Step 7 – Format and book design

Step 7 Format and book design


Format and book design are the finishing touches to your novel. They are done to ensure your novel conforms to the industry standard, and include the following elements:

Basic formatting:

  • Chapter numbers or names
  • Font type and font size
  • Line spacing
  • Paragraph indents
  • Page breaks
  • Additional pages

Complex format changes which are:

  • Margin and gutters
  • Orphans and widows, Runts and rivers

In this article, I offer an overview of each element.

Formatting your Novel
Formatting your Novel

Cost to format a novel

Formatting is something that you can do for free.

A great place to start is by taking a look at some published books and noting the layout.

The margins are set in a certain way, the paragraphs are indented to a certain specification, and page numbers are in the same place throughout the book.

This can be done with the help of a professional formatter. Or with a little patience, you can do it yourself and save some money.

However, if you choose to hire a professional, you can calculate a rough price from the table below.

Print Copy$150.00 +£115.00 +
Ebook$0.50 – $1.00 per page£0.35 – £0.80 per page
*Figures are a mean cost based on a sample of 25 service providers from USA and UK. ** Professional prices will vary depending on the wordcount and experience level of the formatter.  

Basic formatting tasks

Before you begin, I suggest you create a new blank Word document and name it “Formatting V1.” Then, copy and paste your novel into this document.

I recommend doing this to protect your work. If you get something wrong or corrupt something, you will still have your original document to fall back on.

Chapter number/name

The easiest thing to address first is the position and style of the chapter number/name.

I tend to hit return six times and then set the size to something a little bigger than the rest of the text.

Make sure you’re consistent, i.e., Chapter 1, 2, 3, 4 etc., or Chapter one, two, three, four. Avoid mixing them.

Also, it’s worth checking that each chapter is delivered in ascending order. I know this sounds obvious, but it’s quite easy to miss a number and jump from Chapter 15 – Chapter 17 for example.

Chapter markings
Chapter markings

Font and font size

Times New Roman is industry standard. Deviating from this is not recommended.

Font size 10 to 12 are the common sizes. However, please note that this will have an impact on the page count.

I used size 10 because at 84,000 words, my book was threatening to be thick enough to squash a small child.

Line spacing

Double or 1.5 works well. Again, if you have a large wordcount, 1.5 will reduce the page count to a manageable figure.

Paragraph indents

Don’t use the TAB key. This is called a “hard indent,” and can cause problems.

Instead, go into the paragraph tab on the tool bar and select “first line.” This will ensure every new paragraph is indented to the same specification throughout the book.

However, it will also make every paragraph indented. As you will know, the start of a new scene doesn’t need this.

To undo an indent at the start of a new scene, go through the full MS and remove the indent by simply pressing the BACK SPACE key. You will need to do this for each new scene, and at the beginning of a chapter.

Page breaks

These insert a divider between the last word on a page and the next new page.

Page breaks
Page breaks

I do this during my final read through AFTER the copy edit by inserting the page break at the end of the last sentence.

By doing it at this stage, you can avoid getting a random blank page in the middle of your book.

**Top Tip**

Don’t add page breaks when you write or edit your novel.

They will cause havoc for your editors when they make notes and tracked changes.

There are some great YouTube channels out there that will “show and tell” the full process of adding page breaks, indenting paragraphs, and much more.

Additional pages

Pre story pages

Now that your narrative is properly formatted, it’s time to add some pages before chapter 1. They are quite simple to make and will complete the book.

Title page. Often, this page is simply a title and author page. But some authors will add their cover image.

Legal page. Disclaimer, ISBN details and copyright information.

Dedication page. Not always required, but if there’s anyone you want to dedicate your work to, or anyone you want to thank, this is the place to do it.

Contents page/s. Chapter and page numbers. And chapter links for Ebooks.

Post story pages

These pages come at the end of the book but are not mandatory. They can be in any order.

“Also by (your name)”. List any other published work.

Also by
Also by

Coming Soon. A segment of the next book.

Thank you. A message of gratitude from the author to the reader.

Complex changes

All the changes to this point should have led you to a total page count (or very close to the final count).

Because we now have a good idea of how thick this book will be, we can address the margins and gutters, orphaned words, page breaks.

Margins and gutters

The margin is the outer most space on the page, and the gutter is the inner most (closest to the spine).

The settings you will need are dictated by your page count.

Having a narrow gutter will cause the print to run very close to the spine of the book. And if you have a thick spine, i.e., a high page count, the last few words will be difficult to read.

Gutters and margins
Gutters and margins

If you are considering publishing on Amazon, you will need to use their recommended sizes and setting which can be found on the KDP advice page.

However, I believe the settings listed by Amazon are standard for all prints.

Orphans, widows, runts and rivers (OWRRs)

These are the things a professional formatter will be well versed in looking for. But many self-publishing writers overlook them or simply don’t know what they are.

Widows – when the last line of a paragraph drops to the next page.

Orphans – when the first line of a paragraph is on the previous page.

Runts – are when a single word from the last line of a paragraph ends up on a line of its own. A runt can be found anywhere on a page.

Rivers – This is when the gap between words makes a noticeable pattern down the page.

Addressing orphans, widows, runts, and rivers must be done at the end. This is because any further changes to format, spelling or grammar, could create additional OWRRs.

Book design

This can be the difference between a reader becoming a customer or putting your book back on the shelf.

There are no rules of what your cover should look like; it’s entirely up to you. But there are genre trends to consider.

Cover design
Cover design

The last thing I would expect from a romance novel is to have a picture of an exploding building and a gun-toting hero on the front cover.

Most of us (indie-authors) have an idea of what we want our books to look like, but not many of us are marketing experts. At least, I’m not. Because of this, my design idea might not be something that grabs the attention of a reader.

Engaging with a book designer at this point can be money well spent. They will have a good understanding of what works well, and what misses the mark. And this is often supported by their experience.

However, if you want to do this part yourself, you can.

Using sites like Canva or Shutterstock, you can create covers for your book. You can also use the cover creator on Amazon KDP.

There are three parts to a book cover. The front, the back and the spine. Look at trending books in your genre for inspiration.

The front will have your cover picture, book title, and author’s name.

The spine should have the book title and author’s name.

The back should have the blurb, ISBN code, and section about the author (not always).

Your blurb

This should be just enough information about the narrative to encourage the reader to read the book.

Avoid giving away too much of the story, but also avoid being too vague.

An example of a blurb from August-Lost:

Secrets, omissions, disingenuous greetings. What do people hide?
Even the most trustworthy have secrets. The neighbour who smiles when walking their dog, the delivery man who thanks you for a signature, even the police officer who takes your statement could all be hiding something dreadful.

DI Matt Bruce processes evidence with absolute clarity but with PTSD restricting his ability to empathise, he lives as a prisoner to a tragic history. Thankfully, DS Val Marsh is brought in to unseal his bottled feelings and help release him from himself. But when a simple murder case evolves into something more, the pair stumble upon haunting crimes of vengeance and hate, and a myth from the art underworld becomes a terrifying reality.

ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers)

These can be purchased online at site such as Nielsen ISBN Store.

These are universal and allow you to publish and sell your book wherever you choose.


But if you go exclusively with Amazon, they will give you a free Amazon ISBN. However, this ISBN is exclusive to Amazon. You cannot use it to publish or sell your book anywhere else.

The author bio

This should also suit the genre. You don’t want to be quirky and funny if you are presenting a psychological thriller.

Be appropriate. And if you have any writing accolades, this is the place to put them.


Formatting a book is easy enough providing you follow a logical path.

Keep it simple by addressing one aspect at a time.

But don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can even hire someone. Sometimes, it’s worth spending on professional help.

Good luck.

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