Friday, December 12, 2014

Formatting a Book

Hello again! This is Kelsey. I hope you’re staying warm. Some of us are knee-deep in snow, while others only have to put on a light coat before venturing outside … I’m part of the latter group, and I’d like to keep it that way this winter! But wherever you are, hopefully you’re having cozy opportunities to curl up somewhere with your writing materials.

I’m in the process of formatting my novel for CreateSpace (the self-publishing arm of Amazon—it’s a very straightforward way of publishing your own book; you don’t even have to pay unless you’re purchasing a service, like editing or interior formatting). Some people like to delegate the formatting of a book, but you can do it yourself. Even if you’re not going to format for publishing, you may get a thrill from clothing your story in the guise of a printed book, just for fun. If so, I hope you find these tips for a professional look to be helpful!

Note: This is not a tutorial with detailed instructions, because writing programs differ. I use OpenOffice, so I couldn’t explain how to set up your document in Microsoft Word, for example. This is more of a check-list for making sure your book looks right!
  • Set up your document so that the pages mirror each other. Where they touch is the spine, so you should have a wider margin there and a smaller margin on the edges of the pages. (CreateSpace has templates you can download.) 

  • Analyze several traditionally published novels and note what seems standard and what details are variable.

  • Make your first page on the right. This is the half-title page, or it could be the title page. Half-title pages contain the title alone; title pages contain, in addition to the title, any subtitle, the author’s name, the series name, etc. The title page is also always a recto page (recto means “right”). 
Half-title page

Title page

  • Start the text of the story on a recto page, on an odd page number. (By the way, left-hand pages are called verso—think “reverse side.”)

  • “Justify” your text, which means all the lines of words are aligned with, or touch, the left and right margins. This gives a clean look to the page that makes it easier to read. However, the first line of a paragraph should be indented, and the last line does not need to touch the right margin.

  • Do not indent the first paragraph of a chapter or after a section break. (I wasn’t aware of this rule for my first book, so I found special satisfaction in using it for my second!)

No indentation for first paragraph; justified text; no page number or header

page number and header

  • Make sure the bottom line of each page is even with the bottom line of every other page.

  • When you put in page numbers, make sure no numbers are printed on the title pages, copyright page, dedication page, and other pages that don’t contribute to the story.

  • The same goes for “running heads,” which are the line of text above the story. They could state the book title, or the author’s name, or the series title. But whatever they say, make sure they only start with the story. The first page of each chapter should not have a header, and it should only have a page number if the number is on the bottom.

If this seems overwhelming, don’t worry—take these tips one step at a time, and you’ll have quite the respectable-looking book! Tutorials that can help you set up your document are available online for the particular program you’re working with.

I didn’t want this list to get too long, and, also, I'm still learning myself, so there’s probably something I missed … if you have any ideas or questions, feel free to comment!

Kelsey Bryant is an author, blogger, and copy editor who loves the Lord. She revels in many things: the beauty of God's Word, the music of English, the wonder of nature, the joy of creativity, the freedom of motion, the richness of literature, the intrigue of history ... and much more. To learn more about her, visit her website or blog

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