book formatting mistakes to avoid

I was checking out a book cover designer’s portfolio, he has some great stuff and amazing prices. Obviously not the best, but learning, and pretty good, and cheap. But he’s also offering book formatting services; he has a portfolio of only 5 images, and they had these problems:

  1. There was a header on top of the chapter page
  2. The same ‘genre’ font (specialty font to match genre) was used on the chapter heading, the page heading and the first sentence (yuck).
  3. All the rest, spacing, margins, indents, etc, where fine but nothing super.

He’s charging $99. Pretty good price, says he does it in InDesign. But just because someone can use InDesign, and knows a little bit about book formatting, and is cheap, doesn’t mean you should hire him.

Just because you pay someone, doesn’t make them a professional designer. And no, I don’t think you need to pay someone a lot of money to get quality design: you just have to educate yourself a little bit.

When you’re hiring a designer, it’s not just about his portfolio or how the work looks to you. You need to learn the rules first. You need to check out my gallery and see what professional book design looks like. Does that designer’s interior book design look like all those other books? Is it as clean and polished? Or is he breaking some rules and doing things differently?

With book design, doing things differently and new is never a sign of an experienced designer. Being clever and doing things like putting headers and page numbers in a weird place just for the sake of being novel will disorient readers.

There really aren’t many rules to book design. If you download my free templates you’ll see I can make lots of style variations with just three fonts, and they look amazing (though some are too busy and distracting). Learning how to design minimally, and learning how to appreciate the white space between the text, is what truly separates quality designers from amateurs.

So before you hire somebody, get the templates. Take a look at the design gallery. Make sure your book cover is brilliant and that your chapter heading fonts match your cover (so important, but so rarely done by indie authors! It’s such a giveaway that the book was poorly produced by random designers not collaborating).

10 book formatting mistakes and red flags to watch out for

Having a well-formatted book is crucial for providing a professional and engaging reading experience. Here are some common book formatting mistakes or red flags that you should avoid:

1. Inconsistent Formatting:

Inconsistencies in your formatting can disrupt the reading experience and make your book look unprofessional. This can include inconsistencies in font sizes and styles, spacing, indentation, and headers and footers. To avoid this, create a clear style guide for your book and stick to it throughout.

2. Incorrect or Inconsistent Margins:

The margins in your book should be consistent and appropriate for the book size. Books typically have “mirrored” margins, meaning the inside margins are narrower than the outside margins, to accommodate the binding. Inconsistent or incorrect margins can make the book difficult to read.

3. Poor Paragraph Formatting:

Paragraphs should have a clear first-line indent, and there should be a clear space between paragraphs if you’re not using indents. Avoid using both at the same time as it can make the text look disorganized.

4. Using Too Many Different Fonts:

While you might be tempted to use various fonts to make certain sections stand out, this can often lead to a messy and confusing layout. Stick to one or two fonts – one for headings and one for body text is a common choice.

5. Overuse of Bold or Italic Text:

Bold and italics can be used for emphasis, but when overused, they can make the text appear cluttered and disrupt the reading flow. Use these styles sparingly.

6. Ignoring Page Breaks:

Page breaks should be used at the end of each chapter to ensure that the next chapter begins on a new page. If page breaks are ignored, chapters can run together, which is confusing for the reader.

7. Lack of or Incorrectly Formatted Headers and Footers:

Headers and footers help orient the reader and provide a professional look. Headers typically contain the book title, chapter title, or author’s name, while footers usually contain the page number.

8. Poorly Designed or Inconsistent Chapter Headings:

Chapter headings signal to the reader that they’re starting a new section of the book. These should be consistent in style and positioned correctly (usually at the top of a new page).

9. No Page Numbers or Incorrectly Placed Page Numbers:

Page numbers are essential for readers to keep track of their progress through the book. They should be consistently placed (usually in the footer) and start from the main body of the book, not the front matter.

10. Ignoring the Front and Back Matter:

The front matter (title page, copyright page, table of contents, etc.) and back matter (appendices, acknowledgments, etc.) should be correctly formatted and included in the book.

Avoiding these common mistakes will help ensure that your book is presented in a professional manner, allowing your readers to fully engage with your content.

Derek Murphy
Derek Murphy

I'm a location independent book designer (and book marketing genius) working on my PhD in Literature and shopping for a castle to use as a writer's paradise. I write non-fiction and YA.

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