Traditional Self-Publishing, part 3: Formatting the Book

You’d think that writing your book, getting it edited and obtaining a fabulous cover would be enough frustration for a lifetime. Think again. You still have to format the book.

What does that mean? It means you have to turn your manuscript pages into pages that look like the inside of a book. There are really two facets to this:

1) Providing front and back matter, such at title pages, copyright page, table of contents, dedication, acknowledgments, notes and/or a bibliography for nonfiction, appendices and an index.

2) Laying out the body of the book: fitting the margins to the size of your finished book, choosing type font and size for chapter titles and body text, justifying the type right and left, adding illustrations, and putting in headers and footers–those running titles at the tops of the pages and page numbers at the top or bottom.

I’m not going to take you through these in details. There are plenty of books and websites that will do that for you. Try this one: “How to Format Your Self-Published Book” by Moira Allen. Or buy a copy of Book Formatting for Self-Publishers by Jeanette Green.

If you use a print on demand service such as CreateSpace or iUniverse, or if you’re working with a printer, you can pay to have someone else do the formatting, but for most of us that isn’t necessary.

The best help for me is finding a traditionally published book I really like, preferably in a similar genre, and copying its formatting. Check a lot of books to see what you like for details such as whether to center your headers, where to put the page numbers, how to handle beginnings of sections or chapters, etc.

The process is going to be slow and frustrating, especially the first time. Take it one page at a time, and don’t rush. Each detail matters. Save the page numbers on the table of contents for last because they’re going to keep changing as you massage the layout. Doing headers and footers in Microsoft Word will drive you to drink. Its system makes sense–if you’re a computer. Just keep at it. Visit the help forums; other people have struggled with the same problems you’ll face. Don’t give up. Cursing is okay.

As with everything these days, you can hire people to format your book for you. Check Google for a never-ending list. You can also buy sophisticated formatting software. Adobe’s InDesign and Quark Xpress are the most popular. But these can be frustratingly complicated for the average writer. You can find a good comparison of book layout options at http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2010/11/book-design-page-layout-software-a-guide-for-diy-authors.

Most printers will ask for you to send them a PDF file of the print-ready book, along with a JPEG file of the cover. Once you have every page the way you want it, save the file as a PDF, and email it to the printer. They should provide you with a proof, which you can then read for typos and layout errors. You will find some, but they should be easy to fix. Save your book as a PDF once more, re-send it and celebrate. Your book is on its way.

Next: finding a printer

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