Six Font Tips For Typesetting Your Novel

I’ve mentioned before that readability and aesthetic are two of the most crucial aspects of good book design. Readability enables your story to smoothly serve it’s proper, practical function for the reader, while an on-point aesthetic gives you a marketing advantage. A key factor in both of these aspects lies in the text, and the visual essence of your text is your font.

So, here are six tips to help you choose the best fonts for your story.

Firstly — Try to limit your projects to under five fonts. Most projects do well with just two or three, and it gets more difficult to co-ordinate fonts the more you add in. A good rule of thumb is to have one font for plain text, one font for display text, and one font for any ornamental flourishes one wishes to use for decor.

Secondly — Consider the source material when looking at display fonts to pair with your project. Futuristic text on a rustic fantasy story, for example, is a no-go, but there’s more to this than just genre-matching. The little details can really make or break your book’s aesthetic, which is an important component in advertising the story. If you’re writing a space-opera with a 1920s aesthetic, look for fonts from the 1920s! If you’re writing detective noir, a font styled after classic monospace typewriter fonts can be a good idea!

When I was new to book design, I almost made the mistake of using the Gaelic-styled font Forget Me Knot for Shadow Herald, a standard-fare dark fantasy with no Gaelic history or references to it. This risked giving the wrong impression to my readers, which I switched my main display font to Fondamento, which has a perfectly good fantasy flair without implicating a cultural connection that isn’t actually there.

Thirdly — Think about serifs versus non-serifs. Most typesetters and font enthusiasts will tell you that a sans-serif font is often well-paired with a serif, and vice versa. Taking into account the second tip though, there are some stories where it’s good to stick to just one or the other. Since sans-serif has a more modern association, it could feel out of place in a genre like historical fiction.

Fourthly — Pay attention to the density or “color” of your fonts. “Lighter” — meaning less dense — blocks of text are often easier to read, but too light can be hard on people with limited vision. “Darker” — meaning more dense — fonts for more striking titles. A block of text can be made lighter by putting more space between lines, letters, and words, but most designers are only going to work with line space. Sometimes when my display font is darker than I’d like, I reduce its visual impact by making it a shade of grey instead of a solid black.

Fifthly — This is better advice for designing a book cover than a book’s interior, but please don’t put any font on a background color that makes the text difficult to read. No matter how pretty the colors should theoretically look together. I once encountered light pink text on a yellow background, and it was nigh impossible to read. Converting your cover to black-and-white will help you notice if the text is blending in too much with the background.

Sixthly and finally — Weigh the merits of the standard fonts that come with every computer, versus free and paid fonts that you can find online. Especially pay attention to copyright. Yes, fonts can be copyrighted, just as other kinds of art can be!

Some fonts require you to buy them in order to legally have the right to use them. If your budget is limited and you can’t afford to purchase a thirty-dollar font, be careful when searching for free fonts, as there are plenty of unscrupulous sites which will give you copyrighted fonts unbeknownst to you. Likewise, there are also fonts which are free to use but which are not permitted for commercial use. You can use these for personal projects if you like but be wary of putting them in any story that you wish to sell.

The fonts that come with your computer should all be safe to use, but not all of them are serviceable. We’ve all heard of the perils of comic sans, we’ve all seen horror stories being slaughtered by Chiller, and we know that anyone using Jokerman in their project is liable to be laughed offstage, right?

But that doesn’t mean that every default font is horrible and unusable. You might notice that most of the famously “cliche” and unusable fonts are display fonts. There are plenty of good text fonts like Centaur, Century Gothic, and Book Antiqua on your computer already. As such, my main recommendation is to use a good default font for your text font, and find your display font elsewhere.

And that’s all my advice on fonts for today! If you find this helpful, then you can support me as a creator by buying me a Ko-fi or getting hyped for Shadow Herald‘s release in May. Thank you, and have a lovely day.

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