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Book Formatting Tips: Use Your Favorite Books as Guides

February 19, 2021 (Last Updated July 13, 2020)

Jeremy DePace

You’ve finally finished your book manuscript and now it’s time to sit back and bask in the glow of your finished masterpiece. You’ve worked so hard for this moment, but now a new question pops in your head: “Is it really finished?”


Suddenly you realize your 12 - pt., Times New Roman, left aligned font looks a lot like that report you did in 9th grade on Julius Caesar.  It dawns on you that you don’t have a title page, which raises the question, “do I actually need a title page?” All of these questions and more start running rapidly through your mind; you aren’t alone. Just when it seems like the work is finally done, an entirely new list of tasks suddenly appears. These tasks are called “formatting” and it’s an entirely different kind of work than writing your book.


When you don’t have a big budget, what are you to do? It’s simple: Look at books you own and evaluate the formatting inside. This will help give you a sense of what styles of formatting you respond to best and then guide what is right for your own book. Need help getting started? Download one of our free book templates, which are set up to four standard sizes to choose from.


When looking at other books for reference, pay close attention to these four formatting basics and ask yourself questions:


Book Margins

Let’s say you’re struggling with what size your margins should be. Find your favorite book, grab a ruler, and measure the margins to see what your favorite author decided was the perfect margin for their book. Measure the top, bottom, outside, and inside margins (the inside margins are called the gutter). Now, take those numbers and go back to your document. Adjust your margins to match the margins you just measured and see how it looks. Presto! You’re using the margins from your favorite book, and if the margins were good enough for that book maybe they are good enough for yours. If not, make adjustments! Grab another book from a completely different author in the opposite genre and see what their margins are. Rinse and repeat until you find what’s perfect for your book.



Book Headers

Let’s do the same thing with the headers. How are chapter headers treated in your favorite novel? Are they centered and bold, or left-justified and thin? Do they have a lot of “whitespace” around them or is the body text close to them?



Body Text

Next, let’s look at body text. Is the first line indented or flush? Are the paragraphs justified, or left aligned? Is the font on the smaller side (9pt -10pt font) or larger (11pt - 12pt font)? Do they have a lot of space after paragraphs or no space at all? Try to make your body copy match the one in your reference book.



Page Numbers

Lastly, look at the page numbers. Page size? Same process. Type of font? Same process. Page number layout? You guessed it: the same process. It can save you a lot of time because no longer are you “guessing” what looks good on a screen but instead you’re basing your decisions on book layouts that you personally enjoy.


Once you get good at referencing, you’ll start to also become better at “tweaking” your designs to make them your own. You’ll change the header font to one more suited to the content of your book. If your book has pictures, you may steal the layout of the pictures from another book, but decide your pictures look best with a colored border. You might find that you like a blank page between each chapter, or you like your page numbers to be italic or spelled out rather than numerical. Start with a design you know you like, copy that, then add your own special touch!


We love talking about formatting options at 48 Hour Books, so if you ever feel stuck on formatting questions, contact us! We’ll use all the resources we have to make sure that your book is set up for success starting with page one.


Need help with book formatting? Format your self-published book like the bestsellers with our reformatting services!

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Questions about your files? Check out our FAQs. Or, if you need to speak with someone, our team is always available for assistance and answer any questions you may have about book formatting options. Call 1.800.231.0521 or email us.


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