What is typography?

You may have heard people talking about fonts, typefaces or typography on your journey to becoming a published author. Typography refers to the arrangement/design of text elements on a book page. This involves choosing typefaces (e.g. the font family), font weights (such as thin or heavy), font styles (such as bold or italic), font sizes for the body text, heading and sub-headings, line spacing, margin sizes, header and footer styles etc. These are some of the main elements that a designer will decide on when typesetting a book.

Why is typography important?

The look and feel of the text should complement the tone and purpose of the text, and it is important that the design looks professional. For example, a romance novel might have a script typeface applied to headings to complement the romantic tone, whereas a law book will use a clean and simple typeface for headings. A children’s book might have a typeface that looks like it has been written with a crayon. In a 700 page novel, the body text must be clear and legible so that the reader does not get tired whilst reading. You can also use different body fonts to evoke different emotions, for example, in a children’s book, if you introduce a monster, a ‘scary looking’ font can be used to signify that it is the monster speaking.

Basic type terminology

The font you use will set the tone and create context for your book’s content. Although your book designer will do this for you, it is important to understand some of the basics. Below is some text design terminology:

Typeface: This refers to a family of fonts with similar characteristics.

Font: A font file of a typeface.

Font size: The size that your text is set in, 10pt, 11pt, 12pt and so on. Headings are set in a bigger size to distinguish them, e.g. 20pt, 22pt, etc.

Font weight: This is how thick of thin the font is. A font can be thin, regular, semi-bold, bold or heavy.

Leading: This refers to the space between the lines of a paragraph.

Tracking: This refers to the space between individual words.

There are two main typeface classifications:

Serif: The words have strokes at the end of each character.

Sans serif: The words do not have strokes at the end of each character.

(Hint: this article is written in sans serif)

These are some of the basics that will help you make decisions with regards to the type design of your book. It is important to understand what works for you and what does not, so that you can tell your designer what it is you want.

Common mistakes to look out for

Although you should place your trust in your book designer, here are a few common mistakes to look out for:

Too many fonts

It is recommended that you stick to one or two typefaces, one for headings and one for body text. You can use more than two but this must be done for a specific reason and should not affect the overall readability of the text.

Wrong leading and/or tracking

If the spaces between your lines or words are too narrow or too wide, it affects the readability of your text and might put the reader off.

Full justification

Book text is usually left-justified or left-aligned. When text is fully justified it runs the risk of creating rivers which are huge gaps between words.

Using ALL CAPS too much

Use ALL CAPS sparingly. This should only be applied to text that is important and you want to emphasise. Avoid writing full sentences in ALL CAPS.

Finding fonts

Not sure where to start with selecting typefaces? Below is a list of some of our favourite fonts, serif, and sans serif:

Serif Sans serif
Sabon Frutiger
Garamond Futura
Minion Pro Helvetica
Ehrhardt Gill Sans

A great resource for finding fonts is Google fonts: https://fonts.google.com/. There are many other websites that you can find and download fonts from but make sure that they are free to use commercially.

At Staging Post, layout is something we have down to a fine art after so many years in the business, so you can leave it with us to apply formatting that will ensure that your readers have a smooth and wonderful experience when engaging with what you’ve written. The editor will also have prepared your text for a designer, indicating heading hierarchies and ensuring other necessary formatting technicalities (like single spacing) are correct. If you would like us to quote on your book, send an email to info@stagingpost.co.za.

Sources consulted:

Hannah, Jaye. 2019. ‘What Is Typography, And Why Is It Important? A Beginner’s Guide.’ Career Foundry. https://careerfoundry.com/en/blog/ui-design/beginners-guide-to-typography/. Accessed: 5 April 2020.

Lupton, Ellen. 2010. Thinking with type: A critical guide for designers, writers, editors & students. New York. Princeton Architectural Press.

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