Last week I did an article on how to design a great book cover and got several questions on what then makes an excellent book design. I had taken it for granted that what may be challenging is the cover design. However, I then reflected on the number of not so well designed books that I have read, especially  eBooks. This is also because a lot of people, especially coaches, have content but do not have the adequate publishing skills to produce it. Also, because of the now popular DIY (do it yourself) mantra, most upcoming businesses are finding themselves making use of the various applications that help put together a few pages and publish. Some simply type and save as PDF and Wala, the book is circulated. But is this how a book is designed? Do readers enjoy that, especially where you distribute for free. We all know that people hardly read what they get for free, now imagine if the book is poorly designed.

How can I design a great book?

As with any product, the customer is always the focus. Just like there is no point designing the most gorgeous black robe for a wedding bride who prefers the traditional white gown; there is also no point designing a colourful childlike book for a busy entrepreneur with little time to read or who has to read a number of books. Why should they stop to read your book if it does not please them?

Take a look at these few tips to help you come up with a great book design that complements your great content.

1. Typeface

Just like with the cover design, great care should be taken when one is choosing a typeface for the book. This will also determine the font size and the various styles that will be used. For instance, the headings styles, italicised text, quotes and boxes. What works on one font may not work on another. My favourite font is Century Gothic (inspired by a friend) but italics do not work with it. If you are not familiar with Century Gothic, you may not see the italics in the text hence if publishing a book that will need some emphasis in italics, this will not work. I can go for Palatino Linotype instead.

Choose a font that resonates with your ideal customer. For instance, a carpentry manual targeted for carpenters may need to have larger font. A children’s book may need fancy fonts while a novel needs an elegant readable font that engrosses the readers.

Book size

The size and orientation of your book has a great bearing on your book’s overall design. Is it landscape or portrait? A4 or A6? This determines whether you will need columns or not, and the margin size. Large margins work on large books, the same applies with elements designed in the margin as compared to smaller books.

Columns may also work with large landscape or portrait books. For instance, a newsletter works best with columns as compared to elongated lines spanning through an A4 page. Novels work best in smaller orientation books in order to guide the reader’s eye and not tire them. eBooks also work in smaller portrait orientations, especially because most readers read them on handheld smaller devices.


There are different paragraphing styles that can be used depending on what one is producing. There can be double or single lines between paragraphs? Some can be indented? Consider the spacing size between the paragraphs. Also how big should the paragraphs be? Short paragraphs read better.

Text alignment

As you design your pages, think about the text alignment. Should it be justified, centre aligned, right aligned or left aligned text?

Justified text looks neat but it can create ugly spaces between some words and the designer will need to pay attention to all of that. Left aligned text eliminates ugly spaces between words but it creates rugged text at the end.

Justified text can save up space, while left aligned text may waste space. Think about whether you will hyphenate broken words in justified text or not.

Some text can also be spread around images and graphs. All those text and page design aspects will need to be thought about.


Spacing is an important factor in book design. Readers may not appreciate crammed up text that makes is hard to read. While the desire to create breathing text is appreciated, it also should not be too spaced as that may also make it difficult to see between paragraphs. Make use of text Leading and kenning. Should the text be tight or loose and why? How do you close up ugly spaces and how do you avoid widows and orphans.

Use of colour

In traditional publishing, the use of colour has been largely reserved for high budget full colour books that make use of images. Did you know that you can also create a colour book without printing full colour?

If you are printing full colour, do you know how to maximumly make use of colour without abusing it?

Know how to apply colour on headings, boxes, quotes, margins, page numbers, graphs, charts, etc.

Create colour with a duotone book and excite your readers. The use of colour in publishing is widely avoided because of the extra printing expense that it comes with. Printing full colour is more expensive than printing black and white, hence duotone can be the needed compromise.

If you are creating an eBook, what is your excuse for not using colour?

Running headers

One other important aspect to consider when designing a book is the running header style. Its placement is important. Should it be at the top or bottom of every page?  Which pages would be an exception and why? Think of your pages that will have bleeding pictures and how that will impact your running headers.

Page numbers

Page numbers are usually taken for granted but they are quite important and the way you design them can annoy or excite your reader. The immediate assumption would be to think that a page number should simply be inserted. Have you ever seen designed page numbers? If not, please pay attention to some of the books that you will read from today going forward.

Page numbers placement is also important – right, centre or left aligned? Think about their size in relation to the text size. The style is also key, should they be plain, in italics or bold? What effect will they bring onto the page?


What separates the chapters? Blank pages? Single quote? No space at all. Think about how you design the chapter numbers and headings. Make use of colour, pictures and graphics.

Images, graphs, tables and boxes

Where should they be inserted? Should they be captioned? How are they numbered and referenced within the text. It is not just about aesthetics. The book size also has an impact on images. Do you get landscape or portrait images? Should you place them on a spread or on a single page? In the middle, top or bottom and how do you balance the pages?


The end packaging also has a huge impact on how you design your book. You need to decide whether you will print on matte or gloss as that will have a bearing on the final visuals. Some pictures print better on gloss than on newsprint. Think about the whiteness of the paper and grammage.


Book binding has an influence on how you will design your margins and insert bleed. Perfect binding needs more bleed and you need to pay extra attention to the margins to avoid text being swallowed up at the margins into the binding. The same applies with spiral binding. The type of binding also has an impact on the images design. Centrespread images do not work best on perfect binding as the reader will have to force the book open to clearly view the image. You will need a clever designer to balance that out.


I hope this article will help you think about how best to design your book. You now know what to pay attention to in order to come up with the best book design. If you are stuck, find an editor to help you with great ideas and recommendations.

Always work with a professional book designer. With technology on the rise and a lot of design applications coming up to make life easier, there is a huge temptation to do it yourself. Do it only if your design skills are impressive, otherwise get a publisher to help you.





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