How to Format a Book: The Ultimate Guide

By Dave Chesson
Last updated on March 24th, 2022

Knowing how to format a book for publication is crucial to your success as an author.

Up until now, your goal has been writing the best book you can. Now that it’s finished, you’re ready to take the next step toward publication.

So, how do you make a book look like a book and not a 5th-grade creative writing assignment?

Some people hire professional designers to do it for them. While this can save time, it’s also expensive. If you have the time, you can do it yourself and save money.

With the help of this article, you can cut costs and design your book on your own. You’ll learn a new skill and still end up with a professional-looking book.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. Which program or software to use
  2. How to set up your file
  3. How to design your pages like a pro
  4. Common mistakes to avoid
Chapter 1

Understanding File Types of Book Formatting

Before you get too excited about publishing your book, you need to understand the different file formats. Each marketplace accepts specific file formats, and you’ll need to create the correct one for your chosen venue.

To make your life easier, I created a table of all the major publishing platforms and the file formats they accept.

PlatformEPUBPDFDOCXMOBIKPF (Kindle Create)HTMLTXT Multi-Touch Books (.ibooks)
Amazon
IngramSpark
Barnes & Noble Press
Apple Books

Google Play
Kobo
Smashwords
Lulu

If looking at this table makes your head spin, don’t worry. The primary columns you need to pay attention to are EPUB and PDF.

We've got a whole article on this for you to check out. But the bottom line is this:

  • If you’re creating an ebook, then an EPUB will be your go-to.
  • For print, you’ll notice that every print-on-demand platform accepts one file format: PDF.

For more information about the different file types, read EPUB vs. MOBI vs. PDF: Which Book Format Should You Use?

Chapter 2

Formatting Guidelines

Each publishing platform has a set of formatting guidelines that you need to follow. These guidelines will help you get your book approved quickly and avoid time-consuming rejections and alterations.

Use the graph below to find the e-book and paperback formatting guidelines for each of the major publishing marketplaces.

Chapter 3

Step 1: Decide Which Formatting Program to Use

When it comes to programs for formatting books, you have several good options. We’ll go over the more popular ones in this section. Some of these programs are expensive or have a monthly subscription fee, while others are free. You’ll have to take a look at them and decide for yourself which one is right for you.

What program should you use to format a book? Try these:

RankBook Formatting SoftwareEase of UseCapabilityCostCheck It Out
1
Atticus
atticus logo icon
EasyMedium
  • $147/lifetime
Check It Out
2
Adobe InDesign

DifficultHigh
(you can make anything)
  • $20.99/month
Check It Out
3
Vellum
EasyMedium
  • $199.99 — ebook only
  • $249.99 — ebook/print
Check It Out
4
Scrivener
MediumLow
  • $49 for Windows or Mac
  • $41.65 for educational license
  • $19.99 for iOS
Check It Out
5
Microsoft Word
MediumLow
  • $139.99 by itself
  • $150 for the entire suite, including Word
  • $7-10 per month for the entire suite
Check It Out
6
Kindle Create

EasyLow
  • Free
Check It Out
7
Reedsy

EasyLow
  • Free — no premium version
Check It Out

For most authors, we recommend Atticus as the go-to software for formatting. It does everything that a program like Vellum does, plus it's cheaper and available on Windows and virtually all other platforms.

We've got a whole article on the different formatting software and their best uses. Check that out here.

Additionally, here are some additional tips on how to format using each individual software:

Chapter 4

Step 2: Creating Your Front and Back Matter

Now that you have a trim size picked out, you’re ready to start putting together your book. First, you’ll need to set up your front and back matters. We’ll go over everything briefly in this section, but if you’d like a more in-depth explanation of the parts of a book, visit this article.

Let’s dive in.

Front Matter

The front matter consists of the very first pages, like a title page and table of contents.

Some books have just a few pages, while others have substantial front matter that requires a separate numbering system (usually roman numerals).

You’ll have to decide how much front matter to include. It will depend on the type of book you wrote and your personal preference. Nonfiction often has more than fiction, and most books have a minimum of a title page and a copyright page.

Front matter can include any (or all) of the following:

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Back Matter

The back matter makes up the final pages, such as the acknowledgments and an about the author page. Once again, you have some flexibility on what to include. The type of book you wrote will also factor into how much back matter you need. At a minimum, you should have an “Acknowledgments” page and an “About the Author” page.

Here are some things you’ll find in the back matter:

  • Acknowledgements
  • About the author
  • Afterword
  • Note from the author (optional)
  • Discussion questions (optional)
  • Glossary (optional)
  • Indexes
  • Copyright permissions
  • Bibliography
  • Sneak peaks
  • Other books by the author
Chapter 5

Step 3: Rules and Steps to Formatting Properly

Now that you have your front and back matter in place, you’re ready to jump into the nuts and bolts of formatting. In this section, we’ll go over everything you need to know to format your book. If you follow these steps, your text will look professional and easy to read.

Open up your book formatting software, start a new document and let’s get going.

1. Set the margins and bleeds.

Margins: Margins are the blank areas around the edges of the page. For most books, a 1” margin works best. It gives you enough room to add page numbers and a header without the page getting crowded. It’s also essential to have enough white space on the page so that your reader’s eyes don’t get tired as quickly.

Bleeds: If you have any image or color that extends to the edge of the page, you need to add a bleed. It is a small border that stretches past the edge of your document.

When your book gets manufactured, the printer lays out several pages on one large sheet of paper and then trims them down to the finished size. Having a bleed prevents printing and trimming errors that result in unexpected white lines along the edge of your page.

Set your bleeds to 0.125”.

Margins and bleeds in a book

2. How to use headers, footers, and page numbers.

Next, you need to set up your headers, footers, and page numbers. Once again, there are numerous options, and it’s up to you to decide how you want to use them.
Headers go in the top margin of your book. Some things that can go here are:

  • Page numbers
  • Book title
  • Author name
  • Chapter title
  • Point of view – If your book has multiple points of view, some authors like to include which character is currently narrating in the header.

Footers go in the bottom margin of your book and usually only include the page number. With nonfiction, footers can also include footnotes.

Page numbers go in either the header or footer, but not both. They are only included in the body of the book, not in the front matter or back-matter.

Some authors use roman numerals in their foreword or introduction. This practice identifies lengthy font matter as separate from the main body text.

3. Choose the best font for your book.

Now that you have your file set up, you’re ready to choose a font for your book.

Resist the urge to use an unconventional font for the body text. Your goal is to create a comfortable reading experience, so choose a font that’s easy to read. It may not be exciting, but your reader will thank you.

Save the fun and fancy fonts for chapter headings and elements like handwritten notes.

Here are some fonts that are great for body text:

  • Joanna MT
  • Garamond
  • Baskerville
  • Cochin
  • Arial
  • Times New Roman
  • Georgia
  • Verdana
  • Set your font size to 11 or 12

With children’s books, you can get away with larger font sizes. Large print books need a font size of at least 14.

Nonfiction books can have a font size of 10 or 11. Any smaller than that, and it will be too hard to read.

Tip: Be sure to examine the copyright on your fonts before you use them. Many fonts require that you buy a commercial license before you can use the font in a digital or physical product.

4. Indents, spaces, and rags.

The next thing you need to do is style your pages to make them look professional. You can do this by formatting your indents and spaces while avoiding rags.

If you’re using a tool like Atticus, the settings are already in place, and you won’t need to do anything. But with some programs, you’ll need to set them yourself.

Indents: In fiction or narrative nonfiction, always indent the first line of a paragraph. The first paragraph of a chapter or after scene breaks are the only times you shouldn’t indent.

Pressing the tab key will usually result in an indent that's too large. You can fix this by setting your indent to 0.3” or 0.5”.

Line Spacing: Set your line spacing to 1.3.

You need enough space between lines so that your reader can keep their place. You can go a little smaller (1.2) for nonfiction and a little bigger (1.5) for children’s books.

Tip: While we’re talking about space on the page, it’s time to ditch the double space after a period. Just use one.

Rags: Rags happen when you use a left or right alignment, resulting in an uneven margin or “rag” on the side of the page. Instead, use the justify alignment for the body text. It will add hyphens to some of your long words and make them fit nicely within the margins.

Rags vs. No rags

5. Watch out for widows and orphans.

Widows and orphans are words that become detached from their paragraph or page. Where possible, try to avoid these. By making very slight adjustments to your margins, line height, or letter-spacing, you can keep your paragraphs looking clean and professional.

Widows and orphans in a book

Tip: This only applies to printed books. There is no way to control widows and orphans in ebooks since every reader’s device settings will affect how paragraphs appear.

6. Use Page Breaks Correctly

Rather than hit enter multiple times between chapters, you'll want to use a page break instead. This will cut the chapter off so that the next chapter will always start on the next page.

Software like Atticus and Vellum will do this for you automatically. If you are using Word, you can click “Insert > Break > Page Break” to get the appropriate effect.

Chapter 6

Step 4: Picking the Best Trim Sizes for your Book

The type of book and how many pages you want will determine the trim size. For example, a children’s picture book will have a different trim size than a novel.

A smaller trim size can result in a higher page count, so you’ll need to consider that when you’re setting up your book. If you wrote a long book and want to lower your page count, choose a larger trim size (and vice versa).

This chart can help you decide which trim size is best for your project.

Trim sizeThis size works for:
4.25 x 6.87”Mass market paperbacks (like the ones you see in the grocery store or airport)
5 x 8” or 5.25 x 8”Trade paperbacks (like you see in bookstores)
6 x 9” or 6.25 x 9.5”Hardcover books and paperback graphic novels
8 x 8 or 8 x 10Children’s picture books
8 x 10 or 8.5 x 11Coffee table books, picture books, activity books, cookbooks, crafts books, and coloring books

Most companies will offer more trim sizes than the ones listed here. If you’re not sure what size is best for your project, grab a ruler and head to your bookshelf. Measure some books that are similar to yours, and pick a comparable book template.

And check out our comprehensive article on trim sizes.

Atticus trim size offers
Captured in Atticus.io

If you're using a program like Atticus, you'll have access to a wide variety of trim sizes at the touch of a button, with sizes for both Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and IngramSpark.

Chapter 7

EXTRA: How to Design Beautiful Chapter Pages

Chapter pages are one of the places that you can get creative. You can use fun fonts, drop caps, illustrations, embellishments, borders, or other design elements.

At a minimum, you should include the following on your chapter pages:

  • The chapter number.
  • Chapter title (if applicable).
  • The subtitle or Epigraph (if applicable).

It might be tempting to add a bunch of embellishments to your chapter pages. But don’t go overboard. When it comes to design, less is more. Try to balance something ornate with something simple.

Here are some guidelines for designing chapter pages:

  1. Start your body text about halfway down the page.
  2. Center the chapter heading in the top half of the page.
  3. Don’t indent the first paragraph.
  4. You can use a drop cap or make the first line all caps, but it’s not required.
  5. Omit headers and footers.
  6. Page numbers are optional.
  7. Use the same font for your chapter headings that you used on the cover unless it’s too difficult to read. If that’s the case, find one that’s easy to read but different from the body text.
  8. For children’s and young adult novels, you can get more creative with chapter pages. Add illustrations, a frame around the chapter heading, or a design element in the background.
  9. For adult novels and nonfiction books, keep it simple. A small embellishment or a drop cap will add some flair, but don’t go crazy with the design elements.

Tip: Except for children’s and young adult novels, you should balance something ornate with something simple. If you use a fancy font for your chapter heading, skip the drop cap. If you have an illustration, keep the rest of the page simple.

Here are some examples of well-designed chapter pages.

Adult novel chapter pages
Children's book chapter pages

Keep in mind that these are just two examples of chapter pages. You have a lot of options when it comes to designing these pages, so feel free to experiment. Just remember to keep them simple. You want them to add to your story, not distract from it.

That said, you can have more extensive chapter themes with background images and different fonts to set the tone of the book. See this chapter theme as a great example of what's possible with a program like Atticus:

mockup of beautiful chapter theme
Chapter 8

List of Book Formatting Services

If you’ve made it this far and have decided to outsource your book formatting, I have some resources to help you out. If you’re wondering where to find a graphic designer and how to hire them to format your book, you’ll find those answers here.

Remember, the cost of hiring a graphic designer will vary significantly depending on a variety of factors, including:

With that in mind, this table will give you a quick snapshot of what to expect in terms of the price range, turnaround time, and file formats. We’ll go over each one in more depth later.

PlatformPriceTurnaround TimeFormats AvailableWebsite
Fiverr
Range from $5 -$30024hrs or more
  • Mobi
  • ePub
  • PDF
Check It Out
UpworkPay hourly rate or per project. cost basis (varies)A few days
  • Mobi
  • ePub
  • PDF
Check It Out
ReedsyPay less than $500A few days
  • Mobi
  • ePub
  • PDF
Check It Out
Word-2-kindleRange $50- $1000Within 48 hours
  • Mobi
  • ePub
  • PDF
Check It Out
Ebook LaunchRange $50- $1000Nine days (rush requests are four days and cost extra)
  • Mobi
  • ePub
  • PDF
Check It Out
DamonzaRange $199-$298A few days
  • Mobi
  • ePub
  • PDF
Check It Out

When hiring a graphic designer, make sure that he/she understands industry standards and can meet your personal design preferences and timeline. If you can, include your turnaround time requirements in the contract. I've compiled a list of even more formatting services below. Please keep in mind, I have not used any of them personally.

NameNotes
eBookIt.comFixed $145 fee (large or complex PDFs may have an upcharge, but 95% of our projects fit this fee)
Spunk On A StickAdditional publishing services available at Dancing Lemur Press, L.L.C.
Jay Artale, Birds of a Feather PressSpecializes in non-fiction books
SPS (Self-Publishing Services)Variable rates, both ebook and print.
Paperback PressThey offer a variety of services to help you take your book from concept to print with professional advice and assistance
Patricia Marshall, Luminare PressServices run between $600 - $900 for interior formatting
E-book Formatting Fairies
Price range from $75 to $150
Turnaround time 5-7 days
Format: Mobi, Ebpu and PDF
Indie DesignzPrice range from $35-$300 for fiction
Contact for quote on non fiction
Turnaround times vary depending on project complexity
Formatting for epub, mobi, smashwords, print (including KDP, LSI, & IS)
Pen2publishingEbook formatting from $99. Contact for rates on print.
Formatted BooksPrice range $150 - $300 for simple formatting.
Contact for a quote for complicated projects.
Professional, custom book formatting for every genre.
They also offer a custom book cover design service.

If you want more information to help you choose between formatting the book yourself or hiring it out, then check out this post.

Then we've got a whole article on how to hire the best formatting service. Check it out here!

Chapter 9

Glossary: Key Book Formatting Terms to Know

Back Matter: Everything that comes after the main body text of the book, including an about the author page, discussion questions, bibliography, etc.

Bleed: Imagery that extends beyond the edge of the paper.

Font: The style or appearance of text.

Footer: Anything that gets printed in the bottom margin (like page numbers).

Front Matter: Everything that comes before the main body text of the book, including the title page, copyright page, foreword, etc.

Header: Anything that gets printed in the top margin (like the book title or author name).

Line spacing: The space between lines of text.

Margin: The blank space around the edge of the page.

Orphans: A word that gets separated from its paragraph and appears alone on the next page.

Rag: An uneven margin on one side of the page.

Trim size: The finished size of a book.

Verso: The back-side of a page. For example, the copyright page goes on the verso of the title page.

Widows: A word that dangles alone at the bottom of a paragraph.

Frequently Asked Questions

What program should I use to format a book?

We recommend Atticus as the best formatting software on the market. It has everything you need to format beautiful books, from creating a PDF file for your print book, to creating lightning-fast ebooks. And Atticus is available on all platforms, including Windows, Mac, Linux, and Chromebook, unlike the leading competitors.

What is the standard book format?

The standard book format varies from one publisher to another, based on your preferences and the genre. But they usually range from 5 x 8 to 6 x 9. Other popular sizes include 4.25 x 6.87 (mass market paperback), 5.5 x 8.5, 5.25 x 8, 7 x 10, and 6.625 x 10.187 (comic books).

What format is best for self-publishing?

The best ebook format to use in publishing is the EPUB. It is accepted in virtually all ebook marketplaces and is a highly standardized format that you can create in most formatting programs. When formatting a book for print, the best format is a print-ready PDF.

What font do publishers prefer?

When submitting your novel manuscript to a publisher, the best font to use is 12 point Times New Roman. Some agents and editors may have different preferences, so it is important to check with their guidelines before submitting a manuscript to anyone. Fonts for self-published manuscript should be professional and match the genre.

Is formatting a book hard?

No, with the right software formatting a book is not as hard as you think. A program like Atticus lets you create a book ready to publish on Amazon within minutes. All you have to worry about is writing the book, and Atticus will take care of the rest.

How long does formatting a book take?

With the right software, book formatting can take you 30 minutes or less. Atticus is one example of a piece of software that will make this process seamless. If you are using other software such as MS Word or Scrivener, this process will take longer.

How long is a book, usually?

Most novels come in between 50,000 and 110,000 words. However, this depends on the genre you are writing. Some, such as romance, can be shorter. Others, like epic fantasy, tend to be much longer. Technically anything over 40,000 words is considered a novel. It depends on your audience or your publisher.

Should chapters always start on the right?

Yes. In standardized publishing, chapters always begin on the right. While there are no hard and fast rules in this area, it will seem incredibly jarring to your readers if you choose to format your chapter on the left. Doing otherwise could lead to poor reviews.

How many pages should a book be?

The average book length has between 200-400 pages. However, this will depend on a number of factors, including: the size of your font, the line spacing, the genre you're writing in, etc. We recommend focusing more on recommended word count instead of page count when determining your length.

How many pages should a chapter be?

There are no rules on chapter length. Most will typically fall between 1500 (approximately 6 pages) and 8000 words (approximately 32 pages). But there is flexibility even in this. Terry Pratchett, for example, had no chapters in his books, just scene breaks. So find what works for you and your genre.

How much does it cost to format a book?

If you are formatting a book yourself, you only have the cost of the formatting software. If you are hiring someone to format a book, it will cost anywhere from $30-200 for standard prose books, and potentially hundreds more if you have special formatting needs such as a cookbook, children's book, photography book, etc.



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5 thoughts on “How to Format a Book: The Ultimate Guide

Comments
  1. Bill Parker

    I have formatted 21 novels in MS Word and found it to be more than up to the task. Formatting for Kindle is the most problematic, but more than doable. I have also formatted all of my own 6×9 paperbacks and recently hardcovers. Once you get the basics down, it is fairly easy.
    So, I write the novel in MS Word, all the time remembering to get it basically pre-formatted. Then getting the ebook and paper book formats become a simple job.
    The real secret to everything is having a second set of eyes review it. Nothing is perfect, but the review will turn up most of the simple typos and common editing errors.

    1. Dave Chesson

      Glad that’s working out for you. If you have a process, then things can definitely get more efficient.

  2. Steve

    Why not include Scribus in layout software?

    1. Dave Chesson

      Because I’ve never heard of it, nor be recommended it by any author. But I guess I’ll give it a look.

  3. Jo Johnson

    Dave, the table of contents popped up on this page and obscured the content. Needs a ‘close’ x box!

Comments are closed.

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