You can tell I've switched from writing mode to editing-and-book-production mode recently, due to my posts on analysis tools for writers, use of ellipses, tables of contents, and drop caps. Even though my work is now done and I'm waiting for printed proof copies in the post**, there are a few more issues to do with book design I'd like to share.

Today: running heads. These are the headings at the top of the page in many books which act as reminders as to what book (or section of a book) you are reading, and maybe who wrote it. Not all books have running heads - some readers and authors see them as fussy, distracting or pointless. Running heads are more common in non-fiction, but aren't exclusive to it.

You only have two running heads - even and odd pages - but there are potentially three different things they might display:
  • author name (either for the whole book, or the individual chapter/short story);
  • book title;
  • chapter/short story title.
Note that you don't have a running head on the first page of a new chapter.

It's interesting to flick through books on your shelves and realise how much variety there is, which books include them and which don't, and how they are formatted. Go and do it! Now! Revel in the feel of the pages, the smell of paper, and the presence or absence of squiggles at the top of each page!

(Time passes.)

Are you back? What did you find? I found that generally:
  1. If the running heads show the author and book title, the author goes on the left of the spread (even-numbered pages); the book title on the right (odd-numbered pages). This is most common in US fiction.
  2. If the running heads show the book title and the chapter title, the book title goes on the left of the spread (even-numbered pages); the chapter title on the right (odd-numbered pages). So the book title switches sides from the first example, in an annoying lack of consistency.
  3. There is no standard as to whether running headers should be all caps or title case; italics or not; the same on facing pages or different; or some combination of those. I saw every permutation, the most distracting of which used two styles just for the author's name (lower case italics for their first name, and caps non-italic for their surname). Madness!
Okay, so how does this affect my own books? I see no point in running heads that list the author and book title alone. The reader knows those things, sees them on the cover every time they pick the book up, and repeating them on every page looks like nagging self-aggrandisement. However, suppose it is a short story collection: it can be handy to double-check the name of the story without having to flick back to the start, or the table of contents. The same applies if the chapters have individual names (as opposed to "Chapter 1", "Chapter 2"). So far all my books have chapter names relevant to the content (or short story names, in the case of They Move Below), so I decided to show book title and chapter/story title. If I ever write a book without chapter titles I'll probably drop the running heads completely for that novel. I will have the book title on the left (in caps), and the short story/chapter title on the right (title case italics). Of course, I'll need to see how it looks when the proof copies arrive, but it seems fine in the PDF.

I'd be interested in your thoughts on running heads, or what you found when looking at the books on your shelves. Comment away!


** (I said I'm waiting for printed proofs - earlier today a book-sized parcel arrived. I was excited, set up my my camera, and filmed myself opening it so I could share a video of me displaying the first printed copy to the world. I felt like a fool when the parcel was torn apart and turned out to be a boardgame I'd helped fund then forgotten about over a year ago!)

(At least it wasn't something really embarrassing in the parcel, with my mortified face livestreamed and perpetually archived.)