Little details mean a lot: font choice

 Does it matter what type font you use when you publish your own book?

That question is a perennial discussion topic in indie author/writerly social media.   I don’t get into discussions about it online these days because I lack the strength to drag my soapbox collection that far. It’s far less exhausting to display my opinions here in my corner of cyberspace.

So, then.  “Font doesn’t matter” is a weirdly popular sentiment, and every time I see it, makes me reach for a soapbox to hit someone with. I also mutter curses when people insist readers don’t care what font a publisher uses.  Others claim, more accurately, that a reader should be focusing through the words to the unfolding story, not noticing the letters themselves.

I can nod along with that last one right up to the moment Times New Roman gets dropped into the conversation as a recommended font for publishing a novel.

And it always does. Over and over and over I see it held up as an example of a “perfectly good enough” font, and to this I have a one-word answer:

No.

NO. NO. NO. NO.

Ditto for Cambria and whatever the other Word default is. Hard pass to all.  They are MADE of NOPE.

Look, I don’t want readers to notice my fonts, but going one step beyond the word processor default is a must for any author who wants their publication to be viewed as a professional work.

What if you’re only publishing electronically on websites for friends or fellow fans?  Then use any font that suits your fancy, sure, fine, whatever. Electronic reading platforms provide glorious flexibility. Readers or the device itself will choose preferred fonts, sizes, and even page colors, so what you use really doesn’t matter as much.

If you’re publishing in print, however — by which I mean “asking for money in exchange for words printed on dead trees” — then your book should look as polished and pretty as anything produced by a Big Industry Publisher.

And I am not exaggerating when I tell you that in the world of print design, using Times New Roman in a novel is like wearing a big sign like this around your neck:

That little example above uses Comic Sans, a font that tops every typography “Most Hated” list I’ve found on the internet.  Times New Roman ranks up there in those lists. (Using red type on a bright background is another design no-no, by the way. It destroys reading comprehension. BUT I DIGRESS.)

That’s why, when it comes to publishing a print novel, I highly recommend learning the simplest fundamentals of typography and graphic design before publishing. Even if you hire a pro to do the work, educating yourself about the basics can save you a LOT of disappointment down the line.

Just as I wouldn’t share my writing without running a spell-checker first, I won’t share it in print form without polishing its shoes and combing its hair. So to speak. It’s the least I can do before sending my baby off to its first party.

Even if an author only puts in a bare minimum effort with design essentials, the results can improve by leaps and bounds. It’s so simple I can share some basics right here.

BASICS

1. It’s all about looking right. The trick to font choice is keeping that first impression low-key but positive.  It’s a subtle thing, but it makes a difference, like so many, many other little details involved in this writing gig. There are excellent websites that cover font styles and explain what ones work well for what uses. Here are a few pages that also have links to further research:
http://thedeependdesign.com/how-to-choose-the-best-fonts…/
http://www.prepressure.com/fonts/interesting/important-typefaces
http://www.prepressure.com/fonts/interesting/most-hated

2, Less is more. Pick one font for main text, and one for headers & title. Word processors offer tons of options, but I don’t have to sample every choice on the smorgasbord. I didn’t even use two, in my first stab at printing. I had to pick my battles with my ancient software, and I ceded the field on that one detail. If I bother with a second edition, I would use a second font for the titles and headers. Something clean and crisp.

3. Know your field. A book should stand out from its fellows but still be recognized as a member of the club. I tracked down novels that were similar to mine in content and checked to see which typeface the publisher used. (How? Easy! I looked at the page with the cataloguing info. That’s the page on the reverse of the cover page.
Not all publishers mention what typeface was used, but a remarkable number do. I could not get the perfect font I wanted without forking over money to a font site, but I got a feel for the look I wanted and picked the closest match from Word’s included catalogue: Garamond.

Why Garamond? I’m writing science-fiction. Garamond is modern-looking like Times, so it doesn’t make people look twice, but it kerns (spaces) tighter than Times New Roman, which kept page length down without affecting readability. Also, it isn’t fussy like Georgia or Palatino. If I wanted to evoke a steampunk/antique feel, I might go with Baskerville. If I ever write a classic epic fantasy, I will  check on the font used in The Last Unicorn and my 1967 printing of Tolkien.

So. That’s it. Font selection 1-2-3.

Will anyone notice what font I used? I hope not. Does it make a positive impression? So far, so good.

The fate of the world does not depend on font choice, but why ignore any good weapon when you’re off to fight the publishing wars? (Don’t like that violent analogy? How about this one:  your book is about to be the belle of the ball. Dress it up properly for its debut.)

Okay. That’s enough rantiness for one post. /kicks soapbox back under the couch to visit with all its friends.

Until later!