The first formatting decisions I will be talking about are for the body copy. This is what Word calls Normal. Many of the Word docs you get to setup will be entirely locally formatted Normal. It is the main content of your book, and it must be comfortable to read. This paragraph style is what produces that smooth type color you need for the background against which the contrasting heads and subheads stand out. You really need to focus on making this as comfortably readable as possible. The font choice is critical.
Font choices influence these decisions: The x-height and width of your fonts have great influence. Readability has to do with the number of words per line, the legibility of the font used, the size of the letters, and a lot more. The smoothness of the type color has to do with the letterspacing built into the font.
Body copy or Normal
These are the normal paragraphs of copy. The norm is 10/12 flush left or justified left. All the other alignment options are much more difficult to read. There is a very strong expectation of normal for these paragraphs by your readers. You need to know the normals.
Serif font: This is the standard. Most people still believe that serif fonts are much easier to read. This is being argued. For the new generations, it may be true that a humanist sans font reads very well. But for those born before 1980 or so, all of our reading experience is based on the assumption that serif fonts must be used for body copy.
Size: The standard for body copy is 10/12 (10-point type with 12-point leading). You adjust the point size until there are 9–12 words per line.
This can vary from 9 to 12 point in size. The leading will be determined by the amount of line spacing built into the font used and the x-height. The larger the x-height, the more leading is needed. The smaller the x-height the larger the point size of the type needs to be. Also condensed fonts can be a little larger and wide fonts often need to be smaller. For my self-publishing book, I had to use 12/13.8 to get the right number of words per line.
Alignment: Justified left. Typographers traditionally liked flush left alignment because the word spacing remains constant. However, for books, it will look like an error if you do not use justified body copy. InDesign’ superior justification abilities automatically justify copy better than any software program we have had up to this point because it justifies the entire paragraph as a whole.
Longer line lengths require increased leading: But the only thing that matters in a book is the 9–12 words per line on average. Many italics also need leading help (or indented paragraphs) because the more narrow italics have more words per line. Formality also needs extra leading—plus a lighter, more elegant typestyle.
First line indent: Historically, you used either a first line indent or extra paragraph spacing, not both, Now, however, it is common to see a first line indent with a couple of points of space after paragraph. There is no right or wrong about the size of first line indents. The norm would be somewhere between a quarter to a half inch. (Believe it or not, this topic causes many angry exchanges of vigorously-held dogmatic opinion.)
Body Copy No First
This style is used for the first paragraph after a headline, primarily. Sometimes it is also used under column-wide rectangular graphics. Adjust it to read well with your headers, comfortably clearing any descenders in the heads.
Based on (the same as): Body Copy with these changes
- No first line indent
- Extra space before the paragraph
- Next style (what happens when you hit return): It should go to the normal Body Copy.
If you do not use a first line indent for your body copy, you’ll need to use some other device for these paragraphs. You can try a drop cap, make the first line small caps, or something like this to help the reader know the content starts here. It also helps set off the headline. It provides additional impact for your major headings.
Body Copy Run-in
This is a common way to format the fourth or fifth level of subhead. It also works well for more informal lists and word definitions. I’m sure you have noticed that I use this device a lot. I commonly use run-ins for lists which do not require the impact of a bulleted or numbered indent. As you can see below, starting with Based on, there is far less impact than a bulleted list like you see on the other page.
The only real problem is that a list like this can become very confusing visually. I wouldn’t use run-in heads for more than two or three paragraphs in a row. As you can see below, where I use five in a row, it can quickly become visually tiring, boring, or confusing.
Based on (same as): Body Copy
No first line indent: The style becomes too visually confusing if you are not careful (as mentioned). Eliminating the first line indent helps quite a bit.
Extra space before paragraph: Because of the lack of a first line indent and the existence of a subhead, a little extra space before paragraph seems to help in the emphasis needed.
Nested style to format the “subhead”: I usually set mine up to apply the style until the first colon [as you see above]. This way it happens automatically as I write.
Run-in head uses header font: Depending on the header font used, you may need to use a bold or even black version of the font to give enough contrast for legibility.
As mentioned, I also use run-in heads to help with my lists. My writing style starts a list paragraph with a pithy statement ended with a colon. That is followed by explanatory copy. It probably drives grammarians nuts, but it works well for me (and seems very readable).
This is an excerpt from Book Publishing With InDesign CC, due out in a month or so.
Yes, I’m looking for beta readers.