Because of the printing and formatting details discussed in the first part of this series, I made several judgment calls for my own books’ setup:

1. I changed the trim sizes from the original 6″ x 9″ to 5.25″ x 8″. I think the smaller size is more fitting for a paperback book. It’s also more practical and easier to hold/carry around.

2. I changed all the covers. This was both for aesthetic reasons, and more practical ones, since my old covers didn’t always print very well, and I couldn’t afford to do seven iterations of each (the way I had done with CreateSpace) to get it right.

3. I updated the interior formatting (a necessity because of the smaller trim size), spruced up the chapter headings, and made the fonts smaller to cut down on page count, and thus printing costs and unit price.

4. I set my prices low enough to be attractive but not net me negative royalties. Going along with this, I also set my books as non-returnable, because that would definitely have bankrupted me. More on this later, if there’s time.

This post deals with the technical aspects of formatting a book interior. It’s a lot of information to share, so prepare yourself. I won’t have one for the covers, because there is only one hard and fast rule to stick to there: If you want to stock your book in stores, the book price MUST be printed on the cover as part of the bar code.

Ready? Here we go!

Front Matter

This can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. The basic elements that need to be there are:

  • Licensing/copyright notice
  • ISBN
  • Publishing info
  • Title and author name

You can pretty much copy the layout for this from your favorite books, as it’s usually exactly the same across the board. If you are self-publishing, you might not have all the same information (you might not be a registered business entity, so you won’t have all the technical details and a business address/website) but as long as you have the ISBN and a copyright notice in there, you’re golden.

Beyond that, it’s up to you to add things like…

  • Book list
  • Foreword/Introduction
  • Glossary
  • Acknowledgments
  • Table of Contents
  • Epigraph
  • Dedication

As a general rule, your book doesn’t “start” in this part yet, so there should be no page numbers in the front matter, with the possible exception of the glossary and intro, if they span multiple pages. In that case, those numbers should be roman numerals (usually lower case), and should appear at the bottom of the page, centered, though the placement can be a judgment call.

Some books have another title page after that stuff which officially begins the book itself and is considered page 1, from which the page count begins. Your dedication and epigraph will be part of the book, and counted in the pages, but should not show the actual page number in print. Basically, there should be no headers or footers and no page numbers until the page after your first chapter heading, and that page will not be page 1.

The Book Itself

This is the meat of your content. For fiction books, this generally consists of a number of sections, chapters, and/or short stories. Here is where you will do the bulk of your formatting, and it gets a bit involved, so I broke it down into sections.


You should not have more than 2-3 fonts in your book. The font for the bulk of your text should be a serif font, somewhere in the range of 10pt-12pt in size. Definitely no smaller than 10pt. You should use italics for emphasis, thoughts, etc. Novels rarely use bold fonts, and never bold italics. ALL CAPS can sometimes be used for signs (like street signs, book captions a character is reading, etc.) but only sparingly. Using them for emphasis in dialogue or descriptions is frowned upon, but exceptions do exist. Just don’t go crazy.

You can have another font for your chapter headings, and possibly a third for decorative elements such as dividers and drop caps. Whatever fonts you use, always make sure you have the desktop license for their use, and that all fonts are embedded in your final PDF document. By default, any and all fonts that come pre-installed on your computer come with a desktop license. Anything you find online, you’ll need to check, and potentially pay for.


Line spacing and indents will be a judgment call. You can usually estimate it from examples of other books. The indent should be large enough to comfortably separate a new paragraph, but not so big that it’s an eye sore. Play around with it to see what’s comfortable for you. Line spacing will be tricky, depending on the size of your fonts. If your font is very small, try increasing the line spacing to make it comfortable to read. You’ll also want to make sure that the balance is correct in a page spread, and that both facing pages begin and end at the same level. This is where InDesign is a genius little tool–it makes these settings a breeze to calibrate and apply.

The first paragraph of every chapter, every section, and every scene after a break should be flush left (no indent). This is one thing I didn’t pay close enough attention to in the first set of print books, which I got to fix in this second. Drop caps are also a judgment call. Some books use them, others don’t. They usually only happen at the beginning of each chapter, not necessarily at the beginning of each section.

Justification, Hyphenation, and Widows and Orphans

Left aligned means text will be “grouped” to the left, and end wherever the last whole word of the line fits. This leaves jagged edges on the right side. It’s also the default setting in MS Word, because the program is not intended for creating print layouts. Your book should not be left aligned. All fiction novels should be left justified. That means that the text fills each line from edge to edge, except the last line of a paragraph, which is left aligned.

But because not every line will have the exact same number of characters, this means your text will be squished, expanded, and hyphenated to make it fit more comfortably. In InDesign, you can control these settings so there are no huge gaps or squished text eye sores. You can also control how many hyphenated lines you want to allow in sequence. Usually, this is set to 2 or 3 for aesthetic reasons. You should not, under any circumstance, hyphenate by hand. This will cause all sorts of problems if you change the margins, font size, etc.

Going along with that, sometimes you will end up with last paragraph lines that only have a syllable or two, and pages that only have a line or two before the chapter break. We call these widows and orphans. The idea is to manipulate the text so there are as few of these as possible. If you end up with a page that only has 3 lines, try rearranging the paragraphs of that chapter to move them up, or add more lines to that page. White space is good, but too much of it can be confusing, and it doesn’t look good. A decent rule of thumb is to have at least 8-10 lines on the last page of a chapter.

Breaks: POV, Scene, Chapter, Section

There are always debates around scene breaks and point of view breaks. Some books treat POV breaks as scene breaks with a divider in between. Others just flow one POV into the next seamlessly without a break at all. Again, you might want to check out your favorite books to see how they’re handled. As a general rule, you should not have too many types of “breaks,” and one of them should be the chapter break. As an example, in one of my series, I denoted a POV break with an extra paragraph return and scene breaks with a divider. In another, there are no POV breaks, only a divider for scene breaks.

Unless your book is 900 pages long, every chapter should start on a new page. Depending on your preferences, the heading can be as big and elaborate as you like, but should not take up more than half the page. Remember, print books are priced by page count. The more pages you have, the more expensive it will be to produce, so minimizing white space can be a good thing. Then again, so can a little decoration. It’ll ultimately be up to you. To properly format chapter headings, use the page break function instead of multiple line returns, and set up heading styles (including the space before and after, and any decorative elements) to make them all uniform. You should not be spending more than 2-3 clicks on each individual heading.

Sometimes, books are organized into sections, or there are multiple novellas in one volume. In those cases, I like to treat each section as its own “mini book.” There is a “title page” on the right facing page, and the first chapter after it also begins on the right-facing page. It does cost page space, but in some cases, it’s necessary.

Headers and Footers

The standard for fiction novels is to have the author name, book title, and page numbers in the header, with the page numbers situated in the outside corners, and the author name and book title in the center of their respective facing pages. There is some wiggle room in this. Some authors put the page number in the center of the footer. I’ve even seen them in the center of the outer margins with a decorative element above and below. It can be done, but it might not work for every book. Numbering the outer corner of the footer is usually reserved for magazines, textbooks, etc.

The header and footer should appear on all pages of the body of your novel, with the exception of chapter beginnings, section beginnings, and any pages left deliberately blank (such as the left-facing page after a section header). There should also be enough space between the header/footer and the body of your text so that they are easily distinguishable.

Back Matter

As with the front matter, there are some rules about this section, but much of it is loosie-goosie up to the author’s discretion. Depending on your book, you may (but don’t need to) include things like:

  • Glossaries
  • Author Notes
  • Afterword
  • Preview chapters
  • Book list

Once again, keep your page count in mind, so you’ll know how it’ll affect pricing. Some things might seem like a great idea to include, but if they don’t absolutely have to be there, it might be a better idea to put them on your website and only include a link to them in the book.

You will need to include your author bio somewhere in your book. Usually, it goes either on the cover, or in the back matter. Some authors have a photo to go with it, others prefer not to include one. Most novels are printed in black and white, so if you do use a photo, make sure it will print well in grayscale.

On Bleed, Margins and Gutters

One last note I don’t want to leave out, which may be the most important thing in print layouts, is the bleed. When a book is printed, the pages get cut down to size. This is not a perfect science, and printers reserve a bit of wiggle room in that respect. This is called the bleed, and it’s basically a margin of safety around the edges that you need to keep clear to make sure none of your important text gets cut off.

Some printers (IngramSpark included) gives you the option of submitting a book with the bleed already built in. What this means is you make the template bigger by that miniscule amount. This option is usually for books that have art or illustrations which the author wants to print from edge to edge, without a white border around it. If you don’t have any of that in your book, just do a regular trim size template and make sure to give it good margins.

The margins are white space around the main text of your book. Your novel body, and any headers and footers must fit within these margins. For the best look, all margins should be the same or similar size, and platforms will usually give you a minimum requirement for your trim size.

Gutters are additional padding on either side of the spine. They offset the text a little farther out so it’s comfortable to read. The size of the gutter will depend on your page count and the thickness of the paper used to print your book. Not every platform uses the same, so don’t assume one size will fit all. It usually doesn’t.

That sums up everything I can think of. Got more questions? Post them below. =) My next post should be a lot shorter. The topic will be IngramSpark itself and some of the technicalities involved in working on the platform.

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