Should every chapter of a book start on a recto page, even if that means leaving some facing pages blank? Like so many questions in book design and publishing, the answer is a firm…it depends.
First, I should make sure that everyone understands what a recto page is. It’s really just book shorthand for a right-hand page, a page that should have an odd page number (1, 3, 5, etc.).
What’s the opposite of a recto? That would be the verso (the left-hand pages with even page numbers).
Now, back to the question of whether each chapter should begin on a recto page even if that creates a blank facing (verso) page.
For most fiction, particularly genre fiction (romance, scifi, mystery, etc.), there is really no compelling reason to force every chapter to start on a recto page with the resultant increase in page count. This is most significant if the book consists of many short chapters, as short chapters tend to produce more blank pages than longer ones.
However, many of our clients just prefer the “feel” of having all chapters start recto. And that’s fine. Personally, I don’t like adding a lot of blank pages for some ill-defined esthetics. But, like I said, that’s personal.
There is an exception. If each chapter includes a different graphic that relates specifically to the upcoming chapter, the extra break in the flow combined with that graphic might serve a valuable purpose. On a related note, if each chapter actually starts with a two-page graphic spread at the top (or a full-page graphic preceding the actual start of the chapter’s text), you really need to force the text to start on a recto or the graphic loses its connection to the chapter.
For nonfiction, we can make a more compelling argument for starting every chapter on a recto page since the chapters are often almost standalone chunks of material. As a result, a more pronounced break in the flow of the book’s text could be warranted.
Even with nonfiction, however, we might create a design that works just fine without the forced-recto solution, just letting each chapter start on the next available page, recto or verso. Again, this may come down to little more than personal preference, either of the designer or the author or publisher.
For my book Rough War I had the option of forcing each chapter to start on a recto without leaving blank pages. I had so many photos I wanted to include that it was easy to add them between chapters and format them so as not to leave any blank pages.
A THIRD OPTION
We might consider one other possibility: what if we just drop down a few lines at the end of a chapter and start the next chapter wherever that leads us?
Perhaps you’ve never seen this used. Not surprising, since in my experience this is used rarely and then mostly in old books (when paper was an expensive commodity) or in a few high-falutin’ books in what is called literary fiction. It does seem rather arcane when you encounter it, but that just might be a reason to use it in a unique novel.
ONE FINAL NOTE
If your book is divided into several parts with numerous chapters within each part, each part should be carefully designed to reinforce the idea that this division truly starts something new or different (time, place, viewpoint, subject, etc.). That’s why each part should start on a recto with its verso left blank. The first chapter, like the very first chapter of a book without parts, should then start on a recto.
This still leaves you with the decision of whether the other chapters should be forced to a recto or allowed to start on whichever side of the page comes next.
As I said at the top of the post, whether you start every chapter on a recto is a design decision and the correct answer is “it depends.”