Getting the Right Look For Your Book – Fonts, Leading and Tracking

You’d think typesetting a book would be straightforward? Right?

Wrong. The same book text typeset with a serif font like Times New Roman, tight leading and normal tracking will look completely different to a book typeset with, let’s say, Tahoma with huge leading and Very Loose tracking. A massive difference in the ‘feel’ of the book.

Sorry, if all this means nothing to you, and apologies if this is too basic…..however, I’d better explain a little.

‘Font’ is obvious I would think to anyone…Times New Roman, Arial, Garamond, Verdana, Geneva are typical web fonts…just about every computer has them installed. But there are so many styles of font these days it’s hard to know where to begin. Add to that the slight variations you get with PC fonts and Mac fonts and you really do have a tricky job getting it right.

“Why don’t you just use Times New Roman, and get on with it?” Well, Times New Roman looks so dated, it’s just not a friendly font (personally speaking). There are lots of alternatives to choose from. But which one?

‘Leading’ is the space between the horizontal lines of text. You might not think that leading is important but believe me it’s one of the most critical aspects to get right…we’re talking ‘feel’ of the book here, white spaces…..take a look at most present day popular novels and the leading is enormous. Wide leading reads easy on the eye, it looks modern, classy….but who knows, another ten years or so and it might look dated. Maybe.

‘Tracking’ is another subjective one. It’s the spacing between the individual letters and words on a line. Auto Tracking is more or less what you’re reading in this blog right now. If you were to change the Tracking, make it loose then the effect would also be to ‘add width’ to your text, give it a kind of horizontal breathing space. That sounds a trifle odd, but just a tweak to the tracking can again give a book a ‘nice airy feel’, it’s something you would never comment on as you’re reading, but you’d know if you suddenly turned a page and saw a page of text without tracking.

So, the point I’m making is that when I first set up a new book, ready to typeset, I have to consider these three elements plus of course issues like Indenting etc….. and once set, the book immediately has a distinct ‘feel’ to it.

I must have spent two hours this afternoon setting up my new children’s book, trying different fonts, leading and tracking, and trying to get it right, and even now I have had to leave it as I was going round and round in circles, not sure what combination worked best. They all looked okay, but which ‘looked right’? Dunno.

Maybe I will leave it for a day or so and come back to it fresh. Then it will either work or not when I see it on the page. Hopefully.


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About writegoodbooks

I help new writers become published authors through self-publishing. I also offer writers the chance to have their work converted into Kindle eBooks and publish them on the Amazon Kindle store.

2 responses to “Getting the Right Look For Your Book – Fonts, Leading and Tracking”

  1. Lorna Dounaeva says :

    Great post, thanks for explaining all this in such clear language! I need to get thinking about all this for my new novel. Haven’t decided on a font yet. Which ones would you recommend?

    • writegoodbooks says :

      Hi Lorna….glad you like the post. I wan’t sure whether anyone would appreciate it….so thanks for the comment.
      Fonts are so subjective. As I said in the blog I played about with dozens for almost two hours earlier today, only to return to the very basic Georgia, which I am using at the moment in the book.
      I set a Very Loose tracking and also a very deep Leading which looks easy to read for children. You wouldn’t want to use this kind of Leading in an adult book as it can get very tiring to read. But they do these days……I’ll explain why.
      Some publishers typeset their fiction books in such a way that the page count comes out at a ‘set number of pages’ regardless of length of novel….this means two books with dissimilar word counts will look identical thicknesses….they calculate that buyers will feel short-changed if one book sells at £8.99 and a shorter book sells at the same price, so they set the leading at a much deeper depth to increase the page count in the shorter book so the book thicknesses matches. Hope that makes sense.
      Take a look at a handful of current books (novels) in your nearest High Street bookseller the next time you’re in there and you’ll definitely spot that…..

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