Fun with Fonts: How Readable is Your Book?


Source: Google Images/

An Eye for Fonts?

I admit I know little about fonts in the technical sense. As a creative, I’ve always chosen fonts for their look and feel. It’s why I chose the font Candara for my nutrition book. It’s a serif font with delicate strokes reminiscent of an Asian font, which made sense to me since the book is about Chinese nutrition therapy.

But I did notice after publishing the book (and re-reading it for errors) that Candara, while pleasant to read, is not as crisp on the page as I would like. I thought perhaps it was the printing process, that the quality wasn’t there. Not true. I’ve had other books printed with different fonts by the same company and I didn’t ‘see’ a font issue. Looking at other documents where I’ve used Candara, I now understand it was not the best choice, leaving me to wonder how it affects a customer’s reading (and retention).

Technical Readability

Do the fonts in your books offer readability? Are the letters distinguishable from each other? Do readers’ eyes flow through the text without any visual discomfort? For me, large round letters like Arial give me an eyeball  headache when used for lengthy articles or books.

And yet I find it ironic that a good online article on fonts and readability of books is written in a pale gray Arial font on a stark white background. Talk about a hard read…

Serif, Not Sans is Best

According to the article, serif fonts give a book more readability. Think of those fine strokes at the end of each letter. That’s a serif font. Serif fonts pull words together, making them easier to read (and less likely to cause eyeball headache or lost interest in what you’re reading). Sans serif fonts like Arial are more difficult to read in body text so reserve them for headings and titles (see example above).

The font you choose can also send a message to the reader; hence, my choice of Candara for an Asian-themed book. Editors will read a manuscript and decide the best font for both look and feel. Again, because it’s something I always looked at from an artistic perspective, I never considered the technical side. Just another of many lessons learned in the self-publishing process.

How To Choose?

So how do you decide which fonts to use if you’re a self-publisher? Do the research. A good place to start is The Book Designer website. (The late) Joel Friedman designed books and worked with typesetting for decades. His still active website offers much useful information and some free downloads, too. If you have a good editor, ask for font recommendations. Play with different serif fonts, see how it makes the story feel as you read it. You can even print sections in different serif fonts and have family or friends read the passages and report back on the readability.

In the Ingram Spark article, these were the top serif fonts for books: 

  1. Caslon – preferred by book designers
  2. Garamond – originated in France; a popular font for books
  3. Jenson – designed for Adobe systems
  4. Minion – designed for Adobe systems
  5. Palatino – originally intended for headings and smaller sections, it was later tweaked for use in book texts

The Sky’s the Limit… Sort Of

For chapter titles, book designers generally advise staying away from over-used  fonts like Comic Sans or Papyrus; decorative fonts like script fonts are best avoided as well. In my first fiction novel, I was feeling adventurous (especially since I was writing an adventure novel) and used an unusual font called Yanks Hand for the chapter titles. Gave the book a slightly quirky look and feel, which worked with the unique genre/story line (Native American spirits/religion).

But what do you do if you don’t have/use Adobe systems? Well, for starters you can go to the website to test fonts before purchasing them. Once you find a font you like, make sure to purchase the entire family of that font (regular, bold, italic, etc.). In Adobe systems, each version of a font is unique and if you don’t purchase the whole family, you won’t legally be able to use italics, for example, if you didn’t buy it.

Remember, what’s most important is your book’s readability. Get that right from the beginning and your readers will ‘see’ your story in a better light. And font!

P.S. I’m trying new fonts on my blogs. This one is Libre Baskerville. I found the last serif too small. Might go back to the sans serif, Alegreya Sans. Do you find this new font more readable? Less?

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