How to format your book for print

Gutenberg Bible

Are you ready to go to print?

By Scott Bury

I just finished setting up my second book for print output through Createspace, and it struck me how different, and more complex, it is than publishing an e-book.

(No, it’s not a fantasy — well, not in the sense we define “fantasy” in the Guild of Dreams — so I won’t go into the book; if you’re curious, check my website or blog.)

In today’s publishing environment, writers — particularly independent authors — are responsible for formatting as well as writing.

Several decades ago, my first job post-university was with one of the big publishers (it was so long ago, there were more big publishers — they hadn’t all merged, yet). I learned a few things about these aspects that readers take for granted in print books. In the 21st-century publishing environment, I though I’d pass on a few tips to my fellow independent fantasy writers who want to make their books available in print.

The easy errors

Some of the early e-books that I read made some pretty amateurish mistakes.

  • straight quotes/inch marks instead of opposite open and closing quotation marks
  • inch marks instead of apostrophes
  • open quote ‘ instead of apostrophe ’
  • double-spacing between paragraphs, instead of indents
  • self-made, amateurish covers
  • hyphens instead of dashes, or only slightly better, two or three hyphens instead of a long dash.

Thankfully, Microsoft Word, Pages and other modern word processors automatically correct much of this. Just make sure that, in your Preferences or Options, you have turned on “curly quotes.” Use the Ruler to set up an automatic indent for the first line of a new paragraph, and also that you do NOT indent the first paragraph of a new chapter or section.

Rule of thumb: after any heading or subheading, the first paragraph is NOT indented.

Learn the difference between a hyphen, an en-dash, and an em-dash.

  • The hyphen is the shortest. Use it to join words, like north-west.
  • The en-dash is twice as long as the hyphen. Use it in numbers, like “June 3–4.” It’s usually selected with Alt-Hyphen or Option-Hyphen (on a Mac).
  • The em-dash is twice as long as the en-dash. Use it to indicate a break in your text. Select it with Shift-Alt-Hyphen, or on a Mac, Shift-Option-Hyphen.

Think about print

When I was working for one of the Big 6 publishers I learned to think about the “page spread” as opposed to just the page. When someone reads a print book, they see two pages side by side, even though they focus on a line at a time.

A page spread consists of two pages: a left, or verso page, and a right, or recto. In the West, where we read left to right, we tend to start with a right-hand page, so the left is the back, or verso, of the right-hand page.

Left hand pages have even numbers, right pages have odd numbers, because we start page 1 on the right-hand side, then turn it over.

Format your book for print

Word allows “mirroring margins,” so that you have opposite left and right margins, and a different setting for the “gutter.”

Depending on whom you talk to, the outside margin — left on the verso (left) page, right on the recto — should be either wider or narrower than when laying out pages that are to be printed on one side only (the recto — think about your high-school reports).

Createspace asks for a wider gutter — right margin on the left page, opposite on the other side — because of the perfect binding — the flat, glued spine of the book. With a thick, perfect-bound book, text too close to the spine is harder to read. Createspace offers a Word template that has a suggested width for left, right and gutter margins.

Headers and footers

With opposite pages, you can have opposite formats for headers and footers.

The first thing to realize here is that the first page of every document and every chapter has a different format. In Word, choose “Different first page” from the Layout menu. In Apple’s Pages, select Setup–Section–“Hide (Headers and footers) on first page of section.”

The second thing to remember is that left and right pages necessarily have opposite treatments of page numbering.

Traditionally, when it comes to fiction, publishers have not done much about this. Looking at some old books I have, I notice that typically, the verso page has the author’s name, while the recto bears the title of the book. Page numbers are centred on the bottom, or the footer.

Personally, I think it’s much better to have the page number (folio, in publishing jargon) on the outside corner — that is, on the far left of the header or footer of the left-hand/verso page, and on the far right of the recto.

Sometimes for very long books or anthologies, the header has the page number on the outside corner (left side for left page, right side for right page — this makes it easier to find the page you want); one header may have the name of the author of that chapter, while the other page has the title of the whole anthology, or sometimes the theme of the current section.

For example, my 1999 edition of The Lord of the Rings, three-volume set has the book title (eg. The Fellowship of the Ring) on the left/verso, and the chapter title, eg. “A Short Cut to Mushrooms,” on the right/recto. The page numbers are on the outside corners of the header, and the footers are blank.

The textbooks that I worked on had a much more complex treatment. Headers or footers would show the part and chapter titles, along with the page number, in the outside corner.

It’s important to put the folio in the outside corner. Think about how you use a book. Pick up a print book, the one closest to you right now. Turn to page 96. How do you do that? You hold the book’s spine in one hand, and use the opposite thumb to flip through the pages. How much more difficult it will be to find page 96 if the folio were in the gutter, instead of on the outside?

How to accomplish this

In Word or Pages, you can put a different header/footer by:

selecting “different first page” from the Header and Footer or Page Layout menu

inserting a Section Break for each chapter and deselecting the “Continue from previous” button in the Header/Footer menu.

This gives you four areas to put four different kinds of information:

  • book title
  • part title
  • chapter title
  • author.

When I was writing my first novel, I sent a preliminary draft to a beta reader who had pretensions to being a publisher. I thought I would send something that would imitate a professionally printed book, as far as possible with the technology and my experience at the time, so I did those very things:

  • set up facing pages
  • put the folios (page numbers) on the outside corners
  • put the name of the series of the book (The Dark Age) on the left (verso) footer
  • put the name of the book (The Bones of the Earth) on the recto footer
  • put the part title (Part 1, Initiation Rites; Part 2: Tests; Part 3: The Mission) on the left header
  • put the chapter title in the right header.

The beta reader went ballistic on this. “What are you doing! A publisher just wants to see the page numbers in the header or the footer. This is way too fancy.” But why? It’s information that adds to the experience for the reader. If you don’t want to see it, don’t look — in fact, when we read a book, this fades into the background.

While Word makes this pretty straightforward, Apple’s Pages word processing program has no facing pages option, so this is very frustrating.

In the interest of professionalism…

… think about these things. You don’t have to have such complex layout, but if you start to take advantage of the options that today’s word processing programs give you, you can add value for your readers. And all this helps to bolster the professional image of you, the independent author, and all us independent authors in general.

Scott Bury is a journalist, editor and writer living in Ottawa. His articles have been published in newspapers and magazines in Canada, the US, UK and Australia.

Picture of Scott Bury
Read more of Scott’s writing at Written Wordsand Scott’s Travel Blog, and on his website, The Written Word. Follow him on Twitter @ScottTheWriter.
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4 comments on “How to format your book for print

  1. Thanks for this article, Scott! Especially the Mac instructions for pages. 🙂 The information is really timely, since I’m working on a re-edit of book 1 (which has gotten more involved than expected…) to then format for CreateSpace. Hopefully, I’ll be using these tips in a few weeks!

  2. Pingback: How to format your book for print | Wordslingr Magazine

  3. Really useful information. I’m planning to incorporate a lot of this into our software. We focus a lot on publishing to eBook formats, of course, but I want to add print-ready publishing options as well (output to PDF suitable for sending to a printer).

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