As a reader, font is probably something you don’t give much thought to. Words are on the page, and so long as it’s legible, what does it matter, right?
If only. Fonts have far more sway than most people realize. Similar to the temperature in an office making you feel welcome or worried, or the color of a box of pasta provoking hunger, font works on the subconscious level to either help you keep reading, or turn you off a book entirely.
You might knew a few of the more basic principles of choosing the right font for a project already. Serif fonts—those where the letters have little tails—are better for longer works and easy reading, while sans-serif fonts—fonts lacking tails—make for attention-grabbing headlines and great brochures.
As you know, I’m drawing closer to publishing my first novel, What Boys Are Made Of, and that means I’m in the middle of formatting. Lots and lots of formatting. And guess what came up most recently?
On Friday, I spent no less than three hours poring through lists of fonts, articles on fonts, websites full of them, searching for that perfect candidate. What was I looking for? A serif font, sure, but more than that: I was searching for a font that clicked with my book.
And I needed one for free.
Fonts are designed, and so purchasing a font package can cost anywhere from a dollar to thousands, with most of the ones I was interested in trying falling in the forty to sixty range each. A little pricey for me, so I decided to see what I could see.
I came up with a list of about ten fonts and applied them to a random passage of my book. (Well, okay, two passages—I pasted a section onto the end so I’d have some longer paragraphs as well as bits of dialogue, so if you’re trying to read this, not it doesn’t 100% make sense.) Then I printed them out and had a look to see what I could see.
Century, Georgia, Perpetua, Bodoni MT
What do these four fonts have in common? They’re all in Microsoft Word 2013. They’re also old standards. Plenty of books use these fonts, and a couple of them are standard Kindle fonts as well. Timeless, standard, bzzzt.
As you can guess from the photo, I didn’t like any of these. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with them, but they didn’t suit my book. What Boys Are Made Of is contemporary and literary, and none of these seemed to fit it. Century was too oddly spaced, Georgia too banal, Perpetua too delicate, and Bodoni was just too bold. These all are perfectly good fonts…for someone else’s book. Not mine.
Next, I searched further afield.
Fanwood, Alegreya, Crimson Text, Gandhi Serif
These are four fonts I found online, all suggested in the article 5 Favorite Free Fonts for Interior Book Design. I especially loved the look of Crimson Text on the screen and eagerly downloaded the other mentioned fonts to print out.
This is where I got my first real taste of how different something can look on the screen versus paper. Crimson Text went from crisp and refreshing to almost childish feeling. Too bold, too reminiscent of Times New Roman (a font I refused to even consider) it just looked dull.
On the other hand, Fanwood, which seemed whispy on the screen, became a very pretty font on the page. A light touch, something I really liked. Unfortunately, when I sized it up to what I’d be using, something weird happened: the capital letters all became too bold. While a page of it was okay, I could feel those large letters jumping out from the start of every sentence and I knew that a whole book of it would drive me mad. It too was out.
So what about Gandhi Serif? Take a look at the circles in the picture below.
Uh-oh. Both Crimson Text and Gandhi Serif had messed up the em-dash. Though they looked fine on a screen, when it came to printing time, they turned a long mark into two short dashes due to a coding error. No way could I let that slide.
That left us with Alegreya. Inoffensive, evenly spaced, evenly textured, it’s a nice font. But somehow, I just wasn’t connecting with it. It felt more like a font meant for a fantasy book, not a gritty account set in Appalachia. Yet there was nothing wrong with it, so I put it aside for a moment and kept searching.
Prociono TT, OFL Sorts Mill Goudy TT, and Linden Hill.
I headed back to the same website I’d found Fanwood on and began clicking through their stacks until I came up with these three. I had no idea if they’d be any good, but hey, what did I have to lose? I downloaded them and printed out my samples.
And…wow, these were different. Prociona has an angular, upright look that makes it feel very right-there, bold. Is that what I wanted?
Or did I want Sorts Mill Goudy, with its almost old-fashioned consonants. Light on the page, it seemed like a font I could read forever.
And then came Linden Hill, another crisp, older feeling font. It was very pretty just to look at. Was it right for my book?
Though I liked Prociona, it was just a little too bold. While it was the most contemporary of the three, I felt like it would tire my eyes out if I read a whole book in it. Short story? Sure, but chapter after chapter? Nope.
As for the other two, forget the adequate Alegreya. I decided I needed to resize Linden and Sorts Mill and reprint them as closely to the formatting I’d be using for my book as possible. For Linden, that meant sizing it up, while for Sorts Mill Goudy I needed to space the lines closer together.
And here they are:
What a difference. Sorts Mill Goudy, in its condensed form, stays light on the page, while Linden closes in. Linden actually feels a little clearer, but again Goudy had that feel that I could keep reading it forever without straining my eyes. It also brought a delicacy to the words that my book so often forfeits in its fight to stay honest to the events it’s depicting, thus lending a literary feel to action scenes. I also felt that Sorts Mill Goudy’s somewhat old-fashioned feel would compliment the dialect of my characters, allowing readers to feel that this is an older way of talking, just as legitimate as any mainstream American dialect, yet strictly its own thing.
It was official. OFL Sorts Mill Goudy TT was my text of choice for the interior of my book, and Linden Hill a close second.
That seems like a lot of work for something so small. It would have been easier to click that old favorite, Garamond, and done something else. But I decided it was important to me that the font feel correct. When someone picks up a copy of my book, I want them to know that every detail has been seen to, so that they know it’s not just words on a page, but a complete work.
Have you done much formatting in your writing? Have a particular font that’s your favorite? Ever put a book down because of its font, or likewise, picked one up? Tell us below! I’d love to hear from you.
In case you haven’t heard, I’m looking for a handful of early readers for What Boys Are Made Of. Check out this page and volunteer! Thanks for reading.
EDIT: If you’d like to see how Sorts Mill Goudy TT looks in a book, What Boys Are Made Of is for sale here! Of course you’ll have to get the print version to see the font in action, but it’s a good enough book, I trust you won’t mind.