I’m picturing it now. You’re an indie author or publisher and you’re putting the final touches on your book layout. You are creating a style for the text inside the book, click the font list… and choose Times New Roman. After all, EVERYBODY uses this font so it will look great in my book. Right? Stop what you’re doing RIGHT NOW. Move away from your keyboard. Do NOT select Times New Roman for your book font. Do. Not. Do. It.
I belong to several indie author discussion groups on Facebook and yesterday someone asked for font recommendations. A few people mentioned fonts that are modern and attractive, like Garamond and Palatino, but a shocking number of authors recommended Times New Roman for the book interior. Each time I saw the words “Times New Roman” in the recommendations, I inwardly screamed.
Over the years, I’ve created all sorts of documents, from books describing how to use software, to brochures describing biotechnology. I quickly learned that how a document looks matters. Subtle elements, like fonts, can make the difference between a document looking boring and bland–or worse, amatuerish–and looking professional and attractive.
I can’t remember when I first became a font snob, but it was many years ago when I started to design marketing materials for small companies. I quickly realized that some fonts are just hard to read. Some are too narrow and don’t lead your eye easily across a page. Some just look really boring and don’t inspire readers to continue reading.
While I was learning about design, I read some articles about why different fonts were developed centuries ago. Some font families, like Garamond, were developed for books. Others, like Times New Roman, were developed in the early 1900s for narrow newspaper columns. People no longer read narrow newspaper columns so I have absolutely no idea how it became the default font for so many documents because it’s not a good option for anything anymore.
I started developing a dislike of Times New Roman because it’s boring. It’s bland. It’s not easy to read. Sometimes with government contracting jobs, I’d have to use it in reports and documents and I’d cringe. As a result, when I started writing and designing books, I decided to research what fonts actually work the best with books. It was no surprise to discover Times New Roman is not a good choice for books.
So what fonts are good? Oh, so many attractive ones. One general rule is to choose “serif” fonts for your body text. These are fonts with small lines attached to the ends of each letter. Studies have shown that serif fonts are easier to read than fonts without the small lines (called sans serif fonts). Here are some of the font options that work well for book interiors.
Times New Roman: Just for comparison, here’s the font you shouldn’t use. Do you see the difference?
What about headings? Unlike the body text guidelines, many chapter headings and caption fonts use “sans serif” fonts. It’s visually interesting to use a more streamlined font for chapter headings. However, just like Times New Roman, avoid the boring, bland fonts. Don’t use Arial or Calibri (and for the love of God do NOT use Comic Sans or Papyrus!). You can actually have a bit of fun with your header fonts. Try to find one that matches your subject and genre. For example, for romance novels, find a curvy fun font. For action novels, choose something with sharper edges. For historical fiction, choose something that looks older and classic. There are SO many great free fonts you can choose from. Here are some options to just see the difference.
What do some of these look like put together? Here are some examples so you can see what a difference good font choices can make in the look and feel of your book.
What else should you consider when choosing fonts? First, don’t go crazy. Don’t choose one font for the “Chapter” number, another font for the chapter name, another font for the body text, and another font for captions. Also, try to find a font for your cover that complements the interior fonts. Using too many fonts is visually confusing and looks unprofessional. If you use captions in your book (for example, a nonfiction book) consider using your body font in italics. That way, the font is different enough to be recognizable as a caption, but not so different that it throws off your readers.
I really enjoy looking through new fonts and finding unique ones to try in books and brochures. A good exercise while trying to figure out fonts you want to use is to create a document that uses every free font you think you might want to use. Print it out so you can see what every font looks like as a header and part of a paragraph. It really helps to see fonts one a printed page. If you want to find some new fonts, a fun place to look is dafont.com. Some fonts are free to use, others require a license. But it’s simply amazing the number of fonts creative artists have designed to help documents look beautiful.
Don’t let your book look boring, dull, and amateur. Spend some time investigating better fonts, lay out a chapter in better fonts, and choose fonts that will subtly lead your readers to think “oh my, this is a beautiful book.”