by Ellen Buikema
When I worked with my first cover designer, we spent a lot of time discussing the best font/typeface for my book. He wanted to ensure that my font "would be good for my brand."
I was a newbie Indie and had no idea what he meant by brand.
Note: I’m using the terms typeface and font interchangeably. Although font is the weight, size, and width of the typeface, the term font is often used for typeface.
My first book was my only work of nonfiction, so by the time I started a chapter book series I had a better sense of my identity as a writer.
What does well for one genre will not necessarily work for others.
Choosing a font is one of those things we don’t think about right away as we’re pondering plots, story arcs, characters, and settings. After the story is written and edited, then the flood of questions begin.
- Is the font type important?
- Should each genre be written using specific fonts?
- Is there a psychological influence the font may have on your readers that increases the chance of them liking your book?
- Does the font include an italic version?
- Is there a fee for the font?
Which Typeface to Use?
There are two main typefaces: serif and sans serif. Serif has short lines stemming from the upper and lower ends of the letters and sans serif does not.
Use one typeface for your body text, and another for your titles – both on the front cover and your chapter titles (if you decide to use them).
It should be noted that having more than two fonts in the book’s interior can distract your reader from the story.
When I’m reading, I prefer a serif typeface. Those little lines seem to help with the flow of the text.
Considerations for the Book's Interior
#1 Rule: Choose an interior font so it’s as easy to read as possible.
Each font has its own personality. Baskerville, Garamond, and Palatino work well for literary fiction and thrillers. The more rounded Merriweather and Lora fonts lend themselves to genres like romance and fantasy. For non-fiction and academic books, consider Sabon.
Resource: Go to Google Fonts and run a search to see how each font looks.
These font-genre combinations are possibilities. I spoke to several authors in various genres who prefer Times New Roman, another typeface that is easy on the eye.
Serifs help tie individual letters into groups (words), making them easier for the brain to scan. The important thing is that they are easy to read and look good when used for long-form texts.
While stylized fonts can capture the mood of your story, they’re distracting and hard to read when used as lengthy texts. As much as I love some of the “fanciful” fonts, full of curls and swirls, reading lines upon lines could be challenging.
Specialized Fonts for Dyslexia
When asked their thoughts about typefaces, people with dyslexia had mixed ideas for typefaces but agreed they should be sans serif.
- Open-Dyslexic is a free, open-source font. It can be used on websites and in Microsoft Office.
- Christian Boer, who has dyslexia, used his background in Graphic Design to design Dyslexi a typeface that prevents the mirroring, turning, swapping, and overcrowding that make reading and writing a challenge. Dyslexi is free for personal use.
- Comic Sans, designed for comic strips, is the most popular Microsoft font for children. Adults either love it or hate it. Although it’s not considered professional in the publishing or academic worlds, comic sans typefaces meet all dyslexic preferences with the exception of mirrored b and d.
Note: Sans serif is preferable for young children, or anyone just learning to read.
The best typefaces have similar things in common.
- Even kerning
The right amount of spacing between letters makes a vast difference in readability. Look for a typeface with even kerning otherwise that tedious task will be yours.
All the letters, numbers and other characters used maintain the same look.
A blend of thick and thin, heavy and light, is essential in a good font.
Choose a crisp, legible font. An unreadable font is like studying a work of art so busy you can’t figure out what the piece represents.
Resource: Here are 12 easy to read fonts.
Considerations for Book Covers
The cover font should express your book’s character.
The typeface should entice the reader to pick up the book. Since many readers use online sources to find reading material the cover should be easy to read when it's thumbnail-sized. Decisions for purchase are at least in part due to the look of the cover.
Melinda VanLone has some great tips for best use of book covers to get your work to your readers.
Children's books are often enjoyable stories that spark the imagination. The book cover should be visually welcoming. Designers tend to look for something that's either whimsical or relatable.
The best font for children's book covers will depend on the subject with the typeface complementing the visual.
The typeface I used for the Charlie Chameleon books is djb I Love A Ginger. It’s crisp, fun, easy to read, and matches the personality of the book.
Fonts for the Visually Impaired
There are many typefaces, each with several fonts. Often the more creative typeface choices are hard to read or look odd when in large print. The following are free and are helpful for people who have difficulty reading print.
Created by the American Printing House for the Blind, it's easy to read in any font size or weight, with longer tails on the letters Q, G, J, and Y. To download this font for free, users need to certify that it will be used by someone with vision impairment.
Arial is a great typeface for vision impairment because every letter is simple and looks different from the other letters, and looks great in bold.
Similar to Arial in appearance, Helvetica does well with light text on a dark background. The heavier font makes it easier for the eyes to focus on the text.
Lavanderia may be the best serif font for someone with low vision, because of its heavy weight and easy to distinguish letters, which is beneficial for someone learning to write with dysgraphia.
Fonts used for dyslexia, like Comic Sans and Dyslexi also work well for people with low vision.
In all my years teaching Special Education I only had one student who was visually impaired.
When it was time for the Third Grade State Standardized Testing, she tested with me in the Resource room using the largest testing booklet I’d ever seen. In order to use it, she had to stand over the desk and fill in the ovals to answer the questions. When she was finished, I was asked to transfer her answers to a standard-sized answer sheet so the computer could read it.
The typeface was the same as everyone else’s, just a very large font.
Fortunately, other tools, like portable scanners are available now.
Other Great Resources
Where do you go to look at fonts and decide what you want? Check out MyFonts the site that will identify any font from an image.
Need to find compatible fonts? See Google Fonts for lots of possibilities.
Unsure if your choice of typeface is too creative? Look here for rules to follow.
What is your preference, serif or sans serif? Do you have a favorite typeface? When you look at a book cover, does the typeface matter to you?
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Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents and a series of chapter books for children with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Works In Progress are The Hobo Code, YA historical fiction and Crystal Memories, YA paranormal fantasy.