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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Your Words Need Good Design

A well-marked document design book
this writer loves. | Elizabeth King Humphrey

I believe that my eyes are heavily involved in the tactile experience of reading. Sure, I love to handle a new book or to upload a new eBook. There is that tactile. But my eyes want in on the game, too.

Some research indicates that our eyes account for about two-thirds of our sensory receptors.

So, while your words definitely matters, keep in mind that the design of a book also matters.

 As a graduate student in creative writing, I insisted on also taking a document design class. It was clear to me that regardless of where my books ended up, I wanted them to be aesthetically pleasing. I want my writing to use beautiful fonts. I want my future books to look good. (Yes, I do believe that you can judge a book's design by its cover.)

And I want to be able to explain that to whoever is spending the time to layout my book.

A few months ago, I was hired to copyedit. But one of the elements of copyediting often overlooked is the job of ensuring the manuscript's overall consistency.

I spent hours ensuring that there were the correct number of spaces between a chapter heading and the first paragraph. I looked at samples of previous publications to provide the correct bold or italics placement. I eradicated two spaces after each period, if necessary.

When the design works, you don’t notice it.  But when if fails, you probably notice it and it impacts your enjoyment of the book. Your eyes catch the inconsistencies.

But design also helps by making books more inviting.

I checked a book out of the library recently. At home we already owned two books dealing with the same subject. The library book was colorful and the layout was accessible. The reason we hadn't consulted the other books was their layouts are flat. In the library book, the designer had festooned the pages with illustrations that grounded me.

The book invited me into its pages. The words spoke to me. And my eyes were happy.

Look at your bookshelves, what books invite you into their pages?

Elizabeth King Humphrey writes and edits in coastal North Carolina. Generally she loves reading books that are good AND have good design.


  1. Excellent post! I am currently a grad student in writing and have taken several courses that exemplify these concepts. The content is key, but the design features and readability can sink or swim your work. The content is the boat; the presentation is the water. Clear and concise writing as well as presentation also requires a consistency that meets the latest readability and comprehension research. This is true for EVERY professional communication, including blog posts, query letters, picture books and larger works.

  2. Agree with you about design of a book being important. Hate to admit it, but when I get my daily email of free Kindle books, I select titles based on the cover design. And...I've read a lot of e-books that have poor inside design. Consistency is key!


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