Sunday, November 29, 2009

Basics of book design

Okay, I gotta say it. You folks who are designing your own books: there are some simple rules you should follow.

1) the first page of a chapter does not have a page header

2) blank pages have no page headers

3) don't put extra space between paragraphs

4) the first paragraph of a chapter is not indented, and usually has special typographic treatment (a large initial capital, the first few words in small caps, etc.)

5) the first paragraph of a new scene is not indented

6) don't put some horrendous graphical ornament at every scene change; in most cases a simple skipped line suffices (except when the blank line would be the first or last on a page)

7) books do not end with the words "The End"

8) for God's sake, use smart quotes and em dashes, not typewriter quotes and double hyphens

I'm stunned at how many people sit down and lay out their books without ever once pulling a professionally published one off the shelf to look at how it's normally done.

Thank you. :)

Visit The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site



At November 29, 2009 5:11 PM , Blogger Bev. Cooke said...

Thank you Robert for this! Although your comment about headers on blank pages - sometimes, depending on the kind of book and if you want notes. But normally, no, you're right. Thanks!

At November 29, 2009 9:50 PM , Blogger MattMooreWrites said...

Is it OK to print it on pink paper so it stands out? What about using Comic Sans Serif for a font since no one else has used it and it will stand out?

And how about page numbering the the pre-prologue? Lowercase roman numerals or normal numbers?

Sarcasm aside, a great list of common sense stuff so enough forgotten.

At November 30, 2009 12:09 AM , Blogger stephentianoBookDesigner said...

Nice list. I've started a Q&A on book design at

Started the Q&A because I imagine I'm never getting back the hacked-into archive to my blog,

Oh ... one item you might add to your list--or is this just a bugaboo of mine?--is, No leader dots from chapter titles to page numbers in Tables of Contents. This is just archaic.

At November 30, 2009 12:20 AM , Blogger stephentianoBookDesigner said...

Nice list. You might add: Never use leader dots from chapter titles to page numbers in tables of contents. (Or is that just my pet peeve?)

Tho' the hacked-in archive to my blog on book design will prob'ly never be resurrected, it IS active at

Two years of my experience as a freelance book designer/layout artist it's painful to realize I likely won't see it again. But such blogging on basics as you've done here is a useful, worthwhile contribution.

I do something along those line in shorter form, I think, than on my blog, at

Keep up the good work. I'll link here on my Twitter stream.

At November 30, 2009 12:36 AM , Blogger Jonathan Ball said...

I would add: never design your own book!

At November 30, 2009 8:13 AM , Blogger stephentianoBookDesigner said...

And especially: don't design your own book in MS Word!

At December 06, 2009 4:04 PM , Blogger Ted said...

NO! ...
Spaces between the dots . . .

At December 06, 2009 4:11 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Hi, Ted. I agree with you for printed books. As you know, CMS 15 says: "Ellipsis points are three spaced periods (. . .), sometimes preceded or followed by other punctuation. They must always appear together on the same line, but any preceding punctuation may appear at the end of the line above."

The problem is that online, and in most wordprocessors (my beloved WordStar being a notable exception that gets it right), if you type ". . .," you're not guaranteed that they will stay together on one line. So, the "..." that many people type online should be taken as a code that means "true ellipsis points go here," just as "--" means "true em dash goes here." :)

At December 06, 2009 6:27 PM , Blogger stephentianoBookDesigner said...

NO dots! Use an honest-to-God ellipsis already!


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