In this post, I hope to cover all the standards of print book formatting, to help the self-published author produce a high-quality professional looking book.
It is far too easy to spot a book that has been self-published. Opening it is like being smacked in the face with a wet towel that has been in the dirty clothes hamper for a week, underneath your old gym socks. The margins are too narrow, it is printed in fourteen point Arial, single spaced, and there is no consistency to the overall layout. This may be the most common complaint readers have with self-published books, even moreso than sloppy editing and terrible cover art. That can all be avoided if the writer follows a set of standards, and companies like Lulu and CreateSpace are more than happy to provide many of those standards.
A self-published book that has been formatted correctly looks professional. Nothing stands out about it, except that you enjoy reading it. Formatting a book is like Dress for Success; you don’t want them to remember what you wore, just that you looked darn good.
A little about my qualifications. My first real job out of college was for an old-fashioned typographic studio, where I was the proofreader, typesetter, and later, the operator of the lithocamera. I have also been a reporter for two small town weekly newspapers, where we writers also performed the layout. Furthermore, I have been a professional book editor and designer. I know a little bit about it.
More than that, however, I did something I recommend all of you to do. I pulled the traditionally published books of ten separate writers within my genre, and studied how they were formatted and laid out. My particular genre is fantasy, and there does appear to be some variation of standards from one genre to another. So, study your own genre to make sure.
The critical keys to formatting are these: first, the book should be pleasant and easy to read, and second, it should not be fat because of the formatting. Cost is determined by page count, and price is determined by cost. A fatter book costs more to print, and that means a higher price at point of sale. I will explain more about that as I get to the factors that can make for a fat book, and increase your cost.
These standards are for the traditional 6×9 hardback and the 6×9 quality paperback. Those are the most prevalent sizes for self-published books, as well as traditionally-published. I won’t cover ebooks, as I don’t know those standards yet.
I assume you are using a version of Microsoft Word to write and prepare your book for publication. If not, Open Office and even Wordperfect should have similar methods.
Paper Size: Before you do any formatting whatsoever, change the paper size of your book to 6×9. Do not just change the margins to 6×9. If you do, the paper size will still be 8×11. The printer will shrink that page to fit a 6×9 sheet, resulting in print that is too small to read and margins that are ridiculously enormous. Word doesn’t offer a 6×9 size, so set your paper size in Custom under Page Setup. That is 6 inches wide and 9 inches tall. Apply it to the whole document.
Margins: There is a lot of variation within margins. Some of the books I studied have margins that are half an inch, while another was a full inch. Half an inch is too little to look good, while a full inch is absurd. The half inch margin should be reserved for a book with more than 300,000 words, solely to keep the page count within reason. My speculation is that book with the full inch margins was a wee bit short, so the publisher decided on wide margins. In the industry, we call that “creative white space.”
Your margins should result in a nice, symmetrical look to the page, providing a uniform rectangular box. Top and outside margins can, and should, match. Bottom margin should be a bit bigger to allow for the page number, but retain that symmetrical look with the other two margins. Inside margin must be wider to accommodate the binding and the spine. There is nothing worse than having to bend the book to read the first letter of the line.
A good average for your margins is:
Top: .65 inches
Outside: .65 inches
Bottom: .75 inches
Inside: .85 inches
To get Inside and Outside margins, as opposed to Left and Right, select the Mirror Margins option under Multiple Pages of Page Setup. The margins I suggest are ballpark figures to get you started. Experiment with them for the best possible readability.
Under no circumstances should your margins be any smaller than .5 inches. If they are, your text will be too close to the edge of the paper and could be cut off in the printing process. The exception to this would be full bleed artwork that extends to the edge of the page.
Font: Always use a serif font. Serif fonts are easy to read. Sans-serif fonts, such as Helvetica, are hard to read in the block text of most books. Monotype fonts, like Courier, are designed for the typewriter, and result in odd spacing of letters. The most popular serif fonts are Baskerville, Bookman, Century, Garamond, Goudy, Palatino, and Times New Roman. Choose a font that is pleasing to your eye, but does not increase the page count too much.
In my particular case, after experimenting with eight different fonts, I chose Goudy for A Path of Stones, set at eleven points and 1.15 line spacing (more on point size and line spacing shortly). That font has a slightly old world look that adds to the charm of the story, without distracting the reader. It is also compact enough to keep a 160,000 word book at 450 pages. The same book, when tested in eleven point Palatino, stretched to 490 pages. It looked good, but would have cost more to print. Eleven point Baskerville, while still my favorite font, increased the page count to an astronomical 530 pages. Just a change in font added 80 pages to the same book.
If you don’t have fonts such as Baskerville, you can find them at 1001fonts.com. Make sure the font has a free for commercial use license.
CreateSpace and Lulu require that you embed the fonts into the PDF file you provide. That lies outside the scope of this post, but it is important to remember. Lulu will not accept a font for an uploaded Word document that is not included with Word. That means they reject Goudy or Baskerville, substituting something like Times New Roman. That will affect your formatting. For a PDF, you may use whatever font you wish, as long as it is embedded. I am not certain about CreateSpace, but assume the same for them.
Save fancy fonts, like Carolingia, for the title of your book on the cover and Title Page, and chapter titles. It isn’t just permissible to use a fancy font for the titles, it is almost expected.
Point Size: This is all over the place. One of the books I studied was set in twelve point type. Oddly enough, it was also the same book that used full inch margins. Sounds like someone padded the story to increase page count to increase price. On the other hand, George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is set in ten point size. But at his word count, anything larger would have resulted in books that are as thick as they are tall. The mass market paperback versions require a magnifying glass.
Point size should be determined by the font. Eleven points is a good place to start. See how it looks. Most fonts look great at eleven points. Times New Roman and Goudy look good at ten points, but Garamond and Palatino fade into the white of the page. Garamond and Palatino look phenomenal at twelve points, but Times New Roman and Goudy are almost obnoxiously large.
Changing point size even by one point will lengthen or shorten your book, sometimes to drastic extremes. It all depends on the font. In my experiments mentioned above, I was able to reduce the page count using Baskerville to 480 pages from 530 by lowering the point size to ten, but then it was difficult to read.
For chapter titles, increase the point size by at least two. For instance, if the text is eleven points, set the chapter title in fourteen points. If you choose twelve point text, then increase the title to sixteen points. The idea is to make the title stand out from the body of the text.
Line Spacing: Like font size, this is determined by the font. This is not freshman comp, so there is no reason to use double space. The book will be too thick and the reader will feel cheated. Even 1.5 line spacing is too much “creative white space.” Single space looks good for some fonts, like Garamond, but Times New Roman demands a bit more. The ascenders of a line will run into the descenders of the line above if Times New Roman does not have a bit more spacing.
Two of the best line spacings I’ve found are 1.15 (standard default for Word 2007 and thereafter) and 1.25. The latter is a custom line spacing, and to set it, use the multiply option in paragraph, and type in the size.
Paragraphs: This is the downfall of too many successful bloggers who just copy and paste their posts to a page. The internet has different paragraph standards from books, and the two are not interchangeable.
Always indent the first line of every paragraph. The default first tab setting in Word is half an inch. That is too much. Set yours for a quarter or one third. You want to give the reader just enough of an indentation to let him know a new paragraph has started.
Do not include any line spaces between paragraphs. Read that sentence again. You won’t need them with indentation. In other words, the paragraphs of your book should not look like the ones in this blog post. That extra space isn’t just the wrong standard for print media, it will also increase the page count and increase the cost.
It is up to you whether to use full justification, where left and right are perfectly parallel, or rag right, the uneven right hand side. That is also called left justified. Personally, I prefer rag right. Not only does it look better, but it avoids some of the common problems with full justification. Full justification can stretch a word to force it to fit the line length. It can also split a word within a syllable, instead of between them. Your job editing your book is difficult enough without having to look for improper word hyphenation.
Page Number: Always include page numbers. Usually, they go at the bottom of the page. That way, they are unobtrusive but the reader can easily find them. Most readers look there for the page number, so why not accommodate them? It is your choice to have the page number in the center, or at the edge of the outside margin.
Page 1 is always on the right hand page. Always. Odd numbers on the right, even on the left. The page numbers on the page never match the page count given you by Word, so don’t let that freak you out.
Some books do not include page numbers for the first page of a chapter. Some do. I like them. If I need to refer back to a page, I’m going to want the page number. Page 137 is much easier to find that the first page of chapter 21.
Most page numbers are just the number. There is no need to include the word “Page” before the number, unless you just want to. Most readers find that distracting.
Headers: It is standard practice to include headers. The contents of the header is a matter of personal choice. Some are just the author’s name. Others are the book’s title. Some are both, with the author name in the header of the left hand page, and the book title on the right. If you title your chapters, other than Chapter One, feel free to make that the header.
The header contents always go to the outside of the page.
It is standard to not include the header on the first page of a new chapter.
Now, if you think about everything I just said about headers, you realize just how many special section breaks you are going to have to set up. Such is the nature of the beast.
Chapter Titles: I’ve already mentioned that chapter titles can be in a fancy font, and are usually larger than the text font point size. They are almost always centered to the page, but there are exceptions. To separate the title from the text, include at least two line spaces between the title and the opening paragraph. You can include one line space ahead of the title, if you wish. The old practice of beginning a new chapter title a third of the way down the page has fallen out of favor. That was too much “creative white space.”
The actual title is up to you. Some writers give the chapter a name, such as “Drop Your Gun.” Others just use Chapter One. Still others just use the number, such as Four. Use whatever you wish, as long as it is clear that it is the start of a new chapter.
Italics and Bold: Italics has its place in a book. Feel free to use it for headers and chapter titles. Italics replaces the single quotation mark to denote quotations within dialogue. It is also common these days to italicize memories, or character thoughts in exposition. If you open a new chapter with a quotation between the title and the first paragraph, use italics instead of quotation marks. You may also use italics to denote emphasis within dialogue, but use it sparingly.
Bold is best reserved for titles alone. The same can be said for all caps.
THE ORDER OF PAGES
The pages of a book are set in a certain order. There is very little room to change this, although at one point, I am going to do that very thing. The following is for fiction books, so I won’t cover Endnotes, Glossary, or Index. If you write non-fiction, you probably already know how to format those and where they go.
Half Title Page: This is the first page of the book with any print on it. It contains the book’s title and nothing more. The title is usually in the same font as the cover, and often is a mere copy of it, but some get downright artistic about it. This page is always on the right hand side of the book. It does not receive a page number.
Occasionally, the title is replaced with blurbs for the book, although those are usually saved for the back cover.
The Next Page: I don’t know what else to call it. It is the backside of the Half Page. Usually, this is where the publisher lists other books by the same author. Until you have three books for sale, I recommend you leave this page blank. Otherwise, that is going to be an awfully short list. This is also a good place for blurbs. It does not receive a page number.
Title Page: This page contains the book title, the author’s name, and the publisher’s name and/or logo. It contains nothing else. The information on this page must match exactly the information given for the ISBN number and the first page of the Lulu and CreateSpace setup wizards. The Title Page goes on the right hand side of the book. It does not get a page number.
Copyright Page: This page contains the legal boilerplate of ownership. There are plenty of guides online about what to include, but if in doubt, copy the format of any recent book. This is a good place to mention your website, and to credit the cover artist. The Copyright Page goes on the backside of the Title Page. It also does not get a page number.
Dedication: You’ve seen things like “To Mike, the best hamster ever.” That would go here. The backside is blank. No page number here, either. I recommend that you merge this with Acknowledgements for reasons I will cover shortly.
Table of Contents: Most fiction writers don’t have one. Some, however, do. It seems silly to include one if the chapters do not have individual title names. If you include one, it goes here. It starts on the right hand side, and goes on as long as it needs to. The Table of Contents does not get page numbers.
Acknowledgements: This is the page of thank yous. It is pretty much standard. Don’t do it! Diana Minot, a highly successful self-published author on Amazon, recommends dispensing with this page. She said that Amazon has a book preview, allowing the reader to look at the first ten to fifteen pages of your book. You want the reader to see as much actual book as possible, and not lose two pages to a list of thank yous that no one will read, and the blank page that follows.
I recommend moving the Acknowledgements to the end, just before Deliberately Blank Last Page.
If you must include the Acknowledgements here, and you have a Table of Contents, then Acknowledgements receives a page number, denoted by a lower case Roman numeral, usually i. If you do not have a Table of Contents, this page is not numbered.
Maps: This is mostly for fantasy writers. If you include maps, they should go here. Or put them at the very end, as an appendix. They do not get page numbers, even if Acknowledgements did.
Forward: The forward is written by someone other than the author. It isn’t common in fiction, unless the book is a reprint of a classic, a translation, a collection of short stories, or a special edition. The Forward always begins on the right hand page. The Forward receives a page number in lower case Roman numerals.
Introduction: The introduction is written by the author, and usually only appears in fiction for the same reasons as the Forward. The Introduction always begins on the right hand page. The Introduction continues page numbering with lower case Roman numerals.
Half Title Page Again: Yep. Again. Now, if you have a Table of Contents, a Forward, and an Introduction, I can see including this. It also makes sense if you include Acknowledgements together with Maps. It tells the reader that on the next page, she will plunge into the book proper. It serves much as the opening of the curtain to start the play after the overture has concluded.
But for some odd reason, I see it in fiction books that don’t have sections between Acknowledgements and Chapter One, Page One. There is no rhyme or reason to this page, even within the same series, so feel free to include it or discard it. It does not get a page number.
Chapter One, Page One: The book proper. The first page of the first chapter always starts on the right hand page. It is always Page 1, in Arabic numerals. The number is always assigned. Whether it appears or not is up to you. In either case, the following page is page number 2, and that number is visible.
Until about thirty years ago, it was standard practice for every chapter to begin on the right hand page, with an odd page number. That has fallen aside now, and for good reason. The result was too many blank pages between chapters. Nowadays, chapters begin where chapters begin, even if it is on the left side of the book with an even numbered page.
If you include a Prologue, it will be Page 1. In that case, the first page of the actual Chapter One gets whatever page number it gets.
Blank Pages: You may find yourself with a needed blank page in the book somewhere. If you do, then do not leave it blank. Even the page number won’t be enough. The printer will see that blank page as an error, and kick the book back to you. So, put something on that page, such as three pound signs. Get fancy with dingbats. You could type “This page left intentionally blank,” but that looks cheesy.
Appendix: This is for a glossary of words, such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elvish, maps if not included at the front of the book, and other information the reader may need to understand your book. It is used mostly by writers of fantasy and science fiction. The page numbering is the same as the regular chapters.
Afterward: This is for information the author thinks is important, but not important enough to warrant an Introduction. It is totally archaic now, as most writers have blogs and websites where they can discuss things like this to their hearts’ content. You may have a need for it, so if you do, it goes here. It begins on the right hand page, and numbering is a continuation of the previous section.
Deliberately Blank Last Page: This is different from the Blank Pages mentioned above. This is the very last page of the book. It must be left totally blank. Don’t even give it a page number. This goes for the page and the backside. It is a blank sheet. I’m not sure why it has to be there. Something to do with printing. If you do not include it, Lulu or CreateSpace will kick the book back to you and tell you to fix it.
Page Count: The total number of pages, from Half Title to Deliberately Blank, must be divisible by four. In other words, 340 pages or 344 pages, not 342. If it is not, the printer will insert additional pages to reach that number. If he does, your cost will rise slightly. So, keep this in mind. If your page count isn’t divisible by four, then add the extra pages yourself so you have a firm idea of cost.
I hope this guide of formatting standards helped. If you notice something I omitted, please leave a comment so I can add it. If you have questions, please feel free to leave a comment. I will do my best to answer you.