If you plan to self-publish your book after National Nonfiction Writing Month (NaNonFiWriMo) is over, you’ll need to consider how you might design not only the cover but the interior. Indie publishers most often hire out design, but these days you have many other options, such as high-quality book designs created in WordPress from book designer Joel Friedlander.
Still, you want to know the basic principles of design, so you can use these templates, other options or work with aprofessional designer in a knowledgeable manner. That’s why today, on Day 17 of the Write Nonfiction in November (WNFIN) Challenge, Joel offers an explanation of how a nonfiction book design is put together based on the information in a manuscript. You can keep this in mind as you write your book during the remaining weeks of NaNonFiWriMo.
The Hierarchy of Information in Nonfiction Book Formatting
By Joel Friedlander
From the point of view of a book designer, books readily fall into a couple of general categories. And books that are largely text meant to be read are either:
- straight text, like fiction, memoirs, or some types of narrative nonfiction, essays, stories, and so on.
- structured text, like nonfiction books that include parts, chapters, different levels of subheads, charts, graphs, figures, illustrations, sidebars, extracts, quotations, pull quotes, and other elements that are either non-text or which break the flow of the main text of the book.
When nonfiction authors move to self-publishing, they take on the duties of book design and layout. When you have a complex book, with lots of levels of information, it’s generally a good idea to hire a professional book designer.
Book designers specialize in presenting long, structured text for readers in ways that are useful and promote comprehension.
Levels of Information
Nonfiction books that deliver detailed information are uniquely suited to outlining, and to structured representation in books.
We use several divisions to show readers the hierarchy of information in books:
Let’s look at each of these divisions and how they play their part in the construction of your nonfiction book.
Nonfiction books are often divided into parts when there is a large conceptual, historical or structural logic that suggests these divisions, and the belief that reader will benefit from a meta-organization.
Almost all nonfiction books are divided into chapters for the sake of organizing the material to be covered.
Chapter lengths vary widely, and the goal of trying to keep chapters the same length may be elusive. The chapter is a convenient method of dividing material by subject matter, by chronology, or by any other means the author uses to construct her book.
Both right-hand and left-hand opening pages are common, and double page openings in which both pages make up a spread, are also used. Normally the chapter opening page has a page number at the bottom of the page and no running head.
Logically the first chapter in a book would start on a right-hand page. The chapter opening page typically contains the chapter number and the chapter title. If they are used, a chapter subtitle or an opening quotation may also appear, although it is important for all chapters to remain consistent.
Subdividing the chapters is accomplished with subheads. Subheads serve to guide the reader through the text, and to help cast light on the author’s way of thinking about her subject.
Try to avoid chapters with only one subhead, and remember to keep subheads, like chapter titles, consistent throughout the book.
If more than one level of subheads is needed, each level follows the guidelines for the first level of subheads. For instance, try to avoid—unless it’s absolutely necessary—having subsections with only one second-level subhead.
Keep in mind that chapters do not need to have the same number of subheads, or the same levels of subheads, depending on the needs of the specific chapter’s material.
Subheads provide another way for the designer to help the author’s communication with the reader. Typographically subheads are distinct from the body text and appear on their own line, separate from the text.
Each level of subheads receives a different typographic treatment to signify the level of importance within the scope of the work, and to help the reader tell the difference between the sections.
Occasionally the lowest level subhead is run in at the beginning of a paragraph. In this case the typography will distinguish the subhead from the text by either italics, bold face, or both. The run in subhead is capitalized sentence style and punctuated as a sentence, with a period at the end.
Here are some examples of the way that chapter typography helps to enforce the hierarchy of information in your book.
Figure 1. Here the top-level subhead is clearly differentiated from the second-level subhead below.
Figure 2. The chapter title is the highest-level element in each chapter, and should clearly indicate that position in its design and typography.
These samples are from a nonfiction book template from our BookDesignTemplates.com site. One of the big advantages of using a pre-designed template like this one is that the relationship between different levels of information has already been worked out.
Simply by using the styles built into Microsoft Word, you can assign subheads to different levels, and be confident that they will be accurately represented in your book.
Designs are available for fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books, and probably represent the best way for amateur book designers and do-it-yourself authors to quickly and easily get an industry-standard book interior.
About the Author
Joel Friedlander (@JFBookman) is an award-winning book designer and blogger. He’s been launching the careers of self-publishers since 1994 from his book design and consulting practice at Marin Bookworks in San Rafael, California. Joel also writes TheBookDesigner.com, a popular blog on book design, book marketing and the future of the book, and he is the founder of The Self-Publishing Roadmap, a training course for authors, and BookDesignTemplates.com, where he provides tools and services for authors who publish their own books. Joel is currently serving as the president of the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association. Connect with him on Google+.
Julie Luek says
This is wonderfully helpful. Thank you. Bookmarked and filed away for future perusing.