Thursday, November 06, 2014

Basics of Print Interior Design

By Jordan McCollum, @JordanMcCollum

Part of the Indie Authors Series

Do you know what a book looks like?

I know, rectangular, opens on the right, has pages—a big DUH, right? But when you really think about it, can you tell me off the top of your head which elements on the spine are vertical and which are horizontal on a "standard" book? Where do the page numbers go? How big the paragraph indents are? How big the book itself is?

The Size of the Thing

There are "standard" trim sizes, as they're called, for published novels. But grab a dozen books off your shelf (unless you sort books by size, I guess . . . what? My husband does it!) and you'll probably end up with at least 5 different sizes of books.

The "standard" sizes are mass market and trade paperbacks, and then your hardcovers. While mass market paperbacks are a fairly consistent size, you might be amazed at how much variation you really see in trade paperback sizes.

And that goes for the text layout, as well. The margins, the number of lines per page, even where you stick the page numbers and what else goes in the headers and footers—they can be all over the place.

If you're hoping for an industry standard . . . keep hoping.

I grabbed eight novels off my shelves and set about measuring them with probably excessive precision—and no two books are alike.

Some Observations

As you can see, pretty much nothing is "standard" in a "standard" trade paperback or hardcover. Some interesting notes:

Half the books used the author's first and last name on the spine, and half used the surname only. Most of them put the author's name before the title. Most used some sort of graphic element, often a carry over or straight-up repeat of the cover. The publisher is always at the bottom of the spine.

The four YA titles all had fewer than 30 lines per page. They looked almost double spaced at times—especially after looking at the ones with closer to 40 lines per page!

Heads and feet were where we came closest to a standard. Five books had running heads, and four had running feet. If you're going to put the author name and book title on the pages, author name goes on the verso (left side) and book title on the recto (right side). These may be centered or "outside aligned" (closer to the outside margin), but the page numbers are outside aligned. Generally, you use some sort of special font for these. You may or may not put the page numbers in a special font. If you don't have the author name and title at the top, page numbers seem to be more comfortable centered at the bottom of the page.

New chapter pages are just fun! Graphic elements—from flourishes to themed clip art to a repeat of the cover graphic—are very popular, as is using special fonts. Several books also used grayscale in text or images here. Go crazy!

Here's a spreadsheet of what I found:

Link to the full spreadsheet

Explanatory notes:
  • All measurements are in inches
  • Format: "perfect" = perfect bound, where pages are glued into a paper cover of the same size
  • Spine matter: listed from top to bottom. "Vertical" orientation means that if the book's sitting upright on a shelf, you might have to turn your head to read it.
  • Top margin or bottom margin: yellow highlight means there was a header or footer not included in this measurement.
  • Running head/feet: whether they use a header or footer on each page
  • Head/feet content: FONT = an important font in the book, such as the font of the title on the cover. font = some other font, neither the body font nor the cover font. pg# outside means that the page numbers are on the outside corners of the page. v = verso (left-hand page). r = recto (right-hand page).
  • Head/feet format: ctr = centered. TITLE = all caps title. title = mixed case or lower case title.
  • New chapter pages: the format of the first page of a new chapter. sm cap = small caps. Number = Seventeen. Chapter Number = Chapter Eleven. # = 15. Drop cap = a large letter (often in a decorative font) as the first letter of the first paragraph of text (not indented), where the letter "cuts into" the first paragraph, forcing the first 2-3 lines of text over. Non-drop cap = a large letter (often in a decorative font) as the first letter of the first paragraph of text (not indented), where the letter does not "cut into" the paragraph, but sits on the same baseline as the regular text.

How Do Book Designers Do It?

I'd never given much thought to book design—not the interior, anyway. But man, there are so many choices to make, it's a little mind-boggling! Every time I thought I'd finished my spreadsheet, I'd remember another dimension I should measure. In fact, I kind of want to add whether the new chapter pages had a page number at all . . . (Some did, some didn't.)

The Takeaway

Seeing is believing. Try this out for yourself with several of your books, from different publishers. If you want to design your own book interior, find what you like best through observation.

For example, I found that a 6"x9" book was just a little unwieldy in my hands, but the smaller trade paperback trim sizes—5.5"x8.5" (what I use) and 5.25"x8"—fit very nicely. I decided how many lines I wanted per page (my line spacing was 15 pts in my first book and 14.5 pts in my later books to get those numbers), how tall I wanted my text (11pt, but this really depends on what font you're using), how wide I wanted my margins (.75" top and bottom, .88" in the middle, .63" on the outside). Personally, I felt like the books with running heads looked crowded and cluttered, so I went with running feet only. Although I've heard some disparage that choice in general, it is used in trade publishing (and I've only received compliments on my print layout).

(Here are some more tips on how to make your book look professional)

Also pay attention to your ornamentation and font choices. Most novels are set in serif fonts, but a more decorative font may be used for chapter headings, running feet or headers, title pages and so forth. If you can match your cover's font, even better! But make sure it's legible at the size you're using.

Look at what sizes feel most comfortable in your hands, whether the text is too cramped, or too spaced out, whether the margins are kind of freakishly large or ridiculously narrow. Determine what you like by looking at what other people have done, and you'll be able to design a book (hopefully!) exactly how you want it.

What do you think? Have you ever noticed a book's interior design?

Jordan McCollum is the (indie!) author of the romantic suspense series Spy Another Day which begins with I, Spy. She enjoys teaching writing craft through her writing craft blog at, as the Education Director of Authors Incognito (an online writers' support group with over four hundred members), and through her book CHARACTER ARCS (with a foreword by Janice Hardy) and CHARACTER SYMPATHY.

Photo by muellermartin
A version of this post originally appeared on Jordan's blog


  1. Thanks for this! I’ve been using the 6 x 9 trim size for CreateSpace books; I’ll have to see how what I’ve done compares to yours. And add a few lines to it from my library.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Also notice the direction in which the type on the spine is going. It should be positioned such that when the book is laying flat on a table with the front cover facing up, the spine should be readable left to right. (A common rookie mistake is to make the text read down to up on the spine, which makes it upside down when the book is flat.)

    In other words, you can tell when someone has been spending long hours at the bookstore or library because their head is tilted to the right.

    (From reading the titles.)

  3. Great information on a subject i'd never thought about before. Thanks for the post!

  4. My editor did a bang-up job on my interior design. I got to see her samples, playing around with fonts and graphics to make it all look perfect.

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  6. I agree that the 6x9 is a bit cumbersome. I also used 8x5-ish...can't remember the exact measurement. Thanks for the great breakdown.