That’s why every indie author should keep it in mind when thinking about book design.

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Typography encompasses far more than choosing a font — and there’s a lot more at stake, too. Done right, it’ll draw readers’ eyes and get them to click “buy” on your product page. But if you phone it in, it can make your book stand out for all the wrong reasons, resulting in a sloppy-looking volume that’s a headache to read.

. . . .

1. Clear typography lets people access your story

If you say the words “book typography,” most authors will probably think of the title emblazoned on the front of their masterpieces. But before we start judging books by their covers, let’s take a look at the most important part of any volume: the text itself.

One of the less glamorous functions of typography is making a text easier to read. Clean and consistent type allows the reader to disappear into your words. Bad typography, on the other hand, diverts attention away from your writing, to the way it’s arranged on the page.

Worst case scenario, you might use a typeface that doesn’t pass the basic test of legibility. In that case, your readers will end up squinting at the page, using all their brain-space to decipher your words instead of enjoying them. Odds are, they’ll stop reading long before the book is done.

2. Beautiful typography draws readers’ eyes

Now, let’s talk about covers, an area where bold and beautiful typography can really shine. If you’re an indie author jostling for attention in a crowded marketplace like Amazon, an eye-catching title can make a reader zero in on your book.

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Choosing the right typeface for your book cover requires you to think beyond mere beauty. In addition to visual appeal, all the text on your cover needs to be:

  • readable
  • appealing at thumbnail sizes
  • genre-appropriate

Even the most gorgeous font won’t cut it if it’s illegible, confusing at thumbnail dimensions, or suggestive of, say, high fantasy when your book is a contemporary romance.

Link to the rest at Reedsy

PG suggests that, in the online book purchasing world (yes, he’s thinking mostly of Amazon), the cover is an advertisement for the book, plain and simple.

Yes, it needs to look like a book, not a microwave, but the purpose of the cover is to catch the eye of a prospective reader.

There’s a balance going on with every cover.

If your book is a romance, something about it needs to imply romance instead of science fiction. But if your cover looks almost identical to every other romance cover, it’s not likely to catch a reader’s eye in the sea of guys with their shirts unbuttoned or women in long dresses standing in front of mansions.

Yes, you can design your own cover. However, PG (who fancies himself as more appreciative of the visual arts and possessing a more nuanced eye than your typical plumbing supply shop owner) tried his hand at designing some of Mrs. PG’s early indie covers.

The covers were artistic triumphs (well, maybe artistic participation prize recipients), but they didn’t sell many books. Mrs. PG decided cheap labor wasn’t doing her very much good, so she hired a professional designer who had other clients writing in Mrs. PG’s genre and sales picked up nicely.

5 thoughts on “What is Typography, And How Can You Get It Right?”

  1. I know my husband has opened a lot of indie-published books and winced. He likes paper, still. Font matters for readability.

    Where or when did it become a recommendation to use san serif fonts for fiction text? Have large blocks of text or paragraphs run together oddly?

    • I can’t say I’ve seen these problems, but I’ve not really looked at many indie-published fiction print books. I’d assumed that the authors would try to keep it simple whilst aiming for something where the text looked similar to trad published titles, which is not really too hard to achieve.

      The indie published print books I do own are all non fiction and look as good as their trad published equivalents (though I do admit that one of the authors has used a sans serif font). I’m not an author but I’ve sometimes produced books for my own use and found it very easy to avoid “large blocks of text or paragraphs run together oddly” simply by doing a decent formatting job in Word before converting to a PDF.

      For e-books the choice of font is normally made by the reader and my Kindles default to Bookerly which has serifs, though some of the other choices are sans serif, if one likes that kind of thing. For fiction e-books I normally cannot tell the difference between trad and indie published, both tend to have similar appearances with the normal quota of typos and formatting errors such as erroneous line breaks.

  2. My husband has also been known to look at the printed book and grumble wtte ‘they just used the Word document’ instead of formatting for a book. He’s got an eye.

    I have seen worse in fiction, I think it was self-published, where the designer wanted to use fancy typographical tricks like drop caps, decorations, and one ‘old-style’ typeface, not black letter, but not terribly readable. On the kindle it was unreadable. The drop caps wrecked the layout of the rest of the sentence(s) affected so they were a jumble, and the really odd typeface was apparently accomplished by jpgs or something. On no reader or app could it be resized or tweaked to make it legible. That one I eventually reported to Amazon and the ebook edition vanished shortly thereafter. The kid who’d bought it went to the paper copy which looked lovely.
    There was at least one professionally nonfiction book with a similar issue, but I mostly remember the text – the bulk of the book – that was not resizable, and far too small even for young eyes. (I tested with the local kid.) I was annoyed, I’d really wanted to read it.

    • Elaine, there are certainly some terrible things out there on the Kindle, normally because the author(?) was trying to be too clever. Self publishers in particular should, I think, stick to KISS.

      I sympathise with your inability to read the book you wanted too because of this kind of problem. I hate it when text is provided in a non scalable image – and in the cases I’ve seen it really wasn’t necessary to achieve the intended effect, the author just didn’t know what they were doing and presumably wouldn’t or couldn’t ask for help.

      And drop caps are definitely a no, no! In one case I experienced the author had an old Kindle and drop caps actually worked fine on it but the formatting was totally screwed up on devices with later versions of the software (though in this case I was able to get a readable version of the book by downloading to my PC and transferring it via USB as this gave an older file format). Drop caps add nothing to the reading experience and are just a complication to go wrong.

  3. Do you still have the ebook or did you return it?
    If you have it, there are options that in many cases let you unlock the formating or convert the pdf into a usable form. I strongly suspect it is pdf, but if it isn’t there are free tools that allow turning into a real ebookm

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