Amazon has introduced a new default font, Bookerly, meant to scale well with great readability across all their devices and apps. With that in mind, is it sensible to use different fonts in your ebook, and how would you do it?
Criticised in the past for their old, outdated default font, Caecilia, Amazon decided to start with a blank slate and create a modern font that worked well at all resolutions. The result was the new serif font Bookerly.
Amazon had this to say:
Kindle Paperwhite now offers Bookerly, an exclusive font designed from the ground up for reading on digital screens. Warm and contemporary, Bookerly is inspired by the artistry of the best fonts in modern print books, but is hand-crafted for great readability at any size. It introduces a lighter, more graceful look and outperforms other digital reading fonts to help you read faster with less eyestrain.
So, if Amazon spent so much time and effort creating what they think is the perfect font for ebooks, should you and could you use a different font of your choice?
The answer (as it so often is) is ‘it depends’.
Basically, a book’s purpose is to imbue information upon the reader, and it’s better to be able to do it in the most legible way. However, when it comes to a story the font can help with the tone and feeling.
The easiest way to achieve this is with formatted chapter headings.
Chapter headings that are stylised to the theme of the book will be appreciated by the reader, reminding them of the tone. In our editions of War of the Worlds and Dracula we used two very different fonts for the chapter headings keeping in theme of the respective stories. With War of the Worlds we used an art-deco/futuristic font, and with Dracula a traditional horror style.
You can immediately see how these headings fit in with the story, keeping the ton consistent from the title page to each chapter.
When it comes to body copy, for a novel I’d always suggest keeping the default font. This means it’s easy to read and your readers can get lost in the story rather than get distracted by the font.
However, there are times when it’s acceptable to change it in keeping with the story, even helping the reader with the flow of the story. For instance, in our edition of the Sherlock Holmes stories, there are several times when a character will read a telegram or letter. On these occasions we opted to use a typewriter style font, as well as tightening the margins, to make it feel like the reader is reading the actual telegram itself and helping with the immersion of the story.
Choosing a font
There are only a handful of ‘safe’ fonts preloaded but they’re not all the same on every device. For instance, other than Caecilia, the Kindle Fire comes preloaded with the following serif and sans-serif fonts:
- Lucida Sans Unicode
- Times New Roman
However, the Kindle iPad app only has Baskerville, Caecilia, Georgia, Helvetica, and Palatino.
In a lot of instances, fonts from this selection might be suitable for your needs, but if you’re looking for a very stylised font or want to use an uncommon specific font you’ll need to include it with your ebook.
Serif should always be used for body copy, for readability unless there are good reasons for changing it. When it comes to chapter headings, it’s better to use a nice sans-serif display font to contrast with the body.
You can’t just use any old font that you have installed on your computer as you can’t guarantee that the reader’s device will have that same font installed. You can embed the font file inside the ebook in a reasonably easy process, but even then you can’t just use any font you like as there may be licensing issues.
Fontsquirrel has a handy key showing the license restrictions. You’re looking for the tablet shaped icon to be black. If it’s white, or greyed out, the license doesn’t allow for use in ebooks.
License does not allow for eBooks
License does allow for eBooks
To get around this you could convert text such as chapter headings and titles to images. This comes with its own set of problems, mainly that the images won’t be converted in night modes, and won’t always scale nicely at different resolutions. It’s normally easier to find a different, similar, font with the applicable license.
Before putting all the time and effort into researching and deciding what fonts to use in your book, it’s important to remember that ebook readers have the functionality to override any publisher fonts, instead using the font their choice which could be one of the device defaults or one they’ve installed themselves. For that reason, you should make sure your book reads well across a handful of default fonts before formatting.
If you do decide to use fonts in your book make sure to use them sparingly, only when it helps the tone or flow of your story. Don’t rely on them to prop up your story as they aren’t guaranteed to display on all devices.
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