In this installment of How to Typeset a Book, we’ll discuss choosing the correct type size. What’s the correct type size to use in a book? In most cases, probably smaller than you think. Not 12-point. Well maybe, in some cases. What? You expected this to be easy?
Font size: When you typeset a book you can probably set the text smaller than you think. Because nearly everyone is familiar with Word, which uses a default type size of 12-point, most people who attempt to lay out their own book choose this size. This works fine on an 8.5 x 11 page, but it’s usually too large for a book, where the line length of the text is much smaller. Type that is too large can make your book look self-published, and reflect poorly on the credibility of your message. The rule of thumb for easy reading used by typographers (who typically work in measurements called picas, rather than inches) is that the number of characters (letters, punctuation, and spaces) on a line should not exceed 2.5 times the line length in picas. There are 6 picas to an inch. Using a 6×9 book as an example, the width of the page is 36 picas. Subtract 3 picas for the outside margin, and 4 picas for the inside margin and you’re left with a line length of 29 picas. So you should choose a type size that gets no more than 70 characters per line for easiest reading.
But don’t get hung up on the math. Print out sample paragraphs in different sizes and in different fonts. A common mistake made by inexperienced folks is to work in isolation, to imagine what a good book should look like, and then declare the results acceptable. Don’t imagine. Print out your samples, fold them and compare a line of your text to books produced by major publishers and adjust accordingly. Some typefaces look larger than others, even if they are the same size. For example, 10-point Utopia, a modern font, has very round, open characters, and so it looks much larger than 10-point Adobe Garamond or Goudy Oldstyle, classic fonts often used in books. Forget rules and numbers. Trust your eyes.
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Michele DeFilippo, owner, 1106 Design