Packaging Mistakes That Will Keep Your Book Out of Bookstores: Interior Packaging

Stop the presses! Before you print your book, make sure you’re not committing a major packaging faux pas that will diminish retail buyers’ interest. We’ve all heard the statistic: 2,000 books are published every day. That means the competition for shelf space is fierce, so as an author, you have to make sure the physical presentation of your book is flawless or you don’t stand much of a chance.

We receive so many submissions that, despite having great content, have one part of the packaging off, which makes it hard for us, or any distributor, to effectively sell the title. Interior layout is one facet of packaging that can be easily overlooked but remains essential to the professional presentation and readability of a book. I spoke with managing designer Sheila Parr, who’s won numerous awards for her book designs, about common layout errors, and she offered some simple advice to anyone looking to produce a book on their own.

Font and Typography

For fiction and general nonfiction, serif fonts are easier to read on the printed page than sans serif fonts. Size depends on font, but in general text should be somewhere between 10 and 12 points. Stay away from bold type, underlined type, all-caps type, and exclamation points to emphasize a point—this can come across as unprofessional.

SP: When picking a serif font, don’t use Times New Roman. Times has become a sort of default font,and it can have an unfinished look about it when printed. For a more polished, professional look, try something like Caslon or Garamond. To emphasize a point, italics can be a better solution than bold or underlined text.


In general, margins are about .75 inches on the bottom and sides, and about 1 inch at the top of the page, though the .75-inch margin can be as small as .5 or as large as 1 inch. For longer books, the margin along the spine, known as the gutter, may be larger. Leading, the space between lines of text, should be several points larger than the text itself.

SP: Margins and leading are usually determined by factors like genre and page count. For example, a dense business book may have a looser layout with wide margins and leading to help the reader better absorb the material, while a novel typically has a tighter layout that keeps the reader moving and engaged.

Words per Page

Too much or to little text per page makes a book difficult to read. Like margins, the number of words per page varies based on genre and page count, but there are usually about 35 lines of text.

SP: In general there should be about 350 to 440 words per composed page. Nonfiction and books with illustrations and graphs are on the lower end of that scale, and novels are on the higher end.

Chapter Headings and Running Heads

Chapter headings and page breaks should match the book’s genre and style and should be appropriate for the target audience. A business book, for example, should have fairly simple chapter headings as opposed to the headings of a fantasy novel, which may have more elaborate fonts or design. When there are other headings within the chapter, create a hierarchy by using varying sizes.

Running heads are the text at the top of every numbered page of a book. They often consist of a combination of the author’s name, the chapter title, or the book title. The important issue here is to be consistent—if you decide to use author name on the left and title on the right, stick with it throughout.

Graphs and Illustrations

If you are using graphs or illustrations, make sure they are high resolution and easy to understand. Try to keep visually presented information simple and relevant to the text around it.

SP: There are whole college courses based on information design—illustrating complex information in a way that is easily understood. My advice: hire an experienced professional to design your charts, graphs, and illustrations.

Front Matter

All of the information that comes before the first chapter of your book (e.g., your foreword, preface, or introduction) is called front matter. There are varying styles of organization depending on the genre or publisher. This content is frequently paginated with lower-case Roman numerals, while the pages that begin your first chapter—the content of your book—are where the Arabic numerals begin, though introductions frequently get page 1, not Roman numerals.