Physical characteristics of novels for new readers

The Open Door books measure about 18cm by 11cm. Rapid Reads are slightly wider at 18cm by 12cm. The Quick Reads I own are larger still about 19.5cm by 12.5cm. PRACE Pageturners measure about 21cm by 14.5cm, which is almost as large as a folded letter (or "US letter") sized sheet of paper, which measures about 21.5cm by 15cm.

Most of the commercially produced books mentioned above feature side margins between 1.8cm and 2cm, leaving a column width of almost 8cm to a little over 9cm for text. I can't begin to guess the font type or size, but they place between 200 and 250 words on a page. PRACE uses fatter margins (about 2.5cm) but still manages to print about 9cm of text on each page.

Finally, the Rapid Reads and Quick Reads run about 100 to 120 pages, and hold 8 to 12 chapters and maybe 2500 to 3000 words. Obviously, some titles are longer than others, but these are generally reliable guesstimates.

I've been doing all this measuring and counting and making-of-charts because I'm trying to settle on a new format for the Liz Tracy books. Up to now, I've taken whatever Word 2003 offered without much thought, and been happily inconsistent about things like font size, line spacing and margin width. I was thinking that maybe I could do better - or, at least, equally poorly. So I decided to look at what the professionals were up to.

I'm pretty much settled on a "2 pages per sheet" template which allows me to place a page number at the bottom of each column (i.e., on each half-page). I'm going to use reliable old Times New Roman in 12 font with my line spacing set at "exactly 15" (mid way between "single" and "1.5"). With margins set at 2.5cm (only a little larger than commercial books), I can fit about 200 words on an average page. I'm hoping to pull off six chapters of 9 to 12 pages each, for a novella of about 2500 words.

My margin choices don't leave as much white space as I would like. Also, the margins appear to be too tight for standard PDF conversion and printing. At least, when I tried converting and then printing, the PDF file "reduced to best fit" (which appears to be Adobe's default). This resulted in reduced font size - something much closer to a 10 point font.

On the other hand, when I increase the margin size, my line-length shortens, and I'm convinced that too short a line raises the level of reading difficulty.

Which is, in the end, the whole point. How do you make a book or booklet easy to read? How do you make it harder than it need be? What's the right balance between convenience - an easy-to-print word document which can be made into a book just by folding the pages - and readability?

I've been doing other things: reworking some drawings; re-mapping plot lines; trying to avoid offending the Scots. But mostly, the last couple of days, I've been looking into desirable physical characteristics of novels of new adult readers.

By the way, if you're interested in more, I would encourage you to visit the new blog PRACE has set up to share some more information about how their wonderful books came into being.

Meantime, I want to get back to measuring and counting and the darker alchemies of readability.

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