How to Format Your Book’s Interior

Typesetter

I have seen a large number of different format designs for pages. There is very little by way of right and wrong when it comes to font, letter size, margins, etc. It is not a one-size fits all motif. There are some industry standards, however, and some things that just make sense.

I write about size of books elsewhere, but book dimensions are a tricky thing. Many people prefer a 6×9 for all books—I hate 6×9 unless I’m reading nonfiction… then I think it’s the perfect size. I prefer a 5.5×8.5 in fact or even a 5×8. Font choice also ranges greatly but I recommend standard fonts like Times New Roman or Courier and an approximate size somewhere between 11 and 14, depending on the genre and audience. Line spacing is very important as well. Double spacing is much too large, 1.5 is better, and 1.15 is my preference (for fiction, anyway,) and 1.0 is much too crowded and strains the eyes.

Margins are very important. One inch is pretty common, but leaves more whitespace at the edges than many readers care for, unless the book is a 6×9. Half-inch is better for fiction if the trim size is less than 6×9. Gutter margins are another thing you will need to keep in mind.

What the heck are gutter margins you say? When your book is bound, the left hand side of the recto page (and right hand of the verso) needs extra space to account for the spine of the book and where the thick sheaf of paper is glued together at the binding. If you don’t create a gutter margin your text will run off into oblivion (especially if your margins are tight). It’s not nearly as difficult as it sounds. Simply put, a gutter margin is an additional amount of space your word processing software will add to the binding side to keep the margins correct. The size of your gutter margins depend upon the overall page count of your book. Createspace recommends the following gutter sizes:

24-50 pages        .375”
151-400 pages   .75”
400-600 pages   .875”
+600 pages         1.0”

Formatting might sound like a lot of headaches and monkeying around when you just want to write (and there are plenty of people who will do all your formatting for a fee,) but it really is critical to get this right. It’s important because there are industry standards, poor formatting hastens eye fatigue and makes readers quit, it helps salability, and it helps profitability.

At the end of the day, reducing whitespace (within reason) means fewer pages and that means extra money earned per book sold. If the layout looks bad with text too small, too large, too squished, or bad margins the interior looks unprofessional and thus unappealing and that turns people off from buying it. Those same things cause the eyes and minds of the people who do read it to get tired more quickly making them more likely to put the book down. A little time spent tweaking formats can have a broad impact down the road on the reader side.

The Independent Book Publishers Association lists a number of generally recognized industry standards on their website: http://www.ibpa-online.org/page/standardschecklist (you can check out their list of standards for covers as well). The standards include:

  1. Professional appearance
  2. Appropriate, easily readable font for body of text
  3. Consistent headers and footers
  4. Proper punctuation usage (em dash, hyphens, etc.)
  5. Appropriate margins
  6. Strategic trim size

The interior file should also include the following elements in addition to the text of the story:

  1. Half-Title page (has just the title of the book on the first page… this page is optional)
  2. Title Page to include title/subtitle of book, author(s)/editors, illustrators, publisher and location. The Title and Half-Title pages should always be on the right hand side (recto) pages
  3. Copyright page (should be on left-hand [verso] page following Title Page,) that includes copyright date and holder, copyright notice, edition information, Library of Congress info, publisher info, ISBN, title, author, design credits, waivers, and disclaimers
  4. Optional Dedication
  5. Optional Table of Contents
  6. Optional Acknowledgements page, including possible back matter for footnotes, endnotes, and formally credited citations
  7. About the Author (this may appear in front matter, back matter, or on the jacket/rear cover)

Ebook formatting is slightly different. When creating an ebook from a paperback (if you are using Createspace) you can automatically push the file from Createspace to Kindle/KDP and the conversion will take place automatically for you. This means that as long as you did it correctly for the paperback the ebook should be fine. Smashwords, however (which you should definitely use) has their own formatting procedures which are perhaps a little more difficult to nail down correctly (things like hyperlinks within the text and specific formatting methods for the Table of Contents, front matter, back matter, etc.) the end result is actually a more powerful book and one that is available on more platforms. While some people don’t bother with Smashwords because of the added difficulty and the fact that the sales via Smashwords pale in comparison to Amazon, it is worth it for a variety of other reasons. Smashwords pushes the book to Kobo, iBooks, B&N, and bunch of other places where users shop; the primary reason I like it, though, is the ease of setting up coupons to give discounts or free copies to people like reviewers, press, con attendees, etc. Smashwords and other specific ebook hosting/publishing outlets will have their own specific guidelines on how to format, prepare, and submit files.

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