Where to Start: Sharing Tips for Self-Publishing (Formating)

I’m back! The creative block I was dealing with is gone and I’m back to working on my next book. I’m not entirely sure where this new avenue of inspiration will lead me, but it doesn’t matter. Eventually, everything will become clear in time.

And blind faith in my storytelling abilities kind of sums up what this entire self-publishing journey has been for me. Over the past ten years, I have wandered down paths that didn’t work and ones that did. My sales have been fabulous and sometimes dismal. But I kept going. I kept learning. I kept searching for new ways to move forward.

Eight books and counting!

Exactly how much I’ve learned about the self-publishing industry astounds me. I now have writers coming to me for advice on how to publish their books. What are the steps? Where do I start? There are just so many questions! I talk with them or exchange emails and I’m always reminded of how overwhelming the process can seem the first time around.

My Marketing page gives all sorts of advice and tips for after the book is published, but it doesn’t address any of the steps indie authors need to tackle before they publish. Today I’d like to begin a series of posts that might help. And yes, do your own homework. Goggle ‘how do I self-publish my book’ and read everything you can find on the subject. I just want to add to the conversation and share how I publish my books in the hope that it will help new authors in their own journey.

Where to start: Formating the Interior

Okay, you have written a book and you’ve opted to go the self-publishing route. Where do you start?

(My personal formatting notes are at the end of this list)

Photo by Romain V on Unsplash
  1. First, make sure your book is edited! If it is, then promise yourself you aren’t going to go back a year from now and tinker with it again. This is the final-final drop-dead last version of your print book. This promise to yourself matters. It matters because you have to determine how many pages the book will be. The number of pages and the overall size of the book will determine its print cost. (You can easily make corrections and additions to an ebook format, but print is a different animal altogether.) So have a hard talk with yourself and then no more massaging the prose.
  2. I publish my print books through Amazon KDP. (Back in the day, it used to be called Createspace.) Once you create an account, you can dive into all the information Amazon provides writers on standard book sizes, formating tips, cover specs, and what file type your book should be in when you submit it to Amazon. Read everything they have, and take notes.
  3. Decide on your overall book size, and keep it a standard size. Is your book a 5.25 x 8 or is it a 6×9? Go to your own bookshelf and study the different sizes. Hold them in your hands. If you’ve written a 50k book and don’t want the paperback to look like a chatbook, you’re probably going to pick a smaller overall size. If you’ve written a 200K doorstop, go with a larger overall book size.
  4. After you’ve decided on your book size then go back to your manuscript and change the overall page size to match the book dimensions you’ve chosen. At this point, your document might still be double-spaced and in Times New Roman. First, hit Ctrl-A and change the entire book to single-spaced and to a font Amazon suggests. Novels are single-spaced. If you don’t believe me, go back to your bookshelf and crack open several traditionally published books. No double spacing there! Okay, now you have a rough idea of how many pages your book will be. Do you want to change the overall book size from your first choice? If so, do it now. (A 300-page book will typically cost you more to print than a 250-page book. My books are just under 300 pages and are approximately 87k – 90k word count.)
  5. Book size determined…then the next step is to set your margins and format your text so it looks like a book. Consistency is important here. If you are going to center your Chapter Headings then do so throughout the book. Remember those notes you took while researching what Amazon suggested? Grab those and write down what your margins will be, your heading text size, pick a text font for the body and headings, the number of lines between headings and the top of the page, the line-spacing between the heading and the first line of prose, the amount of indent each first-sentence of each paragraph will receive. Write all of it down so you can refer back to your plan. You want the book’s formatting to remains the same throughout the book.
  6. Once the book is formated to this degree, look at it again. Are you happy with the font you’ve chosen? Go back and grab a few novels from your bookshelf to compare to your screen. (Make sure you set your view to 100% so you are comparing apples to apples.) Amazon suggests several different fonts for your print book. I like Perpetua although it’s not on their list. Some fonts are inherently larger than others. And some are easier on the eyes. Now is the time to decide what you like. What do you find to be the most readable?
  7. Good, all those decisions have been made and implemented. Now you think you have a page final count. But wait! Not quite yet. Time to deal with the Title page, copyright page, dedication page, any prologue or beginning quote, table of contents if you want one, about the author page (usually at the end of the book), previous credits/books published, or added promotional pages and social media links placed at the end of your book. That’s a lot of extra pages to add. Add those. Make sure you refer back to your bookshelf to see how those pages were handled by other authors.
  8. Almost there! Okay, now zoom out so that you can view on your computer screen 4-6 pages of your book at a time. This will give you a better idea of how a reader will experience your book. With mirrored-margins you will see that your title page is first (that’s what I call a facing page. It will appear on the right side when the book is held in your hands. The next page will be the back of your title page (left). This might be your copyright page. Then the facing page (right) is probably your dedication page. The back of the dedication page (left), might be a quote. If this seems crowded, then perhaps you need to add a blank page. Go back to your bookshelves and compare books. Most have a blank page inserted here and there so that there is a little breathing room between all this information. What you want is for your first chapter to start on a facing-page (right). Whether you treat all your chapters this way is up to you, but Chapter 1 should always start on the right.

    I know this can get complicated so here is an example from an early formatting effort with my poetry book. (Releasing in January of 2021.) Five-page view to make this more understandable.

    The title page is a facing-page (right-side when the book is open). The copyright page is the backside of the title page (left when you’ve turned the page and the book is open). The dedication page is a facing-page (on the right and directly across from the dedication page when the book is open). The message to the reader is behind the dedication page (left when the page is turned) and will appear directly across from A Writer’s Prayer. The Introduction begins on the back of the Writer’s Prayer. This way when the book is open the reader can view the introduction in its entirety. The same will apply to the table of contents. What you don’t see in this screenshot is the Grayscale Image will be on the left and the section title will be seen on the right (next page). Then I inserted a blank page (left and backside of the section title page) so that the first poem is viewed on a facing-page (right). And so on… throughout the entire book.

  9. Now that you’ve got all your extra pages inserted into your book and you’ve worked out the section breaks so that only the body of the book shows page numbers, you’re set! You now know the total number of pages your book will have. Amazon KDP has a tool that will give you the cost per book at this point. They can also provide you with a cover template that includes the printable space, spine, and bleed dimensions for your cover. If you aren’t good at graphic design, hire a cover designer and give them this information. Amazon will require a PDF for your cover file. You can choose gloss or matte finish when you enter the book’s general information into their forms.
  10. As for the interior. Save your Word document as a PDF. Embed any non-standard fonts. Now view the PDF in a PDF Reader just to make sure there aren’t any weird anomalies like added pages from hidden format problems you missed. If there are, go back into the word document and find them. Then resave and recheck. The interior of the book will look exactly like your PDF file. If there is a formating mistake after printing, it’s your fault.

My book formatting notes look like this: (applies to all my novels)

Book overall size: 5.25 x 8

Mirrored Margins .4 top, .4 bottom, .5 outside, .75 inside (gutter)

Centered and Bold all Headings: Chapter and all Titles

Chapter headings: 12.5 pt. – no line-spacing from the top of page

Title: 16 pt. 3 lines down from the top of page

Indent first line of prose/paragraph: .24

Body Text: Justified

Text font: Perpetua 12.5 pt. (all but Book Title which is Viner Hand ITC)

Spacing between paragraphs: .0

spacing between lines: .0 (Microsoft Word will automatically make it .8 if you don’t check this in your Paragraph formatting menu)

Page numbers: outside of page

Photo by Bram Van Oost on Unsplash

That should give you plenty to work on! Next post, I’ll walk you through Amazon’s publishing process.

Until then, keep writing and learning!

Author: TarrantSmith

I'm an old soul born at a young age, and a full-time author working on a new series.