DIY Book Formatting (What You Need to Know)

The main purpose of this site is to give you some templates and help you use them to format your book for free (or very cheaply). I’m also making some guides and video tutorials that will help you design a professional, balanced, aesthetically pleasing, well-spaced and flawless book.


Let’s start with some basic ground rules

The goal of formatting is to look professional and make the story easy to read. A little bit of style is OK but you don’t want to take big risks or do anything strange or distracting. In fact, most of my templates are a bit too flashy (I got bored after the first couple). Using a lot of decorations or fancy fonts is probably a bad idea.

Doing research
Go to the library with a ruler. Take pictures of what you like and don’t. Browse through my example gallery. Make some decisions. You don’t want to play around or hesitate or waste too much time fretting about this stuff. It doesn’t matter as much as you think it does, as long as you’re copying professionally done books and not making stuff up on the fly.

Book size
You’ll need to start by choosing a book size. 6”x9” may seem like the obvious choice but for most books I think it’s a little big. You don’t want a big but very thin book. You want a book that’s got some substance and thickness to it. I’d shoot for at least 200 pages, and not more than 350 pages. That’s enough to give the book some weight without the printing costs eating into your profits.

If you have a shorter book, say around 50,000 words, this might seem tough to do – but just add in some more spacing (don’t make the font sizes bigger). Extra spacing doesn’t make a book look cheap, it actually makes it look cleaner and more professional.

You’ll need to check your printer / distributor to see what options they offer.

Tip: I always recommend Createspace over Lightning Source – LS offers no tangible benefits for self-publishing, higher setup fees and much more complications in the process of preparing files. The argument that LS can get your book in bookstores is entirely false: bookstores won’t stock your book just because it’s easy and available. Bookstores buy the bestsellers and they return what doesn’t sell. Don’t think LS is worth the investment with bookstores in mind: the most important thing are your sales and your reviews, and for that you can’t beat Kindle, Createspace and Smashwords as distributors. Someday if your book is a bestseller and bookstores are clamoring for it, you can reassess whether LS is worth the investment. (Also – I’ve had bookstores, libraries and universities order my books in bulk from CS at discount).


This is what Createspace offers right now. Of those, I’d start with 5.25 by 8, because the 5×8 cover is too tall and narrow. (A 5 by 8 cover is exactly the “ideal proportions” Kindle wants for cover art – 1.6 – but this is a recommendations all traditional publishers ignore because it looks too tall and narrow, perfect for an iPhone 5 screen maybe but on most devices ill-fitting.)

The 1.5 ratio of the 6×9 cover is much more “bookish” and ordinary, and leaves more room for cover art. But as I mentioned, 6×9 can feel a bit big and flimsy and I like the smaller, more compact size of the 5.25 by 8…. unless you have a longer book and can pad out a 6×9 to at least a couple hundred pages). Whatever you choose, just set the document size and you’re done – it’s an easy choice to change later and fix, although you may have to redo some stuff so it’s better to decide early.

Page Margins
The margins are how far the text is away from the edge of the page. You want them to be spacious, but not so much that it seems like you’re wasting paper. Half an inch is not quite enough, 1 inch is a little too much.

For the sides, I think between .6” and .8” will do. You can also set the “gutter” – which is the extra space on the edges that are held together in the bending. This brings the text out from the fold a bit. I’m luke-warm on the issue but a .3” gutter will probably do nicely.


Most of my templates are actually set at around .5″ ~ .6″ margins, and not always with a gutter.

For example, this one (above) has .6″ margins on the sides, .55 on the bottom and .65 on the top, with .3 spacing for the header and footer.

Hugh Howey’s Dust (set in Adobe Caslon) has about 1″ margins and no noticeable gutter. The bottom margin is just under 1″, and the headers/page numbers about 3/4th inch from the top margin.


(BTW, I would have gone a font size smaller and added a little more spacing between the lines… Dust is exactly 400 pages, the extra margin spacing and larger size – 6×9 – makes it more hefty and epic, but the font size makes it seem more like a YA book and the line spacing is a little cramped).

Also take into account your headers and footers – they should be roughly evenly spaced between the top or bottom page edges, and the body text. So if your top and bottom margins are .8” (and they should probably be a little bigger than your side margins), then your header or footer would be about .4” in from the edge, with enough spacing between it and the body so it stands out cleanly.

Body fonts and line height
Unless you’re writing a children’s book, use a serif font at 11 or 12pt. This is not the place to get creative. You do not need to worry about “sight impaired” people or make your text big and easy to read. The majority of your readers are going to be people who read and are used to reading books.

Use the tried-and-true fonts that are consistently used in print for millions and millions of books. Here’s a list of my favorites, in order of preference, and the most common. Some of these have cheaper, common versions – if you can, try to find a “pro” version (if you have to pay for it, it’s probably better).

• Adobe Caslon Pro
• Sabon
• Dante
• Minion Pro
• Adobe Garamond Pro
• Goudy Bookletter 1911
• ITC New Baskerville
• Dante
• Minion Pro
• Cardo
• Janson
• Bookman Old style
• Palatino Linotype
• Bembo
• Theano Didot
• Tryst
• Fournier
• Filosophia
• Electra


(These may not be ideal, but should work for body fonts, and are free)…

Tip: check out the computers at your local library or ask your friends to see what fonts they have installed – if they have one you want you can borrow it, or just finish formatting on their computer.

Some fonts look a little smaller than others – Garamond Premiere Pro at 12pt for example looks significantly smaller than some of the other fonts at 12pt. Usually I’d use 11pt or 11.5, but it depends on the size you picked. YA text can be a little bigger (a larger 12) whereas some academic or non-fiction could be a smaller 11.

In general, your line height should be around 1.3.
1 is too tight and 1.5 is often too wide and spread out – although for some genres, especially self-help or spiritual, this extra spacing can really suit the subject matter.

For a 6×9 book, shoot for an average of 350 words per page – for a 5×8, around 300.
But as I mentioned, I firmly believe making the book a little weighty goes a long way in increasing customer satisfaction, so if your print book is under 100 pages for example, I’d increase the line height and margins to push it up closer to 200 pages.

This isn’t cheating – people are buying the same book and paying the same money for it. The book will just seem less flimsy or insubstantial.


Make your book beautiful… without the headache

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Using styles (important!)

The biggest mistake I see with authors trying to DIY their interior formatting is that they don’t use styles.

Both Word and InDesign allow you to set a character or paragraph style – for example, in MS Word, you can click “Header 1” and it will automatically change the font, size, line height, color and spacing.

microsoft word using styles book formatting

What you don’t want to do is decide to change your header font and then go back and have to manually fix every instance. I really hate when an author uses nothing but the default “normal” style – so if I change and update that style it erases everything from all the headers, headings and other elements back to “normal.”

So set up your styles first and remember to use them!

Type out a paragraph, set the font, and line height, and remove the indent or set it to “0”. Select that paragraph and save it as a style called “Firstparagraph.” That’s your standard, non-indented first paragraph that’s virtually a given in all print books and ebooks (even if you change it later, you’ll want a first paragraph style that’s easy to change).

Copy that paragraph, set the indent to .3” and save it as “normal.” That’s your regular body paragraph.

Make styles for…
• Chapter-headings
• Subtitle
• Quotes
• Page-numbers
• Title-page
• Copyright-page
• Footers
• Headers

Get those sorted and start using them – that way when the book is all laid out and you decide to change the subtitle font or style, you don’t have to go through and fix everything manually, or screw everything up and have to start from scratch.

Instead, you’d just edit one version of the subtitle, highlight it and update the style based on the new settings – and the changes will automatically be made throughout the book (more on the specifics of this later, in the respective software guides.

Front matter pages
You’ll want a title page, a copyright page, a TOC (table of contents), preface or introduction, and/or dedication. Both Word and InDesign will let you make an automatic table of contents that you can update without having to do it all manually – those are also important for converting to ebook formats (I’ll tell you how to make those later).

Chapter Pages
Chapter pages usually have a little bit of flair and style, depending on the genre, but don’t overdo it.

• The body text should start about halfway down the page.
• The top half of the page should be for “Chapter One” or something similar.
• The fonts and style should match your book cover.

You may wish to add a special divider or style but unless you’re writing YA romance, conservative is probably best. Simple and stylish.

These are the decisions you have to make:
1. The first paragraph is almost always non-indented; although I’ve also seen it super-indented.
2. Drop caps on the first paragraph are common, but with or without is fine.
3. All caps for the first few words is common, sometimes in a nice sans-serif for contrast.
4. Chapter pages don’t have headers, and rarely page numbers, although a single page number at the bottom (usually centered) is OK – even if the page numbers are usually in the headers on the top of the page.
5. Some books make sure all chapter pages are on the right hand side, leaving a blank page on the left if necessary. But it’s not obligatory, and needs more effort.

Word and InDesign are different when it comes to setting up these pages so I’ll talk more about that later. For me personally, I just style one chapter page and the first few pages of the book, and then outsource for for someone to copy my style and finish it up.

Yet another word of caution…

I didn’t want to throw up a bunch of minimalist templates, so made these with some kick. But while they may work for YA or Children’s books, it’s probably best to go even simpler. If you use a fancy dropcap, don’t also use page decorations or a fancy font for the chapter titles. Pair something stylish with something uber-minimalist (a very small, simple serif). Most of my chapter headings are also much too big and bold. Compare my templates with all the ones on the Gallery page to get a sense of what I’m talking about – almost all of them look the same apart for the “decisions” I listed above. Small, simple, stylish, lots of space, fonts that match the cover font – decoration can be fun if used well and sparingly.

Section breaks
Sometimes a chapter will have different sections, and you want to add a break without using a full on new chapter heading.

You can skip a couple spaces.

You can non-indent the first sentence after the break, or make it bolded or all-caps. A dropcap is probably over-doing it.

If you choose a divider, choose carefully.
I’ve come to realize that I’m not a fan of the very common, three asterisks:

* * *

I think three large periods is more stylish, especially for non-fiction:

. . .

If you’re writing romance or fantasy you can use a flourish:


But for most books, I find the little glyphs or symbols more distracting than not. Keep them small and as subtle as possible. Get something custom made that really matches your book.

Or play it safe, and just add a space and a non-indent.

Tip: if you want a really easy way to add something unique, search for symbol fonts, that add symbols or flourishes rather than letters. That way you can just type the symbol, center it and use it just like text. Here’s a list of some you can use: Fraktur-Schmuck, Swinging, TheFrench, Tribalism Free, WWDesigns, artistic swash, Calligraphic Frames, ccdiv, ccdiv2, Cornucopia Caligrafica, Destiny’s Decorative, Floral Garnish, Floreale Two, NeoclassicFleuronsFree, NatVignetteOne (and Two), Nymphette

Something to watch out for…
Be careful when you center things like chapter headings or break symbols – there’s a good chance you’re starting from the “normal” style that includes an indent. So you’re “centering” it but it’s really adding in the .3” indent, which makes the center a little off. If you add section symbols or other centered text, make sure it’s set to “0” indent, then center it, then save or update the style.

Headers and footers

You can also use your headers of footers to cement your book’s unique style.
In general, use the book cover fonts (or subtitle/author name fonts if the title font is too messy or unclear). You basically want a simple serif or sans-serif, although italics can look nice too. Page numbers and headings should be a bit smaller, probably 9 or 10pt).

Often left and right pages alternate, so that the text and page numbers are always on the edges.
Often one page will have the author name, the other the title.
The text is often in all-caps.

The page number can be up next to the text in the header – if so you can remove some of the footer space or bottom margin.

Or, the page number can be on the bottom.
Having headers and footers centered, rather than at the edges, seems to be pretty common as well – so if figuring out whether you need to align them right or left is getting confusing, there’s nothing wrong with centering them all so you don’t have to worry one page will be screwed up and ruin the book.

Out of hundreds and hundreds of books I researched, I found a couple with headings on the bottom (which I hate – as I also hate Windows 8 for trying to do the same thing) and one with the headings and numbers on the side margins (interesting, but why try so hard to be different?)

Remember, risks distract from the story and can rarely improve the experience. The story is what matters.
The job of the formatting is to disappear and use convention to present the story in a format readers recognize and expect, so they can get right into it without getting pulled out of the story by distracting elements.

Plus – you’ve already made the sale. You don’t need to impress the readers with anything other than great content.

Got it? Great – the following sections will deal with formatting in Word and InDesign more directly.

Still here? You’re working too hard.

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