How to format a self-published book
Get your manuscript in perfect shape to ensure your finished self-published book impresses readers.
When preparing your self-published book for printing, your chosen printer will be able to advise on file types and the format required. Some self-publishing services will handle all of it for you. But there are some elements that printers won’t think to mention – especially if you’re giving them finished pdfs to go straight onto the press – but which can make all the difference to achieving a professional look for your book. Some of these points might seem pernickety, but it doesn’t hurt to get as much of your presentation right as possible... and it can surprise self-publishing authors how many readers notice the little details.
To give us a reasonable starting point, let’s assume you have a finished manuscript. You’ve redrafted, edited and proof-read, but you’re still not ready to send your files off just yet. What’s next?
Before you start - get your font, text and punctuation in order
Unless you have rigorously followed formatting templates and your stylesheet while writing, there’s a strong chance your text is not all in the same type and style. There’s also a strong chance that the layout you wrote in is not quite right as a layout for reading as a book.
• Get all your text into the same font and point size. (See Text and typeface)
• Remove double returns between paragraphs, unless you are indicating a significant scene change.
• Remove double spaces after full stops. This is easy enough using ‘Find and replace’ on your word-processing software. Simply find ‘ ’ (ie space space) and replace with ‘ ’ (space). Repeat to ensure you catch triple and quadruple spaces.
• Remove tabs. Use the formatting pallette to indent the first line of each paragraph except the first of each chapter, which should be flush left, on your universal template.
Whichever word-processing software you are using, it is far easier to create a template for the entire document than to attempt to format each page manually. Bear in mind that your left-hand and right-hand pages are different, so it is best, depending on your software, to create either two templates (one for even-numbered pages, one for odd) or a single double page spread.
Set up a template for your self-published book pages
Usual elements are:
• Margins: leave a comfortable margin around all your text, and don’t try to scrimp on pages by decreasing it. The norm is around 1.5cm on the outside edge and 2-2.5cm towards the gutter (where the two pages of a spread meet at the spine). The top and bottom margins should be slightly larger, especially when allowing for running headers and footers.
• A running header: at the top of each page, it is common (but not absolutely essential) to include a running header. The usual format in fiction for the author’s name to be on the left-hand page (even numbers) and title to be on the right-hand page. For non-fiction, you might prefer to put the book’s title on the left and the current chapter title on the right.
• Page numbers: set a universal footer to automatically add page numbers to your document. Usual locations are at the bottom left (even pages) and right (odd), just within the margins, or centred. Start your page numbering at p1, for the first page of the first chapter (see Pagination, below)
Setting the text and choosing a typeface for your self-published bookFor anything other than large print, children’s books or captions, use a serif font. You might find the likes of Times New Roman and Arial too familiar, but avoid using any distracting typeface. Readers are here for your words, not the pretty letters. Standard size is 10 or 11 point, though somewhat dependant on your chosen font. 12pt is probably too large; 9pt too small.
• Justify all body text.
• Indent all first lines of paragraphs except the first of a chapter, which should be left-aligned.
• Consider hyphenation and line-ends. Don’t let Word or any other programme dictate your hyphenation for you. Choose to insert the correct hypens yourself, or insert a soft return to carry incomplete words onto the next line
• Ensure to use smart quotes.
• Italicise titles of works or for emphasis – don’t underline.
• Kern text in or out to remove orphans and widows, single words hanging over on their own onto new lines or pages
PaginationAlthough some of the traditional front matter may seem superfluous these days, readers still expect to see it. Don’t include your front matter in your page numbering, just add blank pages to be formatted individually.
Following your card cover, your first pages should include, in this order:
• a title page (right hand)
• blank (left)
• full title, author name, publisher name, logo and location (right)
• copyright notice, publisher address, ISBN, edition number, registration details, ‘All rights reserved’, credits (left)
• dedication/epigraph, table of contents or blank (right)
All of the above should be horizontally centred on the page.
Following these, you may want to include a Foreword, Preface and Acknowledgements, each of which should start on a right-hand page.
For the remainder of your text, begin each new chapter on a right-hand page. If one chapter ends on a left, the next can begin on the following page, but if one ends on a right-hand page, leave the left-hand page blank facing your new chapter. Chapter number and/or title should be in large font in the top third of the page, leaving a comfortable gap before the chapter proper begins – all of this in the same location for each chapter.
Design a cover for your self-published bookWhen preparing your cover, you will want to supply a single file incorporating the front and back pages, with a spine of the appropriate size.
Make sure to include:
• Bleed. Don’t create a file the size of the cover. Add bleed (extra space at the edges), where your background colour or image flows over the proposed edges, to allow for slight variations in the cropping process of the finished book.
• Spine. Your printer should be able to advise, given an estimated pagination, how thick the spine should be. The spine should include your title and author name, running downwards, not up, and publisher name or logo.
• ISBN, barcode (on a white background) and RRP should all be included on the back, usually in a single panel on a white background.
Now that your manuscript is all in shape, you can export to pdf, ensuring the pdfs are correctly numbered following your front matter (the pdf page numbers might not match the intended print page numbers) and send them off to your printer. Before you do:
Finishing off - get ready to send your file to the printers
• double check everything. Are all pages in the correct order? Are all fonts displaying correctly
• proofread it (yes, again), and prepare for a final read-through of the first printed proof before giving the printer the final go-ahead.
• sit back with a deserved cup of tea and as strong a sense of fulfilment as when you typed “The End” all those months ago.