Do I read the magazines when I'm in my friend's restroom? No. I appraise her baseboards--the width and style of them. I check out the hardware on her cabinets, and I notice if the tile guy made the most attractive cuts for the room. (Of course, I keep my observations to myself!) Having your eyes opened to construction details is half blessing, half curse!
The same thing has happened to me regarding book formatting. You all know I made the biggest rookie error of all time when I failed to justify the right alignment of my text in my first edition. I still shudder at the mistake. I have been reading my entire life, and I never thought about text alignment. Readers didn't complain, but to me, the error was unacceptable. I began to wonder what else I didn't know about book formatting--and it turns out, the list was long!
Without further ado, I'm going to list for you the things I've learned, done, and the things you can do, to make your paperback look more professional. I will include a sample of my book below. All of my suggestions are FREE to implement. I don't have hundreds to spend on book formatting software so I used Word to make my book look as professional as possible.
- Justify the right alignment of your text!
- The FIRST paragraph of each CHAPTER is NOT indented.
- Font matters! If you can't afford to buy fonts, use a bookmakers' font like Garamond (Word has a free version of it and it's BEAUTIFUL!). I updated my kindle version with Garamond as well.
- Adjust the font size for your reader. I used 14 point because my readers are young and could possibly be intimidated by small print.
- Choose a stylish page number that matches your book's subject matter. I chose a whimsical page number for The Pet Washer. (Word has many choices).
- Don't number the first page of each NEW chapter (and certainly don't number your front matter and back matter--titles pages, About the Author etc.) I used Section Breaks after each chapter to keep the page number count consistent, but I selected "different first page" to remove the headers and footers for each new chapter page).
- Put your name and the name of your book on every numbered page in a header or a footer (I chose header). You can reduce the color to a soft black or gray. Why do this? It's fantastic marketing. I have read many books where I instantly forget the authors name--unless they pasted it on every stinkin' page. You'll see how it looks in my sample--and it's a common choice these days for publishers.
- Check your margins! They should not be too big or too small. No one wants to see words squished to the ends of the pages, and no one wants a sea of white space and a small rectangle of text either. On a small book, I think a one inch margin can be too much--but 1/2 inch is usually too small for any book. The readers eye requires a comfortable amount of white space.
- Mind your gutter! Createspace, or whoever you use, won't put the gutter in for you. Margins and gutters are two different things. Take the time to format these two measurements until you're satisfied.
- Update your TOC! Every time you mess with your font size or margins, your page number count changes. Don't forget to update your Table of Contents with the new page numbers.
- Stylize your chapter headings! You have a lot of options when it comes to chapter headings, even in Word. I used a cute hyphen to set off my chapter titles like this ~The Princess~. You can choose something modern like: 1. The Princess. You can change up the font or add a graphic. The key is to match the style to your content.
- Drop caps! The first line of the first paragraph is often stylized with a Drop Cap first letter, or the first few words are written entirely in caps. View my example to see how I chose to accent the first line of my chapters!
- Include a list of all the books you've written. I haven't published my other novels yet, so I didn't do this, but again, it's smart advertising. I would put this in the front matter.
- If the book is a series, include a blurb and/or an excerpt for the next book! I described book two, The Wishing Star, in my back matter. Readers have just completed The Pet Washer and what better time to mention The Wishing Star! It's not published yet, but I announced it as Coming Soon.
- Include your website address! I included the website for the Pet Washer series on the title page, and the website address for my blog is in the About the Author section.
- Include a photo only if it's a professional head shot--just my opinion. It can be artsy, but the quality needs to be professional. I did not include a photo in my About the Author section simply because I don't have one.
- Front matter! Should include the minimum of a title page, a copyright page, and a TOC. I also included a dedication page.
- Back matter! Should include the minimum of an About the Author page. I also included an announcement regarding book two.
- The cover! I believe books are judged by their covers. Of all things--pay for a professional cover (unless you have mad skills). The cover should be formatted to look good as a thumbnail image because bookstores rarely carry indie books. You can sell paperbacks all day long on Amazon--but it will be off your thumbnail image--just like the ebooks.I love the charm of my first cover, but it didn't display well as a thumbnail. The new cover, with the puppy, speaks more directly to my audience (ages 7 and up) and is a vibrant thumbnail image.
- Calculate the spine! You can't calculate your spine width until you have a final page count. Let your designer know this in advance. Don't accept completed files until all measurements are accounted for!
- Pricing! The longer your book, the more expensive it will be to print. If you have a 500 page book--you will be forced to charge your customers an arm and a leg for it and it may not be worth producing as a paperback. There are things you can do to reduce the page count, like shrinking margins, but don't sacrifice the beauty and symmetry of the pages. I chose a larger font for my readers, which means I'll make less per book--but their comfort is more important to me. I have refused to read books that irritate my eyes.
- Breaks within your chapters. Sometimes you end a scene or time goes by and you indicate a break in the novel, but it's not a new chapter. You can use asterisks, extra space between paragraphs, or graphics to indicate the break. In my first edition I used * * * . In my second edition, I used ~ ~ ~ to indicate a break or major scene change. Again, just keep your style consistent, but make a conscious choice about how you will handle these.
- Odd pages are always on the right side! Your book should begin on an odd page on the right side of the book. Chapters can begin on odd or even pages. Some book stylists choose to begin every chapter on the right side, but that is not necessary.
- Blank pages. Sometimes they are necessary in front and back matter--but make sure no accidental ones appear in your book. My TOC fits entirely on a right side page and the left side page is blank.
- Widows and Orphans! Avoid them at all costs (not human ones) pagination ones! Here's an article that explains: http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2010/10/pagination-styles-shall-we-kill-the-widows-orphans/
- LCCN! This is key--if you want a Library of Congress number, do not approve your Proof until you apply for one. Createspace sent in my application for $49.00. Once I receive my number, I will add it to my copyright page and then the new edition of The Pet Washer will be ready for publication! The LCCN is free, but I opted to pay Createspace because they handle the app, send in copies of the book, and it was one less thing to clutter my brain. Why get an LCCN--why not get one? Whenever I speak, I give my book to the school libraries. I'm also going to be approaching county libraries with the new edition. The librarians will appreciate having the number and it could make the difference between being accepted or not being accepted by the library system.
- Proofread! I highly recommend ordering a physical proof of your book before publishing. Nothing makes your errors stand out like seeing the book in print. Have your friends review it also. And I advocate for hiring a professional editor and/or proofreader to go over your text. Bottom line--once your beautiful book is in your readers' hands--it should be perfect!
- New Edition! If you have already published your book and flubbed it like I did--you can release a new edition and retire the original.
I included chapter 11 to show you how I handled scene breaks. The blank pages in my front matter are intentional and appropriate. Try to imagine the pages laid out side by side. Mostly, I wanted to show you my headers and footers, chapter headings, fonts, and page breaks.
The Pet WasherFinalPaperbackFont (Repaired)Sample
|My cover as a thumbnail!|
To Do: Don't take my word for it--go to the local library and study book formatting! It's fascinating and, if you're like me, you'll never look at books the same :)
~This is by no means a complete list of book formatting options--please leave a comment and let me know your ideas, blunders, and successes!