There are many articles and videos online with advice for designing a book for publication. The problem is that most authors who self-publish don’t even know that they should be looking for design advice. They use the default settings in their word processing application and have no idea that those will likely make their book difficult to read and unprofessional looking. 

One of the biggest issues with self-published books is that the font is too large and there isn’t enough white space. 

Smaller text with more white space around it is easier to read than larger text that is crowded on the page. A professionally published book will usually have a 9 1/2-point font with a 12-point line spacing. You can go a little larger than that, but unless you are doing a large-print book or a book for children, avoid fonts bigger than 12 points. If you go up in font size, ensure that you go up in line spacing. Your line spacing should be about 1.2 the size of the font. A 12-point font should have 15-point line spacing.

For a printed book, a serif font is generally recommended because the serifs help the reader’s brain identify the letters instantly and makes reading easier. My favourite serif fonts include Baskerville, Garamond, Georgia and Palatino.

If your book will also be read on a screen (as a PDF, for example), serif fonts don’t work as well. The serifs tend to look a tiny bit fuzzy on a computer screen making the text difficult to read. For on-screen reading, sans serif fonts are usually recommended, and my favourites are Calibri and Helvetica. 

If your books will be both printed and read online, and you don’t want to change the font for each purpose, a semi-serif font is the best of both worlds. Two of my favourites are Cambria and Optima.

If the above fonts are not available on your computer, you can experiment with what you have or download fonts for free from Google Fonts and install them yourself. 

To make layout and design easier, use the styles that come with your application. Then if you change your mind about the size of your font or your line spacing, you make the change once to the style. Then you just let the application apply that change to all the text in that style throughout your book. Otherwise you will need to select swaths of text and change each one. 

Also, professional books have either wide margins or a two-column layout. Readers should not need to move their heads to read the text. Also know that while a justified right margin might look good from a distance, it is more difficult to read. A ragged right margin is more natural helping the brain recognize that the end of a line has been reached and telling readers to move their eyes to the next line.

If you are having your book or booklet printed, the total number of pages should be in multiples of four: 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24, etc.

If you take the time to learn publishing industry design standards, you can make your self-published family history look like a professionally published book.

For more advice, visit the links below.