• Self-Publishing: Typeface & Book Design

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 25 comments

    Discussion questions: What are your likes and dislikes when it comes to typeface, layout, and design? Do you ever buy — or opt not to buy — a book based on its cover or its font? Do you despise deckle-edged pages as much as I do? If you’ve self-published before, what was your process for making decisions about type, cover, and layout? What advice would you give to a writer preparing to self-publish for the first time?Share your thoughts in the comments below.


    Many of you who have self-published are familiar with the horrors of finally finishing your book only to be met with a barrage of options and questions about how that book should look. As if being good with words means being good with design.

    I’m trying to envision myself being in that situation:

    What font do you want?

    “I dunno. Times New Roman 12? Or… I can’t think of any others. Is Garamond a thing? Wing dings?”

    What about the margins and spacing?

    “Are you kidding?”

    Do you want deckle-edged pages?


    What do you want the cover to look like?

    “Um. It should show my name, I guess? And probably the book title. And maybe some kind of image or something, like an illustration or a photo?”

    What kind of illustration or photo?

    “Oh god, when will this end? Can I just do an e-book?”

    OK. What font do you want in your e-book?



    The deckle-edged pages one is a personal and intense dislike of mine, which I mention in a recent episode of Yak Babies where my pals and I talk about our likes and dislikes in typeface and book design.

    “[Deckle-edged pages are] meant to be like an aesthetic look,” I say, “but f*ck do I hate it … You can’t flip through a book; if you’re looking for a note it’s almost impossible to find because the pages stick together, you can’t find individual spots, it’s hard to find a bookmark.”

    Meanwhile, Nico has this to say about font: “Font makes a huge difference to me … I want it to be as legible, as easy to read, as regular, as normal, as not f*cked-up as possible.”

    About cover design, our pal Brick Road says that if he’s wrestling to decide which of two books to buy, “I’m gonna take the one whose cover I like better.”

    In a perfect world, only the words themselves would matter. But whether it’s fair or not, typeface and design affect the decisions of readers — a.k.a. book buyers.

    Even if they’re not aware of it. Like Nico says, “Maybe it’s one of those things where you don’t notice [typeface and design] unless it’s sh*tty.”


    Self-published writers: What was your process for making decisions about type, cover, and layout? Did you enjoy this process or was it a total nightmare? What advice would you give to a writer preparing to self-publish for the first time?

    Readers: What are your likes and dislikes when it comes to typeface, layout, and design? Do you ever buy — or opt not to buy — a book based on its cover or its font? Do you despise deckle-edged pages as much as I do?

    All: Do you want more of the Yak Babies yakkin’ about design? Episode 33 is about book covers.


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2020 writing project you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. If you have a manuscript that’s ready for some editorial care, check out our various critiquing, editorial, and proofing servicesJoin our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

    0 0 votes
    Article Rating
    Notify of

    Newest Most Voted
    Inline Feedbacks
    View all comments
    david lemke

    This was a fun part. I’d read somewhere that, to help motivate you with writing your book, create your cover. So for my first book, a nonfiction about New Age Spirituality, called Spiral Arm Group. So I set to work, taped some paper together, got out my markers and created the cover. Then I hunted through all my books to find one which fit the just created cover and just like in grade school, put it on. See, I did too learn something in school. For my first novel, I did something a little different had in mind some specific… Read more »

    Dave's, you must be this short to enter.jpg
    Barbara Mealer

    There are several accepted fonts for the interior of your books. One of the most popular (with good reason) is Helvetica. It is easy to read and all platforms take it. Another one is Baskerville. It is a go to for a lot of fiction writers. The rest of the list is: Garamond Pro, Janson, Palatino, Carlson Pro (good for fiction) Utopia, ITC Franklin Gothic, Georgia, Sabon. Times Roman is used for newspapers and you might want to avoid it for a book. For headings, popular choices are Modelica, Cansu, Bison. Do NOT mix types in the body of your… Read more »

    Herberta Schroeder

    Cover design should always be based on the rule of thirds and the golden mean. Those two elements will guarantee to catch the readers eye. and forget monochrome schemes. You need a pleasing color compliment to retain that eye.

    new cover - Copy.jpg
    Barbara Mealer

    I agree, but I’m not an artist so, other than one cover, I haven’t even attempted to do one. That one was out of desperation.
    Abilene I did with Canva. Maraia was done by a professional.

    Mariah Blood of the New Moon_Small 1.75 tall.jpg
    Barbara Mealer

    This one I did with Canva

    Abilene thumbnail cover.jpg
    Barbara Mealer

    I like the Mariah cover….if you see it on the book, it is this awesome figure with the circle of runes behind it. They are actual archaeological finds from Central America…the moon has a big part in the book.

    David Duhr

    Yeah, I like that one. Good stuff.

    Ruth Beasley

    I must beg to differ on your font advice. My credentials are a lifelong career in typesetting for college textbook publishers and two self-published non-fiction books so far. And my point of contention is this: Helvetica, Franklin Gothic, or any other sans serif font is NOT acceptable as a book font. It may be “popular” with some, but that doesn’t change the fact that plain up-and-down fonts used for text scream unprofessional-ism, make your readers’ eyes tire quickly, and make comprehension more difficult. Stick to serif fonts for readability. San serif fonts work great for titles, captions, etc. But not… Read more »

    Barbara Mealer

    I will agree with you, I don’t like the san serif for text, but those are “accepted” fonts for books listed by various formatters. I also agree that they are hard to read and tire your eyes. The san serif are best used for headings. I prefer the Baskerville, or Palatino, and Garamond fonts which are three of the most used ones. Times Roman is best left to the newspapers. Arial will work, but I just don’t care for it and to me, that also screams un-professional. Then again, I do my best to make my books look like the… Read more »


    I self-published two books via Amazon KDP (when it was CreateSpace). The process, using stock covers with my photos and using Microsoft Word to do the interiors, produced decent looking books. That did lead me to prefer a gloss cover finish over a matte one. And for both I used the Garamond font at 11 points. 12 points would have worked better. I used a cream finish for the pages, which is easy on the eye.  I also don’t care for deckled pages. Apparently, some people do, but that wasn’t an option using Amazon. There’s millions of considerations in designing… Read more »


    The process of creating a book can be fun. It plucks the creative chords and it is possible to make a book that looks good. If I ever do it again, I’ll just enjoy the process more and not sweat the book’s physical making. Now, writing a book worth reading and getting it to readers are completely different, far more difficult, endeavors. 

    David Duhr

    I wonder if there are writers who create a cover first and then write the book second. Maybe for inspiration, or to make it feel more real before starting the writing, like for accountability.

    Barbara Mealer

    Keep in mind that when you write that first draft, it is crap. When you get that finished, then the work comes to make it readable. That is what most people forget. Yes, I can write a book in a month. Is it worth reading. Nope. It will take months of editing or longer to make it readable. As James Patterson said in his Masterclass…to make a book readable will take ten or more revisions and edits. The idea is good, but to make the story good takes close to a year of hard work. (And that is with others… Read more »

    Last edited 3 years ago by Bobbie
    Elissa Malcohn

    My small press publisher folded in 2008, after releasing the first of my six-book series. Concurrently, my caregiving was ramping up. I got my rights back and decided to self-publish after reading Jeffrey A. Carver’s excellent how-to article, “Psst! Wanna Buy a Free Ebook?” in The Bulletin of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (Dec. 2008-Jan. 2009 issue). With the help of free programs like Calibri, I created versions in EPUB, MOBI, PDF, HTML, LIT (for Microsoft Reader), LRE (Sony Reader compatible), PDB (for Palm and similar devices), and PRC (same compatibility as MOBI). I don’t know if those last four are even… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn
    Elissa Malcohn

    The Great Recession wreaked havoc on the small press industry. My compadres and I were lucky compared, say, to authors who had published with Triskelion Press and whose rights were in limbo. See, e.g., https://dearauthor.com/features/industry-news/triskelion-publishing-closes-its-doors/ There had been plenty of warning signs. Several of us who had published with our press had become close, having done multiple events together. We compared notes and found a disturbing pattern that included lack of responsiveness, promised royalty statements that never materialized, and rumors about unpaid vendors. Our shared misfortune bonded us more closely, through spirited lunch dates and a trove of emails; I think going through everything together… Read more »

    David Duhr

    When something goes sideways it’s nice to have a group of people in your boat, going through the same thing. Did all of these fellow writers bounce back OK?

    Elissa Malcohn

    I believe we all have. Our lunches (back in the Before Time) were filled with spirited shop talk and camaraderie.

    Barbara Mealer

    Book funnel is a good place to put books you want to give away. You can get a commerce app and actually charge people for the book on your site and deliver it by bookfunnel (e-book only). Draft2Digital is another good site but your interiors have limited choices, but you use your own covers, you own all the rights and they take a percentage of your sales. They are in beta for POD paperbackes. You can also publish through Ingram Spark. It is $50 so not that much and they have wide distribution including libraries. I’ll be honest, I gave… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    Thanks, Barbara. I’ll check them out.

    Ruth Beasley

    As the daughter of a linotyper and a retired typesetter myself, I’d like to talk about fonts. There are two types: serif and sans serif, one is “fancy” and the other is “plain.” Sans serif fonts — plainer “up-and-down” fonts — should NEVER be used in large blocks of text. Use these for titles, subtitles, headers, captions, etc., but not the paragraphs themselves. The simple reason 99 percent of all books ever published use serif fonts is because the brain latches onto those curlicues and comprehends serif font information vastly better than it does sans serif fonts. Reading sans serif… Read more »

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x