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How to DIY Your Book Formatting

FEATURED IMAGE New York Book Editors 6 7 2021 How to DIY Your Book Formatting

Let's talk about DIY book formatting. Sexy topic, huh?

While book formatting may not be the most exciting thing to talk about, it is one of the most important elements of your book. Your story can be amazing, but if your book formatting makes it difficult to read, then the experience won’t be rewarding for readers. They’ll hate it but may not know why. And they may not be able to finish your story because of wonky formatting.

If you’re working with a traditional or hybrid publisher, you won’t have to worry about book formatting. Your publisher will do all of that for you.

But if you’re self-publishing, you have to do every single thing on your own. Sure, you could hire it out (and you may want to after you see all of the steps that are involved), but there is something special to gain from doing it yourself. You’ll learn a new skill. And you’ll have a greater appreciation for the book publishing process. It’s something that few people ever think about.

So, if you’re ready to DIY your book formatting, roll up your sleeves. You’re about to see how the sausage is made.

What is Book Formatting?

Self-publishing has empowered writers to share their stories with others on their own terms. But when you self-publish, you must do it all, and that includes designing the inside pages of your book.

Book formatting is making the interior design choices of your book, from font to margins to line spacing. Book formatting encompasses everything within the front and back covers of your book.

But what about formatting your manuscript?

Manuscript formatting and book formatting are different.

Manuscript formatting is preparing your manuscript professionally for agents and editors.

Book formatting is designing your completed manuscript for publication. In this post, we’re focused on book formatting.

Why is Book Formatting Important?

Book formatting is one of the most important elements of your book. Here’s why:

It Looks Professional

If you want a book that stands up proudly against traditionally published books on the shelf, you can’t ignore formatting. The right formatting will dress up your book so that it looks “qualified” to be on the shelf.

It Reduces Distractions

When done right, your book’s formatting will be invisible.

Book formatting is one of the most important elements of your book. When done right, it’s invisible.

It should fade into the background so that your story and its characters play out in the reader’s imagination.

It Makes For an Enjoyable Reading Experience

Readers will expect your book to look and feel like other books in your genre. This consistency builds immediate trust with your readers. Aim to meet your reader’s basic expectations for a book interior formatting, or else face their wrath.

The Bottom Line?

If you want bad reviews, the quickest way to get there is by sloppy book formatting. But if you don’t want your book to scream, “Hey, I’m self-published. Pick me please! I’m desperate and scared,” you’ve got to invest time and energy into properly and professionally formatting it.

How to DIY Format Your Book

So, let’s talk about how to format the interior of your book. We could literally write a book on how to format a book, but we’ll only focus on the most important aspects of book formatting that you need to know.

Do Your Research

Design the Interior of Your Book

Before formatting comes research. Head to your local library and prepare to pick apart books in a way that you haven’t before.

(Sure, you could go to a bookstore, but it’s a lot easier to do the following at your library. This way, you don’t have to deal with salespeople staring at you.)

Randomly grab books in your genre (preferably) or even books from other genres that you just like the look of.

Take your pile of books to a table in the corner and inspect them for the following:

  • Trim size (the height and width of the book)

  • Margins (use a ruler to accurately measure the margins around the text)

  • Fonts (is it decorative or sans serif and what size is most comfortable to your eyes)

  • Page count (how many pages in the book)

  • Chapter (title, styling, where the first paragraph starts)

Take pictures, make notes, and notice trends. This will give you a frame of reference when you start formatting your book. You’ll be surprised at all of the tiny design elements that you never thought about as a reader that you must pay attention to as a self-publisher.

Choose the Trim Size

The trim size is the height and width of a book. The majority of novels have a trim size of 6” x 9”, and nonfiction books have a trim size of 5.5” x 8.5”.

That’s the standard. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. The trim size can vary based on different factors, including your word count and your desired page count. Ideally, your book should feel substantial and weighty in your reader’s hands. If your book is on the shorter side (with 50,000 - 70,000 words), you may opt for a slightly smaller trim size so that you increase the number of pages. Make your book thicker but not too thick that it’s difficult to handle the book.

It may seem a little tricky to do that, but it’s all about delivering a satisfying reading experience. You’re still offering the same content, but you’re playing around with the trim size so that the reader feels like they’ve gotten enough bang for their buck. And you’re also making very subtle changes, like going from 6” x 9” to 5.5” x 8.5”.

This is one of those publisher secrets that you never think about until you become a self-publisher.

Know Your Margins

Margins are the space between the page’s content and the page’s edge.

Pages have four margins: Three outside (top, bottom, and outer side) and one inside (referred to as the gutter). As a standard, 6" x 9" books use 0.5" outside margins and 0.75" for the gutter. If you choose a larger trim size, your margins should also be larger. And the reverse is also true.

Margins are useful because they ensure that your words aren’t cut off when the book is printed and glued together.

Know Your Bleed

Bleed is a color or image that extends beyond the trim (or edge) of your page. If you have graphics or images inside of your book that you want to span the entire page, you’ll need to account for bleed. Your image should be wider (and, in some cases, taller) than the page size so that when the pages are physically cut, there’s no border around the image.

Choose the Right Font

There are two main types of fonts: Serif and sans serif. Serif fonts are decorative. They have extra strokes, known as serifs, attached to the main stroke. Think Times New Roman. Sans serif is “sans” or without serifs.

When formatting your book, go with a serif font, like Baskerville, Palatino Linotype, Garamond, Georgia, Caslon, Minion Pro, and of course Times New Roman. These fonts improve readability. It’s easier on the eye to read serif fonts, especially when reading over longer periods.

Get the Right Line Spacing

Line spacing is the space, or distance, between each line. There are a lot of factors that go into line spacing, including your trim size and your target page count. You also want to create an enjoyable reading experience. This means that you need breathing space between your words. For most novels, a line space of 1 is too dense, but a line space of 1.5 is too wide and will make the pages look “empty.” Generally, going with 1.15 to 1.3 is the right option.

Add Headers and Footers

You can choose to add headers and footers to your page, but it’s not necessary. Research books in your genre to note the standard.

If included, the header will include your author name on the left-facing pages and the chapter or book name on the right-facing pages. The footer will include the page number. Headers and footers are not included in the front and back matter (more on this later).

Make a Plan for Widows and Orphans

What do widows and orphans have to do with book formatting? In the world of typesetting, widows and orphans are stragglers that appear at the top or bottom of a page. They either start a new paragraph at the bottom of a page (i.e. orphan) or they end a paragraph at the top of a new page (i.e. widow).

Widows and orphans may seem harmless enough, but they can take your reader out of the flow of the story. It’s disruptive because the reader often needs to refer back to the previous page to finish the thought.

It’s best to avoid widows and orphans in your formatting. You’ll do this through reconfiguring your text, editing out a word or two, rearranging a paragraph, or even playing around with the space between words (tracking) or characters (kerning).

Fortunately, most formatting software can do that for you. Just be sure to tweak the “widows and orphans” settings (often found in the hyphenation menu of your formatting software).

Tips for Formatting Specific Pages

Design the Interior of Your Book

Now let’s discuss how to format specific pages in your book.

Books are broken into three sections: Front Matter, Body Matter, and Back Matter.

Front Matter

Here’s the standard order for the front matter of your book:

Half Title

This page states your book’s title. It’s right-facing. There are no page numbers or headings on this page.


This page includes the book’s title, subtitle, and author name. It’s also right-facing. There’s no need to include both. You can simply go with the title page.


This page is directly after the title and on the “back” side of the page. Therefore, it faces the left. It includes the copyright information for your book.


On this right-facing page, share reviews or praise for your book.



Table of Contents










Body Matter

The book matter consists of the main content of your book. Let’s look at what you need to consider when formatting your chapters.

Start each new chapter in the middle of a new page (preferably right-facing). This white space helps your reader prepare for a new section.

Start the first paragraph of your new chapter with either a drop cap (an extra-large letter used for decoration and emphasis). Alternatively, you can capitalize the first few words of the first sentence. Do not indent this first paragraph.

Indent the second and subsequent paragraphs. Set your style guide to .5” for body paragraphs (instead of hitting the tab button, which is tiring, unnecessary, and leaves too large of a gap).

Back Matter

Not all books will have back matter. Some will end immediately after the body matter. But here’s a reference if you need to include back matter:

Bibliography and Reference






Resources for Formatting Your Book

Not sure that you want to DIY your book formatting completely from scratch? Here are some resources that will help you produce a quality product:

And here are professional services that format your book for you:

Final Thoughts

While book formatting takes thought and planning, it’s within your scope. Use the above tips to create a professional interior for your self-published book.

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