You need a customized set of styles to enable you to keep your book consistent and give you global control over the entire book as you format. Excellent typography is only possible if you understand how to design paragraphs. Styles make paragraph design possible. We will deal with them conceptually, but you should know this is why InDesign is so good. These options often leave the entire paradigm of a word processor.
Designing your paragraphs
I need to share some basics about setting up your paragraphs. Most of this knowledge is assumed by software manuals and publishing Websites. Somehow they seem to believe that your little psyche will be stifled if any opinion on normalcy is mentioned—or some such idiocy like that. It’s not magic or luck when you produce reading materials that are enjoyable to read. It is the result of setting your copy up (formatting it) in a manner that the reader instantly recognizes and comfortably understands.
You must lead the reader through your writing effortlessly—completely unaware of your guidance. You need to make your writing feel natural, comfortable, and obvious to help the reader receive the content.
My way is not the only way: As I go through this little presentation, I will be simply sharing what I use. My hope is that you can look at my usage for conceptual understanding. Then convert that for your use. I will attempt to give you the arguments that have convinced me to do things in this manner. But, there is no right or wrong (once you are inside the relatively wide parameters of normalcy).
Our basic problem is that we have too much to read. Subconsciously virtually everyone looks for ways to eliminate content (in order to keep reading requirements within a tolerable range). We might miss a lot of good content this way—but that is the way it is.
In our modern culture, huge numbers of people have difficulty reading. People often know how to read (technically) but they hate to actually do it. I’ve heard stats as high as 60% of Americans are functionally illiterate. Most people agree it is a huge percentage even if it is as low as a third of adults. They may be able to read [literate in the polls], but: it is difficult for them, in a second language, or they just hate reading [so in practice they rarely or never read].
The need for comfort
The result is that we must go out of our way to make our books accessible to poor readers. Reading is hard to avoid. But many do. This fact remains: even those who buy our books may well have trouble reading. We must help them as much as we can with our formatting and layout. We must be kind to our readers—gentle and loving. If our readers experience any discomfort or reading difficulty we have probably lost them. They will simply not finish reading our content.
I am a very good and very fast reader. Yet I simply put books aside that are difficult to read—unless the content is required or very compelling. I am not talking about difficult content (though that can be a problem). I am talking about poor layouts, columns that are too wide, fonts that are too stylized, overly busy layouts, and all the rest.
A couple of years ago I was struggling with a book on creationism (my wife gave up and asked me to brief her on it when I finished reading it). The content is exciting. The layout is so poor with photographic backgrounds, glossy paper, excessive line lengths and a host of other problems—I had to force myself to read it. The only difference with me is that I am tuned into this problem so I often notice when I do this with a book. Most people are not conscious of why they put down a book.
They simply do not read it.