Tag Archives: Pagination

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.