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Your Book-Formatting Freak-Out Guide

Updated: Nov 14, 2019

Even if you’re a complete millennial – or, even younger, Gen Z – you’ve probably held an actual, physical book in your hands before.

There’s a certain quality to it, from the look of the cover to the tangible texture beneath your fingertips.

The same applies when you actually open it up. Everything lines up in orderly fashion, with the text on each page flowing from one side to the next to the next.

While there will no doubt be variations from book to book, you’ll still find the title, author’s name, page numbers and so on in the same basic spots. Essentially, it’s done just so, allowing you to get into the story (or nonfiction work) with ease… and continue that way from there.

It all looks so effortless, I know. And it is when you’re the reader.

But take it from someone who’s formatted many a print and e-book, both for herself and for clients. It’s very, very far from effortless when you’re on the other end of the process.

Very, very, very far from it.

Welcome to the world of self-publishing. Now get ready to become an expert at formatting.

I’m afraid that this larger series is going to be a PC, Microsoft Word-specific guide in many ways.

A sincere sorry to Mac and other program users. Though don’t fret too much If you can’t translate the information appropriately. There are no doubt formatting guides out there for you as well online. It’s just a matter of finding them.

For now though, let’s get real. Drearily so.



The act of attempting to make a manuscript’s text look like it’s being traditionally published – from its font, to its page headers and footers, new chapters, paragraph indents and “bleed” – is called formatting.

It would be abjectly inaccurate to label this step as the most time-consuming part of the “becoming an author” process. Obviously, writing and editing a story or nonfiction piece takes months and months, if not a few years. But formatting might very well be the most irritating part. And it definitely is the most tedious.


Hey, as we discussed back a few weeks ago, there are good things and bad things about being self-published.

This one, I would put in the overall negative column. The one positive thing I can say about book formatting it is that it definitely is character building.

So what are all the book-formatting terms you need to know? Here’s the starter’s list:

Trim size – As in how big do you want your book to be, width by height? Common self-publishing sizes are 5.5 x 8.5, 5 x 8, and 6 x 9.

Margins – How much white space is there between the text and the left-hand side of each page, right-hand side, top and bottom, not to mention the “gutter”? This also determines whether your pages are going to be formatted in a uniform or mirrored fashion. (Hint, mirrors are the only professional way to go.)

Paragraph – This delves into paragraph positioning, from whether you’re working with single-spaces or double-spaced lines – (Hint: you want single) – to how your words fill out each line one. (Hint: choose the “justified” option.)

Header – The spot on each page where your name and/or book title and/or chapter titles go.

Footer – The spot on each page where your page numbers go.

Got all of that? Great!

If not, you really, really, really should consider taking Thursday’s writing advice

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