Category Archives: Write regardless!

Writer, format your paperback!

“Nothing screams ‘self published’ louder than an author trying to economise by squashing too much text on a page.”

CREATING a book for readers to hold in their hands is a craft. For independent publishers, it’s a chance to lovingly nurture our manuscripts into three dimensions, but can also lead to much hair-tearing angst, so it’s best to keep things very simple. Here are the basics you’ll need to get across in order to format your titles for a print on demand (POD) service.

Processing your words

Whether your computer is a PC or a Mac, you’ll need word processing software that can paginate a document and export it as a PDF (‘Portable Document Format’). Apple Pages and Microsoft Word are the main options that come with most desktop computer systems. Tablet computer versions of this software do not have all the components required to format paperbacks, so be aware when starting out that a desktop system will give you more options. All word processing software has a help tool to assist you in finding answers to questions. Use it, or Google what you’re after and someone in the world will tell you what you need to know!

Sizing up your book

Your preferred POD service will offer standard book trade sizes. Use your word processor’s page setup function to set the size of your paperback (your cover will need to match this exactly). Every page of the document will assume these dimensions automatically.

Breaking your sections

Paperbacks are divided into three main sections – front matter (introductions, copyright statements, etc.), body matter (often divided into chapters), and end matter (references, acknowledgments etc.). Check this guide to book sections for a broader description. You’ll need to divide your document into sections using your word processor’s section break tool. These breaks allow the addition of page headers (see below) and sequential page numbering (see below) and blank pages where required.

Why blank pages?

Have a look at a traditionally published book. There are always a few blank pages throughout, sometimes to ensure that chapters start on the right-hand page, or towards the end of the book. A blank page in a word processing document is achieved by making it a section all on its own – it’s just a section with no information on it!

Your front matter

Front matter is usually short and concise, in a different font size and style to the body of a book. Here’s the place to include a short biography about yourself and list your other works. Your disclaimers and copyright statements can appear on another page with any cataloguing-in-publication data. Contact your national library about how to apply for this free information on your title, which they will add to their online catalogue, thereby creating more metadata on you and your book.

Your body matter

The best rule of thumb is to ensure your work is legible. Font size is not the only consideration here – make sure you have generous margins (check the minimum with your POD service provider) and the words don’t jam up the whole page. Count the number of lines of text on one page of your favourite book and ensure yours is similar. Nothing screams ‘self published’ louder than an author trying to economise by squashing too much text on a page with small letters and margins.

Your page headers

Traditionally published books use page headers. They are part of a reader’s experience of books, but independent publishers often leave them off. There are many header variations. Page headers that run throughout a book are known as ‘running headers’. Usually, the author’s name runs throughout on the left-hand header and the book’s title on the right. Short story collections can run the collection’s title name on the left, and the story title on the right. Look at traditionally published books for ways to achieve effective headers.

page-numbers1Your page numbering

In the English-reading world, a book’s first page numerically is traditionally the first page of the body matter, and takes a right-hand page. This embeds odd numbers on the right-hand page throughout the publication. Front matter is either un-numbered or uses Roman numerals in lower case (i, ii, iii, iv, v etc.). Blank pages often don’t carry a page number, although one is allocated for them sequentially. This is where section breaks will assist. You word processor will allow you to tailor each book section with certain characteristics, including a check box for whether you want to start that section with new numbers and headers, or to continue with the numbers and headers from the previous section.

Your book has how many pages?

When quoting the number of pages in your book to distributors and your POD service, it will be the total number of pages in the entire document, which will always be more than the number of pages bearing a number. Add your front, body and end matter together for the full number of pages in the document. Your word processing software will tell you how many pages there are in the entire document.

Page numbering and your paperback cover

When ordering your paperback cover template, remember to allocate the total number of pages in your word processing document, plus any extras your POD service asks you to allocate. This is usually required to be an even number, with one blank left-hand page at the end of the file for the POD service to insert printing information on. If you alter the length of your manuscript, it will increase the width of your paperback and you’ll have to apply for a new cover template and adjust your paperback cover design accordingly.

“Formatting is a laborious, detailed process. Give it time.”

Your widows and orphans

In typesetter parlance, small numbers of words on a line by themselves at the top of a page or the end of a paragraph are as forlorn as widows and orphans. Invariably, as you begin to format, you’ll come across some in your book and you’ll need to deal with them by using your word processing software’s ‘pagination and break’ tool to pull them back to the previous page or paragraph, or push more text across to join the ‘widowed’ or ‘orphaned’ words, leaving them less ‘forlorn’.


When is an orphan really an orphan?

As a general rule, when the last line of a paragraph appears at the top of a page or a column, if it takes up less than half the line, the words are orphans. If it takes up more than half the line, the line can stand as it is. Very often, there is simply no way to logistically deal with widows and orphans, and you’ll need to edit your work down, or add to it, to lose them. This happens on every print edition of a newspaper or magazine, every day of the week.

Your book styles

Looking at your favourite books, notice whether each chapter has a capitalised word or words at the start. How did the typesetter deal with a break in the text? Experiment with your word processing software to achieve the look you want with your body matter. Traditionally, the text in a published book is justified (lined up) on the left- and right-hand of the page.

Your multi-format consistency

If you’re planning to create an eBook of your book, the formatting will be different, and Write, Regardless! will cover this in a future post. For now, get into the habit of ensuring that whenever you make changes to your manuscript, you make them to each version: paperback, eBook, and any other version you have backed up. This is the start of being an effective proofreader and editor of your work.


WRITE REGARDLESSWhen embarking on the formatting of your book, my advice is to work out the dimensions very early by pasting the entire manuscript into a document set at your desired dimensions and line spacing. See how many pages it will be (including front and end matter) and order a free cover template from your POD service. They’ll get back to you, usually in a matter of hours, and you’ll be able to see how thick your paperback will be. Make the adjustments you need in scale and thickness until you have your ideal final book size before embarking on any more detailed formatting. Formatting is a laborious, detailed process. Give it time, take care and remember to save and back up files regularly.

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Writer, get to market!

“Courageously generate your own media in order to cut through the prejudice.”

AS an independent publisher of your own books, you’ll quickly discover how marketing and promotion takes up as much time as writing. Don’t despair, just dive in and stay on track with these handy tips on planning and running an effective marketing strategy.

Get your timing right

No publisher in the world completes a book and then starts a marketing campaign for it. The promotion of a title begins long before it hits the online marketplace or the shelves in high-street bookshops. Whenever you need a break from complicated publishing processes, make a cuppa and turn your efforts to marketing for a while. By the time you’re ready to hit the publish button, your marketing plan will be well under way.

They said what about you?

One of the handiest marketing tools is a bunch of quotes about your book and about you as a writer. If you’ve benefitted from beta readers, it’s entirely appropriate to ask them to furnish you with a snappy promotional quote about the title, and to approach journalists you already know within your social media platform. Printed books are replete with testimonials about the writer’s previous or current work, they give readers confidence in the author’s abilities. Work some great quotes into your printed book’s cover design.

Coming to you this summer…

In order to roll out an effective marketing campaign, you’ll need plenty of support materials. Key to this will be your book trailer. In just the same way as movie trailers tease audiences with forthcoming films, effective book trailers provide a taste of a book’s content. Don’t think a book trailer needs to be a Hollywood epic – many of them are as simple and subtle as others are bold and brash. Check out my book trailer page for how I approach this challenge differently each time, using the basic video editing software that was included on my 2010-model desktop computer. Keep trailers short, simple and evocative, and upload them onto your YouTube account. From there, you can share them on your social media platform. Book trailer services can be accessed online, but, as always, agree on all the contract parameters before handing over any money.

Trailer for Closet His, Closet Hers by Michael Burge, utilising a slide show technique, titles and copyright-free music and images on Apple iMovie.

Who are you and what do you look like?

Readers love to know more about writers they admire. If you have not already included a biography on your website, publish one well in advance of your book with an honest photograph of yourself. Author biographies are required by almost every online book-selling and bibliographic platform, so keep it short and consistent. Have a high-resolution jpeg of your author photo handy, at least 500KB in size, for when you are asked to send one by a newspaper or an online publisher.

Screen shot 2016-04-08 at 2.10.22 PMLet them know all about you

Online book industry sites offer free author pages to writer-publishers, allowing you to share your story with readers, upload book trailers and aggregate all your books in one easy-to-see place. You’ll need to create a page in each Amazon territory via their Author Central facility (there is currently no service for this on The Goodreads Author Program is also an excellent platform, with plenty of book marketing tips such as giveaways and online discussion forums.

The world wants to know you too

The global book trade makes use of bibliographic databases to promote and distribute new and forthcoming titles to book-sellers internationally. One of the biggest is Nielsen, which has country-specific services in most publishing territories, but allows independent publishers to upload book entries for free via their international portal Nielsen Title Editor. As soon as your book cover, author biography, blurb and social media platform is ready, upload an entry onto this service with your publishing date (ensuring you give yourself plenty of time – my advice would be to make it at least three months away).

Getting your great metadata

Nielsen will send details of your book into global book distribution networks, so make sure all information is definitive and accurate. You can edit your entries, but they take days to update. This process will add to the web of metadata on you and your published titles, and raise your online discoverability long before your book comes out. Occasionally, bibliographic services will offer you paid extras, but these are not compulsory. They’ve operated for decades with traditional publishers but only recently opened the gate to independents, so their interfaces can be hard to navigate. If in doubt, ask for support via their excellent online help services, which can take days to respond.

Your browsable online bookshop

Long before you publish, create an online bookshop on your website, with cover shots, advance quotes, and an idea about when interested buyers can expect your titles to be published. As material becomes available, such as your book trailer, or finished sections of your book, publish extracts that can be accessed via links from your bookshop to generate interest and build buyer expectation. When your book is available, change ‘coming soon’ to ‘out now’ with links through to your range of booksellers. Here’s my online bookshop.

“If you want complex and effective media on your book, you’re going to have to create and distribute it yourself.”

Your book is ready for launch

Book launches and author tours are traditional publishing tools that put writers in touch with their audiences. Form an ongoing relationship with one or more local bookshops – many of them will host a regular program of book events for their customer base, and usually charge authors a fee to staff the event, offering wine and light food for guests. Go to a bookshop’s event when deciding on how and where to run yours. The best book launches are not overly long or late, have a point of focus (such as the author in conversation with a relevant guest commentator, or a book reading) and a book signing. This is your chance to make a splash and sell a few copies of your book, but keep things achievable and realistic – it’s tough to get people out for any event these days, and give yourself plenty of lead time so that you are not rushing your book into print. To get more value out of your launch, have it recorded, even on your smartphone, and create an audio clip of it to share with your social media platform.

Audio clip of the launch for Michael Burge’s Questionable Deeds edited on GarageBand and uploaded on SoundCloud.

Your brilliant book media

Let’s be real for a moment. Really, really real. The media will take absolutely no interest in a new, independently-published writer’s book. The mainstream media has been blasted apart by the internet and social media and relies on free book-related content from traditional publishers to fill their pages. If there’s anyone left in the newsroom to see your press release, they’re likely to think it’s not a proper book if a publisher hasn’t picked it up. Getting coverage in national media is incredibly tough and may require paying a publicist, and even that is no guarantee. If you want complex and effective media on your book, you’re going to have to create and distribute it yourself.

Getting into your local paper

“Someone once said: ‘Send yourself roses’ and I have a similar take on interviews.”

A press release about you and your work, sent to your local newspaper, is likely to get a run, but ensure you include a call to action, such as asking people to your book launch, and at least one excellent high-resolution photograph. Don’t rely on journalists to create effective stories out of your press releases. Rather, build the story for them, based on a strong angle. The best way to create an angle is to write a headline – ‘Novelist turns tables on ageing process in new love story’ or ‘Writer’s stories not short on suspense’ – and then write a full article (around 800-1000 words) below it. A good journalist will build on your press release by extracting the series of quotes you have provided, talking about your book and your work. Double-check all details in a press release before sending it – you’ll only get one chance to have it noticed and picked up.

Your book featured in an article

There are masses of traditional and independent news sites hungry to publish content daily. Trouble is, they can’t afford to employ enough journalists to keep up with reader demand. This is where you come in, as a journalist for your own work (here’s a reminder about how you should get over your blocks and just start doing it). Create a full-length feature article (1000-1200 words) about the primary subject matter of your book, positioning yourself as an expert in the field, and offer it to the editors of related news sites and blogs in exchange for a plug for your book. Don’t rely on them to insert the plug – write a short paragraph about your book at the end and include a hyperlink to your online bookshop.

A guaranteed interview about you

Someone once said: “Send yourself roses” and I have a similar take on interviews. In today’s media, there is a tried-and-true, easy method of publishing interviews with a question and answer (Q&A) approach. Celebrities are often interviewed by email in this manner, with the questions published above each answer, and you can do something similar by interviewing yourself. You get to set the agenda, so make it relevant to your book and explore how and why you wrote it. Make sure you include a hyperlink back to your online bookshop, and send the entire interview and your author photo to blogs and sites that publish content about books, ensuring that you offer the content free in exchange for a plug for your book. Once it’s been published somewhere else, publish it to your own site with a link back to where it first appeared. Here’s one I did.

Your reviews are in

They’re highly effective word-of-mouth, but if you ever work out how to get readers to leave reviews, please let us all know. You’ll make a fortune.

Tell your tribe

Whenever you get an article or review published about you and your book, ensure you tell your social media followers by posting it on your Facebook page and the pages of any Facebook groups you’re a part of. Make it relevant to them with a short blurb above the post. Think about having a simple flyer or postcard printed with details about your book, upcoming and previous titles, and all your contact information, and hand it out to interested readers. I pop one into every paperback I sell from my home office.

At least one place wants your book!

As a legal requirement of copyright law, most national and state libraries must be in receipt of free printed and electronic copies of your new book. Send and upload these to them, as their catalogue entries about your books make for great extra metadata on you and your work.


WRITE REGARDLESSMarketing a book is an enormous task traditional publishers will spend plenty of money on, usually engaging a publicist to get the news about new books into the mainstream media. Independent publishers can have a very rough time of marketing, since our books are often stigmatised as somehow not good enough for coverage or support. Courageously generate your own media in order to cut through the prejudice, and start the process long before you hit the publish button on your book.

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Writer, build your book!

“Get out your favourite books and see how they are formatted.”

ONCE the decision to independently publish has been made, it’s time to enter the more technical phase of publishing. You’re about to transform a manuscript into a book that will endure, a process traditional publishers employ teams of experts to execute. These are the roles you need to manage as you put your book together, and the choices you have.

Will you print or not?

A few years ago, many were predicting the end of the printed book because the stats for eBook sales were rising exponentially; but between 2013 and 2015 they levelled off. Many readers still want to hold a printed book in their hands, but some writers don’t want the extra hassle of formatting and distributing a paperback, and are happy to publish eBooks only. Do your research and know why you’re deciding on one course or the other. I went into profit on the basis of one paperback order from one bibliographic company servicing one major city’s libraries. That cheque paid for all the set up, publishing and launch fees of four titles. Publishing a printed title paid off for me.

Your print is my command!

Not too long ago, independent publishers were faced with a tough choice when having their books printed affordably: Should I print 500, or 1000? Either meant having plenty of spare books around in the garage and giving them away as presents for years, when sales didn’t deplete the printed stock. The good news is those days are over, with print on demand (POD) services. Basically, when a customer orders your book, the system prints one for them. No waste, no storage, no need to give them away. Large tracts of books, both traditionally and independently-published, are now sold POD, especially when ordered online.

Your favourite book

One of the best ways I found to get my head around putting a book together was to analyse my favourite titles, then emulate them. Printed books have a traditional style, with pagination, running headers, and chapter divisions of all kinds based on a standard format with odd numbers on the right-hand page and even numbers on the left. Readers will expect to see your printed book in this format, which applies to fiction and non-fiction, so it’s wise to have very good reasons for deviating from it. Here’s a handy guide to the sections of a book.

How strong is your platform?

Independent publishers need to select an online publishing platform. Some recommend publishing on all of them. I stick with one, which gives me print on demand and international distribution for eBooks and printed books across the full spectrum of sites, including Amazon Kindle and Apple’s iBooks, and the world’s largest printed book-selling sites, including Amazon’s Book Depository. I also get access to the largest domestic booksellers in my country. Do your research and find a publishing platform that suits you.

Feeling your fringe benefits

As independent publishing became more accessible, writers’ and publishers’ associations began to form strategic business relationships with online publishing platforms to offer incentives to authors publishing our own work. There are an increasing number of options out there for writers to benefit from significant discounts in exchange for annual membership. The option I chose gives me free uploads on all my eBook and paperback corrections, of which there are always plenty. This has saved me hundreds of dollars, far in excess of the membership fee. The best of these associations also distribute great material about the changing face of independent publishing.

Decoding your ISBN

Used throughout the global book trade, from bibliographic services to high-street bookshops and online book sellers, the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a unique identifier for every published book. Generally, they appear in the ‘front matter’ of a book, near the copyright statement, and in the barcode on the back cover. They can be purchased from ISBN services in all major publishing territories; but shop around a little – they are generally more expensive to purchase individually, so think about buying a batch. Remember, no publisher in the world produces just one title, and your eBook and printed editions of the same title will require different ISBNs.

Asserting your copyright 

Many writers worry a lot about copyright, fearing their ideas will be ripped off and plagiarised. Yes, it’s essential to use the copyright symbol in your book’s front matter, but ensure you also assert your moral rights over your work in a separate, one-line statement, then move on. There are several sites that claim to be providing free downloads of eBooks, and yours might make an appearance, but these sites come and go, and they never lead people to free downloads, they only spread viruses and malware.

Scanning your barcodes

Barcodes are nifty shortcut allowing sales people to scan your book and instantly calculate its price, with all information linked to the title’s ISBN. Many publishing platforms supply barcodes for free with your cover template, but they can also be sourced from online suppliers within your country. They’ll ask for your ISBN in order to create a barcode, and like ISBNs they can be purchased more affordably in batches. Some retail sellers, such as supermarkets, require unique in-store barcodes in order to stock your books, which you’ll need to arrange if you want to sell through that channel. You’ll generally pay quite a premium for this service.

Your entitled book


I have a basic message when it comes to book titles: keep it simple. Titles follow standard patterns, particularly non-fiction, which uses main titles and straplines. For example, Questionable Deeds: Making a stand for equal love has a main title that is lyrical, while the strapline (sometimes called the subheading) is descriptive. Be aware that overly long titles can be prohibitive in catalogues and listings, four to six words maximum is a good standard. There is no copyright on titles. You could, for example, call your book Star Wars, but that name has been Trade Marked for the purposes of creating generations of memorabilia, preventing its use without permission.

Your cover story

The most contentious part of independent publishing is getting the cover right. It’s an incredibly subjective field and unless you’re visually gifted and can operate design software, like Photoshop, it’s best to engage a cover designer. If you’re confident doing it yourself, sites like Canva are very user-friendly and allow you to create a simple eBook cover for free or low cost, following a template. A good rule of thumb is to use one strong image as opposed to multiple, competing images. Check with your publishing platform on what dimensions and resolution they need the cover uploaded at, and work within their thresholds. Very often they’ll ask you to use your title’s ISBN as the file name. When sold online, your book’s cover will appear at thumbnail size, so ensure the title is legible, and the image works in that tiny scale.

Their cover story


Covers for printed books are best created using a template that your publishing platform will send you, which will be created for you based on the number of pages in your book (to gauge the thickness of the spine). Printed covers are achieved using a back-to-front format with the front cover on the right-hand side of the file, ‘wrapping around’ the book right-to-left and printed on one sheet of cardboard stock. Publishing platforms usually require you to provide an ISBN to generate a template, although some platforms will provide you with an ISBN. The same goes for barcodes – don’t buy one until you know if your publishing platform provides them with templates.

Getting your head around word processing

One of the most important considerations when preparing to create a book is to check your word processing software can manage to format and export printed book and eBook files. Generally, two files are needed for every book: (1) An exterior, full-colour cover file; and (2) An interior, black and white file of the pages. For printed books, exterior and interior files are generally both PDFs (‘Portable Document Format’) in which all information is locked into place on each page throughout the document. For eBooks, exterior files are generally PDFs and the interior files are generally ePub files (‘Electronic Publication’) in which all information is fluid depending on what device it’s read on. Printed book files are fixed. EBook files are fluid. Get your head around that difference and you’ll be way ahead.

You’ve been warned about disclaimers!

For decades, published books have borne legal disclaimers protecting the author and publisher from litigation. Generally, fiction and non-fiction need to be identified as such, and this is where writers are wise to ensure privacy is afforded anyone whose story they have written about by changing names, locations etc. For educational books, a disclaimer might be appropriate to protect you from reader expectation about learning outcomes from your work. Disclaimers should not replace a thorough analysis of the legal ramifications of what you publish.

Does your book size matter?

There are several traditional sizes for books offered by publishing platforms – there is no standard and no rules, but making a larger book generally means it will be thin unless your word length can fill it. Some publishers deal with this by using a larger font size to pad the book out. Refer back to your favourite books and use your publishing platform’s printed cover template generator as it will indicate what width the book will be with the font size you have chosen. There’s a bit of guesswork involved initially, but experiment with dimensions and font sizes long before you decide on the final book size. That way, you won’t have to reformat everything from scratch if you change your mind.

Your local bookshop

“You’re the boss, launch when you are ready!”

Is your best friend. Go in and introduce yourself and ask if they stock independently-published titles. They may ask you to manage the ordering and delivery of your titles, or they may be happy to arrange that for themselves, using your book’s ISBN. Work with and support your local bookshop. Think about hosting your book launch there, it can be a win-win for author and bookseller.

Don’t let deadlines kill you

Books take weeks and months to format, proofread, print and distribute. Give yourself plenty of time to achieve this monumental process. Don’t, for example, set your book launch date in stone until you’re 100 per cent sure you can deliver, and so can all the players you’re relying on in the publishing chain. You’re the boss, launch when you are ready!

Back up your files

Start getting into the habit of religiously backing up all your publishing files. Once you’ve done the work on your books, you don’t want to lose it all if your computer fails. I still use a USB memory stick and it works very well.


WRITE REGARDLESSPutting a book together is a major challenge. These basics are just the start of each process, and they’re designed to get you across the major elements to publishing before Write, Regardless! starts on the specifics. Take time to ensure you have the right computer software for creating printed books and eBooks. Research publishing platforms available in your country and if they access the distribution sites you want to sell your books into. Set gentle deadlines for yourself, as this will be a steep learning curve. Get out your favourite books and see how they are formatted. Chances are, you can emulate them.

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.