How to Format a Book: A 5-Step Guide to Design your Print Books.

How to Format a Book: 5 Step Guide to Interior Book Formatting

How to format a Book

A properly formatted book is easier to read and tells your audience that it is from a professional author and not some amateur writer. If you are an aspiring author looking to self-publish, you need to understand the process of book formatting properly and have a standard manuscript format that would make self-publishing hassle-free.

The right formatting standards inform the readers that they need to take the book seriously. There are many tools and software available that will help you manuscript format. Still, book formatting might seem like a tricky task for many. If you want to be a successful independent author, you need to follow all the formatting guidelines and create a professional book.

In this 5 step guide, we will guide you through the process of book formatting to produce a professional print book. Before we dive into it, let us look at the significance of book formatting.

Why is Book Formatting Essential?

Most authors create their manuscripts using a word processor software such as Google Docs. Pages, Scrivener, or Microsoft Word, etc. But when it comes to creating a printed book, you need to know how to format a book. As an author, make sure that you deliver the best experience for your reader.

Book formatting ensures a professional print book equivalent to a traditionally published print book that your buyer would find in any bookstore.

The last thing you want is a reader who leaves a poor book review because they were distracted by simple book formatting mistakes, printing problems, or typesetting errors.

Step 1: How to Prepare Your Manuscript for Proper Formatting

A few writers decide to begin the manuscript formatting as soon as they start with the first page of their manuscript in MS Word. In contrast, others finish the complete manuscript and worry about formatting at a much later stage. There is no right or wrong way here, but following a few important rules is better before formatting your book.

Here are some of the essential steps you need to take before you begin the process of manuscript formatting:

1. Clear All Formatting

The simplest and fastest way to make sure that your book reads the same way in every chapter is to remove all the formatting from the entire Word document and start again.

2. Remove the Forced Line Breaks and Paragraph Breaks

For Word-

Press Ctrl +A to select the entire document.  Click the Home tab in the header, then the Clear all formatting button in the Font menu.


For Google Docs-

Press Ctrl +A to select the whole document, then go to Format and select Clear formatting.

clear formatting

3. Make sure all your Chapters Start on a New Page

For Word and Google Docs-

To ensure that each new chapter starts on a new page, use the Ctrl +Enter keys to insert a Page Break.

4. Remove Tabs

Many authors use the tab key to indent the first word of each paragraph in the text. You must delete it. Next time, when you type in your manuscript in MS Word make sure you don’t hit the tab key for indentation.

5. Images

The correct way to add an image to your book is to use the Insert Image function of your word processor. Place the image In Line With Text which locks it on a separate line between two paragraphs.

6. Final Spelling Check and Proofread

You should now have a “clean” version of your manuscript, ready to format as a print document.

Step 2: Formatting the Interior Design of your Print Book

Two key styles should be set before formatting any book:

  • The chapter headings style
  • Your normal paragraph style for the body text of your novel

Format and Customise the Chapter Title as Heading 1

Create a New Paragraph Style for the Body Text

  •  Alignment of the Text
  • Font and Font Size
  • First Line Paragraph Indent
  • Line Spacing in the Text
  • Line Spacing between Paragraphs

Insert a Scene Separator (Fiction Authors)
Create a New Style for the First Paragraph of Each New Chapter

  • No Indent in the First Paragraph
  • Set a Dropped Cap for the First Letter

1. Format each Chapter Title as Heading 1

All chapter titles and section headings must be assigned the Header 1 style in the Table of Contents.

In both Word and Google Docs. Click on the chapter or page heading and select Heading 1 style in the Styles menu or list. 

You can then customize the font and font size of the Heading 1 style to match your genre/niche.

  • Set the Heading 1 Spacing and Alignment

The heading of every new chapter is normally dropped about a third of the way down the page and placed in the center of the page. Space is also inserted below the Chapter heading to separate it from the first paragraph of the text.

  • Work through your document.

Apply the saved Heading 1 style to every chapter title and page title that you want to be included in the Table of Contents.

2. Create a New Normal Paragraph Style for the Body Text

  • Font and Font Size

Finding the best font is crucial while getting your book ready for publication. Fonts, to a large extent, affect the reading experience. Hence, you need to choose the right font for your book.

Readers will have a better reading experience for large blocks of text when you use a serif style font in font size 10 to 12 pt.  Serif fonts have small tails at the end of the letters. Standard serif styles include Garamond, Palatino Georgia, and Times New Roman, but many others.

For large blocks of text, readers will have a better reading experience when you use a serif style font in font size 10 to 12 pt.  Reminder. Serif fonts have small tails at the end of the letters. Standard serif styles include Garamond, Palatino Georgia, and Times New Roman, but many others.

  • The Paragraph First Line Indent

Many novelists prefer to indent the text on the first line of each paragraph using the Special First Line indentation style instead of tabs.

  • Text Alignment

Some authors prefer to leave the body text left-aligned. In contrast, others prefer to fully justify the text of their novel so that it automatically fills the page with blocks of text.

  • Line Spacing

To adjust line spacing between the rows of text. Normal text is single-spaced. This is fine for eBooks, but it is best to increase the line spacing slightly so that it is easier to read for print books. Select 1.2 or 1.3 lines and test the results.

To adjust the line spacing in Word:

  1. Select all the paragraphs of text on the first page of the chapter.
  2. Click into the Home tab in the header bar. Then Paragraph.
  3. Under Line, Spacing selects Multiple, then type in 2 or 1.3 (lines).

To adjust the line spacing between paragraphs in Word:

  1. Unclick the box that says, “Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style.”
  2. Under Spacing, select After, then type in 3 (pt) to insert a 3-point space between paragraphs. Then OK.

setup spacing

  • Creating a Body Text Style for your Novel

When you have customized your text to look precisely how you want it, save that specific combination of style elements in a new text style which you can then apply to every chapter.

  • Insert a Scene Separator (Fiction Authors)

Many authors use 3 asterisks *** or other text symbols to indicate when a scene ends within a chapter. Be sure to add spacing before and after at least 6 pt to separate the scenes. If you want to use an image, use Insert Pictures.

3. Format the First Paragraph of Each New Chapter

By convention, the first line of the first paragraph of any new chapter is not indented. 

You can remove this indent by selecting the first paragraph of the text in chapter one. Then use the paragraph formatting option to change the setting from First Line Indentation to None.

paragraph spacing

This removes the indent from just that first paragraph that you have selected.

Repeat this Step for the first paragraph in every chapter of your book. 

The first letter of the first word of the first sentence of the first paragraph is often “dropped” as a large capital letter.

The alternative is to change the first few words in the first sentence into upper case capital letters to distinguish them from the remainder of the chapter.

How to Insert a “dropped” capital letter

In Word:

  1. Select the first letter of the first word of the first sentence of the first paragraph of the first chapter.
  2. Click into the Insert Tab in the header bar. Then the Text menu. Click on Dropped. This will then insert a capital of the letter you have selected and drop it 3 lines down in the paragraph and no distance from the next letter in that sentence.
  3. Click on Drop Cap Options. This allows you to change the font of the first letter, the number of lines the letter will drop, and the gap to the next letter in the sentence. I would recommend changing the Lines to Drop to 2 but leaving the gap as 0cm.

dropcap position

Step 3: Creating a Table of Contents

The simplest and fastest way to create a Table of Contents for your print book is to use your word processing software to generate one for you. You can be confident that the page numbers will always be correct.

For example, in Word:

  1. Go to the page where you have the title Contents.
  2. Go to the References tab in the header bar.
  3. Click on Table of Contents. Then use the down arrow to select the Custom Table of Contents option at the bottom of the box.                             table of contents
  4. Check “Show Page Numbers.”  Uncheck “Use hyperlinks instead of page numbers” – this is used for eBooks.
    General. Show levels – change this to 1 (Heading 1) or the number of heading styles you have used for this book.

Go to Options. Scroll down all the styles that you can use to build a Table of Contents. Select Heading 1 and delete the (1) number against any other style that may be listed as an option.

table of contents options

Click OK. The software will now detect all Heading 1 text and list that text with the page number in your Table of Contents.

Step 4: Set the Trim Size of your Finished Printed Book

The term “trim size” is used by publishing companies to describe your printed book’s finished width and height.

Five factors determine the ideal trim size for your work:

  1. The page count of your book.
  2. The spine width. Your book should have at least 110 double-sided printed pages to ensure that the finished paperback will be thick enough to have lettering on the spine.
  3. Printing costs/profit margin.
  4. Your genre or niche expectations.
  5. The ideal reading experience you want for your reader.

Common Trim Sizes for Commercial Genre Fiction

Trade paperback sizes can range from 5.5” x 8.5” to 6” x 9” in the USA. Commercial fiction book genres range from 4.25” x 6.87” to 5.25”x 8”.

Unless you are using A4 or US Letter as the trim size for your finished paperback, use your document’s page layout instructions to change the page size of your manuscript to match the trim size.

  • Set the Margins for Your Printed Book

Every page in a printed book has five margins which set the distance between the text of your novel and the edge of the page; a top, bottom, outside, and inside margin, plus an extra inside “gutter” margin to make sure that your text does not get lost during the binding process.

This is why print books have “mirror margins” where the gutter is equal on both right and left pages, reflecting one another.

set margins

Set the margins for your document using the Page Set-Up menu and Custom Margins. Always add Mirror Gutter Margins.

For example, while using Microsoft Word:

Go to the Layout tab in the Page Setup header menu

Then click on Margins and Custom Margins at the bottom of the options.

custom margins

Click Pages. Multiple pages and then select Mirror Margins.

Click Apply to the Whole Document.  Then click OK.

Step 5: Saving your Formatted Book as a PDF

Once you are thrilled with your interior layout, save or export the book interior as a print-ready PDF. Make sure that all the following options are checked or ticked:

  • Fonts and images are embedded.
  • Bookmarks, annotations, and comments are disabled.
  • PDF/X format is used if possible. Otherwise PDF/A Compliant.

For example, using Word:


wired options

Open the PDF and check every page before uploading it to your print-on-demand publishing platform.

Once you have taken all the steps for formatting your book, you are ready to get your book self-published.

Related Blogs you Might be Interested in