Ever wonder how to make your self published paperback version look professional? Here are some of the things most self publishers overlook.
What is front matter? Simply put, it’s all of the stuff at the beginning of the book before you get to the first chapter. It can include:
- List of other books written by the author
- Title page
- Copyright page
- Work of fiction disclaimer or other disclaimers
- Foreword / Introduction
Here are some guidelines for making the front matter look more professional in your paperback edition:
1. Don’t put anything on the first page or save it for customer reviews. Most mass produced paperbacks leave this page blank or they have little one sentence snippets from famous people, other authors, etc. about the book.
2. Always start the title page on the right hand side (odd numbered page).
3. Don’t include page numbers on front matter. Let me say this again. Do not include page numbers on the front matter (except in the case of a Foreword / introduction. Then use small roman numerals.)
4. Copyright and work of fiction disclaimers typically appear on the reverse of the title page. This isn’t a hard rule, but it does look nicer. Also, use a small font (8 pt is good) for copyright and work of fiction disclaimers to help keep it to one page. Most readers skip right over it.
5. Start introductions, forewords, dedications, etc. on the right hand side (odd numbered page).
6. Leave at least one blank page between the front matter and the start of the first chapter.
Some guidelines for formatting chapters in your paperback version:
1. Always start chapters on the right hand side (odd numbered page). So, if the previous chapter ends on the right hand side, in Word, insert a page break (CTRL + ENTER) to leave an extra blank page before the start of the next chapter.
2. Remove page numbers from blank page(s) between chapters. This is one of the most frustrating and often overlooked formats in a paperback version. But, if you pick up any mass produced novel, you’ll see that it’s common to remove page numbers from all blank pages.
3. It is alright to use fancy fonts, image dividers, etc. to make the start of your chapter stand out (don’t use lots of different fonts in the body of chapters). Just make sure it’s consistent throughout the entire book. Pick one font and size for chapter headings and stick with it. Pick one image divider and use it consistently. Pick one set of spacing for the chapter header from the top of the page and use it consistently. One way to ensure consistency in Word is to set up a Style for chapter headings.
4. Limit the number of fonts and font types (italics, bold, etc.) that you use in the chapter body. Too many fonts and font sizes makes the book look amateurish. Don’t forget to justify the text – which means the right and left sides of the text should be flush against the margin.
5. Don’t forget your gutters. This is another big pain point. Not all margins are created equal. My advice for dealing with gutters and margins: do this first or download a template from your Print On Demand (POD) vendor (i.e. Create Space, Lulu, etc.).
6. Keep page number formatting consistent. The best approach is to always center it.
7. Keep paragraph spacing and indents consistent. One of the best ways to do this is to use a Style in Word. Most paperback books do not have the extra line spacing that comes as the default in Word, so it’s a good idea to change it. Most novels also use a 0.3” indent to start new paragraphs. Manuals, textbooks, etc., tend to use no indent and bigger line spacing at the end of a paragraph. When in doubt, pull a few books off your shelf (or go to a library) and observe the nuances.
8. What font size should you use for the chapter body? Typically something between 10 – 12 pt.
9. Keep an eye out for weird line breaking. Sometimes you may want to add a hypen to break a word across two lines to avoid strange spacing between words. Other times, you may want to rewrite the sentence so the spacing looks more pleasing to the eye.
Back matter can include items like:
- Authors Notes
- Author Bio
- Author website and list of author’s other books, etc.
Consistency between chapters and the back matter help it look more professional. Try this ideas:
1. Start each new type of back matter on the right hand side (odd numbered page).
2. Try using the same headings for Authors Notes, Acknowledgements, etc., as what you used for chapter headings. If it doesn’t look right, then pick some new formatting, but keep it consistent.
3. Depending on the type of book you have, you may want to remove the page numbers from all back matter. Cases where you might not want to do this would be for long appendices, indexes, etc. When in doubt, observe what other mass produced books do.
4. Don’t forget to include author information inside the paperback book in the back matter. This is a great opportunity to let readers know about your website, how to find you on social media, and give them a sneak peek at your next book. Make it count.
5. Leave a few blank pages at the end. Some POD vendors require that the total number of pages be divisible by 4, which means a few blanks at the end to make it happen. It also looks nicer not to end the book with text on the last page.
This is one area where I strongly encourage you to hire a professional designer. While many POD vendors offer do-it-yourself options, the best way to get a professional looking print cover is to use a professional designer.
If you do decide to foray into the world of designing your own cover, be sure to look for the POD vendor’s cover template for the size and number of pages of the book you’re producing. This means all your other formatting has to be final before you do the cover layout so you will know your final page count.
Final Words of Advice
When possible, start with a template from your POD vendor. This can save you a ton of time and hassle. Most of them have templates for each paper size they produce. You may have to do a little digging, but they are there.
Get friendly with Word. If you aren’t comfortable with concepts like styles, page breaks, page numbering, etc., consider taking a class or watching online tutorials on the web for the version of Word that you’re using. These skills will help you beyond just formatting your paperback version.
Always order a printed proof. Even though some POD vendors offer online previews (which I strongly encourage you to use), you’ll still want to get a printed copy. Then carefully read through the printed proof. Look for line spacing and formatting errors. You may even find editorial errors missed by you or your editors. Once, I found missing page numbers on a few chapters. It’s worth the time and money to make sure you get it right.
Lastly, be patient with yourself—especially on your first go around. It takes time to work through the nuances of formatting. Allow yourself several days the first time. Give yourself a quiet place to work on it. Oh, and a glass of wine can sometimes come in handy.
Best-selling self-published author, Karen Baney, enjoys sharing information to help authors learn about the Business of Writing. She holds a Masters of Business Administration from Arizona State University and has worked in various business related career fields for the past 20 years. She writes Christian Historical Fiction and Contemporary Romance novels. To learn more about her novels visit her website: karenbaney.com. Authors can find tips and information on self-publishing and marketing at: www.myauthorservices.com.
Karen and her husband, Jim, also run several online businesses. They make their home in Gilbert, AZ, with their two dogs.