A book’s cover is the part of book design that’s used to attract readers. Within the book, chapter opening pages are used to guide the reader from one part of the content to another, and are an important component of the book’s interior design.
Chapter opening page
A chapter opening page serves as a brief pause between chapters. From a design perspective, the idea is to have a decent amount of white space, to create a feeling of openness following the text density of previous content pages. It may also be used to give the reader an idea of what’s coming next.
The opening page of a new chapter may contain several elements. The usual minimum is the chapter number, the approach often used for fiction books. This choice is made in order to avoid interrupting story continuity. The purpose of a new chapter in fiction is to indicate a change of scene or location, time, viewpoint, etc.
On the other hand, a new chapter in non-fiction is often used to present a specific subject or topic within the larger content indicated by the title. This is true for books on science, history, economics, etc. Furthermore, chapters may be further divided to provide further detailed information on the subject of the chapter.
Beyond just a chapter number, authors or editors may add other elements to chapter opening pages, including:
- Chapter title—used in fiction to tell readers that the narrative, scene, timeline, etc. has changed; in non-fiction it’s used to indicate that the topic has changed.
- Epigraph—a brief quotation or saying at the beginning of the chapter that, in some way, represents or leads into the theme of the chapter.
- Decoration—something appropriate that’s used to adorn, embellish or enhance the subject or theme of the chapter; it may be a drawing, an illustration, or a graphic, and it may stand alone or be used as a background.
- Chapter contents—may be used for certain kinds of books (e.g., histories, books with long chapters and diverse content). Basically, this “decoration” is a short table of contents for each chapter.
Whatever combination of the above elements is used, the chapter’s text usually follows next.
Single or double page opener
Beyond the decision of what to put on the chapter opening page, there’s a choice of whether it should be a single page (usually the right-hand page) or cover two pages (the left-hand and right-hand pages). This decision is often impacted by how the book will paginate as a result of the choice, how many extra pages it will add, and, of course, the impact on printing cost.
Most books tend to go with the simple approach—a single right-hand page. However, in some fiction books, the next chapter may start on the next available page, whether it’s the right-hand or left-hand. The rationale is to minimize visual interruption in order to maintain reader flow. Also, a good deal of fiction ends up in mass-market paperback, and minimizing page count may be a consideration.
If a double page opening is opted for, the left-hand page is often some kind of graphic image, with the opening text on the right-hand page. However, some chapter openers may have the graphic image spread across both the left-hand and right-hand pages, with the text starting on the next left-hand page.
This approach may mean that some chapters will be forced to end with a blank right-hand page. This presents two considerations. Good interior book design would suggest that this last page of the chapter should not be left blank, possibly creating a feeling that, somehow, some text went missing. Adding some minimum artwork adds a sense of text completeness. Of concern, here again, is the effect on page count. Whatever approach is used, it needs to be consistent throughout the book.
Writing the content of a book is certainly essential. You want your message to be read. However, just as a stage-set creates a background for the actors, effective book design creates the background for your text. This is no place to cut corners.
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