When writing your children's book, you probably took a lot of time with your words; writing, reading them and then re-writing until you had crafted those words into a sentences, sentences into paragraphs and those paragraphs into a beautiful story that you can't wait to share with the world.
Then, like so many other authors, you let someone else handle the rest and they 'plop' the words onto the middle of a page in Times New Roman. Sigh.
I've worked as a full time illustrator for over seven years and one thing I have learnt is that exactly where and how you plop the words in a book makes a huge difference. The typography and placement is just as important as the illustrations. The two should come together and create a visually appealing page that reads naturally instead of clashing.
Here's some of my own DOS AND DONTS for making the most of your text. You can use these yourself, or pass them along to your illustrator or designer who can try them out for you. I'm always interested in hearing your thoughts too, so if you've got some ideas that I haven't mentioned, please feel free to comment below!
DO match your font to the story.
Try and pair your font with the nature of your book. For example; a story about a Princess who chews bubblegum might be light and rounded, but a book which involves monsters and dark forests may suit a spindly, spider-like text.
You can try more than one font and even mix them up as you go along, having different fonts for different actions or characters. Just be sure that whatever you choose, it is ALWAYS legible.
Here are some great websites for sourcing fonts - and some of them are free!
DON'T plonk your font down anywhere and leave it there.
You must think about the placement of your text. It's a long process that will involve lots of edits and tweaking until you get it right, but a good designer will never get annoyed with trying out different placements. When you think you've got it right - try another placement just in case!
Is your text on the same page as an illustration?
Which one do you want to see first - the words or the picture?
Does the text get lost in the colours?
It is in the same place every page?
One thing is certain - you must be aware of bleed and trim. The text should never be too close the edge of a page.
DO test with other people to see if they can read it.
This seems obvious, but it's hard to test your own book properly when you already know what it says. Ask friends, family and other writers to read it out in front of you. Do they read it in the correct order? Do they stumble on words or struggle to find the next sentence? As beautiful and your layout might look, if it isn't easy to read by your target audience you may as well bin it now.
DON'T be boring.
Black, Times New Roman in a white box... yawn!
What about red text? Text with a pattern? Text with a texture? Now there's an idea. How about text that curves around the illustration it is describing? If your text is being shouted, why not place it inside a huge illustration of a mouth? Get creative and try different things - if it looks good and can be read easily then make it work WITH the illustration instead of leaving them to battle for space. I'm not saying you can't keep a neat, monochrome theme if that suits your book; just don't automatically default to it without at least thinking about your options.
DO your research.
Look at as many popular children's books as you can, and see if you can find common themes they all have. Assess their typography, the size of the font, where they place it... these bestsellers must be onto something.
Don't be afraid to try some of their ideas yourself - use them for inspiration! (Just be careful not to plagiarise anyones work, of course.)
DON'T have too much text on a page.This is a common error that new writers make. 500-800 words is the recommended average for a 32 page children's book and it's like that for a reason - it leaves just the amount of text on each page. Filling a page with text leaves no room for illustration and makes it feel cramped. If you need to say more, consider moving text to an adjacent page or cutting out a less important sentence. It's tough to cut your story short, but it will benefit the book in the end.
DO have pages without any text at all.
Some clients are horrified when I suggest this. No text on page 13? But what will they do?! What will they read?!
This is a great opportunity to break your book up and make your audience pay attention as long as you use it in the right place. (You may not have a right place for it in your book, and that's OK too!)
The best tip here is to use it as a build up or passage of time and let the illustrations to do the talking for you. A story about someone digging a hole to the other side of the world may leave three pages of nothing but illustrations of the character digging... getting lower and lower until they disappear entirely... The next page that includes text should then have a big action or reveal as the climax;
...SUPRISE! He's now in China!
This is where your illustrator's talents come in handy. When there is no text on a page, you need to give the reader plenty to look at. Hidden items, background characters and lots of detail will make this trick work.
DO create your own font
While I appreciate this is not something everyone is able to do, it may be something your illustrator could do for an extra fee. Creating your own font has many benefits; If you can't find one that looks right you can create one to fit perfectly. No other books will have the same font which makes yours unique. Not using easily recognised or default fonts means some readers (and publishers) will take you more seriously and know you have put the extra work in.
Finally, here is a list of words and what they mean. They aren't 'Dos and Don'ts' - but they will certainly help you discuss what you need with your illustrator and be able to understand what they are saying to you! I hope you enjoyed reading my tips and tricks to making words work for you. Now get writing that next bestseller - and good luck!
SERIF - Fonts that have little details or accents to make the words easier to read. "This is an example of Serif"
SANS-SERIF - Font's that don't have the little details or accents. On computer monitors we are restricted to dots per inch and so the details and accents are not as easy to scale down or read. "This is an example of Sans-Serif"
TYPOGRAPHY - The way type is arranged to achieve the desired effect
TYPEFACE - A kind of type. For example; Times New Roman
LINE SPACE (SINGLE, DOUBLE, ETC) - The amount of space between the lines of text