Book Formatting – Should you do it on your own or hire help?
The importance of interior book layout
*Updated and republished 8/10/23
This post will cover book formatting, interior book layout and design basic information, provide a list of people we have worked with and recommend, provide tools you can use for formatting your book, and for those of you who want to do it on your own, some tips for formatting your book.
Interior book layout and design, also known as typesetting, book formatting, book design, etc, is a crucial part of having a professionally published book. You can absolutely layout the interior of your book on your own, but I never recommend this for a first-time author, unless you’re a trained graphic designer. There are many subtleties that come along with designing the interior of a book, and it can be quite time-consuming for a beginner. It took me almost 60 hours to format my first book, and I made a LOT of mistakes!
Proper book formatting can make a difference in book sales
Good layout and design of your book is an essential element of the process and can truly make a difference in the quality of the book you publish. Because of this, I highly encourage you to seek out a professional to design your book. You’ve spent a lot of time creating this book – and you want it to look amazing.
Many people worry about the costs associated with formatting. I recently spoke with an author who had a quote for almost $2000 for interior layout and cover design, and her book is only 25,000 words. I want to say right now that that cost is RIDICULOUS. Yes, you should budget at least $1000 for a good cover, interior layout, and ebook conversion. However, if your book is a simple design, you can use some tools, like Vellum, to help you produce a great book.
On the topic of price – pricing will vary greatly from company to company. It’s going to depend on the complexity of your layout and other factors. But you should be able to get a great product for between $100-$600. If you have a super complex book – like a cookbook or a complex children’s book, or one that requires indexing, the price can go up. I recommend you get quotes from several places, look at their portfolio, etc.
We love to work with these book formatters:
Formatted Books (all types of books, including specialty books like cookbooks). You can listen to a podcast episode I recently recorded with them all about their company, what they do, and why having a professional formatter is so important. Listen here.
Amit Dey – email him at email@example.com
Melissa Williams Design: https://mwbookdesign.com/
Tamara Dever: TLC Designs: https://tlcbookdesign.com/services/
Melinda Martin: https://melindamartin.me/services/
Children’s books formatting – Get Your Book Illustrations – https://getyourbookillustrations.com/
You can also check other freelance sites like Fiverr and Upwork, etc, but make sure they really understand industry standards. Make sure you look at their portfolio and get examples from them. You will have to be the creative director for these projects – IE, you will have to tell them all of the key elements – font, font size, placement of text, kerning, headers, footers, etc, so you’ll want to make sure you know what goes where and why.
Download the Industry Standards Checklist from the Independent Book Publishers Association so you know what you need to know when working with a designer.
However, if you insist on going it on your own, here are some tips for making sure you’re following basic industry standards.
Self-Publishing Assist Companies that provide A La Carte services
There are also MANY companies that are full service self-publishing assist but also offer services like formatting and covers as a la carte. The companies we know and have worked with are:
These can be a one-stop shop for everything from editing to publishing, or you can get individual services.
DIY Book Formatting and Layout Guidelines
Some people just insist on doing the book formatting on their own. That’s fine, as long as you know what you’re doing. It’s so sad to order a book only to find out the inside looks terrible! So, things to know. You CAN do basic formatting in Word. That’s how I started. I no longer recommend that. There are too many hidden html factors in Word, and unless you know word backwards and forwards, many things can easily get messed up. It took me so long to do my first book in Word, and it still had errors. You can also use Open Office, Pages, and InDesign. If you’re going to design on your own, I recommend learning InDesign as it has the best features for making sure you have a great book with no formatting issues.
And finally, the last thing you want is to load your final PDF, that you’ve worked so hard on, only to have it rejected.
For those of you who want to give it a go on your own and don’t want to learn the intricacies of InDesign or another tool, I also recommend Vellum. (I would recommend for fiction books, memoirs, and simple nonfiction (ie, no charts, graphs, pullouts, sidebars, etc) but not for anything with a complicated interior – ie, children’s books, cookbooks, anything with something other than text.) In truth, I have never formatted a full book with Vellum, however, I have downloaded their trial and played around with it, and for a simple layout, it seems to be a good resource. A full license runs about $300 at the time of this writing.
Because I want to help the DIY’ers in the crowd save time and energy, I’ve put together a list of tips that I learned over the years of formatting books, before I went ahead and started hiring others to do it for me. 🙂
Be consistent! It doesn’t matter where your page numbers are or what type of chapter heading you use, but they all need to be exactly the same. Same with margins, font size, line spacing, and so forth.
Do not just “guess” with spacing issues. Center using the “center” icon, justify everything and set your fonts/headings formatting tools so that all of them are identical.
To start a new page, use the Insert Page Break or New Page. Do NOT just hit the return key.
This is the space between the text and the edge of the printed page. They should be no less than .5 -.8″ on all sides, and will obviously be largest in the spine (interior margin). You should be able to find the margins settings under Page Setup or Page Layout in MS Word.
Generally, all first paragraphs are indented with a .25″ tab. Set your tab size and apply to the whole document so that it’s consistent. Your lines should be spaced at a minimum of 1.15 or 1.5 so that it’s not difficult to read. Single spacing is difficult to read. You can change the line spacing under Paragraph.
Fonts & Size
Serif fonts are easier to read that sans-serif. Pick a body font and use it consistently through all body parts of the book. Garamond, Palatino, Century, and Times Roman are good fonts. For headers it’s good to pick a font that complements the body text and sans serif is fine in this case. Matching the fonts from your book cover with your headers is a nice touch.
Let’s talk about Trim Size quickly.
Trim size is described as width by height in inches. Most standard books are 6″ x 9″ of 5″ x 9″ and it’s crucial that your text document is set to match the selected trim size. To do this, you can change the page size of your document under Page Setup or Page Layout. It is automatically set to the default paper size, but you’ll change it to match your trim size and be sure to choose the option Apply to Whole Document.
You should not include page numbers on front matter, back matter, blank pages, and the first page of each chapter, although this is often a preference. Definitely not on blank pages.
Front matter includes all pages leading up to page one of your book.
Title page, copyright page, acknowledgments and dedication, foreword, preface, introduction, table of contents, and any blank pages.
Back matter is anything included after the conclusion of the book.
Afterward, about the author, bibliography, index, glossary, etc.
Headers / Footers
Book title, chapter title, or author name can be included at the top of each page. Numbers can be included in the header or footer. The header/footer text needs to be at least 0.25” from the edge of the page, so you should make sure the text margin is at least 0.5″ or even more to ensure space for header and footer and still give enough room. Use a font that compliments the body text but is 2pt smaller.
Use page break or Next Page, not the enter key between chapters. Start chapters consistently with a larger, bolded font for the chapter heading. The heading can be centered or left aligned, and generally a couple lines down from the top. Decide if you’re going to make the first letter or few words of the first paragraph to look different. You can use a drop cap, indentation, capitalization, or even in bold. The first chapter of the book should always show up on the right-hand side of the book (an odd numbered page, but has no number on it).
Important items to always include:
Title page including the book title and author and can include the publisher name.
Copyright page – set up to print on the back of the title page.
You can include a blank sheet before the title page (remember this is two blank pages in Word) so that the title page shows up on the right side.
What else should you know?
Here are some sample interiors of books we have done: