Adventures in Book Publishing, Part 2

Back in May in Part 1 of this blog (see, I wrote about publishing and marketing my own book. Now let’s talk about some of the decisions required to prepare a book for printing. I’m an expert because I published one book. Just joking, but I did learn a lot. Probably not enough so let’s have some comments on this adventure.

New Rules

As a beginning writer, you are advised to employ Times New Roman, 12 pt, unjustified font with double spacing and single-side printing for all your querying and submissions needs. When you are ready to publish, drop those rules and learn some new ones.

Learn from Examples

Pick up a dozen books in your genre and a dozen in other genres (plus a couple of self-published books) and study them, not for writing style but for formatting. Look for a subtle, consistent formatting theme—basic, decorative, quirky, inviting, masculine—from front cover to chapter titles to text font.

See what you like and dislike because you as the publisher have a myriad of decisions to make. Notice what is optional and what is standard. Try to identify why the self-published books often look amateurish so you don’t commit the same poor judgments.

Front Cover

Use a ruler to measure the physical size of books, such as 5 3/8 x 8 ¼ and round up to the next half inch, such as 5.5×8.5.  Fractional sizes were physically trimmed down but a good digital printer doesn’t need to trim so why waste paper? Common sizes for trade paperbacks before trimming are 5×8, 5.5×8.5, 6×9 and 7×10. What is the typical size of books in your genre?

Next, examine the outside. They call it cover “art” because it’s supposed to look like art, not your first attempt to use Photoshop. People do judge the book by its cover. Thus the front cover of your book should announce the genre—attractive half-clothed people for bodice rippers, blood or a dead body for a murder mystery, period costume or wooden ships for historical fiction. Don’t make your potential purchaser shake her head and move to the next book. My cover shows a plainly garbed young woman (a recent photograph made to look old by a graphic artist) against a background painting (real) of a colonial settlement with sailing ships in the harbor, plus the word New Amsterdam as part of the title. Did you guess 17th century America?

If this is your first book, your name will not sell copies except to your mother, who will buy one anyway. Be sure your title and cover art receive more prominent placement than your name.


Because most bookstores don’t have sufficient shelf space to display front covers, the spine is very important even though it typically has room only for the title, the author’s name and an icon for the publishing house. However, I saw one spine that boasts a miniature of the front cover. Carry the front motif and colors (genre consistent) to the spine but still keep the words very legible.

I strongly advise a beginning publisher to wrap the front cover art around the spine and beyond to include some (or all) of the back cover because you must send the printer a single continuous file for the front, spine and back. See (Note: big file) for an example. An inexperienced publisher will tear his hair out trying to create a spine image that is the exact width of the printed book, especially when last-minute edits alter the number of pages in the book or a different paper yields fewer pages per inch. Tacky describes the leakage of cover or spine into the other’s space.

Back Cover

The back cover is a busy place—blurbs, author picture and short bio, ISBN barcode, publisher info. The barcode is typically in the lower right-hand corner but may move for artistic reasons. Plan the real estate on your back cover carefully. Your three main promotional items are a genre-enticing front cover, back cover blurbs and an exciting first page.

First Impressions

Now, finally, open the example books anywhere in the middle and gaze at the entirety of a double page without focusing on the words. What’s your impression? Crowded or spacious? Font too small or too large? Are the lines too close together? Eye strain or easy to read? Words lost in the gutter between the two pages?

Count the number of lines on a page (around 35) and the number of characters (including spaces) on a line to see what’s normal. Compare to pages that appear especially attractive or odd. The Chicago Manual of Style suggests 65 to 70 characters per line but I think 60 is enough. Maybe my eyes are getting old. Margins, font style, and size all affect these numbers. Some fonts appear thin and don’t make a dark impression on the page. Bigger spacing between lines seems more inviting.  A font size of eleven not twelve is often used, but a size-eleven font looks different in various styles. I suggest experimentation (actually print a double page on paper) to determine what you find appealing.


Margins make a big impression. Get a ruler and measure the white space of the margins. Anything less than a quarter-inch on the outside margins looks crowded as though the printer tried to squeeze too many words onto a page. Does a side margin bigger than three-quarters of an inch look inviting or does it suggest a small book trying to look bigger and more impressive? You pay for the paper, so choose the smallest margin that looks good to you.

The inside margins should be slightly larger because the binding of the book creates a central gutter that consumes an eighth of an inch or so. Mass market paperbacks are notorious for broken spines because readers flatten the book to read the text that drifts into the gutter.

The top margin should be larger than the outside margins, roughly three-quarters to one inch including the space occupied by the header. Is the header centered in this margin or closer to the text? Which looks better to you?

Headers and Footers

In most books the book title (or perhaps chapter title) will be centered in the header of the right (odd-numbered) page and the author’s name will be centered in the header of the left-hand (even-numbered) page. Page numbers in the header should be “flush outside,” that is right-justified on the right-hand page and left-justified on the left-hand page to match the text justification.

Beware of widow control (insertion of a blank line at the bottom of a page to avoid a short line at the top of the next page) when measuring the bottom margin. If page numbers occupy the footer, the bottom margin needs to be larger than the top margin for esthetics.


Now compare the font of the text with the font of the header. Is there a difference? The readability of printed text is improved with a serif font, that is, the ends of strokes that comprise letters have tiny decorations.  The header and the chapter headers are often in a different font that may be non-serif, bigger, italic, or even small caps. The headers should not be distracting but should be different enough from the text that the reader subconsciously distinguishes and ignores them. Frequently the header font matches other parts of the book, such as chapter fonts or even the title font. All these different elements should complement each other and the genre—back to the concept of creating a subtle theme.

A huge number of text fonts exist, as evidenced by the drop-down list in Microsoft Word. Which do you choose? Are the characters wide enough to hold enough ink for a good impression? Is the font size big enough to read easily? Is the character spacing comfortable? Is the line spacing adequate? The font name is seldom mentioned in a book unless it’s exotic. The best way to find a good font is to adjust margins, font and font size, print a double page of your text and compare to a commercial book. Remember to justify your text on both sides. See this link for some examples:

Chapter Starts

The first chapter normally starts on a right-hand page and later chapters begin on either side. I saw a book with a prologue that ended on the right-hand page and chapter one started on the left-hand page—very odd. I’ve seen page numbering start with the prologue or with chapter one or with Part I. Just be sure the right-hand pages have odd numbers.

Examine the first page of any chapter. The title of this chapter can be Chapter One, Chapter 1, 1, or One. It can occupy almost any space within the top half on the page with any justification but the same location applies to all chapters and may (or may not) apply to the acknowledgements and prologue pages. The chapter headings may also have a title, date/time, location, and/or quotation. Be consistent for each chapter.

Also notice that the first paragraph of a chapter starts many lines down from the top of the page (usually one-third to one-half of the page) and is not indented. The first letter or the first word or even the first three words may be in bigger print or fancy font, in drop caps or all caps. Again be consistent for each chapter. Often acknowledgements, prologue or preface use this same format.

Omit the header (but not footer) from the first page of a chapter.


What happens at a break (extra line(s) indicating a change in time, location, or point of view) within a chapter? Some publishers use asterisks or other decorative symbols, such as fleur-de-lis, to mark a break. The special treatment given to the first word(s) of a chapter is often applied to the first word(s) after a break. The minimum treatment is to not indent the first line after a break. Remember that you as editor and publisher will be responsible for doing this. I suggest keeping it simple, especially if you plan to create e-books later; I’ve read that the formatting of e-books can create odd results.

Front matter

The appearance of the pages before the first numbered page, the front matter, should be consistent with the main text by sharing the same font and formatting. Beware of too many font styles, or sizes.

The design of the title page should leave a proper amount of space for the author to sign or personalize this page.

The back side of the title page is the copyright page. Remember that other publisher’s copyright notices are copyrighted; learn to paraphrase. Pay special attention to the Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication-Data because a library will be reluctant to buy your book without this information. The Library of Congress (LOC) is underfunded and too busy to explain their antiquated system to a novice and isn’t particularly interested in self-published books. Private companies will charge you hundreds of dollars to catalogue your book. So find a similar book and imitate the catalogue data (but not the LOC number). Double-check that such categories exist by searching the LOC’s online card catalogue.

You didn’t create this story without help, so be generous on the acknowledgements page.

Add a preface, prologue, etc at your discretion.

Check list

Cover art

Spine and back cover real estate

Margins, headers, footers

Text font, font size, line spacing, justification

Chapter starts and breaks

Front matters

Overall impression—would a stranger buy this book?


If I omitted or confused any important points, please comment. I’ve only published one book but it was definitely a learning experience. Or let us know what you would do differently next time.

Next Blog

Complicated?  Yes, but not as complex as implementing all the above in Microsoft Word. Yes, it can be done. Stay tuned for my next blog in September. If you buy an expensive publishing program, you still have to learn how implement all the features.

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2 Responses to Adventures in Book Publishing, Part 2

  1. Valerie Norris says:

    Wow! Very detailed. All the info a self-publishing novelist would need to know. Good job, Jim!

  2. Steve Gordy says:

    One good resource for formatting tips and tricks is The Indie Author Guide by April Hamilton, or the corresponding website

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