Are you preparing your book for print yourself or paying someone else to design and typeset it? Whichever option you choose, there are a few things you’ll need to consider before getting started. Even if you’re using the services of a professional for book design and typesetting, you can save lots of time and get a better result by thinking about the points below and making some decisions ahead of time.

Any designer worth their salt should be able to help with your questions and offer suggestions or alternative options, but if you take up a lot of their time at the beginning of the process you may either get charged more or find that they have less time to spend on your project towards the end – neither of which is a desirable state of affairs!

So what will you need to decide when you’re designing your book?




This is also commonly known as the ‘font’ – there are subtle differences between the two, but the terms are often used interchangeably. The ‘typeface’ is what we might also call the ‘font family’, e.g. Arial is a typeface or font family while Arial Italic is a different font from regular Arial.

The vast majority of books are printed using a serif typeface for the main text even if a sans serif typeface is used for the title page and/or headings. Exceptions might be children’s books and books in certain non-fiction genres, such as business or lifestyle, where the author is intentionally going for a ‘modern’ or ‘businesslike’ look. You can find plenty of articles online about the best typefaces to use. Garamond and Georgia are popular choices for the body of the text.

I recommend that you look at other books in the same genre or on the same topic. Find some that you like the look of and see what typefaces they use. WhatTheFont is a great tool for identifying fonts from an image, so take photos and see what you can find!

Bear in mind that the type is supposed to make the reading experience ‘invisible’ – unnoticed. So it’s best to go for something that isn’t too wacky or intrusive.

Don’t forget to think about the typeface/s you want to use for the title page and chapter headings. You can get a little more creative with these!

Readers of ebooks can choose from various typefaces, so this is not an issue if you are producing an ebook only. In that case I’d advise you to submit your entire work in a plain, basic typeface like Arial or Helvetica.

Other issues to consider in relation to the type:

  • Size of the type
  • Margin size
  • Leading (spacing between the lines)
  • Chapter headings – what typeface? How big? Spacing above and below?
  • Headers and footers – are there any, and if so, will they be in the same typeface as the body text? What size in relation to the body text? Positioning?
  • Page numbers – what size and where will they be positioned?


Drop caps


These are the large, sometimes fancy, capital letters you might see at the beginning of a chapter.

Drop caps can either be created simply by tweaking the typeface itself, by using a different typeface for that individual letter, or they can be inserted as a separate graphic element (in which case you will need to provide a jpg file of each drop cap at 300 dpi resolution).

They can be as simple or as fancy as you want, and they are a good way of injecting a bit of personality into your book design!

It’s advisable, however, not to make the drop caps larger than the text used for the chapter headings. Drop caps that are too big can be distracting.

Things to consider in relation to drop caps include:

  • How many lines should they take up?
  • Should the drop caps also stick up over the top of the line? (A cap that doesn’t take up any additional lines downwards but that is big and sticks up high is referred to as a ‘stick-up’ or ‘stand-up’ cap. If it does both, it’s a drop cap/stick-up cap hybrid.)
  • Consider the size of the first paragraph in each chapter. A three-line drop cap won’t look so good with a paragraph that is only one or two lines deep. If that happens quite often, you might want to consider using only stick-up caps instead.
  • Should the cap be level with the left-hand margin, encroach slightly into the left-hand margin, or float entirely in the left-hand margin? Drop caps can also be indented to the right, if you wish. Bear in mind that certain letters, like T, might look better/more balanced if they encroach slightly on the margin.
  • Do you want to use small caps after the drop cap to provide a sort of ‘transition’ into the body text? This could be for the first word or for a few words as long as it’s consistent.
  • Do you want the text to be aligned in a straight vertical line next to the drop cap or contoured to follow it? (For example, if the letter W is set as a drop cap, the text next to it can follow the slope of the final arm of the W if you wish, and a similar effect applied to other letters.)
  • If a lot of paragraphs begin with a quotation mark, you might want to reconsider using drop/stick-up caps because the quotation mark also needs to be included in the cap, which can look fussy if it’s done too many times.


Use of colour


Are you going to use any colour – for example, for the title page, chapter headings, drop caps, etc?

The typesetter will need to know the CMYK codes for any colours used (except the ones in illustrations or graphics provided as jpgs).


Graphic elements


Are there going to be any illustrations? Where will they sit? Will they have any captions and/or acknowledgements of sources? Do you want any framing for your illustrations?

If you want to use decorative chapter and/or section dividers these will need to be treated as graphic elements, so think about what you want them to be and where you are going to obtain the files from (this could be anything from commissioning an illustrator or graphic designer to create bespoke decorations, to simply grabbing a free – and copyright-free! – graphic off the internet).

Any graphic elements should be provided as jpg files at 300 dpi resolution.

Please don’t expect the book designer/typesetter to design graphic elements for you! You can ask, but if the answer is no, I’m afraid you’ll need to look elsewhere. Designing graphics and logos is a different skill from preparing a book for print and uses different programs. Some designers might be able to do both, but you will need to pay for graphic design work in addition to your book design.


Preliminary pages


These are sometimes referred to as the ‘prelims’ or ‘front matter’ and are often neglected by authors until they come to design their book and realise how much still needs to be added! Don’t leave these until the last minute.

Prelims can – but don’t have to – include:

  • half title
  • series page
  • frontispiece
  • title page
  • imprints/copyright page
  • dedication and/or epigraph
  • contents list
  • list of illustrations, figures and maps
  • list of tables
  • list of contributors (for a multi-author work)
  • preface (by the author)
  • foreword (by someone other than the author)
  • introduction
  • acknowledgements
  • any other items (e.g. chronology, family tree, conversion tables … anything that isn’t included in the other prelims or in the end matter)

They always appear in that order, but not every item on the list has to be included!

It’s worth noting that the Arabic pagination of the book begins on the first page of the Introduction – page numbers are given in Roman numerals before that point, and they don’t appear on every page of the prelims – so setting up page numbers in Word to start automatically from the first page may be counterproductive.


End matter


This consists of anything at the end of the book that doesn’t form part of the text, and may include:

  • appendix
  • glossary
  • endnotes
  • bibliography/list of references
  • notes on contributors
  • picture credits
  • index

This list is not definitive and the order isn’t fixed either; the only stipulation is that the Index must come last.


Useful resources


  • WhatTheFont – identify fonts from images.
  • ImageColourPicker – upload an image, click anywhere on it and get the hex code and RGB code, which you can convert into a CMYK code. Be aware that not all colour conversions from RGB to CMYK are exact because of the different nature of physical printing from an on-screen view of a colour, but it can be a useful place to start.
  • Drop caps – this article is aimed at magazine designers but it contains some useful information and food for thought about the use of drop caps.
  • TheBookDesigner – contains a wealth of information about book design written in a way that’s easy to understand. Also includes five free serif fonts.


We can help you design your book — click here to see our typesetting service!


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