Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Absolute Nightmare (or not!) of Formatting a Print Book: Part 6 of Why Self-Publishing Is Better Than You Think

Some fellow writers of mine have generously shared their knowledge and experience of formatting their books for print and have granted me permission to post their information here. They will, or have already, posted this information on their blogs.

This is a lot of information, I know, but if you are thinking of self-publishing a print version of your book, I recommend you read every word. Next week we will talk about ebook formatting!

Tomorrow I will post my own step-by-step guide to self-publish your print book using CreateSpace.

Katie Salidas
book layout

The Book Layout.

A Do-it-yourself self-publishers worst nightmare but a necessary evil.

What is a book layout? The layout is the internal formatting of your book; everything from the Title to About the Author.

Go grab a book off of your nearest bookshelf and take a look at it. Notice how the headers alternate between pages? Notice how the page numbers are spaced? Notice the different fonts used? Notice how chapter pages lack both page numbers and headers? Notice that nifty extra-large capital letter at the beginning of the first chapter paragraph? These are just a few of the things that need to be set up during the layout stage of book design.

As a self-publisher you are already fighting an uphill battle. Though your book might be the next Twilight or Mockingjay, it will already start off with a stigma because you self-published it. Things are changing in the publishing world self-publishing or Indie publishing are becoming much more mainstream, however they still have not garnered the prestige of their traditionally published counterparts. What that means for you, the self-published author, is that you must do that much more to make sure your book is indistinguishable, in quality, from others on the bookshelf.

To really nail down what your book should look like inside, you need to look at its peers. Take 10 or so traditionally published books from your genre and go through them with a fine tooth comb. Note the standards in their layout so you can try to mimic them.

So, now that you know what a book should look like, how do you recreate it?

On paper it sounds pretty easy. Change a few fonts here, create some page breaks there, and add in a few page numbers the poof, a bright shiny new book!

Once you actually try to duplicate what you see in printed books, you find out how difficult it can be.

While word is great for general word processing, it can be very difficult to use when formatting books. Trying to get page numbers to show up on some pages but not others will provide a bit of a challenge. Same goes for alternating headers that only appear within chapters but not on title pages, acknowledgement pages, about the author pages, or copyright pages. Drop Caps doesn’t ever work as it was intended and usually adds extra spacing to your lines. In short, it creates a lot of headaches.

Even though it is a headache, book layout can be done in word. It is, however, going to be a frustrating and time consuming process. Be prepared for long hours. For the do-it-yourself publisher, this is going to be your cheapest option.

There are some other alternatives if you just don’t want to deal with the added stress. For those choosing to use a service, I believe Lulu, CreateSpace, and many others offer layout and design as part of their packages. You can also hire out for this too. There are many companies out there who specialize in layout (This will cost you some money. Around $200-$400).

There are also many programs the pro’s use (Quark and InDesign come to mind). They are available for anyone to purchase and use but they will cost you a pretty penny. I was lucky enough to stumble across a program that works within Word. I found it on and it was quite helpful and only cost around $40.
Book Design Wizard 2.0
What this program does is standardize things for you via VBA coded templates. You answer some questions about your book and plug in your layout desires, (e.g. what fonts to use for chapter headings, title pages, etc…) and it creates a template for you to work within.

I found it to be extremely helpful. It still took me about three days to get the book layout exactly as I wanted it. For the do-it-yourselfer, this is probably the best happy medium you will find.

I’m sure this is not the only program of its kind out there, do a Google search for book layout templates and programs. If you don’t like this on, you can probably find plenty to suit your needs.

Jamie DeBree
formatting for print (overview)

Formatting the print version is the most daunting thing I faced when I decided to self-publish Tempest. I was fairly certain I could do okay with the ebook, but print is a whole 'nuther thing. With print, you have to worry about margins, typeface, widows & orphans (which honestly, I didn't), spacing of letters, chapter headings, page headers, and all within the context of the size of book you want to print. And that's not counting the cover formatting. I know it's all overwhelming – believe me, I looked at it and asked, "why am I doing this again?" But when you get right down to it, the hardest thing is changing straight quotes (like you see in this blog) to curly quotes (pick up your favorite book). Everything else is fairly easy once you make friends with the formatting tags in your favorite word processor.

I should point out that you don't have to do this yourself. You can pay someone to format your book for a hundred dollars or so (which, if you really don't have time or want to mess with it, is a reasonable price). But the less you spend at the outset, the more money goes into your pocket from sales, so I'd urge you to at least give it a try first. Like most things, it looks a whole lot harder from the outside than it really is.

I have a wonderful cover artist – Heidi Sutherlin of Creative Pursuits – who does all my covers and artwork for me. So for my cover, I just had to give her a copy of the book, character descriptions, a back cover blurb and the template for the cover. CreateSpace (which is the only print-on-demand company I have experience with) provides a cover template when you put in the number of pages, width and height of your book. I sent that to Heidi, and she turned it into art. Just like magic.

For the interior formatting, I did a search of the CreateSpace community forums, and found that someone was offering CS members free templates and an abbreviated formatting guide. The formatting guide was only semi-useful to me because I'm just not all that familiar with the ins and outs of word processing programs. The template was my savior though – I turned on the formatting guides (all those little symbols that tell you where paragraphs and line breaks are), and basically just cut and pasted each chapter of Tempest into the template. The margins must be set to mirrored, and you'll want to play with the headers for page numbers, title and name. I kept things very simple – no fancy fonts (I used Times New Roman, which is the mark of an amateur or so I'm told, but I prefer it to most fonts I see), just basic italics, single line spacing, and first line indents (use the ruler bar to set indents – don't use tabs). Personally, I kept it very basic, and aside from my little chapter-flipping incident, it worked pretty well. Do a search for book formatting, and book formatting templates, and I'm sure you'll find what you need. I'm not linking to the one I used simply because it was/is meant for CS members – but if you go search that community, you'll find it. I don't think it would hurt to do some playing with whatever word processing program you have too (I use Open Office for final formatting). That's really what took me the longest – just finding my way around my own program.

It also took me nearly an entire day to switch my straight quotes to curly quotes. The instructions are all over the internet, and they all sound super-easy. They're a pain in the butt. My advice here would be to do everything else first, then make a copy of your file to use for your ebooks before you switch the quotes. On Smashwords, straight quotes convert better – the curlies will show up on the newer ereaders and programs, but they return to code on older models. It's not pretty. Just say no to curly quotes on Smashwords.

One thing I did do, and not just because Tempest is a novella - I used a full 12 point font. I figure people buying print will appreciate a slightly larger than normal font to make reading easier on the eyes. I don't think I'd go larger than that, but I do like the way it looks on the page. Most print on demand trade paperbacks will be at least a little larger than the average mass market paperback, which makes it easier to get away with large fonts not actually looking "large".

You'll also need to add "front matter" – title page, copyright page, acknowledgments and dedication if you have one. In the back, don't forget an author bio with contact information, and a blurb for your next book. Maybe even an excerpt to get people hooked early? Don't beat yourself up worrying about how these are formatted. Just do what I did - go grab a book in your genre off the shelf, and copy the format as you're creating your own pages. Simple as that.

CS accepts only PDF files for uploading, so your final cover art and interior files will both need to be in that format. Open Office has a pdf creator included, or you can do a web search for "convert to pdf" and find a ton of free utilities. Once you have your two files ready, you upload them and wait for CS to "approve" them, and then you can order your proof copy to check.

I had to fix my files after the first proof got here – and from what I hear, that's not uncommon. So be prepared for the book not to come out perfect the first least not on the first one you do. If you're impatient or in a hurry (like I was), it will cost you. My book at cost is around $3.00 – but I paid $30 for each proof copy to have it shipped 2 day air. This is one of the reasons I recommend you give yourself a month to 6 weeks for producing a print copy. Buy yourself some breathing room for the less expensive shipping options for proof and sales copies.

And that's it. I apologize for not adding more links, but the information is all over in many different forms, and what appeals to me as far as instructions go may well not appeal to you. Google is your friend. A little research goes a long way with formatting guides and templates. You can always ask a friend too – most indie authors are more than happy to help when they can.

And as I said before, if you don't have time, or just don't want to tackle it – hire someone. The whole "money always flows toward the author" thing is silly when you think of it in light of a business. Every business requires some initial cash outlay, and writing is no different. In traditional publishing, the author pays for it by taking only a percentage of the profits, and only after the advance pays out (if it does). In self-publishing, it's an up-front cost, rather than hidden. But it's there, either way, so don't shy away from hiring someone if you need to. It's a business decision, plain and simple.

Why Self-Publishing Is Better Than You Think Series

Do You Want to Jump the Fence? - August 26th
The Vase - September 1st
What Going Indie Will Cost You - September 8th
Whither The Author-Artiste? - September 9th
Influences & Self-Publishing Might Just Stink For You - September 16th
The Absolute Nightmare (or not!) of Formatting a Print Book - September 22nd
Cheaper Than Kinko's - September 23rd 
Don't Listen to Me - September 30th


  1. Both are great articles and make me feel slightly more confident in DIY'ing it. I have to say (and I have already told Jamie this) that Tempest was formatted very well. I was quite impressed with my copy :) Now to get through this pesky work week so I can go read it!

    Well done ladies!

  2. This is giving me flashbacks to my masters thesis which had to be formatted as if for publication and including illustrations and charts. Not the pleasant kind of flashbacks to when I was twelve and eating ice cream on the prairie, either. The other kind of flashbacks, like to when I was twelve and the dragon over took me on the prairie and ate my ate off just to get at my ice cream.

    Hats off to those who make it work and are willing to go back for more!

  3. I'm bookmarking this because I'm thinking of doing a print version of my book.

  4. Thank you for all of this information, Michelle, Katie, and Jamie. I know I will be coming back to this post in the future when I am going through my own formatting. I think it's a good idea to look at other books, but at the same time one of the benefits of self-publishing is really to strike out on your own. I think writers should dare to be different as well.

  5. Yeah, there's a ton of work that goes into formatting a professionally-published book. Someone looks at every paragraph to see how the spacing is on each line, and you have to be aware of things like widows, orphans, kerning to fix line spacing issues, word breaks and stacked hyphens, leading between lines, gutter size, margins, and any number of things. But the main point is, I think, that you have to look at every single page you've laid out; you can't just set up a template, dump the text and run.

  6. I hope the info helps...and I'm glad Katie had that link to - that program was my "plan B", though I don't have MS Word which is why I decided to just dive in on my own.

    Scott, I learned the whole "you must check every page" the hard way. My first files had chapter 6 & 7 swapped because I was tired and lazy and scanned through instead of checking carefully. Live and learn...I won't be rushing the process again. ;-)

  7. This is great -- it's exactly the question I've been dealing with in the last couple of days. I wrote to a couple of folks who do design for hire to get estimates. I didn't budget enough money or TIME for the professionals. As Jamie says, it's important not to rush yourself.

    I set an October deadline for my anthology, and I think I can make that, but it's going to take a lot of hard work on my part. The last thing I wanted to do is formatting. Really. I dreaded it. But I've been looking into my options for doing it myself. Especially if I want to do more than one book -- and I think I do -- I need to learn this.

    I had one nice surprise. It turns out that InDesign is part of CS3, which I have because I use Photoshop and Dreamweaver. I wasn't ready to shell out the money for InDesign, but since I have it already, I fell it is worth it for me to learn the basics of using it. I've never used it before, so I'm worried about how steep the learning curve will be, but nothing ventured nothing gained.

  8. When I personally printed and bound one of my own novels, I actually loved the process of formatting it. It was a little tricky, but I suppose I like getting down to the nitty-gritty of detail.

    I will likely hand bind a version of Story for a Shipwright, and I'm sure it will be a whole lot easier with the wealth of information you just shared, thanks!

  9. How did you format it, jbchicoine? Did you use Word or another program?

  10. Thanks, everyone, for stopping by here today! Formatting seems like such a dry, boring subject...haha, but I find it absolutely fun and fascinating. I'm strange like that!

    If anyone has any questions, please let me know. I'm more than happy to help individuals out with formatting issues. Tomorrow I'll be showing the process I used for Cinders

  11. Tara, I used MS Word, and printed 2 pages per side of 8 1/2 x 11.

    For my next project, I came across this Freeware that I'm just dying to try out:

  12. I've found that the more complicated software you use, the more complicated the process, but that's just me. Word has worked just fine for everything I've needed to format.

  13. For the purposes of self-publishing, I think MS Word would work fine for formatting--no doubt.

    When one actually prints up their own sigatures, it's a bit different. But that's a whole 'nother animal...didn't mean to throw a monkey wrench into the discussion...

  14. That's no monkey wrench. :) I think you're right about signatures

  15. Prolonged, detailed formatting gives me motion sickness. I'm not joking, I swear.

  16. When I finally decide to self-publish an anthology of novellas or shorts, I will probably be in touch, Michelle. :)

    Maybe also to shoot a cover...

  17. I'm always happy to help a friend with such fun writerly things! I love formatting books. I'm nuts!

  18. I think it's more nuts to get motion sickness from it. :)

  19. Nevets mentions flashbacks to his master's thesis. I fortunately did my dissertation with LaTeX which meant that as long as I used the Universities template file everything fit perfectly. Easy Peasy. I liked that route and use it for submitting stories in manuscript form. However, it probably requires someone with a hard-core CompSci background to be interested in this route.


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