The Complete Guide to the Perfect Book Layout
Laying out your book doesn’t have to be a difficult, complex process.
Book layout can feel like a monumental task, especially when you do it on your own. There’s a whole world of design choices and printing options that you need to navigate before your book finds its audience. Count on Palmetto Publishing to guide you along the way.
For some people, the process of formatting their book layout is exciting. It’s the point in the journey where your carefully crafted manuscript starts to look like a real, honest-to-goodness book.
Yet, others can grow frustrated with the details. After all, how much does book layout matter compared to the text itself?
A lot. Strong book design makes your work both attractive and accessible. It keeps your reader focused on the text instead of distracting them with awkward page layouts and visual gaffes. Overall, it ensures a pleasant reading experience.
The right layout also assures your reader that you’re a professional who takes the business of writing and publishing seriously. In a crowded market with few barriers to entry, this implicit promise separates the real writers from the rest.
But if you’re a self-publishing author, the odds are that you need a little book layout help. Not to worry. This book layout guide covers best practices and essential elements, putting you on the right track to publishing a book that does your writing and hard work justice.
Elements of a Great Book Layout
Before you start, you need to decide which types of book formatting to use. Will this be an ebook-only text, or do you want to make paperback or hardcover books available to your readers? Multiple formats require a little extra work, but some readers prefer the feel of a physical book in their hands.
Your choice will influence your book interior and elements such as cover and price. But no matter what your book is — its type, genre, and content — it should have each of the following.
Attractive Book Cover Design
The reader’s experience starts well before they open the book. Professional book design includes a cover that looks good and feels right; it meets the reader’s expectations for the genre. If it challenges convention, it does so thoughtfully to deliberate effect.
You’ll need a design that works for book marketing thumbnails and on ebook and print copies (if you plan to print). So, avoid complicated graphics that don’t compress well.
Unless you have design expertise, you probably shouldn’t try to do the cover yourself. Even generic premade covers are less likely to alienate readers than an amateurish cover concept and layout. Nit-picky details such as font and spacing can be off-putting to your audience, even if they can’t articulate why something feels wrong.
Of course, the best cover is professional and personalized. Palmetto offers a range of book cover design servicesthat start at $499 to fit a range of visions and budgets.
Professional Front and Back Matter
You also need essential front and back matter for your text. Some elements are optional but highly recommended for writers working in certain genres. Others, such as a dedication page and acknowledgments, are technically optional, but all writers should consider them seriously. Formally recognizing people who’ve helped you along the way makes for both good policy and good manners.
At the very least, you should have a copyright page for your book, which you can combine with its title page.
While not legally required for books published after 1989, many distributors won’t accept an ebook without at least a copyright notice. The copyright notice stakes the author’s claim to the work. It’s a simple one-line statement that includes:
- The word “copyright,” abbreviation “copr.,” or symbol ©
- The author’s name
- The year of first publication
Example:© 2022 Jane Wordsmith
The copyright page can include other publication information as well. You can also put it at the back rather than the front.
Possible front matter:
- Book title page
- Copyright page*
- Table of contents
- Preface, foreword, or introduction
- Testimonials or reviews*
*Also can be back matter
One nice feature of ebooks is that you can provide a navigational table of contents. In other words, you can make chapter listings clickable, helping users to move around your text.
Also called end matter, back matter varies widely and often depends on the text’s genre and the author’s vision. For example, a nonfiction study of the French Revolution will have a different back matter than a fantasy novel or a mystery.
Possible back matter:
- About the author*
- Other works by the author*
* Also can be front matter.
** Not relevant to most ebook formats, where page numbers vary.
Most appendices come at the end of a book, but some authors will put information such as maps or glossaries at the beginning to orient the reader.
Back matter also offers you an opportunity for subtle self-promotion. Direct the reader toward your backlist or inform them of forthcoming projects. In ebooks, you can even link to a website or other listings. Just check distributor guidelines to ensure compliance. If you accidentally promote a competitor, they may reject your book.
Consistent and Clear Book Interior Formatting
Part of your book editing process should include rigorous proofreading. Readers have a right to expect error-free text. Palmetto offers a range of editing services, from comprehensive developmental editing to copy editing.
Your interior formatting should be just as pristine. This book layout guide will cover some best practices for final-product formatting below, but the ultimate goal is a perfectly regular text that is easy to read.
Avoid common book formatting errors that distract the reader. Some of these are bad habits and leftover conventions from when people typed on typewriters. For example, use one space after a period, never two. Today’s computers automatically resolve the letter-spacing issues that created the need for extra spaces.
Other errors result from ignorance of current conventions. Your audience expects standardization when it comes to:
- Running headers and footers for print editions
- Line, paragraph, scene, and chapter breaks
- Image and caption formatting
Be meticulous. As with a faulty cover, readers may not be able to name what’s wrong, but they’ll still respond to it.
Ideal Reading Experience Across Formats
No matter how your reader chooses to engage your work, you want to assure them of a flawless reading experience. You need to know what will display awkwardly or fail to convert between ebooks and print ones.
There are two types of layouts for ebooks: standard or flowable layouts and fixed layouts.
Flowable layouts are highly adaptable. They work on any size and brand of e-reader, and your customers can change font size and style to suit their own eyes.
Fixed layouts don’t allow for this kind of adjustment. On the other hand, the static layout allows you to preserve document elements such as pagination, tables, and inserts. For that reason, they’re popular in genres such as cookbooks and textbooks.
You can find ebooks published in various file formats, including HTML and DOC. However, three ebook formats dominate the industry: EPUB, KPF/MOBI, and PDF.
Outside of Amazon, the versatile and accessible EPUB format has become the industry default for most ebooks. KPF files are Amazon’s proprietary format. They’re less restricted than Amazon’s older MOBI files, which are being replaced gradually.
EPUB, KPF, and MOBI formats tend to use flowable layouts. PDF files, on the other hand, have a fixed layout. As such, they require the least change between print and ebooks.
Palmetto’s ebook conversion creates an EPUB file suitable for most devices and platforms. We can deliver both flowable and fixed-layout ebooks.
Palmetto can also provide you with a custom print interior, allowing you to navigate between digital and physical books no matter what layout and format you prefer.
Print interiors require different margins and several other features such as running headers and footers. At the top and/or bottom of the page in a print edition, you’ll need page numbers and other information such as a chapter or book title.
Palmetto accommodates many print formats or — in industry discourse — “trim sizes.” “Trim size” refers to a book’s literal dimensions. Since the 1920s, most books are printed in one of several uniform trim sizes:
- Hardcover books range from 6” x 9” to 8.5” x 11”
- Trade paperbacks are usually 6” x 9” or slightly smaller
- Mass-market paperbacks are almost always 4.25” x 6.87”
In addition to the interior and front and back covers, professional print editions also demand a book spine design. Any spine content needs to fit perfectly into the provided space. As a rule of thumb, don’t add any lettering unless the book is at least 50 pages long as it won’t display well.
Book Layout Best Practices
Everybody’s publishing journey looks different, and we want you to be happy with your book no matter what. We also want you to save money where you can.
Before handing your manuscript over to professionals, self-publishing authors can employ a few tricks to streamline the editing process and prevent issues that cost money to fix.
Break It Up
In publishing, the space around your words is also important. Handle your paragraph, section, and chapter breaks with care and consistency. (Starting to notice a theme?)
When it comes to paragraphs, you can choose between indented and block paragraphs, which skip a line between paragraphs rather than indent them. If your book is fiction or has a strong narrative element, go with indentation. More technical nonfiction works tend to use block paragraphs.
Either way, use margin rulers or other formatting tools rather than extra “hard” returns or indentations — spaces you add manually.
If you have multiple scenes or sections in a single chapter, separate them with an extra line, centering a hash mark in the middle of the blank line. At the end of a chapter, insert a page break, and begin the next one on a new page.
Line It Up
You want your text to look even, with lines of around the same length and uniform margins around the text. Each page of your book should line up with the next.
Avoid automatic word processor justification, which can stretch text awkwardly and thwart your desired consistency.
Margin size varies between print and ebook formats. In ebooks, you can have identical margins all the way around, usually around 0.5 inches. With printed copies, your inner margins should be longer, around 0.75 inches. This prevents text from being swallowed up when the pages are bound together.
Clean It Up
Do away with tragic widows and orphans — first or final paragraph lines that appear on a different page than the rest of the paragraph.
Standardize color and typography across the text. Choose a clear font that’s easy to read in different typefaces and sizes. You also want to pick fonts that work for your format. Some fonts look better in either digital or print, while others crossover well.
Dress It Up
Palmetto’s custom interiors can handle more complex elements such as images and stylized headings or scene breaks.
You can even add original, custom illustrations for a true one-of-a-kind style. Illustrations may be more popular in children’s books, but don’t discount the potential elegance of a more minimal spot illustration in works written for adults.
Print It Up
Read through ebooks multiple times before signing off on them. With print books, take advantage of on-demand printing, and read through it carefully. Watch out for misaligned grids and other printing mishaps.
Even the best (rarely) make mistakes, but top-notch printing services should never charge you to fix this kind of error.
You have the right to expect the book they promised you. Besides, one of the great things about on-demand book printing is that you don’t need to stockpile inventory in advance of sales. Should mistakes arise, you won’t be stuck with a heap of misprints.
The Perfect Layout for Your Book
There you have it — book layout help for every self-publishing author. But no guide can offer you the degree of control and customization you’ll receive with Palmetto Publishing services.
We work with our authors to realize the books they imagined when writing them. Our services cover the full process — from development and editing to marketing. Book interior formatting options include everything from straightforward ebook conversions to lavish art books for your coffee table.
Contact us with any questions or for a free consultation about your creative options.