The I Love Typography blog is often over the top. Even as a typographer who has focused his career on type—both font design and page layout (the two parts of typography)— this blog is always fun, often beautiful, but commonly irrelevant to my daily work. On the other hand, the item discussed in the posting this morning is critical to excellence in typography.
Margins seem too obvious, but many ruin their book here.
The most common amateur mistake is to make margins too small. You can assume that you need to leave .5” margins, minimum—and that is very tight in a book. In fact, this is an increasing problem as the bindery standards seem to be changing to more glue on the bindery edge with perfect-bound books. This makes interior margins even more crucial. This has gotten to be such a problem that Createspace now requires three-quarters of an inch for the minimum interior margin for copy.
I find a similar problem with ereaders. There is not enough side margin in the machine case to comfortably hold them without accidentally changing pages far too often. For print books, non-fiction especially, wide margins are actually required for notes and ideas. Your book size plans need to include these considerations.
In addition, margins are often a large part of style. If you are trying for the elegant look of an old book, for example, you will need huge margins. There are many formulas, but here’s one you can try: 100% inside, 125% top, 150% outside, and 200% bottom (for example, 1.25″ top; 1.5″ outside; 2″” bottom; and 1″ inside). “Look at all that empty paper. I can’t afford to waste that space!” It’s not wasted space, but room to breathe. You might want to keep some old books to remind yourself. Very high-priced products (or very cultured clients) commonly use designs with one inch to two inch margins or much more.
Extra-wide margins: If you are producing a book that will be studied—where readers will be taking notes—margins of a couple of inches (at least on the outside) are a real service to the reader. If you remember (and we will cover this in a bit) that the column width rarely goes much above four inches, you’ll find plenty of room in an 8” width.
Conversely, if you need to convey the maximization of your money—fundraising materials and the like—you need small margins, gutters, and a lot of rules and boxes. You need to fill every open white space, making the page look like everything is crammed in to save money. Even if it is not strictly true, readers will think it is.
The point to remember is: the smaller the margins, the cheaper the look.
Minimal professional standards: basically you want the margins to be large enough to engender trust. Most readers have a subconscious reaction to cheapness—making it synonymous with unreliability and many other negatives. You need to be careful to make your work look professional. It really helps your readers relax and open up. InDesign’s letter defaults are .75″ around with 1.25 on the inside margin. That is a good place to start [of course, it makes for a horrible letter with an extreme column width—but that’s not our concern here]. Use those measurements for your book pages as a minimum starting point. I realize that they will be impossible to maintain in a 5″x8″ paperback.
For the new publisher: I would assume a three-quarter inch (.75”) margin as my minimum. The gutter margin (toward the spine of the book) should be at least an inch. The on-demand printers tend to cut slightly undersize and even half-inch margins can look very cheap and too tight for your work in the final delivered product. Modern square-edged (perfect) binding has to be broken all the time to simply read most books. If you are going to err, do it on the side of larger margins than you think are necessary.
Recently, I’ve gone to 7″x10″ books with an inch and a quarter around and an inch and three quarters for the gutter—leaving the desired four-inch column. The books are much more comfortable to hold and read.