Tag Archives: Book formatting

Unlocking the secret life of (most) writers

WRITERS are living through tough times, and times are usually tough enough for wordsmiths.

“Of optimal use to writers who have at least one manuscript completed and the willingness to create another.”

Not since the invention of the printing press has it been easier to publish books using an array of affordable online publishing services, but these same systems and the distribution networks they feed have stripped the traditional currency of many of the same books to almost nothing.

Newspapers struggle to get readers to pay, and we now have multiple generations who do not expect any content should come with a price tag.

Yet it’s not all bad news. Despite the terrible odds stacked up against writing for fame, glory and riches, people still tell stories.

My lack of success in landing a traditional publishing contract for my work led me down this pathway, even as a log-jam of manuscripts was piling up in my head, heart and hard-drive. Write, Regardless! is the result of having many questions fired at me ever since I threw my cap in the ring and became a publisher who made a small splash.

I once worked in publishing and learned a thing or two about gauging what makes a good story, a savvy author and a win-win contract, but I needed to spend years researching online processes and social media in order to lay the foundations for this step into the partially unknown.

And I hasten to add I don’t have the answer to every question. I’m still learning, but after finding myself corresponding at length about my approach, and thereby losing time for my own work, I decided to look at how I achieved my limited success in order to have somewhere to direct queries.

“I was objective enough to make decisions as a publisher as much as I was making them as a writer.”

In my first year as an independent publisher I profited from the publication of four titles, which made money after significant sales to libraries of the paperback version of my strongest non-fiction title Questionable Deeds: Making a stand for equal love. This title had relevance to the news cycle in that it spoke considerably to the critical political journey of marriage equality legislation in Australia.

9780645270525The publication of Closet His, Closet Hers: Collected stories at the same time was no mistake. Fiction is a much harder sell, and I consciously floated my first fictional title on the same wave as Questionable Deeds. To put it plainly, I was objective enough to make decisions as a publisher as much as I was making them as a writer.

That is the key to Write, Regardless! It seeks to unlock publishing industry secrets, but it will also raise your awareness of what it takes to spend your precious time writing regardless of what the publishing industry thinks of all your hard work.

This book is not aimed at teaching you to write, although it has several encouragements to analyse your work to make it more engaging and entertaining to readers. It doesn’t offer short cuts. I started creating an online presence as a journalist twelve months before I started writing my first published book, and I encourage readers to give the process at least the same time as I have, which is now approaching five years.

Writing is about doing the work. Publishing is about even harder work. Marketing and promoting a book is the hardest work most independent publishers will ever do.

Write, Regardless! is the technique I applied to myself, and in doing so earned a third of a traditionally published writer’s average annual salary in my first year, without any support whatsoever from the traditional publishing industry or the mainstream media.

That might sound like very small fry, but weighed up with the high chance of getting ripped off thousands of dollars for the ‘one-stop-shop’ charlatans, or outsourcing the work to others, it’s a resounding success story. I made more than many authors receive from books that have been treated to the full suite of marketing and promotion, festivals and competitions.

As I write this, I am preparing to attend my first writers event as part of a panel discussion at Brisbane Writers Festival. For a self-published author in any country that is almost unheard of.

Write, Regardless! is available free online as a series of articles on my website, but I’m publishing it here with all the same links to other resources I created on the journey.


It will be of optimal use to writers who have at least one manuscript completed and the willingness to create another with a regular writing schedule of no less than a page of new material a week. It’s also designed for you to begin the work of becoming a publisher at the end of each chapter, before moving onto the next.

One page a week sounds like a small amount, but there is more to being an author than writing these days. Read on and courageously do the work!

An extract from 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. It’s a legal requirement that you contact your state and national libraries to donate paperback and eBook copies of your titles. They will add it to their online catalogue, creating more metadata on you and your book, and the national library will email you a logo to place in your front matter.

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 alter 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 considered 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.



When 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, 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. 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 rarely lead people to free downloads, often spreading viruses and malware to the cheapskates who fall for them.

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 generated 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.



Putting 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.