6 Essentials of Book Layout: How to Ensure Your Book Is Readable

authors header image

Explore Author Services

While the content of a book is undoubtedly important, its layout can be just as important so that it’s visually appealing and easy to read. Otherwise, readers may pass up on it, regardless of how eye-catching the cover or how interesting the story. 

Read on to learn about six key elements of layout so you can make your book more readable. If still in doubt after you finish reading, reach out to our experts in professional book layout.

The fundamentals of book layout

The right layout depends on what kind of book you’re publishing. Books with lots of images (like cookbooks and art books) will look different from books that are all text, and genre fiction may differ from literary fiction. 

Browse through books similar to yours to get a feel for what interior designs work best. This is an area where you don’t want to reinvent the wheel; it’s best to follow conventions so that your book is not an outlier. You want people to feel comfortable while reading your book, and if your layout is strange or awkward, they will be more likely to put it down—for good.

Whatever the genre, there are key elements of book layout to consider.

1. Trim size

If you are publishing a printed book, you’ll need to figure out what trim size will work best before moving on to the interior layout.

The standard trim sizes are digest (5.5” x 8.5”) and trade (6” x 9”). The digest size is suitable for books that are not overly long; otherwise, the book will be quite thick, which doesn’t appeal to readers. You may need a wider trim size if you are printing an art or photography book. To make your book as visually attractive as possible, do your research to figure out the typical size in your specific genre.

2. Margins

Margins (the space around the body of text) are important so readers can hold the book without covering any of the words. White space is important in general as it balances out the text and is more visually appealing. If your page is too cluttered, readers will find it difficult to enjoy your work, and they may even have to reread a paragraph over and over again. Don’t make them work too hard; make it easy for them by ensuring that everything is as readable as possible.

The outside, top, and bottom margins should be about 0.5,” whereas the inside margin (the “gutter”) should be wider (0.75” to 0.9”) as this is where the pages will be glued or sewed together. Since eBooks don’t have physical pages, the inside margin should be set at 0.5,” keeping all margins around the page equal.

Information about the book is provided in the margins. At the top, you’ll find the “running head,” which will have the name of the author and the book (or perhaps the chapter title). The page number may also be in the running head, but it may sometimes be at the bottom of the page (the “running foot”). Text in the running heads and feet should be small enough to not distract from the main text but large enough to be legible.

3. Typography

Typography is how your text looks: the typeface (e.g., Times New Roman) and the font style (e.g., size and italics). 

Serif typefaces (like Garamond) are the most common, but sans-serif typefaces (like Arial) are sometimes used for cookbooks or art books to impart a cleaner, more modern feel. Whatever typeface you use, make sure it is legible and has different font styles available. Also, remember to be consistent with the font you use—a sudden change not only looks unprofessional but also confuses readers. (An exception to this rule would be permissible if your book includes letters or emails that are intended to be written in a different font.) 

Typography also includes leading, which is the space between lines. Make sure the leading leaves enough white space, otherwise lines will be cluttered and hard to read. The spacing should be consistent throughout the manuscript.

4. Widows and orphans 

Widows and orphans are single lines that have been separated from the rest of the paragraph they belong to. A widow is a separated line at the top of a page, while an orphan is at the bottom.

These isolated lines are problematic because they force a reader to pause at an odd spot in the paragraph and make the text look unbalanced and unappealing. When you are done with the writing stage, go back through the document and make sure that these isolated lines are taken care of.

5. Images

Images (photographs, art, illustrations, etc.) and text will interact differently depending on the type of book. For example, in art or photography books, the image is the main event, and there should be little text on the page—perhaps just a caption. An introduction to the art or the artist can appear on a separate page. On the other hand, in a cookbook, the image and recipe text may reside side by side.

Whatever the image, make sure to give it space. Having too much text too close to images will make your book look messy. Remember, white space is important! Readers will be better able to engage with your book if the text is legible and orderly.

6. Breaks and sinks

A scene break lets your reader know that you are shifting locations or narrators or otherwise changing things. You can use white space, dashes, or even a small design or illustration for scene breaks. Whatever you opt for, be consistent.

For new chapters, you will need a sink, which is where the text starts farther down the page (about one-third white space). This prepares the reader for a new section, allowing them to mentally shift gears. A reminder: this white space is your friend! Again, you want to make sure your spacing is consistent throughout the book. One of the most common mistakes indie authors make in book layout is not leaving enough white space.

With the above tips, you are well on your way to a more readable book! 

One final note: documents typed with word processing programs are not suitable for creating book interiors. You’ll need special layout software. Alternatively, you can hire a professional typesetter or eBook formatter to make your book more balanced and beautiful.

Explore Author Services