Formatting Paperbacks – My Checklist


Happy Saturday, everyone! I am in the throes of formatting my third novella, “The Secret Slipper,” so formatting is on the brain for sure. I had thought about doing a formatting tutorial, but a video would probably work better than text for that—and I have a cold, so video isn’t happening this weekend.

Authors use various programs for formatting their books for print. I personally use Microsoft Publisher and so f
ar, it has worked amazingly well for me—it’s a cheap program, I can completely dictate where every single text box is, and it’s what I have learned on. But the things I’m about to share will work on any program you use—it is kind of like my checklist for formatting.

Before we begin though…Focus on One Thing at a Time

This seems a little silly to say, but when you’re formatting, there are so many things to think about. You might be working on the chapter headers, notice an “orphan” on the first page of a chapter (more on that later), realize that fixing that created another problem…and get wrapped up in the text body when the rest of your chapter headers are screaming, “What about prettying me up?!” You get the picture. There’s a lot to think about. It’s easy to get distracted. And distracted formatting usually means longer formatting.


Get a Stack of Books

When I’m getting ready to format a new book, I head to my bookshelf and pull out about six books. I prefer to choose books from publishing houses such as Bethany House, because they tend to know what they’re doing (even then, different publishing houses use slightly different formatting). I also choose books in which the genre matches my own (or comes close), because different genres are also formatted slightly differently.


Get Those First Pages

Examine six books and you will find that they have various orders for the first pages. So the order I’m about to give you is flexible.

  • Half Title Page

Just the title, right side. The half title page does not always use the same font as the front cover.

Some publishers skip this page and instead have…

  •  Endorsements

This is optional, but endorsements are basically “What readers are saying…” Also on the right side (I have seen some endorsements a few pages long).

  •  Title Page

The full title page usually has the title in the same font as the front cover. It also includes the author name and publisher logo. Right side.

  •  Copyright Page

This page is where you acknowledge all of the legal stuff: Scripture versions used, cover designer credits (including credits for images), publisher information, “This is a work of fiction” text, copyright info, etc. Look at published books to see what they include. This is on the left side.

  •  Dedication Page

Who did you write the book for? This goes here. Right side.

  •  Other books by authors

Sometimes reserved for the final pages, it is optional here. Either right or left side (depending on what else you have in the front).

  •  Acknowledgements

Another page that can either go in the front or back, this one holds the “thank-you’s” for the helpers of the author.

  •  Table of Contents

This is usually only used if there are actual chapter titles. Starting on the right side.

  •  Verse

Many Christian novels have a special “theme verse.” It is usually placed immediately before the first chapter or prologue. Either right or left side.

And We Have the Story

  •  Chapter Page

The placement of chapter headers is a debate among authors and publishers. Most of the leading publishing houses, however, place every chapter header on the right page (this will sometimes lead to a blank page on the left if the previous chapter didn’t fill the page). When I am formatting chapter headers, I usually go through all chapter pages and make sure everything is identical. You will have your “Chapter One” a space, and then the beginning of your chapter.

Traditional first-letter in the chapter is enlarged. I have seen both plain-text large letter and fancy-text (correlating with title or chapter header font) first letter.

  •  Page Numbers

Most programs have the option to insert page numbers for the entire project, and will give you options of placing the page numbers on the outside top, middle bottom, etc. I have seen different books with different placement (I haven’t figured out yet if there is a style for genre yet). You do not need page numbers for every page of your book, though. Typically, all of the pages “pre-story” and “post-story” do not have page numbers. Likewise, any blank page without text does not need a page number. I don’t know how to work your program, but Microsoft Publisher is a little finicky. I’ve not figured out how to become queen over the page numbers yet, so I slap a white box over the page number to hide it (don’t laugh; yes, I realize that I usually do things unconventionally and sometimes it’s not the easiest way out there…one day I shall learn…). See what your options are.

  •  Author/Title Headers

Most books have headers. On the left side is the author name, the right side is the book title (some children’s books will do book title/chapter title instead of an author name). Usually these are smaller font size than the text body. They do not need to be on pre/post-story pages, the first page of the chapter, or on blank pages.

  •  Font Size

Do your research to determine the appropriate font size for your book’s genre. I write mostly children/teen fiction, so I usually do font size 12 with 1.25 line spacing (most programs have an option to edit “Paragraphs” where you can format this).

  •  Justified Text

This is definitely a personal pet peeve. There is an option in every program to “Justify Text” (just like you can “Center Text” or “Align Right/Left”). This will make your text into a nice square box instead of having the right ends of the lines jagged.

  •  Widows and Orphans

This is the final stage of editing your text and, from what I have observed, an optional one. I think it goes along with justified text: my personal preference. A “widow” or “orphan” is a single line separated from its paragraph by a page break (e.g. You have a five-line paragraph: four lines are on the left page, one line is on the right page OR you turn to the last page in the chapter, and you have one line topping a blank page). I try to have no “orphans or widows” in my printed books. To solve this problem, I will either change my line spacing (instead of 1.25 I might do 1.26 for a page) or tweak the paragraph spacing.

Also in this context, I don’t like to have one-word lines ending a paragraph. I use keyboard shortcut “shift+enter” to add at least a second word to that line.


Now we’ve Reached the End after “The End”

I mentioned a few things that are either at the beginning or end of the book (other books by author, acknowledgements). Also in the end of the book you will find:

  • Discussion Questions (always immediately after the story)
  • Historical Note (sometimes included in “Note from Author” instead of its own entity)
  • Glossary
  • Appendices
  • Note from Author
  • Author’s bio/contact information

The ends of books are usually varied in formatting, so look at examples and figure out what works best for your book.


Have you Missed Anything?

I usually go through my formatting list a few times to make sure that I haven’t missed anything. At this point, it is a good idea to save your document as a PDF and send it to a few advanced readers to proof as well.


Now, I’d love to hear from you!

Have you attempted the formatting beast? Do you do something different than I do? What program do you use to format your paperback?

1 thought on “Formatting Paperbacks – My Checklist

  1. Great checklist! I know a lot of people find formatting overwhelming (and certain parts like page numbers are a bear if you don’t get them 100% straight) so having a roadmap would be super helpful. Since I do it for a living, I pretty much follow these same steps every week. Nice written guide for people who don’t do it all the time and need a refresher!! Thank you for sharing! 😀

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