Self Publishing? How to format your book

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You’ve finished your book. It’s been edited thoroughly and all the typos and grammatical errors have, to the best of your knowledge, been removed. Well done!

You’ve eyed up the pros and cons of the self-publishing and traditional routes, and have decided — for whatever reasons— to go it alone, and do it yourself.

So, how to make your book look professional?

This step will vary depending on which site you’ve chosen to publish through. Some offer templates, which merely require a cut-and-paste, then a quick tidy through. If you’ve chosen an unusual trim size, or just want to maintain complete control, then here are a few steps you can follow to make your book look as professional as possible:

– First, adjust the page sizes of your manuscript to match those of the Trim Size you have chosen. Most writing programs should allow you to “custom” your page sizes. It will then reformat your entire work.

– Now, you must add in the front pages. For some ideas here, pick up the nearest book in your house and look at the way the front pages are set out:

(Odd numbered pages are on the right hand side, evens on the left. Therefore, even numbered pages are on the back of the odd numbered pages)

book page layout1
The first 5 pages of my novel, “Fellowship of the Ringtails

Page 1*: In some books this is merely the title, in others, a page of glowing reviews, others choose to put in a passage from the text that it particularly gripping.

Page 2*: Often blank, or you can list other books you have written here.

Page 3: Title page – shows title of book, author’s name etc

Page 4: Copyright details, ISBN, perhaps a dedication (unless you want that on the next page)

Page 5: Dedication or quote

Page 6: Blank, Map or other Illustration

Page 7: The story begins.

 * My earlier self-published books skip these two pages, and start with the title page (meaning the story starts on page 5). There are a few traditionally published books that do this too, but not many. 

book page layout2

> The story should always start on a right-hand page, even if this means leaving a page blank.

> Page numbers should not be on the pages before the story begins.

> Justify your text. Unjustified text in a printed book pretty much screams of amateur publishing (however, poetry and books written for dyslexics are the exception to this rule). After justifying it, you may like to look through for any sentences that have been stretched too long and manually add in hyphens/divided words. Do this after the ebook conversion, or you’ll find random hyphenated words in your ebook. Either that, or you can also adjust the kerning (the spaces between letters).

> Be consistent. Make sure your line-spacing remains consistent for the entire novel, that you don’t accidentally change font size or style, or the size of your margins.

Other Things to Consider:

Margins: I generally set the same margin left and right, with a larger gap top and bottom. You may choose to have a narrower margin along the gutter of the page. My margins are quite wide, which worked well when CreateSpace did one of my print runs at a smaller trim size (the books were still readable), but you may choose to make them narrower. Study printed novels of the appropriate size to determine your own, preferred, measurements.

Headers: I don’t really like Headers, and a random opening of my shelved books shows that not every traditionally published book has them anyway. If you do have Headers, remember to remove them from the pages which say “Chapter One” in them, or whatever. Otherwise they look poorly formatted and ugly.

Footers: Page Numbers are ESSENTIAL. The library needs to put a tag in your book on page 33, after all. You can center your page numbers or set all the left hand pages to the left hand side, and all the right hand to the right side.

Font: I prefer serif fonts for my manuscripts and all of my novels use Century Schoolbook. You can use Times New Roman, but it’s so common, it’s kinda blah. Century Schoolbook adds a bit of class (in my opinion!). Make sure the font you use is easy to read, also be aware that some fonts are not royalty free, meaning you can’t use them in something you’re making money from. If you set your font too large, it will look like a book for young kids or the elderly. If you set it too small, it is difficult to read. I use font size 10-12, Century Schoolbook for my novels. Note that font size (and line spacing) will affect your number of pages, and if you want a really thick book, you need a bigger font! (Which is why I think some traditionally published authors use such big text, either that or it is for their older readers!). Sans serif fonts (like Arial) are good for children’s books, however, as they are easier for dyslexics or those with reading difficulties.

Paragraphs: Note that after a line break, the first sentence of a paragraph is not indented, but all the rest are.

Line Spacing: I publish my middle grade books with spacing set to 1.5, because these make it easier to track the lines. In my adult books, I set it to 0.54, which allows some space  between lines without looking too “childish”.

Chapter Headings: Make sure your fonts, size and style are consistent. Don’t write “Chapter One” then have “Chapter 2”, for example. Also note that changing the size of the font here may affect the way the text lines up at the bottom of the page, and it is preferable to have these consistent. For this purpose also, you should Kill all Widow and Orphan Control*. Adjust the font size of the Chapter headings until you can see that they line up in the PDF version. An easy way to do this is to make sure that the line spacing is proportional – ie: I usually set my line spacing to 0.54, which leaves a bit of a gap between lines, and for the headers I set it to 1.08 (2 x 0.54). This seems to work.

book page layout3

Adding Illustrations to Text: There are two sorts of ways you can include illustrations in the story – one is as a full page spread, the other is as little line drawings interspersed with the text. There’s no real rule to doing this, just make sure it looks right. Personally, from here-in I intend to draw my images at a size that is proportional to the page size so it will fit without having one or two sentences around it. Aroha and Midsummer Knight both have them mingled with the text, but for my Lemur Saga books, I’ve got them on full single pages at the end of the relevant chapters. Use lineart, or grey-scale your colour images first, to make sure they look right; you can make adjustments to brightness etc to make it clearer. If intermingling it with the text, use the “padding” option to provide a few millimetres of space around the image so that the text doesn’t run into it. Trying to get them to sit right on the page can be endlessly frustrating and I have no advice but perseverance. If you are also writing for ebook format, illustrations will mean the text on the page preceding may run for half a page or less, as they often (but not always) show up on an individual page. I have removed the illustrations from most of my ebooks, as it gives more incentive to buy the physical book.

 * Widows and Orphans – when the page re-formats itself so that if you have two lines in a paragraph at the base of the page that would be left hanging, they get shifted up to the next page leaving a gap of two lines. They are the bane of my OpenOffice existence, since I want my text to line up at the base of the page, and I don’t care if there are only four words on the next page. I keep turning this off on OpenOffice, and it keeps coming back to haunt me.

Once you think you’re done – export your novel as a PDF file and look through it, to make sure everything looks as it should.

Self-publishing: Who to choose?

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With the increasing development of print-on-demand technology, there are quite a collection of online companies offering independent publishing, including small independent publishing houses and more major players, like CreateSpace, Ingram-Spark, Lulu, Blurb.

(Note: this post is about physical format books, publishing ebooks will be dealt with at a later date).

So who to choose, and where to go?

If you are short on time and not-so technologically savvy, then there is the temptation to go to one of the small publishing houses. These are numerous and offer you various things for, sometimes quite substantial, amounts of money. Personally, I’m a bit wary of these, considering them a little too close to the vanity publishers of the past, and have not dealt with any directly myself. If I were to, I would do substantial research and I recommend that you do the same. Some offer you little more advantage than going it alone would, and at considerable cost. What they may offer, however, is a strong network of support and potential reviewers. Look into them, google the name to see if others have dealt with them and whether they have fared positively or not; choose some titles at random, read the blurbs and author bios, and see how they’re faring on sites such as GoodReads. It would also pay to look up the titles on Amazon and Book Depository, to see if they are offered for sale there. As an indie-published author, much of your sales will come through the internet marketplaces, so make sure they will be listed on the major sites! Ultimately, indie-publishing is fairly easy and the more DIY sites as CreateSpace are remarkably straightforward, so I would be most interested in the marketing opportunities that the various indie-houses offer. If they expect you do do the majority of it themselves, do they really deserve your money?

It would also be useful to see if they offer their titles on Netgalley. Netgalley is a site where booksellers, book bloggers, and librarians, can request advance ebook reading copies (eARC). Having your book listed there as an indie author is extremely expensive, but if you are part of a publishing house, they may list it there for you. Being listed on Netgalley will get you reviews (not necessarily favourable ones) and get you greater exposure. This may have an impact on future sales… or it may not.

For the more technologically savvy, you might like to take on a more-DIY approach. Now, these ones tend to be cheaper money-wise (although most offer added bells and whistles for a fee) but are considerably more time-expensive.

“Fellowship of the Ringtails” by Angela Oliver, published via CreateSpace.


CreateSpace operate through Amazon’s marketplace. As Amazon is one of the biggest online book retailer at this present point in time, I highly recommend them. My three novels have been printed through them, and I have found the process to be straightforward and the outcome relatively professional.

What CreateSpace offer:

  • A straightforward set-up dashboard (including templates)
  • No upfront cost – you only pay for what you order (which could be 1 book or 100).
  • Your book will be available through Amazon’s various marketplaces.
  • You can use their ISBNs, or supply your own.
  • Large variety of book sizes (all given in inches, so have a ruler and converter handy!)
  • Professional looking books: bright white paper, good clarity of text and good colour reproduction on covers (but see note below re: cover curl).
  • Free expanded distribution (which includes The Book Depository and Fishpond).
  • Book services (for additional fees) for those not quite comfortable “going it alone”.

The drawbacks:

  • Unless you pay the additional fees, you’re basically DIYing it. Requires some computer skills and time.
  • Despite the expanded distribution offer, your book is unlikely to be stocked in physical bookstores.
  • Marketing and promotions are entirely in your own hands, unless you pay for additional services.
  • Books experience a fair amount of “cover curl”, which means they show wear and tear fairly quickly. This was particularly noticeable in earlier copies, but may be remedied now. (Visible in photo above).
  • CreateSpace books printed from two locations: New York and South Carolina. I have generally found the South Carolina ones to have better colour clarity.
  • Only pay by cheque, and only when you reach $100.
  • Do not offer hardbacks, nor colour plates (your book is either full colour or full black and white).
  • Shipping is slow, but never as slow as they estimate! Generally allow 3-4 weeks.

A 200-page paperback novel printed B&W via CreateSpace has a cost price of around US$3.25 (~NZ$4.80).

“Dreamscape” by Paul Kidd, published via Lulu.


Lulu were one of the earliest players in the print-on-demand game, but have fallen somewhat peripheral to CreateSpace. They offer their own marketplace, and also claim to distribute via ibooks, Nook and Amazon, and their titles appear to be on The Book Depository and Fishpond as well (mine isn’t, however, which indicates that there is an option I failed to select). I have published a hardback version of one of my novels via them, and found it to be a bit disappointing: newsprint style pages, the text perhaps a little too dark and random weird marks at the end of some chapters (which I’m pretty sure are not due to poor formatting on my part, but I could be wrong).

What Lulu offer:

  • Hardbacks, paperbacks, photo books and calendars in a range of sizes and binding types.
  • No set-up fees, you only pay for what you order.
  • Downloadable templates that you can cut and paste your story into.
  • Free ISBNs (or you can use your own).
  • Fairly straightforward set-up.
  • Additional services available for additional fees (including marketing).
  • Regular discounts on your purchases.
  • Your book is available on various online marketplaces, including The Book Depository, Fishpond and Amazon (this depends on your book size/format).
  • Will pay revenue into Paypal.

The Drawbacks:

  • The books do not appear to look quite as professional as CreateSpace’s, ink is slightly too thick/dark. Cream paper is cheapest – and looks it.
  • Unless you pay the additional fees, you’re basically DIYing it. Requires some computer skills and time.
  • Marketing and promotions are (almost) entirely in your own hands, unless you pay for additional services.
  • Lulu is a less-frequented marketplace than Amazon.
  • Slightly more expensive.
  • Do not offer colour plates (your book is either full colour or full black and white).

A 200-page paperback novel printed B&W via Lulu has a cost price of around Au$5.25 for cream, Au$7.40 for white (~NZ$5.82/$8.20).

“Devolve: The Wolf” by Mike Hooper, published via Blurb.


Blurb have been around a long time — I published my first art books through them (they’re still available, if anyone is interested) and now they offer regular print-on-demand as well. Colour reproduction in their photo books was very good.

What Blurb offer:

  • Hardbacks, paperbacks, photo books, magazines, ebooks, in a range of sizes.
  • Built in program, Bookwright, to create your pictorial book (or magazine). (Note: is BAD for mostly text stories!)
  • The books look really nice.
  • Offer “Economy colour printing” for reasonable rates (have yet to check quality).
  • Free distribution via IngramSpark (“the world’s largest distributor of books”), depending on format and creation method.
  • Colour and black and white formats available.
  • Free  ISBNs.
  • No set-up fees, you pay for what you order.
  • Will pay revenue into Paypal.
  • Ship from Australia, so faster and (potentially) cheaper.
  • Regularly send promo codes that allow for discounts.

The Drawbacks:

  • Only three sizes of trade paperback to choose from.
  • Once your book is on the Global Distribution, you cannot make changes without jumping through hoops.
  • BookWright works best for pictorial books, takes a lot of fiddling with text books (better to use a PDF).
  • Somewhat more expensive.
  • Marketing and promotions is (almost) entirely in your own hands, unless you pay for additional services.
  • Do not offer colour plates (your book is either full colour or full black and white).

A 200-page paperback novel printed B&W via Blurb has a cost price of around US$4.25  for cream, US$10.39 for white (~NZ$6.27/$15.33).


I have neither published nor purchased an IngramSpark title, so my knowledge of them is limited to what I can read on their website. They appear to be a bit more upmarket and discerning than, say, CreateSpace. Due to the upfront, per title cost, I am unlikely to try IngramSpark (especially since Blurb allegedly distribute via them anyway, and they don’t charge a fee). If you want more information, I suggest you google “IngramSpark VS CreateSpace”.

What IngramSpark offer:

  • A wide range of options, including books, graphic novels, picture books, in a range of trim sizes.
  • They promise distribution through a range of sources, including actual bookstores.
  • Will convert PDF files into ebooks.
  • Offer promotional services (inclusion in newsletter etc)— not sure if at additional cost or not.
  • Offer free editorial review via Pressque (worth US$75), this is apparently done with a 48 hour turnaround. I am a little dubious.
  • Templates for cover and interior. At additional cost.

The Drawbacks:

  • You are required to provide your own ISBNs. You can buy them via the site, but DON’T, because in New Zealand you can acquire your unique ISBNs for free.
  • Require you to upload your own PDFs and cover designs (DIY approach).
  • $49 set-up fee per title. I believe there is also an annual fee, but that doesn’t appear to be on their FAQ.
  • You pay for things, like templates, that other sites offer for free.

A 200-page paperback novel printed B&W via IngramSpark has a cost price of around US$3.86  for cream.  (~NZ$5.70).

Note: I have made no mention of royalties, these obviously vary between the sites, but are mainly determined by the price you set as your sale price. In regards to sales, I’ve made 56% of my minimum payment threshold via CreateSpace, and nothing via Lulu or Blurb (my books on Blurb are sold at cost price, and my Lulu hardback is really expensive and not listed outside their website).

In summary, CreateSpace seems the most popular and cheapest option, whilst also providing the most straightforward distribution and access to a large online marketplace. Blurb produces very fine looking books, and is probably the easiest for the non-technologically savvy (plus the BookWright program is fun to play with). It also offers to distribute via IngramSpark, which might be handy for getting into physical bookstores. I fully intend to try them again in the future, possibly with a colour book of some description. So, stay tuned!

More tutorials to come on publishing via CreateSpace.