The self-published writer takes pleasure in interior layout


Have you ever held a hardcover book in your hands, one produced in the traditional way on an offset press by a publisher, and been very unhappy about the choices made by whoever designed the interior layout of the book?

Easy to criticize:

The gutter margin is so narrow that you are fighting the spine all the time you’re trying to read – or breaking the spine so it will lie a bit flatter.

The part of the page with words on it seems surrounded by a huge amount of white space: the outside margins are huge.

With all that space, they really should have made the letters bigger – so that you could read them.

The running headers and footers are absolutely useless for navigating the book – there is no information there beyond the name of the book and a page number.

The font is so light it is hard to read.

The font is thick and dark and hard to read.

The italics seem provided by a different alien species: smaller, much thinner, and with an entirely different appearance to them.

The italics are almost indistinguishable from the regular font – except that they are slightly tilted, and maybe the lower-case ‘a’ is different.

The script used for Chapter headings and other niceties is not legible.

There is too much use of bold and underline and italics and numbers (usually this is from non-fiction) and bullets and…

There are simply too many typefaces to the page.

The fonts fight.

Have I missed your pet peeve? Drop it in the comments.

But it isn’t easy to do this whole design thing, as you learn when you set out to lay out the chapters, scenes, headers, and text for your own book.

I have 7000+ fonts acquired from Summitsoft. I have purchased the license to a few more fonts, and I have downloaded a few free ones to use. There are a LOT of fonts out there, in the same amazing variety as tropical birds. Feathers and foofaraws everywhere in sight, some mightily interfering with the readability of the font face, others (like the dyslexia font) designed to guide you gently to understanding.

Add bold, italic, extra-expanded regular, xbold (extra bold), heavy, light… and you have enough choices to seriously shoot yourself in the foot.

Font use simplified?

They have to play nice. Two or three COMPLEMENTARY fonts should do it on a page.

Here the EDUCATED eye is the final arbiter, so go look at a lot of fonts and layouts, including nice templates sold on many helpful sites.

If you find one you REALLY like, it may be easier – and cheaper (in time) in the long run – to purchase the rights to use one for your books. Or this series of books.

If, on the other hand, you’re going to have to do a lot of customizing to get what you want, templates limit you.

How often do you get to design a book?

I don’t know about you, but it will be a rare occurrence for me, so, natch, I want to dig in to see if I can learn enough for basic competence.

Plus add a few fillips I’ve always wanted. To make it beautiful to me.

Now we come to the part about prologues:

I wrote Pride’s Children a prologue (labeled it Prothalamion after the prologue in Dorothy Sayers’ Busman’s Honeymoon, one of my favorite books, and a spiritual ancestor to Pride’s Children).

It is 145 words long (very short as prologues go), set AFTER the story that will occur in this book (note dates), and has caused a significant split among readers – some who loved the taste of the future, and others who thought I give away too much information.

From the very beginning, when I added it about two years ago as I started serializing Pride’s Children on this blog, it was intended to be a fictional beginning to an article in The New Yorker.

NOTE: the disclaimer reminding you this is a work of FICTION immediately precedes the Prothalamion in the ebook – and was COMPLETELY missed by my first reader even when printed at the top of the page containing the prologue, who looked up at me after she read the page and asked, “Is this true?”

So when it came time to ask myself how it should LOOK, I repeated my pilgrimage to the august magazine’s website (the eye doctor’s office is where I normally read it in paper form – a subscription would bring me to a complete halt once a week), to get serious about the details.

I took screenshots of everything from the masthead to the beginning drop caps on a few articles (nice big fat sans serif font, single capital, in a space to the left of the top three lines, its top slightly below the ascenders of that top line, and its bottom roughly level with the bottom of the third line) to how the articles are dated, titled, and attributed.

I printed out the fonts that had potential from the Collection labeled Windows Office Compatible in my copy of Word 2011 for Mac, and started writing the same chunk of text in different fonts and strengths.

And quickly ran into the uniqueness of the New Yorker’s font, Irvin. I didn’t need a LOT of the font – if you look at the image above, only a one-line phrase is in the special font – so I went looking for a proper license to use it – and discovered that there are several similar fonts out there, and a commercial license was $55 – per weight.

It seemed too much for the one line, so I went digging, and found a lovely re-drawn New Yorker-type font – completely free, from Allen R. Walden, at Software Friends, Inc. He has a number of fonts similar to those of TV shows and movies. It is not THE New Yorker font, it is a similar one that gives, as we say in Spanish, ‘el tacazo’ – literally, the big taco hit; figuratively, the same impression. It comes in far fewer faces and weights, but for my purposes, it is perfect. I downloaded the font, the font page, and the license page for future reference, and proceeded to format the one line in the faux New Yorker font that no one will ever look that closely at!

Word gave me a nice drop cap with Arial Black (a native font), and I chose Cambria for the body text of the ‘quote’, and several different weights of Arial and Arial bold.

I gave the New Yorker a Department of Celebrities, and I think it will do – the purpose is not to distract you from the content (imagine how you would feel if it were in Courier 12?), but to subtly emphasize the illusion of verisimilitude that fiction depends on so as not to suspend the reader’s disbelief.

What next? Is it all this complicated?

Thank goodness, no. I managed the ebook with NO fonts, using only the size of the font to set things off, and emphasizing with bold and italics. The user even gets to pick the actual font to read in.

But there will be echoes of the Goudy Serial font I used for the cover in the Chapter headings, and the interior layout uses a lovely little font called Alido that I was fortunate enough to find in my Summitsoft package, and which comes in 7 different weights.

This was my one hoped-for excursion into fancy fonts (we of my generation remember the craziness in printed materials when fonts were first made available to computer enthusiasts with things such as MacPaint); it would be tedious in the extreme to have to fight fonts all book long.

I will play a tiny bit with fonts for the title page, etc., but I have had my fun, and now I have to go in, and format everything else for your reading ease and convenience.

As we say, Your Mileage May Vary. If you recoil in horror, hand it all over to the pros. Me, I play.

While we are playing, did you notice who wrote the article in the image?


8 thoughts on “The self-published writer takes pleasure in interior layout

  1. naleta

    Somehow I missed that prologue when I started reading PC on your blog. It adds a different flavor to my memory of the story. Not bad, just different. 😊


  2. serendipitydoit

    I’ve had to abandon a couple of books because of the layout, hardly any space between the left margin and the spine and the print was so tiny. Your attention to detail is admirable. I’ve never really thought about the amount of fonts used even in such a small newspaper article such as the one you’ve included above.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Attention to detail or nitpickiness? I can’t stop making things better – if I can figure out how – until they are close to as good as I can make them.

      Since I’m so slow because of the brain fog and lack of energy, I don’t trust knowing when to stop – I figure if someone healthy can do it, I can, too, if I take the time (unless it’s video games – they kill me – the kids laugh at my awkwardness – warm laugh). So I just keep going, like the Energizer Bunny.

      I knew how I wanted it to look. I think I got 95% – that’s good enough. Sans serif fonts are similar; I’m not sure what to call Irvin – it really isn’t sans serif – but the serifs are tiny, just indicated, and what makes the whole so graceful is details like the tail of the K and the R, the slanted S – and that distinctive W. It’s iconic – but it turned out not to be inimitable. I do enjoy these puzzles.

      I had to stop and think: you meant you had to abandon READING. Those books are so uncomfortable – and they are often the worst offenders with the wide margins around the outside of the page.


  3. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

    Thanks, J.M. – I have learned so much from you! I’m glad you get the fun of it – and they say we self-publishers don’t care about quality.

    We DO care – it’s a lot of work, but it’s definitely worth it, as anyone who looks at your graceful interior design will know in a flash. Next on my list, as soon as I get this finished, is to read some of your new releases which are sitting patiently on my Kindle. Well, maybe not so patiently; they call to me.


  4. J.M. Ney-Grimm

    It looks great! I’m one of those in favor of PC’s prologue, and your formatting of it for the trade paperback sets the scene beautifully.

    It sounds like you are winning in the war of designer versus the print medium. Keep fighting, and you’ll see your way to a complete and lovely tome. 😀



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