Typically, the design of a book page should be transparent to the reader. That is, you do not usually want the reader to notice what a lovely and interesting typeface you’ve chosen or what a cleverly designed border you’ve added. No, you want the reader to understand what the author is trying to communicate, and that message is embodied in the words, not in their graphic representation. Nonetheless, there are times when it makes senseto let those creative juices flow.

Chapter pages are a good place to add display elements to a book. Some fiction for adults consists of many short chapters without chapter titles, and a modest chapter number is sufficient. Often such chapters run into one another without so much as a page break. And that’s fine if that’s what the book calls for. But in many other books, the chapter divisions are more important. Young readers in particular like to get a little visual reward for completing one chapter and starting on the next.

Browse in a library or bookstore to see some of the many ways designers have handled chapter pages and, where they’re present, part pages. There may be an outside number; the start of the text may be sunk far down the page; the chapter title might be in a decorative (but still legible) typeface; there may be decorative rules. And of course there are many other possibilities. One thing you will see frequently—and a good way to dress up even the plainest book—is a drop cap or other special treatment for the first letter of a chapter. A two-line drop cap, followed by three or four words in small caps, is a modest way to signify the beginning of a major new thought, which is what a chapter break or section break is, after all, or a good place to close the book and take a break. But in other sorts of books, that chapter initial can be something quite ornate. There are hundreds of beautiful sets of decorated initials, and they can really dress up a book where they’re appropriate.

How you treat the chapter page depends on the type of book you’re designing. Look at what other people have done and decide what approach works best for you.


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[Brian Jud invited me to contribute short articles on book interior design to his Book Book Marketing Matters newsletter, a biweekly e-zine. This page is adapted from one of those articles.]