Lazy Book Designing

My eyes are stinging and my brain is dizzier than usual. I just finished reading for my bookstore’s review two excellent young adult books for consideration of including them on our shelves and hand-selling them once we do. OK, so why the physical impacts?

Both books were interior designed using serif-less fonts. They’re OK for ads or internet usage, but they are horrendous for reading on paper. Why? and Why were they used? Ah, here is my best guess. It may all be about laziness on the part of the interior designer/typesetter. Follow along as I explain more:

Text fonts that use serifs are easier to read. The serifs, those little tittles that come to points on each letter’s lines, bring closure to the letters. They let the eye know what the each letter is (try to figure out if a letter is a capital I or a small L in a sanserif font). Reading the text in a book without that help is daunting at best.

The two books I read were The Eleventh Plague and Cinder, and both were excellent, except for the typesetting. I know whereof I speak. I am an interior designer for books and a design judge for the Ben Franklin Awards. Neither books would have made it to the Ben Franklin finals but would have been rejected out of hand immediately.

So, why would a designer use sanserif fonts for his text paragraphs? I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess it was done out of sheer laziness or for a publisher’s cost cutting guidance. Many people prefer using sanserif text fonts for computer screens, where serifs can become too complex for screen resolutions. For this reason, many ebooks are set with sanserif text fonts. OK, so the designer makes the ebook version first thing since they are cheaper, easier, and quicker to publish. Why go back through and change all the text paragraphs to serifed fonts. After all, they are wider (which may add to the page count) and may create some widows and orphans that weren’t there before (again screwing up the layout throughout the book).

It’s my guess that is what happened with these two books I just struggled through to read with my aging eyesight. I think that many self-publishers may fall into this trap as well (both these books were from major publishers). Give your readers a break and design your books correctly. There is a reason for every designing tradition and standard practices.


This is a reprint from Bob Spear‘s Book Trends blog.

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