Best Fonts for your Self-Published Book

Several examples of typefacesOne of the biggest mistakes I see in self-published print books (like those created on CreateSpace) is in the choice of typefaces. They’re either too common or too weird.

Since most wordsmiths are design-challenged, I asked one of the best art directors in New York–Ina Saltz, author of the excellent Typography Essentials–for her short-list of favorites for the books she designs. Here are her recommendations:

Good serif fonts (for the body of the book)
Hoefler Text
Sabon
Garamond (not ITC Garamond)
Century (not Century Gothic)
Minion Pro
Georgia

Good sans serif fonts (used sparingly for contrast)
Trade Gothic,
Franklin Gothic
News Gothic
Myriad
Helvetica Neue

And the worst choices?
According to Ina, “Comic Sans and Papyrus are probably the two most reviled fonts on the planet. I could go into great length about why but they should just not be used, period.”

If you want to see the array of typefaces available in the market today, check out MyFonts.    It’s a nicely designed site where you can easily purchase fonts you don’t already have on your computer.

Oh, and one more thing: if you’re working on an ebook, it doesn’t matter which font you choose because the reader has control of the fonts and font sizes in your book. So pick something vanilla and use it throughout: Times New Roman is fine–12 point for body copy and 14 point for chapter openers.

33 comments to Best Fonts for your Self-Published Book

  • Reem

    Hi Holly,

    Can you please recommend which font to use for a self help book?

    Kindly advise on the following:
    Book Body Copy
    Chapter Title and Subtitle

    Thank you so much.
    Reem

    • Hi Reem,
      This list is from Ina Saltz, who wrote the excellent book Typography Essentials and who spoke about typography at the Stanford Publishing course:

      Good serif fonts (for the body of the book)
      Hoefler Text
      Sabon
      Garamond (not ITC Garamond)
      Century (not Century Gothic)
      Minion Pro
      Georgia

      Good sans serif fonts (used sparingly for contrast)
      Trade Gothic,
      Franklin Gothic
      News Gothic
      Myriad
      Helvetica Neue

      You want your titles and subtitles to stand out enough so that readers can scan you text easily, so choose a heavy or bold version of your font for those items.

      And one more thing: I often see (in self-published books) subtitles that float equidistant between the text block above and the text block below. This is a big mistake. You always want a subtitle to sit snugly atop the text block it introduces. In other words, the space above the subtitle should be larger than the space between the subtitle and the text block it introduces. Hope that helps.

  • Toby

    Hi Holly,

    Can you recommend a font for showing emails in a printed book? I would like to print (for personal use) a book that is a collection of a years-long correspondence by email. Serif fonts look a little odd for emails, but I’m concerned that the usual sans serif fonts we use for reading online would be hard on the eyes in a printed book. Thoughts?

    • Hi Toby,
      I actually think sans serif fonts (those without the little feet) would be fine for the email text in your book. You want something different enough from the main text that the reader immediately understands what he or she is reading. Italic is hard to read, bold and heavy would be intrusive, but a clear sans serif font would be fine. Sans serif fonts may be a bit lighter on the page, but they’re not difficult to read. Good luck on our book.

      • Toby

        OK thanks! Just to clarify, the book itself is a collection of the emails, so there isn’t main text to contrast with it. (This is something of an email version of 84, Charing Cross Road.) So I’m looking for a font that is easy to read and still evokes the sense of reading emails.

        • Hmmm…that’s a challenge, but I still think you should go with a sans serif font. Sans serif tends to look more modern and tends to be simple and easy to read. Verdana would be a good choice. Arial and Helvetica are two other possibilities, both of which are default fonts for emails on some computers. Format a page of your book in these three, and pick the one that looks easiest to read. Also,linespacing and margins on the page are going to matter in achieving the effect you want, so pay attention to those things, too.

  • Hi Holly, I wrote my novel in Times New Roman 12 point. I see many advise against this typeface for print. Garamond seems to be favoured, but I notice it is a little smaller in 12 point. Would you recommend increasing the font size for a 6 x 9 inch paperback?

    • No, I wouldn’t recommend going up to 13 points. If you worry about Garamond looking too small and cramped, try leading out the lines a bit. (Leading means adding small amounts of spacing between the lines.) It’ll give you the airy look you like without making the book look like it was designed for a child or youth.

  • Bobby

    [* Shield plugin marked this comment as “0”. Reason: Human SPAM filter found “informative post” in “comment_content” *]
    Hi Holly! Thank you for an informative post..

    I am in the process of self publishing – my first book in the non-fiction space – Online Marketing to be precise. I am going with a 6×9 trim size (createspace) and its currently at 375 pages.

    I am wondering what would be the right font, spacing, top/bottom margins and inner (gutter) margin to use such that I am able to bring it down a more readable 325 pages. Or specific, to just the fon, if all things are equal (margins & spacing) – what fonts used are able to condense more on a page than other fonts..

    Thanks!

    • Hello Bobby,

      Palatino and Baskerville are both nice fonts–attractive and relatively compact. But I’m not sure that keeping your book to 325 pages this way is smart. If you reduce the margins and the leading (space between lines) and choose a true condensed font (there are such things as “condensed” fonts specifically designed to save space), you run the risk of producing pages that are TOO dense. We’ve all seen them. You look at a page like that, and you just don’t want to dive into it.

      I think the better way is to cut words, delete redundancies and condense ideas as much as possible in your manuscript. This is often difficult to do yourself because you know too much about your subject, so I’d recommend you work with a seasoned editor to do this. He or she can much more easily identify surgical cuts that don’t affect the quality of your work. And try not to hold onto your original words too tightly: I’ve never met a manuscript that didn’t actually benefit from a bit of cutting.

      Also, since you’re writing a relatively long non-fiction book, you’ll want to make sure that you have sufficient subheads to break up the text. This can go a long way in making your book more readable.

  • Marc

    Hello Holly
    Thanks for the interesting and informative article.
    I’m about to self publish my fiction novel on KDP and judging from the word count of around 120,000, I’m probably going to need a 6″ x 9″ trim size at 300 words per page. At least, that’s what I’ve calculated from books of a similar size.
    What I can’t establish is the font, since many recommend Palatino Linotype and the physical book I’m using as an example appears to be using ITC Berkeley.
    Which font would you recommend for a book of this size?
    Many thanks.

    • Hello Marc,
      If you mean you’re publishing an ebook on KDP (which now produces BOTH ebooks and print books), then you should know that Kindle devices only render 11 fonts, so you should choose one of those. They are:

      Arial
      Baskerville
      Caecilia
      Courier
      Georgia
      Helvetica
      Lucida Sans Unicode
      Palatino
      Times New Roman
      Trebuchet
      Verdana

      Palatino is nice. You might also take a look at Baskerville because it’s also compact. But the most important consideration is this: when you look at a full page of text, does it feel easily readable to you? If it’s too compact, you’ll get that feeling of ugh, hard to get through this page.

      Also, most designers say that serif fonts (like Palatino) are a bit more readable than sans serif (Arial), so I’d avoid the latter for your body copy. (You could use a san serif for a chapter opener.)

      If you choose a font other than one of these, your readers’ Kindles will render your words in whichever of these fonts the reader chooses, which means you have no idea what it will look like on their ereaders.

  • Thank you so very much Holly! I appreciate this topic!

  • Regarding the above question about line height and the like. I go with 1.15 line height. For a 6″x9″ book (Createspace), I go with top/bottom margins of 0.5in, with an inner (gutter) margin of 0.8in

    • I like 1.15 line spacing, too. However, I prefer wider margins for 6×9″ books. In my humble opinion, one of the “tells” of self-published books is too-narrow margins. While .5″ is okay, I’d suggest trying .75″ and even 1.0″ margins.

  • Hello & thanks for the great tips on fonts for self-publishing.

    Do you have any recommendations about where I can find information about line spacing, margins & other tips regarding the exact layout for self-publishing?

    Thanks in advance.

  • Rashid Ahmed

    Dear Holly,
    we are an NGO and we are starting designing some text books (class books, homework books work books etc.) for Kindergarten and grate 1 to 5 books. Is there any specific fonts we can use for kids or is there any research on it. What font do you suggest for these book.
    Thanks

    • There are some fonts designed especially with children in mind. Most are relatively simple, with open letter shapes. Sometimes just looking at the letter “a” can give you a clue. A simple round shape–not the kind with a bulbous belly and a quail-like topknot (okay, am I being too creative here?)–is probably better because it mimics what children who are learning to write are taught. Take a look at Gill Sans Infant or Sassoon Primary. If you must use one of the fonts that comes with the Mac, check out Futura or Monaco. They’re not particularly elegant, but they’re easier for kids to read.

  • nicola houghton

    Hello!
    What fonts would you recommend for a children’s book?
    Thank you.

    • I’d leave that decision up to your designer. It depends on so much–are we talking about a book that young kids read themselves, or one that adults read to children? What ages are we talking about? Is the book a lighthearted fiction picture book or a science book on animal critters? The younger the child, the simpler I’d make the font, but that still leaves a huge number of fonts to consider. If you have an iPad, check out the app Font Scout for some ideas.

  • Miri

    Hi Holly,

    What font(s) would you recommend for a handwritten letter or an invitation within a novel?

    • I wouldn’t recommend anything that looks like cursive writing, if that’s what you’re thinking…unless your book is for kids. I’d simply work with your designer. Maybe choose a sans serif font if your main narrative text is serif, or vice versa. You just want it to be set off slightly so that your reader understands that it’s different.

  • Carl

    Hoeffler is gorgeous.

  • Why would you give advice on self publishing then advice people not to? There are many successful self publishing authors. It seems very misleading to me. I am a writer and I am in the process of editing my book for self publishing. I graduated from an accredited on line school for Creative writing. I studied extensively for two years self publishing and editing. I also have great marketing skills. I have had my novel professionally critiqued twice. I see no reason why I should not self publish. Traditional publishers can not give you any successful guarantee either.

    • I’m not sure why you think I’ve advised writers not to self publish. I am foursquare for writers thinking through their options–and for many, perhaps most, self publishing is the way to go. But I am always hoping to point out the pros and cons of both traditional and self publishing.

  • Hi Holly! Thanks for this great post. I was just curious why you specifically said NOT century gothic (my personal favorite and the one I was about to use for the bulk of my text)…now you have me wondering! :)

    • Good question, Joy. It wasn’t I who said it. It was typography guru Ina Saltz. So I asked her to answer your question. Here’s what she said:

      “Ah! Upon re-reading the post, I see why Joy may have been confused. I did not mean that Century Gothic could not be used, it is a perfectly nice geometric sans serif typeface. But its name might confuse someone who is not familiar with the typeface Century, which is a serif typeface, hence its inclusion in my list of serif typefaces.

      Typographic nomenclature can be confusing on a number of levels, for example, gothic can refer to a sans serif or a blackletter style (but is not commonly used to indicate sans serif). A wider family member might be called Extended, Expanded, Wide or something else. A weight beyond Bold might be called Black, Super or Ultra. There is no governing body in typography so there are competing systems of type classification…unlike the world of science where genus, species etc. have an agreed upon structure.”

  • Great choices – Minion Pro, Georgia, Garamond for serif, and Myriad & Helvetica Neue are my favorites. Glad to see I’m in such good company!

  • Charlie Clark

    Two more titles I would recommend – Bringhurst’s THE ELEMENTS OF TYPOGRAPHIC STYLE, and JUST MY TYPE – don’t recall the author as my copy is out on loan. The Bringhurst book is one I have used since it came out and I have all three editions of it. Very educational, but you need to be a bit of a type nerd.

    JUST MY TYPE would be a good read before getting into Bringhurst.

    I will track down your recommendation so I can share it when I give talks to NABP’s small publishers who make up the membership.

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