Headers and footers are often overlooked, yet play an important role in book design. They are the area above and below the main body of text that contain the page numbers along with other information. The official term for the text in the header is “running head” and the footer is “running feet”.
The running head usually contains the book title on one page, and then the author name on the opposite page. Typically, the author’s name is on the left page, and the book title is on the right page. Depending on your book, you can choose from different options for the running heads, which I’ve listed below. Your running head can be located on the outside corners of each page, or the center of each page. I don’t recommend positioning them on the inside of each page as it can make them harder to read and a distraction. More advanced running heads can get away with it – for example, if you have information all the way across – but for your typical fiction novel, it’s best to stick with the outside corners or the center.
Page numbers can be located in either the header or the footer. The classic style is to have the page number centered in the footer, and then the author name/book title centered in the header. But, there are many different combinations that you can do. I recommend picking up a few of your favorite books and seeing how they treat their running heads and feet.
Running Head combinations:
(Left page | Right page)
Author Name | Book Title
Book Title | Chapter Title
Author Name | Chapter Title
Nonfiction has a few more options:
Part title | Chapter title
Chapter title | Chapter subtitle
Chapter title | Page subhead
Page subhead | Page subhead
When not to use headers and footers:
Headers and footers should not be used on blank pages and on only some of the front matter and back matter pages, including the title page, copyright page, other books by page, acknowledgments, and dedication, just to name a few. You do want to use them on the table of contents page (footer only), preface, introduction, foreword, and epilogue but don’t include the header on the opening pages of each. You also should not use them on section openers. An example is if your book has multiple parts. You wouldn’t have headers or footers on the page that says “Part One”, “Part Two”, etc.
Headers have one extra “do not use” spot as well. At the beginning of each chapter, you do not include the header, but you can include the footer. So let’s say your footer contains the page number, then that is just fine. However, remove the header information, so that there is just blank space above the opening text “Chapter One”. If your page numbers are in the headers as well, then you still don’t include them on chapter opening pages.
Back matter is different, were you do want to include headers/footers, you just use common sense. So for your “About the Author” page, you treat it like a chapter opening where you have no header. But if you have a page just listing all your other books, then most of the time, the headers and footers are removed because they’re not necessary.
Common mistakes to avoid:
- Including headers on the opening chapters.
- Having headers and footers on blank pages.
- Placing your running head on the inside corner, closest to the spine – unless you have a great design reason for doing it.
- Using too large of a point size for the font. It’s typically good to go at least 1, if not 2 point sizes smaller than your body copy, unless you’re using a different font that needs a slightly larger size to be readable.
There isn’t much control over headers/footers in e-books. The device will choose what to display, and most of the time it just shows the book title or chapter in the header.