Road to the Self-Published Author – Print Wrap-up

It’s been quite a long time coming, but here’s my wrap-up to the print (i.e., hardcopy) books. I tried to keep this specific and helpful, yet generic enough that it can apply to other distribution/print on demand, or vanity press options beyond what we used. My tips assume you are formatting fiction prose of some sort (and using Microsoft Word or something similar to boot), but could be adapted to non-fiction or even poetry. Something more abstract from a writing point of view, such as a photography book, however, will probably not benefit as much.

Print Formatting – Basics

Writing in general has a lot of passes involved in it – rough drafts, proofreading, etc. As the prose itself progresses, the manuscript changes quite a bit. The first hurdle, then, is to know what its final form should be. And I don’t mean insofar as the content, just the layout.

For a print book this means there are some rules you will have to follow regardless of the size of book you are printing. Know what size you’re book will be when you get further along in your layout planning. In Word, you’ll want to use Page Setup to set your margins, page size, gutters, and headers/footers. Let’s look at all of these in turn.

Page Size and Margins

The exact page size will vary depending on the size of the book. Let’s take our digest size (5.5” x 8.5”) book as an example. Obviously, our page size, under the Paper tab, is set to just that. Margins, in our experience, are typically the same on both sides. So the left and right margins should be identical, and the top and bottom margins should match one another. For us, our left/right margins are set to 0.5”, while our top/bottom at 0.75”. In addition, we have a gutter (that space along the center of the page that gives extra space between the text and the binding) of 0.25”. So really, all four of our margins are equal. You’ll want to ensure that ‘mirror margins’ is set for multiple page printing. Also, if you are printing in a different orientation, such as a landscape book that is wider than it is tall, you’ll want to switch that here. Otherwise, leave it at portrait.

Front Matter

Front matter always refers to those things that come before your table of contents or first chapter. eBooks have this too, and it includes all the title pages, copyright notices, dedications, and so on. They may also include lists of all the books in a series, should your book be part of one, and possibly a world map or other artwork. There are numerous resources on how to layout the front matter of your book. If you are in doubt, give a Google search or even pick up a copy of a book or two at home and see how they did it.

Back Matter

About the author, appendices/indexes. This is everything that comes after the last page of the final chapter/section of your book. Some also have lists of other works by the author, resources to find out more about the author or publisher and so on.

Headers and Footers

These can be much a matter of individual taste, but there is some useful information here. For one, the Layout Tab under Page Setup has some header/footer options that you can tweak. These include the amount of space between the header and the edge of the page, whether to have different odd/even pages, and whether to have a different first page. A key thing to remember here – when it refers to ‘first page’ it means the first page of the section, not the book. Most of the time you’ll end up formatting each chapter or portion of your book as a different section. You can override these a little in the Header and Footer dialogue under the View menu, but usually you’ll keep the first page of a section unique. That’s because page numbers in the footers should be suppressed on the first page of a chapter, and any blank pages. (Usually you’ll either suppress them on front and back matter as well, or have alternate page numberings such as i, ii, iii.)

Headers are typically used for calling out chapters, subsections or even the book/author title. Again, it’s a matter of taste. Some of us use the different odd/even setting to put an author or book name on one header and the individual chapter name on the other.

Page Numbering and Layout

Actually, that brings us to an important part. Your ‘first’ page actually begins on the first page of your first chapter. Again, that’s usually suppressed. This isn’t the same as being the first page of your manuscript, which is probably your title page or other front matter. You can do this by setting your page numbering manually, of course, but you would lose your mind. It’s easier to find a tutorial online to guide you through how to set it up in Word’s footers.

Chapter/Section Breaks

Remember that all new chapters begin on an odd page. That is, they are always supposed to appear on the right-hand side of your book. Between chapters or sections, insert a Page Break -> Section Break -> Odd Page. This will ensure that even if page numbers move around during your formatting or revisions, your chapter will start on an odd page. If it would land on an even one instead, Word will insert a blank page in the print preview to push it to the next odd-numbered page.

Many times, the text of a new chapter will begin a third or even halfway down the page as well. Just the act of formatting can do a lot to the page count of a book. You can play with different ideas here such as drop capitals or illuminated text if it’s appropriate to your book. Something to give each chapter some pizzazz. The blank page across from a chapter, should the previous chapter have ended on an odd-numbered page, can be utilized for images, quotes, or so on. Just keep in mind that as you reformat or edit you’ll find your page placement may move a lot, so keep an open mind about where certain content may fit if you’re using those blank pages for other things.

Full Bleed and Other Considerations

If you have any images that need to extend all the way to the edge of the page, that is referred to as full bleed. In these cases, for something like Word you actually format the picture to be larger than the page. Then, when you submit the manuscript for printing, you’ll usually have it formatted to a different size. In our example, our print-ready PDF file is actually 5.75” x 8.75” in size. When getting printed, that extra is trimmed off by the printer. This results in images that extend all the way to the edge of the pages, rather than –almost- to the edge, which would leave thin white strips or other trim artifacts behind. As long as you keep any important portions of your image inside the regular margins of your document you won’t risk having anything accidentally trimmed off. The same goes for your text – as long as your margins are properly set, none of your text should end up anywhere near the trim area.

One last thing to remember is that your book may require blank pages at the end, depending on the specs of your printer or distributor. Also, overall page counts (that means including all front and back matter) will usually end up being divisible by 4 because of how books are bound. Think about something like a saddle-stitched comic book or pamphlet: One sheet of paper actually becomes four ‘pages.’

Final Thoughts

Have fun with it. It takes a lot of damn work to do all this alone, or even with a partner such as in our case. But seeing your book or cover art on a screen is one thing, holding a printed copy is another entirely. It doesn’t have to be a vanity press affair, either: We’re writers. Our minds are full of ideas and stories we want to breathe life into. We’ve all grown up coveting books. And frankly, to have something of your own on the bookshelf isn’t just a matter of vanity or pride. It’s a deep, fulfilling, soul-tingling experience.

~Meredith Purk