I’ve noticed a trend lately in some of the books I’ve been reading: authors choosing unusual layout and designs for parts of their books.
I’m not saying that everything out of the ordinary is bad. Uncommon design elements and devices can make your work stand out or even enhance the reader’s experience. But unique doesn’t necessarily equal improvement.
Unusual visual elements can catch the eye and attract attention.
For example, authors often use devices like pull quotes, illustrations, graphs, and spacing and section breaks to call attention to or clarify certain points.
Sometimes, authors go beyond these design techniques to things like changing alignment or playing with where words sit on the page.
In one book I read, the text on left-hand pages aligned with the right margin, and the text on right-hand pages aligned with the left margin. Sure, it looks neat to have the text line up where it meets along the spine, but right-aligned text is really hard to read.
There are two major reasons almost all books use a left or justified alignment.
First, it’s what readers expect, and while challenging expectations occasionally can work to your advantage, it becomes too much when it’s on every line of text.
Second, because English is read from left to right, if each new line starts at a different place, readers have to search for that starting point with every line. That takes energy and breaks the flow of their reading.
Also, while pull quotes can be an asset in highlighting important points from the text, they can be distracting when used wrong. (Pull quotes are those bits of the text on a page that the designer sets in a box to the side of the page, usually in a large, noticeable font.)
If you use them too often, readers can get annoyed by constantly breaking out of the flow of the text to read lines that they’ve just read or that come in the next paragraph.
Another point to consider is font and color. While many e-readers now offer various color and font options (like white text on a black background) because some readers prefer them, most people find the nonstandard fonts and colors hard to read.
Your best bet to appeal to the largest number of readers is to go with a plain font of black text on a white background. Save the fancy stuff for smaller elements. They’ll stand out and work for instead of against you that way.
Keep Your Eye on the Goal.
Remember that the ultimate goal is to get people to read and understand what you wrote. Everything you include in your writing should be in service of that goal: from the words you choose to how they’re set on the page.
One Last Note
On behalf of all of the editors who will work on your book, please wait to address all of your design choices until the design phase of publication (at almost the very end).
Your editor only deals with the words, not the visual aspect, and the plainer the text you give them, the better the results and the happier they’ll be. Besides, in order to work efficiently, they’ll probably end up stripping all of your fancy formatting out anyway.
Rebecca has a passion for helping you fill the world with great literature and making sure said literature doesn't get passed over for the lack of a little editing.