When it came to choosing a font type and size for my book, I was clueless.
I’m not bad at the game Trivial Pursuit. Not great – I have friends who regularly “clean my clock” as my father used to say – but I am often a winner. Playing the Genus version only. The ultra-esoteric versions are usually more than challenging, especially the Disney one! And Harriet has the edge on The Silver Screen questions. And I won’t touch Sports. Okay, I’m not going to make it on Jeopardy! However, I have a lot of trivia floating around in this brain of mine (although I do worry about depth).
Fonts are a deep subject. A lot deeper than I expected, certainly. Fonts represent an important aspects of book production — the right font will support the story, attract readers, prevent eyestrain. Fonts are yet another subject about which I have little prior experience or knowledge; no depth.
My book designer sent me some layout samples from which I was to make a few choices. It was thrilling to get pages of the story set into a format that looked like a book! Chapter headings and page numbers; author name (yippee!) and title across the top of the pages; leading character flourishes and section break icons! It was beginning to look like a book. A real book!
But I had choices to make. In addition to the flourishes (or lack thereof), I needed to select between Garamond and Caslon.*
Okay, so I’m not completely clueless. I know that Garamond and Caslon are fonts. Typeface. Itty bitty letters that will make up the words and communicate the story. I decide on fonts all of the time in writing contracts (usually between Times New Roman or Arial) . I read someplace that Times New Roman was one of the original fonts used for newspapers. Interesting historical tidbit, but my book was not a newspaper or a contract. The typeface needed to support the story. So which was it to be?
Apparently I can’t go wrong with either Garamond or Caslon. However, Garamond and Caslon look the same to me. How am I supposed to choose between two nearly identical things?
First, I went on the internet to read what people had to say about Garamond and Caslon type. There really are people discussing these things! Typesetting is an art – and like all art forms, there are experts, opinions, and preferences. The internet emphasized the history of each typeface, which didn’t help me. I wanted information comparing the pros and cons of each type. Something like a Consumer Reports for fonts would have been nice. However, if that exists I didn’t find it. The closest I came was a blurb on Caslon typography: “Caslon types are considered warm and friendly and comfortable to the eye.” According to the same website Garamond has been popular among book designers and printers for four centuries — who can argue with tradition?
Still flummoxed, I conducted my own straw poll:
– Here, honey, which one do you like? Caslon. Why? “It’s easier to read.”
– Here, Megan, which one do you like? Garamond. Why? “It’s hard to say without sounding pompous.”
– Here, Editor Rick, which one do you like? Caslon. Why? “It is a more serious font. You have an action/historical/psychological story.” A departure from current trends. Serious and therefore worthy of Caslon.
– Here, Rita; here Brien; here Tom; here Carlos…whatdyathink?
Preferences fell primarily along gender lines (in my wide sampling of 8 people): women for Garamond, men for Caslon. Given this, I should have thrown more females in the mix, just for good measure. However, since Rita broke the Garamond ranks, it didn’t seem worth the trouble. She liked Caslon; five of the other respondents like Caslon. So Caslon it was.
And as for that depth thing: when compared side-by-side I can now correctly identify the Caslon as opposed to the Garamond. However, if you handed me a single book and asked me to identify its typeface, I would not be able to say. There is somebody out there who can — but, unfortunately, it’s not yet me. It’s a depth thing.
* The book designer wasn’t limiting my choice to Garamond or Caslon — I could choose from many other fonts. He offered these two because of their popularity. I’m really glad that he didn’t present me with more choices. I go into sensory overload in the grocery store, so I can’t imagine trying to decide from among hundreds of different models of typeface. Heck, I think there are 25 different types of Caslon fonts alone! Ooo, that’s just too scary.
Just for fun, here’s the difference
Above is a picture of each of the fonts. They are both the same point size, so any differences are in the fonts themselves.