Anatomy of a Beautiful Page

Designing the Perfect Page for your BookSelf publishing features a unique combination of emotions: exhilaration and terror. Why? Because self publishers wear so many hats.

You have to write compelling, clear prose. You have to know enough about marketing that you can build your own audience and following. And often, you need to design your own pages for printing.

I’m here to take some of the terror out of designing your own pages for printing. It doesn’t have to be difficult, and I’ll give you a few simple rules to follow that will make your pages look beautiful, even if you put them together in a word processing program.

How Big is Your Canvas?

The first thing to determine is the finished size of your printed page. Everything works backwards from there. The company you plan to use to print your book may have templates available on their web site for the different finished book sizes they print. If they don’t, a quick search on the web sites of competitor printers will yield templates that are free to download. If you can find the right template you’ll save time and get off to a good start.

One reason to use templates is that publishers have taken into account the additional space needed in the gutter of each page spread. The gutter is the space where pages are bound together in the middle of a book. If you place text too close to the gutter, you’ll send your readers into the gutter to read your work. You don’t want to do that!

Step Away from the Edge

If you’ve found a template for your page size, great. If you need to create one, ask your printer how much space you should leave for the gutter on each page, and how far in from the edges of the page you should place your text.

A nice, wide band of white space around your text block will make it easier to digest. This white space is important: without it, your readers may feel overwhelmed by your material.

Choose a Clear Typeface

One of the most important decisions you’ll make is what typeface to use for your book’s text. Here’s what to look for:

  1. Use a serif. For long blocks of text such as books, it’s best to use serif typefaces. Serif typefaces have “feet” and studies have shown that these added details make reading faster and easier. You already have serif typefaces on your computer: Times Roman and Georgia are two examples. Neither of these is particularly good to use for books, though. What to do? Read on.
  2. Find a full typeface family. Look for a typeface with a full family of weights and styles. This means regular, italic, bold and bold italic at a minimum. The more styles your typeface family has, the more options you’ll have when setting your book.
  3. Consider investing in a unique typeface. and are two great resources for buying beautiful full-family typefaces. Many are reasonably priced, and considering typefaces don’t spoil or become outdated as quickly as most software, it’s an investment that you’ll use for many years.

If you’re watching your expenses, here are two free typefaces that are perfect for books:



Set up Signposts to Tell Your Readers Where They Are

Once you’ve found your typeface, you should set up running heads at the top of each page. Some books use this space to re-state the title of the book, but it’s more useful to your reader to use the name of your chapter. That way they can flip through your book later and more easily find the information they’re looking for.

Page numbers can run along the top of the page, too. I’d recommend keeping them in the standard position, though: at the bottom of the page at the outside edge of your text block, or centered below it.

Set your running heads and page numbers in the same text you’ve used for your body copy. For the running heads, use a point size, or text size, that is about 20-25% smaller than your text size. Running heads are often set in small caps, which may be a formatting option offered by your software program.

For the page numbers, try using a point size that is about 20-25% larger than your text size. These can be set in semibold or bold to stand out.

Refining Your Body (Text)

Did you ever notice that when shopping for clothes, certain manufacturers have a different interpretation of your size of clothing? You think you know what size you should wear, you take that size off the rack and into the dressing room, and you discover that it’s way too large, or uncomfortably tight.

The same thing happens with typefaces. One manufacturer’s 10 pt. type is not the same as another’s. Here’s where your eyes are essential, and this might be the most important step you take to improve the readability of your book.

Fill a page spread (left and right pages) with writing using your text typeface. Put your running heads and page numbers into place. Print the pages, and label them with the point size you used.

Now, bring the point size of your page text down one point. Print the pages and label them.

Next, bump the point size one point higher than the original size. Print and label.

You now have three page spreads with slightly different point sizes. Spend some time with these printed pages. Show them to people who fit the age group of the audience you want to reach with your book. Ask them to vote on which text looks the most readable and accessible. Once you have input from a few people, you’ll know which size to set your book in.

There’s much more to setting up pages for printing. Luckily, there are freely available resources on the web. Search these sites for more details on creating beautiful book pages that will make your words look great.

Book Design on Wikipedia:

Book elements explained:

The Book Designer: Practical Advice to Build Better Books

Pamela Wilson is an award-winning graphic designer who writes the Big Brand System blog,  where she helps small businesses to grow with the power of great design and marketing.

(Editor’s note: Pamela Wilson is the designer of my beautiful, new custom header design. Thank you so much, Pamela!)

I’m sure you have some questions for Pamela about designing your page layout. Now is the perfect opportunity to ask them.

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  1. Carole,

    Thanks for the link, and for a nice article. Best,
    .-= Joel Friedlander´s last blog ..By: Bill Gates =-.

  2. Very useful information, thanks Pamela and Carole. I take it all the rules you’ve mentioned can be applied to e-books as well – or are there different rules for those?
    .-= Rachel Mathews´s last blog ..plan-photo1 =-.

  3. I like the new header. There’s a lot to digest in Pamela’s article here. I think it warrants a revisit at a later date.

  4. Alison,

    I hope you’ll use it as a reference. It’s the kind of article that makes most sense once you put it into practice.
    .-= Pamela Wilson´s last blog ..Design 101 | Make it Easy to Consume Your Information with White Space =-.

  5. Thanks for this valuable information.

    I will use your advice for an eBook I plan to write soon.
    .-= Eugen Oprea´s last blog ..How to install Scribe SEO =-.

  6. Hi Pamela and Carole, (Sorry for this late comment.)

    Great post Pamela! Rachel brought up a good question about e-books, and I want to expand that a bit.

    How do you feel about horizontal (landscape rotation) e-books? I’ve bought a few and I like them because I can fit a whole page onto my screen at a time, the font becomes big enough that I can read it at 2am, and I can read it faster as I no longer have to scroll to the bottom of the pages. I rarely print out horizontal books anymore either, because of this feature.
    .-= Marlene Hielema´s last blog ..The lure of the big box stores when buying photo equipment =-.

  7. Hi Marlene!

    I don’t have a strong opinion either way, to be honest. If you think people will print your e-book, it may make more sense to leave it vertical. If people will most likely read it on screen, horizontal works great.

    The one caveat is that when lines run very long, your eyes make tire out from having to make the long “trip” from the end of one line to the beginning of the next. So you wouldn’t want to run the lines the full width of a horizontal page.

    If you keep them to about 2/3 the width of the page that leaves you some open space that you can use to add photos or “call outs,” which are portions of text you want to highlight.


  1. […] so honored today to be speaking with Pamela Wilson, an award winning designer, about how to design your book, whether traditional book or […]

  2. […] to Part Two of my interview with Pamela Wilson, award winning designer, about how to design your […]