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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Clemmer

9 Paperback Layout Hacks to Publish Like a Pro

If you’re laying out your own paperback, you might be surprised at how intricate the process of book layout can be. Shrinking your paper size and adding page breaks between chapters isn’t enough to craft a professional book appearance, but sometimes it’s hard to know why your manuscript doesn’t look as polished as a book off a store shelf.

Layout has gotten easier over the years with so many templates available. Authors can choose to hire a book designer to create a custom interior book layout, and services like Amazon’s KDP even provide free basic templates to get started. That saves a lot of the work, for sure… but is it enough?

Interior layout is one area where self-publishing authors consistently fail—from faulty page numbers to hard-to-read text to images falling off the page. Here are a few steps you can take to bring your book to the next level.

1: A blank page is a blank page is a blank page…

If properly laid out, your book should have a number of blank pages throughout. These pages will come after your copyright page, your author page, and any other spare pages, and can also happen between chapters. (This is normal. Every book you have ever read has a variety of these blank pages thrown around, and they make everything look more balanced and better spaced out!)

What most authors miss with these blank pages is the blank part. You read that right. It’s easy to slide in a page without any main text, but ideally a blank page shouldn’t have a page number or any other header or footer present. It’s blank white.

What’s wrong with breaking this rule? While casual readers might not notice it as they tear excitedly through your chapters, blank pages with numbers and text look cluttered and amateur. They take away from the professional appearance traditional books have and look like something that was thrown together last minute.

2: Page numbers on every page? Think again!

On a related note, page numbers are surprisingly easy to get wrong. Not only do page numbers not belong on blank pages, as discussed above, but many typesetters will also leave them off of the opening pages of chapters (or place them somewhere else on the page). Again, page numbers can look cluttered if they’re placed on pages where they don’t belong.

Note: You’ll also need to keep in mind the differing page numeration for front matter. Most templates include this automatically, so it shouldn’t be too hard. When you’re wrapping up your initial layout for your book, check to make sure both sets of page numbers run as they should.

3: Know your page styles.

You’ll need to pull from a variety of page styles as you fill in a template or create your own. A page style includes everything from line spacing and letter size to headers and footers, paragraph styles, and anything else that could appear on a page.

Amazon’s free templates come with automatic page styles for many of the pages in your book, including every chapter and, separately, the first page of every chapter. Before you finish your formatting, check to make sure your page styles are consistent. The differences might be small, but the time you take to review them can pay for itself.

4: Margins and gutters!

A margin, simply put, is the white space around your text. Margins are automatically included in most word processors and templates, so you don’t have to put a lot of thought into them. One area that sets book interior layout apart from a standard document is the use of gutters.

The gutter is the blank space where pages meet in the middle of a book. It’s wider than a standard margin and alternates between right and left pages. Book interior templates include gutters, but the layout can look confusing if you’re seeing it for the first time.

5: Watch bleed areas for images!

If your book doesn’t have a lot of (or any) illustrations, you’ll associate it more with setting up your cover. The bleed space on a page is a margin of error for how the pages will be cut when your book is printed. POD (print-on-demand) publishers can’t guarantee a perfect cut for every book, and it might vary by the tiniest of degrees.

Usually the differences in the cut are imperceptible, and your text won’t be close enough for it to make any difference. However, if you have images or illustrations that you want to optimize, keep note of where the bleed areas are and keep all important aspects of your image away.

6: White space looks fantastic.

It’s normal to avoid white space when you draft. Keeping your text close together and putting only a few spaces between chapters saves time and makes your draft more concise to work on, but it looks cramped when you format your book on a page. Remember, more white space makes your books look clean!

What many authors miss here is the first page of a chapter. Chapters never start at the top of the page. The text starts about halfway down, or even lower. The top half of the page is usually completely blank except for the chapter title (this means no headers, either!). This technique gives your book a more balanced look with breathing space between chapters.

7: Type size matters!

When you’re looking at words on a screen, it’s hard to judge how big your text should be. Text that’s too small quickly becomes hard and frustrating to read. Text too large can look childish or get confused with a large-print edition.

Your ideal size depends on your audience and the size of your book. Young adult and teen titles are printed at about 12-pt, with some more serious or non-fiction titles at 11-pt. This is one area where you should check a few comp titles and echo the decisions made.

8: Take care of widows and orphans.

This is a soft rule of publishing and not universally followed. Widows are single lines of text, typically the last line of a paragraph, at the start of a new page. Orphans are single lines of text, typically the first line of a paragraph, at the bottom of a page.

Depending on how your template is set up, you might not need to do any work to keep widows and orphans together, but if you see any loose lines hanging around, your pages will look stronger if you fix them.

9: Fix hyphenation!

Justified text looks fancy, and at first you might be tempted to hit that “justify” button on whatever software you’re using and leave it at that. It’s an important start. Your margins are critical and should be protected, and the even appearance of justified lines gives them a clean and professional feel. But there’s more to it than that.

After you justify your lines, you’ll notice that some text is squished together and some is spaced out. This looks jarring on the screen and even worse on a printed page. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix. On your word processor (or whatever tool you choose to use for your formatting), find the hyphenation tool and fix it so that it hyphenates broken words. This will give your text a much more even and professional appearance and make it easier to read.

Reviewing Your Paperback

Always order a proof copy of your paperback before publishing. Many formatting errors will be small and easy to miss when you review a digital proof on the screen, and a proof will give you a good idea of how well your layout works and what changes will be needed for the final edition.

What are your tips for ensuring a great paperback layout? Please share in the comment section below. You can also visit my Facebook group for self-publishing fiction writers here for further tips and discussion.

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