How to Format Your Own Paperbacks

How to Format Your Own Paperbacks

A few weeks ago I wrote a guide detailing how I format my ebooks for release. Every author has a slightly different process and might be aiming for a different look or feel. My ebooks are simple and designed mostly to look good in any size or style of font. I think one of the most important thing about digital books is their versatility so readers can read in a way that’s comfortable.

Designing paperbacks is a whole other beast. They’re the exact opposite of ebooks. They will always exist in a fixed form. Since they will look exactly the same for everyone, it takes a little more time and effort to make sure they look the way you want them to. Again, this is a highly personal process depending on the program you use and the look you’re going for. So take each of these guides with a grain of salt.

I actually always create my paperbacks out of my ebook formatted files. (By saving the html file as a word document again.) I do this because I know the file that I created for the ebook is clean of extraneous formatting. Word has a nasty habit of inserting a bunch of hidden formatting that can be difficult to delete because you can’t see it. Since I’ve already gone to great effort to prevent that in my ebooks, it makes sense to start from that base.

Formatting to Your Trim Size

The most important part of creating paperbacks is to decide what size you want it to be. I use 5.5 by 8.5 as my trim size because it the perfect size for fitting easily in my purse. But depending on the type of book you’re publishing, you might want it to be larger. Many of the configurations in this section are directly dependent on your trim size, so you’ll want to settle on that first.

Amazon does have a section of their site that will spit out a paperback template if it’s your first time and you want to make sure you’re doing it right. Just supply the chosen trim size for the download.

To manually set your page layout in Word, go to the Page Layout tab and click the little box with an arrow pointing down next to where it says ‘page layout’ at the bottom of the ribbon. Use the Paper tab to set your trim size and apply it to the whole document. Then use the Margins tab to set your margins.

You want your text to take up most of the space on the printed page, but you have to remember to leave space for the book binding. Switch to mirror margins. This will make a setting called ‘gutter’ appear. I use 0.76″ margins for everything except the outside and gutter margins. I set the gutter at 0.2″ and the outside at 0.6″.

The hardest part of this formatting process to wrap your head around is that page 1 (likely your title page) is actually going to be on the right side of your book. And page 2 is going to be the back of it. So get used to thinking of the pages you’re looking at being in the opposite positions.

Deciding What a Page Looks Like

Once you have your pages set up, the next step is to decide how you want the words printed on them to appear. On a Kindle, readers can change the font and print size if they don’t like the defaults. But a paperbacks are set in stone, so you want to make sure it’s readable.

I use Garamond size 12 for the main text of my books because it’s easy on the eyes. But there are many arguments for using other fonts.

You’ll want to settle on an overall page layout. The best way is to actually look at a bunch of printed books. I use a header that has my name on one side and the name of the book on the other. (You set your headers to use a different even and odd page to accomplish this.) You also need to decide if you want the header to appear on pages where chapters start. (If not, tick the ‘use different first page’ box.)

You’ll want to turn off headers and footers for things like your title page, copyright page and any other things you slip into the front of the book, such as a list of your other books or acknowledgments.

I put my page numbers at the bottom of the pages on the outside (so they look like they’re on the inside when I use a 2 page layout in word to check they’re all aligned). Again, you’ll need to use the different evens and odds setting to make sure the page numbers line up properly. You may also have to use the ‘unlink from previous sections’ setting to ensure that you aren’t changing every first page’s page numbers when you need to adjust one. (This is where Word can sometimes be a pain in the butt.)

Things to Keep an Eye on

I’ve made this process sound easy, but it can be very fiddly. Especially if you want your page numbers to start on page 1 the way I do (instead of whatever random page it actually is). I recommend scrolling back through the book when you’ve finished to make sure your headers and footers are all displaying properly.

You also want to take a peek at your paragraph layout. If you have a single lonely line at the end of a chapter on its own page, you might want to fiddle with your spacing so that you’re not wasting an entire page on one sentence. You can use the ‘widows and orphans’ setting in word to fix this, or you can enter or remove a space somewhere manually until it lines up. If you haven’t already, you also want to make sure you’re using the justified alignment for your text so that it creates neat, even lines on each side of the page.

Lots of people like to make sure that their chapters always start on the right hand side of the printed book (the left hand side of your formatting). This means that some people put blank pages at the end of chapters if the new chapter would usually start on the wrong side. Personally, I don’t like lots of blank space, so I avoid this. But it is something you’ll want to consider. Many people think formatting looks better if a new chapter is always on the right hand side of the book.

Once you’ve got the text displaying the way you want it, the last step is prettying up the book. This is largely optional, depending on how you want the final product to look.

Making Your Paperbacks Pretty

Lots of people use drop caps at the beginning of new chapters. Personally, I hate the way drop caps look. I use pretty chapter labels instead. But there are a lot of options. You can insert an image for your chapter headers. You can also use an image for your chapter breaks (though I recommend keeping them simple.)

Some people like to make a fancy title page. For the Dream Things True Duology, I used pieces of the cover background to create my title pages. Be aware that if you have a dark image on your title page, it might make signing the book challenging. I know some authors insert a second, blank title page for this purpose.

You may also want to include some nice extras in your paperbacks. For instance, several of my paperbacks have maps printed after the title page but before the main text of the book starts. I made those maps myself, but you can also hire an artist for such things. Maps are particularly good for fantasy series, though they’re also not a requirement.

When you’re satisfied with how the book looks, use the publisher’s previewer to make sure things are appearing properly. You must approve the Amazon preview in order to publish the book anyway, but this is a good place to spot that everything is in the right space because it presents the layout as it will be printed. Many times I have caught mistakes at this stage, so don’t rush through the preview.

This is a fairly generic guide, overall, but I hope it can serve as a starting point for anyone trying to develop their own paperbacks. I used to be terrified of messing up. But now that I’ve been through the process a few times, I feel a lot more confident about it. Don’t let doing it yourself prevent you from getting physical copies of your book into the world!

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