Formatting the Interior of Your Paperback Novel

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So you want to be an indie publisher? You’re tired of getting rejection letters for a story that needs to be told? Assuming you have had it looked over by a professional editor, read through it a dozen times looking for typos (including using the search bar to find common errors), the next thing you need is a solid interior file.

A good interior file is key to providing a positive reader experience. Ideally, they will never notice all of the hard work that you put in, and that is what you want. What you don’t want is ragged text on either edge, weird page numbering, or chapter breaks in the middle of the page. This will annoy the readers, and suck them out of your awesome story.

It is Essential to Have the Book Edited

After you start on page formatting, you will not want to be going through to make changes. Trust me on this. You can always go through and do minor revisions to your galley proof, but making big changes after the book is blocked up causes a ton of headaches. You can’t just add or delete a chapter wherever. Doing so throws the whole project off.


Because if the page count changes, it screws up everything else, from the cover art to the cost estimates to the ISBN and metadata. (The ISBN won’t change, but Bowker lists how many pages the book is, and that means one more annoying little detail to fix)

So make sure that the book is edited solidly before you start.

Whether Word or LibreOffice

I’m not going to comment on Adobe or Scrivener, as I haven’t worked with them, and I don’t know their process, but I imagine it’s much of the same. Since most of us work with word processors, I’ll focus on those. First thing is first, learn what a page style is, and how to use them. This is only slightly different between MS Office and Open Office (now called LibreOffice). You will save yourself a ton of headaches if you know how to use page styles and which ones you will need.

By the way, the bare minimum for novels is three styles. I use a few more, which are:

  • Default – No headers/footers for front matter and back matter
  • Blank left – like default but specifically left pages
  • Blank right – same thing
  • Chapter – I put all my chapter headings on the right page, or you could do Chapter Right and Chapter Left if you want to mix it up. You don’t want a header on chapter pages.

That’s it, for fiction. Nonfiction books tend to use page headers for assisted indexing purposes. When I wrote Finish the Damn Book, it was a nightmare to get them set up. I had to make two new page styles for each chapter. Talk about a pain in the ass, but if you want it done right…

Now You Want To Set Up Your Margins

It’s important to note here, that each page should have the same amount of letter space. Left hand pages are offset to the left (even numbers) and right hand pages (odd numbers) to the right. It should go without saying, but people still manage to fuck this up. They should mirror each other, and if you have any significant page count, which you do, you need to make sure there is enough room where the pages come together.

The inside of the pages, where they are bound to the spine, is called the gutter. 0.75 inches (19mm) is the minimum. Don’t think about it, just take my word for it. If you are going over 200 pages, then you might consider cutting it a little wider. Over 300 pages, you definitely need to toss a few more millimeters on.

There are also border restrictions based on the printer, so check with Ingram or CreateSpace or whoever for the specs. 1/2 inch around the page is generally acceptable, and I believe most printers will let you get away with a bit more. 1/2 inch is plenty for most books, though smaller formats (5×8 or smaller) might benefit from narrower margins.

So, to be clear, 1/2 inch around the page, except for the gutter edge, which should be at least 3/4 inch. Good?


The Headaches…

can generally be eliminated by setting up your formats properly. Make sure a left page follows every right page and vice versa. If you have to change styles, use the manual break, and tell it that you want to use a new style. Don’t go double clicking on the styles toolbar, bad things happen. On most word processors, use the big menu at the top, find insert, and select manual break. You should be allowed to choose some options from a pop-up window, such as “change page number” or “new style.”

Left pages have your author name and right pages have the title. You can swap these if you want, but don’t get carried away. If your styles have been set up, all you have to do is go to a page of that style and add a header. Type in the information you want displayed, and it should populate every page of that style. Don’t put headers on your chapter breaks! It’s annoying, and it looks dumb.

If you want page numbers at the top (these are usually found in the insert menu), it’s a good idea to use left and right align, and then place your page heading text with tabs. It sounds like a no-no, but you can stay fairly centered. There’s another way to make sure that your title or name are centered on the page, but it involves gaming the paragraph settings in the header, and I’m not even sure that every program can do that. Tabs work well enough. I see a lot of books where the headings are aligned next to the page number as well. There’s no rule that they have to be centered.

You can also safe a lot of headaches by putting your page numbers in a footer instead 😉 But again, even if you center the page numbers, this should be done specifically on each and every page style that you need numbers on. If you have bottom centered page numbers, and omit them on your chapter breaks, then you should probably put a footer down there anyway to keep your manuscript text from having a long drift on certain pages.

The First Line of Your Chapter

This line is usually accessorized in some way. As if starting a new chapter by moving your text halfway down the page and sticking an over sized number above it wasn’t enough to tell the reader, “Hey, I’m starting a new chapter right here, okay?”

There are a billion ways to do this. The classic was is by injecting a large monogram. Doing this is going to cause you a couple of headaches, and you need to be really familiar with how your processor is anchoring images. It shouldn’t be a problem, but sometimes it is. The image needs to be in-line, I think, with the text, and vertically aligned properly as well, depending on the effect that you want. I generally don’t fuck with monograms.

ANOTHER METHOD IS TO put the first word, or phrase, or line, or whatever you decide in uppercase. This is the one place in the universe where you are allowed to use all caps. Easy peasy, and translates well to ebooks (a headache all its own).

My personal favorite at the moment is to change the point-size and/or font of the first letter. If I start with a quotation, then I’ll adjust it too. This can be as simple as bolding the first letter of the text, or as complicated as doing a bold-italic kerned fancy font with a 16-24 point font. Go nuts, it’s your book, just make sure the artistic touch matches the genre.

Line Breaks

Three little stars (***) make a good break on a manuscript, and it’s not annoying to see that in print. At least, I’m not annoyed when I see it. Hell, I’m happy if there’s an extra space before I hop into someone else’s head. The key here is consistency. You will find quite a few cute symbols in font faces like wing-dings, or you can make your own vector-format symbol if you have the experience. You can use a straight line of some sort. You can use a curly image. Whatever you do, make certain that there are plenty of pixels in there (this is why vector format is recommended). If it isn’t at least 300 pixels per inch of page space, then it’s going to look like shit. You’ve been warned.

While I’m on ppi and fonts, I want to bring up two little issues.

It costs VERY LITTLE change in the file-size to go from a 300dpi PDF file (your export that goes to the printer) to 600dpi. Use 600dpi. Even if they aren’t printing at that resolution, it’s good practice. Let the printing machine be the limiting factor.

Fonts. You might not care, you might not want to deal with it, but technically if you are using a font without permission on a work that you are trying to sell, you’re violating the copyright for the font. It’s intellectual property. I don’t think Microsoft has sued any authors for using their fonts, but it could, theoretically happen. Find some good true-type fonts that have a CC0 license, or buy a nice interior font. There are so many good ones out there that it is hard to go wrong. Also, doing some font shopping isn’t going to hurt you, and it can help you find the perfect title font that isn’t in the MS catalog. A good Garamond or Bookman works well for reading, and there are dozens of other ones. Whatever you use for your headers, page numbers, title, etc.—that’s your business, but make you actual text a nice, readable serif font. Your readers will thank…actually, they probably won’t notice, but that’s the goal. You definitely don’t want them to NOTICE your font, lol.

Blank Pages

Add them. I like to include at least one blank sheet at the end of the book, for numerous reasons. I used to bind my own books, and the lack of end paper in modern texts annoys the hell out of me. One practical upshot, is that blank pages allow you room to add extra promotional material later on if you do another revision, without drastically changing the book. Pages have a thickness, and adding or subtracting them means that the cover dimensions are going to change. That extra page at the end also allows the printer to put their little “Made in the USA” barcode bullshit in there. They’ll probably add a page for that anyway, but you know. Have some end paper.

Title and Copyright Pages

These need to be in the front of the book, and there are a million ways to do it. Leave some space somewhere for signatures (another blank page if you like), but have a title page.

For copyright info, this is what I do:

  • I put the publisher name, which I registered for the ISBNs
  • I put my sweet-ass gecko logo that took hours to make
  • I write “Copyright 2017 by Martin McConnell”
  • I list the ISBN(‘s) for the book

Usually under the copyright notice, I put my signature copyright notice:

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles or reviews—without the express written permission of its author or publisher.

Then, usually after the ISBNs, I write:

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Something like that. Then I list contributers and their websites below. In my case, my cover artist Austin Dellamano.

Go to the bookstore and look at copyright pages. Get an idea, and make sure that it looks good and is in line with your requirements for the book. My non-fiction has a very different copyright page.

I think that’s all the important shit. I wanted to drone on about the golden ratio and some other historical context about making books, but this post is way too long already, so I’m going to crop it right here. That should be enough for you to mull over when you are thinking about interior formatting. Hope it was educational. Till next week, I love you all and I love comments too, so leave me one and let me know what you thought, or include another insight that I may have missed about book formatting.


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Author: spottedgeckgo

Writer. Making my living on my pen, and working to turn a raw chunk of land into a future homestead.

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