Book Formatting 102 by Craig A. Price, Jr
Have you decided to self-publish? Are you wondering how traditionally published books look so good inside? Or how some self-publishers are able to create a gorgeous interior? I will go by a step-by-step process on how to do that. I will start with the limited knowledge I had of it over a year ago, before I decided to publish, and before I knew anything about formatting with Microsoft Word.
First, let me tell you about some ground rules. One of the most important is: Do Not Use Tab. This is something that is hard to understand. When we’re young, and even in school, teachers tell us to indent each paragraph. This is true. The problem: they tell us to use the tab key to do so. This is bad. If you see a book formatted by using tab keys instead of indentions, you’ll notice they aren’t consistent and they’re too much of an indent when compared to traditionally published books. Normally, the tab key indents your paragraph with a 0.5” indention. This looks horrible in the final product of a book. So, if you have any tabs, you need to remove them. A short-cut way to do so is to Find & Replace them. In Microsoft Word, press CTRL + H on your keyboard. This opens up a Find & Replace box. Find What: ^t / Replace With: (leave blank). Replace All. This will eliminate most tabs. But as I said, tabs don’t always act the same, in some paragraphs they may show up as eleven spaces or ten spaces, or some other random number of spaces. Make sure you scan through your document and remove all of them.
Once you make sure you’ve removed all the tabs you can set the proper indentions. You’ll need your ruler for this. If you don’t see a ruler at the top of your document, look at the top of the scroll bar on the right hand side. There you’ll see a small icon, click it, and your ruler will show up. Drag the top arrow to the second line, and that makes a perfect 0.25”. Make sure your centered chapter titles or centered scene breaks (asterisks usually) aren’t indented. Also, remember that the first paragraph of every chapter and the first paragraph after every scene break aren’t indented. Look at a book on your shelf, and you’ll see it. When formatting, it is a good idea to take some of your favorite books, look through them, find which one you like the interior formatting, and set in on your desk as you’re formatting. Something to keep in mind, some non-fiction books that are information based, do not use any indentions. Check some of your favorite non-fiction books in the style you are writing to see how they do it, and decide how you want to do yours.
Another thing to watch out for is the alignment of your text. Many submission guidelines ask for left aligned text, and that is how your word processor is automatically set up. You want to make sure all of your text, except for titles and scene breaks that should be centered, are justified. (Ctrl+J in Microsoft Word) Also, make sure your centered titles (Ctrl+E) and scene breaks aren’t indented; otherwise they’ll shift to the right.
The next most common thing I notice when looking at poorly formatted books is the margins. Your word processor automatically sets your margins to 1” on all sides; this is done for printing and writing in margins. For books, you don’t want such a gap. Instead, you should set the margins to 0.4” on the outside, top and bottom, but 0” on the inside and set up a gutter. If you’re lost, don’t worry, I’ll get to the nuts and bolts of formatting in a little bit.
Pay attention to your headers and footers. You want your page numbers centered on the bottom, and make sure there isn’t a blank line underneath it, or you may run into the issue where your odd page numbers and your even page numbers don’t line up properly. Typically, page 1 isn’t numbered, nor is any of the front matter (title page, dedication, copyright). And there are no headers on the first pages of chapters. Other than that, the standard is your name on odd pages and the title of the book on even pages.
What font do you choose? Some will disagree, but 95% of self-publishers who are serious with their formatting and how their paperback books look, will tell you to not use Times New Roman. Since Times New Roman is the most standard font for printed documents, and the typical standard used in word processors, using it in a published books looks amateurish. Books have a slightly different font than printed documents. Grab a book and take a look. The most widely accepted font is Garamond for formatting. It is a similar style to Times New Roman, but a little cleaner on the printed page of a book, and a touch smaller. Use Garamond in a size 11. Size 12 is too big compared to most books. Grab one on your shelf and take a look, the font is a lot smaller in books than on printed documents. This is another thing that allows you to get more words on a page, and a more professional look.
And one more thing. Make sure your line spacing is set up at 1.0, not 2.0 (double-spaced) as many submissions require, and not 1.15 like Microsoft Word typically sets you with.
If these are all things you know, congratulations. I talk about them because with self-published books, I have seen every one of these things, and these are the first things that show you’re not properly formatting, and a reader will notice them as well. But more importantly than that, you’re wasting space, and since you pay per page for print on demand, efficient formatting is essential for keeping your cost low.
Okay, now that we have all those details over with. It’s time to get to the nitty-gritty. How do you format your book? How do you do each of these things? And what other steps are there in the formatting process?
First, I start out with my document in Scrivener where I can pay better attention to detail on a chapter to chapter basis. I check that all of my chapter headings are centered, all of my lines are indented 0.25”, (The ruler in Scrivener actually tells you the size as you drag) except for the first lines of chapters and scene breaks. I also set up my fonts in here as well. I use Garamond 11 for everything except chapter titles, for that I like Lucida Calligraphy. Then I compile the document into word. If you do it this way, make sure you include all the files you need, select page breaks before, and set it as is. Also, make sure your page size is set to 6.5” on the ruler, and not stretching over to 8 or the edge of the screen. Select all text in each chapter (CTRL+A) and drag the bottom arrow to the line between 6 and 7. In your compiling settings, click separators, and make sure it isn’t set up as # for a text separator. Change it from custom to “Page Break”. Next, under Transformations uncheck the following boxes: Straighten smart quotes, Convert em-dashes to double hyphens, convert ellipses to triple period, and convert italics to underlines. Those options are usually auto selected, as they are the typical format for submitting to agents and publishers. The only box that should be checked is “remove hyperlinks”. Your readers can’t click on links in your paperback, so make sure you remove those. After that you can go to page settings and setup a header and a footer, but that may be best left until Microsoft Word, since you will have two different headers, and when I’ve done it before I’ve messed up my fonts on my page numbers, making odd and even pages have different fonts; something I was unable to change.
Now I’m going to move on to Microsoft Word. Step one is going to be the biggest pain in the butt, and one reason why formatters hate Microsoft Word and wish there was a better program for formatting. You are going to want to set a scene break between each section. What this does, is by having a new section, you can have a “Different First Page Header/Footer”. Since you don’t want headers or footers on your title page or dedication page, you’re going to want to create scene breakers after your title page, blank page, dedication page, and copyright page. Make sure you have a blank page between your title page and your dedication page. You don’t want anything on the back of your title page. Your dedication page will be page 2, and the copyright page on the back of that before the start of your book. Every book begins on an odd page, or the right side of the book. To prevent you from making “Invisible pages” on Microsoft word, when you do scene breaks, go to the top of the next “scene” and put your cursor in the beginning of the document. Then create scene break and it’ll create a scene break above. If you do it at the end of a scene sometimes it will create a blank invisible page between copyright and your first chapter, making your chapter start on an even page and giving you several random blank pages in the beginning, which is something you don’t want.
Okay, go to “Page Layout”, click “Breaks”, then click “Next Page”. You have to do this for every chapter in your book. Remember, you don’t want headers on your chapter pages. Grab a book on your shelf and take a look. I usually start with the front matter by making scene breaks, and then move on to headers and foots and come back to scene breaks between chapters later, but I don’t really know which way is more productive.
Headers and Footers:
Okay, with headers and footers, this becomes a bit of a pain. Double click in your header or footer and select: Different First Page and Different Odd & Even Pages. Go to insert > page number > center on bottom. You will have to do this on an odd page and an even page. Since you have “Different Odd & Even Pages”, the page number will only show up on either odd or even pages, depending what page you were on when you did this formatting. So you will have to do it twice. Now, go through the same process, except select formatting: insert > page number > format page cells. You will have to do this for EVERY separate section, including your front matter in the front. This will make your page 1 actually be page 5 as it will count the front pages as pages, which is fine, and most books do anyway. What you want to do in the first section (title page) is select “start at 1”, but then from every section after that you will have to select the option “continue from previous section”. If you do not do this, each section will begin again at page 1, and Microsoft Word will create more invisible pages you cannot access. Microsoft Word is set up so a new page break will not start on an even page. Therefore, it will create an invisible even page and start it on an odd page. You can’t see the page, but when you upload the document and it comes out in the printer, it will be there. Pay attention to your page numbers on your footer to make sure they match up. Okay, so remember, every single section, which means in every single chapter, you will have to do this. Make sure the page numbers are formatted to continue from previous section. Once you complete this, you should see your page numbers in your document decrease by a bit. Don’t take a breath just yet, you’re not done with page numbers. Since you’ve selected “Different First Page”, making it so you don’t have a header on chapter beginnings, it mirrors that same feature on the footer. Therefore, you will have to manually type the page number for the first page of every chapter. When you do this, make sure in every section that “Link to Previous Section” is unselected in each section. If this is selected, what it will do is mirror the page number you type in to the start of every section. Therefore, you’ll have 20 different page 20s, or whatever page number you type in for your chapter start. This feature also helps with making your very first page (page 5) have no page number. Don’t worry about typing that one in, most books don’t label the first page. And it also makes it so the title page, blank page, dedication, and copyright don’t have page numbers either. After you’re done with all that, double check it, go through every page to make sure your numbers are consistent.
Okay, now we’re going to talk about headers. This is a lot easier than page numbers. Click insert > header & footer. Select a header with one text line on the top. On odd pages type your name, and on even pages type the book title. You should only have to do this once on an odd page and once on an even. Remember, no header on the first page of chapters, or any of the front matter.
First, you want to set up your page size. What size book are you going to print? There are many options available. A lot of people choose a larger book than I like. I like using a 5.25 x 8” book. It is one of the “common” sizes we can use through CreateSpace. Mass Market Paperback size is not easy or cheap for self-publishing, so it gives us these larger sizes. Now, let me tell you why I select this size when many others choose 6×9” or even 5×8”. Cost can get expensive the more pages it is, which is why a lot of people choose the 6×9 size. It can make each book a little bit cheaper, but I have a very good reason to pick 5.25×8. Bookshelves. Most bookshelves in the stores are actually 7.8” for mass market and trade paperback. Even the 5.25×8 won’t fit inside of them. But other shelves are a little bit bigger, allowing for hardbacks, and the 5.25×8 will fit inside of the shelf. Anything taller than 8”, and it’s a struggle to find somewhere to put it. If you want your book in stores, it is a good idea to make it as easy as you can for them to shelf your book. The reason I choose a 5.25” width compared to a 5” is because of space. Shelves are deep enough, it won’t matter the width, but the wider it is, the more words you can fit per page.
Okay, I’m going to continue with my preferred measurements, if you disagree with me, replace with your own desired size. Go to Page Layout > Margins > Custom Margins. Click paper and set your width to 5.25 and your height to 8”. On the bottom select “Apply to Whole Document”. Click layout and change from edge to 0.4” on header and footer.
Click back on margins. Your inside margin will depend on the size of your book. That is where the crease of the book is, and for a larger book, the harder it will be to open and read the words toward the middle. CreateSpace has a guide for this here: https://www.createspace.com/Products/Book/InteriorPDF.jsp . From 24 to 150 pages use 0.376”, 151–300: 0.5”. 301–500: 0.625”. 501–700: 0.75”. 701–828: 0.875”. For your top and bottom margin you will want 0.63” and I set my outside at 0.4”. It says you can make it as small as 0.25”, but I wouldn’t recommend the words being too close to the edge. I think 0.4” is a good number. Make sure your orientation is portrait and your pages > multiple pages is set to “Mirror Margins”. This is give you a gutter in your options. On your inside margins select 0”, and instead set your gutter according to what length book you have. So if it’s 151–300 pages long, you’ll make the gutter 0.5”. When you accept and click Ok, a warning will appear, telling you that your margins are outside of the printable area. Click Ignore on this message. This is for home printers only, and it will have no negative affect on your book formatting.
Select all your text and under home and paragraph, make sure everything is single spaced (1.0) and not double or the standard 1.15 it gives you for printed documents.
With Justified text, you will get some funky lines where it spreads out the words so much you have huge gaps between words if there are little words on the line. So what you want to do is click file > options. Go to advanced. Scroll to the bottom and select layout options. A huge list will pop up with things you can checkmark. Checkmark the following: Do full justification the way WordPerfect 6.x for Windows does and Don’t expand character spaces on a line that ends in SHIFT-RETURN.
Click page layout > hyphenation > automatic. This will make less white space between your words and give it a more professional look by using hyphens on long words from line to line like published books have. It may also save you a page or two. Make sure you check your title, and if it’s been hyphened on page one, use the shift + enter key to separate the words on different lines if you need to.
If you have those annoying white lines between paragraphs that Microsoft Word likes to do, select all your text (CTRL+A) and go to Home then paragraph spacing (where you set double space and single space) and look at the bottom of the spacing menu that pops up. You’ll see “Remove Space After Paragraph”, click it. Now all those annoying white spaces between paragraphs are gone.
Anywhere you may have had links from your eBook version, you will need to change the text color from blue to black and remove the underline. If it is a link you want to keep, like to your website or any important webpages, type out the link for the reader.
If you want your chapters to start midway down the page, you’ll want to hit enter a few times until it’s where you want it. Then be sure to select all the lines you’ve entered and copy them (CTRL+C) then paste them before each chapter heading (CTRL+V). Compare your first few to make sure the spacing is the same.
Drop caps. Do you like drop caps? Some books use drop caps, while others just make the first word of each chapter all in caps. I use drop caps myself. Select the first letter of each chapter and click: insert > drop caps > dropped. My Word document is automatically set up for a 3 line drop, which is what I use for my epic fantasy books. However, for my urban fantasy, I like using only a two line drop. So for each one I have to click insert > drop cap > drop cap options, then select dropped and lines to drop = 2. You will have to do this for each first letter of each chapter. So it takes a little bit, but I think the results are worth it in the printed form. There was one time one of my chapters wouldn’t create a proper drop cap; instead the drop capped letter was above the paragraph. The way I found to fix this problem, was to copy a properly drop capped paragraph and move it to the first paragraph in that chapter. Then I changed the drop cap letter to the proper letter, and moved the proper paragraph up by deleting the paragraph I copied, one letter at a time.
Something to consider: White verses Cream paper. Most of the books on your shelf are done in cream paper. Cream looks much better for a book, especially a fiction book. The problem? Cream paper is thicker and heavier than white paper and increases your width and weight more than white paper. I suggest using cream for fiction, and white for non-fiction.
Something else to consider: your cover. You should of course have a professional cover done, and have it stretch the entire size of the book with no white space around the edges, and have the image wrap around the spine to the back. See if your cover artist can have your character’s hair, cape, or clothes stretch onto the spine and onto the back side. It really makes it look much better. Another thing I’ve learned from an independent bookstore is the placement of your title and name. If you look at the books on your shelf you’ll notice 80% of books have the authors name on the top of the spine and on the top of the front with the title on the bottom. The reasoning is, as an author, first you are selling yourself, and then you’re selling the book. Whatever you decide, keep in consistent for all of your books. And make sure you give your cover artist the proper formatting and size for your cover so everything falls into place. CreateSpace has a great place where you can submit your page number and size of book and it’ll give you a zip file with the proper size that you can give to your cover artist. https://www.createspace.com/Help/Book/Artwork.do
Check your work:
Now you’re done. That’s everything there is to formatting. It’s very overwhelming at first, but don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it. But when you’re done, make sure you go back and check your work. Sometimes even when you do it all properly, Microsoft Word will let things slip through the crack. Check your paragraph spacing, your justified text, your page numbers, and your font consistency; those are the most common to slip through the cracks. I recommend order a proof copy and looking through it when it comes in the mail to see if you missed anything. A lot of the time in Microsoft Word, things can blend in, but when it’s in the printed book, you’ll see it.
Congrats, now you’re done. How did you do? Do you have any more questions?
Craig A. Price Jr. is the author of The Crimson Claymore, an Epic Fantasy adventure novel that has garnered millions of reads, was featured in fantasy, had more than 18,000 votes, and more than 1,200 comments/reviews on the social networking platform for readers and writers, Wattpad.