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DIYDay Lesson 22: Formatting Books for Print – How Not To Lose Your Everloving Mind

Hello all my fellow authors and followers! It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so I thought I would post about something that is of immediate relevance to me, as I am formatting an entire series for print. By myself. It’s going very well, though, thank you for asking. =) But it wasn’t as easy the first couple of times I’ve done it, so I thought I would share a few helpful tips and tricks on how to make the process quicker and much less painful.  So, here we go! For the purposes of this post, I will be using MS Word 2013, but these same tools are available in all versions of MS Word, just in different places. If you’re unsure, Google where to find them. 😉

Step 1: Format the document size


The first thing you want to do is make sure your document is the correct size for your print edition. Check with your printer for the exact specifications, or if they have a template for you to download, start with that. The things you are looking for are:

  • page height/width
  • margins (will depend on you, and how much text you want to fit on a single page)
  • gutter size (will depend on page count)

In MS Word 2013, this is where you find these settings to adjust them:

Page Layout

To access the pop-up, you have to click the tiny little square with an arrow icon at the bottom right of the Page Setup section in the ribbon menu. Here is your Mecca for Big Format options. Meaning, everything to do with the document as a whole.

  • Begin with the Paper tab, and set the size of your page
  • Then move to the Margins tab and set the margins and gutter (these should be set to Apply to Whole document to make the entire book uniform)
  • Lastly, under the Layout tab, set how your Sections behave. This will be VERY important later on. You will want your sections to begin on the odd page (that will be the right-hand side in your printed book) and probably different headers/footers on odd and even pages as well. I will get more into this later


The next thing you want to do is set your headers and/or footers. If you pick up a book, you will notice that the standard is for the page numbers to appear in the top corners of each page (meaning, they’ll be left-justified on the left/even page, and right-justified on the right/odd page). This is why it’s important to set the headers as different on odd and even pages. Once you designated this in the page layout section, you can click over to Design and actually insert headers and/or footers. You’ll see in the image below that when I am editing the headers, it shows me which one I am changing. Each must be created separately, because they are, in fact, different parts of the document.


Step 2: Preparing your book body


  • Sections
  • Justification
  • Paragraph control

Those three are your mantra for this part of the process.

Now that you have the pages set up, you can start preparing the text itself. Here is where things get tricky. The standard for print books is to have page numbers. But you probably don’t want those to appear on the very first title page, or after the end of the book on your About The Author section, or on anything that follows after (like the preview of your next book, etc.). The first time I formatted a book for this, I left the headers and footers alone, and just inserted a white square over the numbers to hide them. Yeah, that’s not very good.

This is why Word has a thing called Sections. It basically divides your document into parts that act like individual documents. You can choose different margins for it, different headers/footers, different styles, everything. For the page numbers, look again at the picture above. In the Design section, do you see the part labeled Navigation? Right above that word there is a highlighted field called Link to Previous. That means, when you have page numbers, you can continue them from section to section (linked) or you can choose to discontinue them (unlinked). Much easier than white squares, lemme tell ya.

The second thing you will want to do is set your text to Justify. That means each line of a multi-line paragraph (except the last one) will be filled to capacity, so you will have neat edges on both sides. This is the standard for print publications. Some people like it, some don’t, others don’t care. It’s ultimately up to you. I personally like the justified style.

Lastly, paragraph control. Here’s where I give you the most important, sanity-saving tip of all. Indents and Widow/Orphan control.


Under the Page Layout section, pop out the paragraph controls. You can set your indents and line spacing however you want. Personally, I prefer a 1.5 line spacing and a first line indent of 0.3″ and you can set these under Indents and Spacing like so:

Paragraphs 2

That, however, is not enough. You see, Word has this nasty little “helpful” feature that keeps a document “easier to read” by making sure to keep paragraphs whole no matter what. That means, when you have a paragraph at the bottom of a page, and the last line or two won’t fit, Word will move the entire paragraph to the top of the next page. Which is fine and dandy for office documents, but when you have a novel with scene breaks marked by a double space, that presents a problem. It will look like every time Word helpfully eliminated a widow/orphan line, you intended a scene break. To fix that, click over to the Line and Page Breaks tab and uncheck the box next to Widow/Orphan control. You’re welcome. No, really, it drove me up the wall for weeks trying to do this by hand on a 120,000 word manuscript and Word not cooperating.


Step 3: Ready when you are, Mr. Novel!


At last, you are ready to insert your book interior. You will need the following sections:

  1. Front matter (title page, copyright notice, dedication, epigraph, foreword, acknowledgments, etc.) No page numbers here.
  2. Body of the novel (page numbers, author name, and title in the headers)
  3. Back matter (about the author, other works, preview of next novel, glossary of terms, hilarious anecdotes from life, etc.) No page numbers or headers here.

In the main body of your novel, you will need to play around just a little bit more. You will want chapter breaks, nice chapter headings, font styles, scene dividers, etc. This is done through setting Styles. Again, it will make your life so much easier to do it this way.


Let’s start simple. Go to your home tab and click that little doohickie that looks like a backwards P with the belly filled in. That shows you your spacing. You’ll see spaces, tabs (which should not be there because we set the paragraph first line indent already), paragraph returns, hard returns, and all that good stuff. If you don’t turn this on, you might as well be flying blind.

The next thing you want to do is set the styles. See the styles section? Click the little pop-out icon to get to this:


This is where you live for the next few paragraphs of this post. This is where magic happens. As you can see, Word already has a bunch of styles pre-formatted for you. I personally hate them, so I create my own. You can do that with the button on the bottom right that has a little golden star on it. Each time you click it, you get a pop-out to create a new style, and you can choose whether you want to have it available only for that document, or for all documents in the future. You will want at least two or three styles:

  • Body (for your chapter text)
  • Chapter Heading (self-explanatory)
  • Scene Dividers (if applicable)

You will also want to apply these consistently throughout your document. To do that, you select the text you want to style, and click on the style you have created. That’s it. As a rule of thumb, you should start with all your text in Body style, to make things easier. But after that, maybe you want to have your chapter headings take up half a page in the center (font size and centering). Maybe you want more space above or below (paragraphs, Above and Below settings). Maybe you want a fancy font. You can do all that, and instead of clicking through a half dozen settings each time, you just click once.

As another rule of thumb, each of your chapters should begin on a new page. You do this by inserting a page break. Now, be careful here. Watch for your line breaks. Sometimes Word likes to insert extra ones where they aren’t needed. Be sure you have a consistent number of them (if any) above each chapter heading, otherwise your spacing will be off. And that’s it! Once you go through all this, you are ready to send the document to your printer. Some want a PDF, so be sure to embed fonts when you save, otherwise your pretty formatting will be lost. And, if you have the options, always check out the look of your book online, and order a physical proof. You should be checking for design flaws, how the layout works, whether it’s easily readable, whether there is anything out of alignment or just looking wonky. But once all that is done, your book is ready for publication!


Final Words:


In closing, I hope this guide provided more insight than confusion for you. Taking on a task like this is pretty brave. It’s labor-intensive and finicky, but very much worth it for the final satisfaction of holding a book you not only wrote, but had a hand in creating as well. Next time, I will delve into the process of formatting a cover page for your print edition.

Until next time!

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