I write a lot about covers but the fact is, formatting your paperback book’s interior is probably the most frustrating part of publishing your book. While there are tools out there to help, even super awesome tools such as Vellum that will format your book almost perfectly with just a few clicks, there are things that can trip you up.
I ordered a paperback the other day and it was double spaced. I usually look at the interior of a paperback on Amazon before I buy because I have said many times on this blog that I don’t read books that aren’t formatted properly, but this was a friend’s book and I purchased it out of faith. Like some readers who won’t buy books if the cover is bad, I don’t like buying books that are double spaced or not fully justified. They look bad and poor formatting pulls me out a story before I even start reading.
Here are my top two reasons to format properly:
Indies lament constantly about how difficult it is to get into bookstores and libraries. Part of the problem is their books don’t look professional. This goes beyond a bad cover. When a manager for an indie bookstore flips through your book, it needs to look like a book inside. Librarians also will be reluctant to spend their funds on books that do not look professional. Barnes and Noble won’t stock your book if it won’t fit in with the other books on their shelves. Your book takes up space–they want products that will sell. Not to mention, the product they stock reflects their reputation.
KDP and IngramSpark charges you for paper. You either eat that cost as a publisher or your make your readers eat it by charging for extra paper. When your book is double spaced and/or your gutters and margins are too wide or even if your indents are deeper than they need to be (.50 as opposed to .25) it all wastes space. Draft2Digital tweeted a calculator not that long ago, and we can run the numbers. Say you have a book with a 6×9 trim size, it’s 350 pages double spaced and wide margins. You price your book at $15.99 USD. This is what you get:
Your author copies will cost you $5.61 and you make $1.59 per book. But what if you formatted it with single spaces and narrowed the margins? Say you can decrease your pages by 30. This is what you get:
Your author copy price goes down to $5.23 and your royalty goes up to $1.97. If you wanted to price your book cheaper to give your readers a break, you could price your book at $14.99 and this is what happens:
Your royalty goes down to $1.52, but you’re saving your reader a dollar because you aren’t charging them for paper. I don’t know how many pages you would save single-spacing a manuscript, but saving paper will always be cost effective and kinder to trees. Plus, shipping cost goes down because your books aren’t so unnecessarily heavy.
I admit, I don’t do fancy formatting. I use Vellum and it’s fast and easy, but I’m also using version 2.6.7 when they’re on 3.3. They’re always adding bells whistles, but honestly, I just don’t care. There is something to be said for a fancy paperback though, and I do get tempted to play when I see books like Sienna Frost’s Obsidian. Here are some pictures of her paperback interior that I stole from this tweet. (With her permission. The ebook is on sale for .99 from today until August 28th, 2022.)
You don’t have to go all out like Sienna did, if that’s not your thing. I put my time elsewhere, but maybe one day I’ll create collector’s editions of some of my books. For now, I use plain vectors from DepositPhotos as chapter header images, like the wine and beer glasses from Rescue Me as they met in a bar. Beer for his chapters and wine for hers.
The IBPA lists the publishing standards that are needed for a book to be considered professionally published. You can download the list, but sometimes it’s easier to pull a book off your shelf and just look at it. Look a what the copyright page consists of, what that publisher and author used in the front and back matter. In all the excitement of putting out our books, sometimes we forget what a real book looks like and it helps to have the real thing as an example. The guidelines are a big help, though, a checklist of sorts, and you can find them here. https://www.ibpa-online.org/page/standards-checklist-download
It’s all fine and good to have a list and know what you’re supposed to do, but having the means and the tools is something else entirely. I was lucky and my ex-fiancé bought me a MacBook Air and Vellum. I knew I would be formatting a lot of books, and between my own books and the books I’ve formatted for friends, I’ve saved a lot of money, despite how much a Mac can cost.
Since this blog is all about how to do things professionally but on a shoestring budget, here are some free or cheap ways to format your books:
Word is crude tool for formatting these days, but there are ways to make it work for you. KDP offers templates that you can use–simply delete their sample content and copy and paste your own into it. This is how I used to format my books before I had Vellum. Download the template with the placeholder text–all the margins, gutters, and front and back matter are in place. You do have to have a little knowledge of Word as I doubt you’ll have the same number of chapters as the template, but it’s better than starting from scratch. My friend Joe Garland has tutorials on YouTube that can help you, and Dave Chesson from Kindlepreneur also just blogged about formatting in Word. He offers templates as well, so you could give them a try.
Dave Chesson’s baby, Atticus, is a low cost answer to Vellum, available for both PC and Macs. I’ve heard reports it’s glitchy, but their customer service is very helpful. You can check it out here. At 147.00 and a 30 day money back guarantee, there’s not a lot of risk trying it out. https://www.atticus.io/
Reedsy offers a free formatting tool. I tried it once a while ago, and there’s a small learning curve. Sometimes people just have a knack for learning new things and some people don’t. I don’t remember liking it all that much, but that doesn’t mean you won’t. Free to use and the files are eligible to be uploaded anywhere.
Unfortunately, sometimes you just have to network. In some of my groups on Facebook there have been times an author has displayed frustration to the point of tears and there is always a kind soul who will help out. I’ve done covers for people when their ads aren’t working because of their covers, and I’ve edited and formatted for people too. The only problem with asking for a favor is that the file isn’t yours and any changes you make will make you feel guilty for asking. If you can find a way to format yourself, having control can be priceless. Anne Wheeler does book formatting using Vellum. She said I could post with her permission. Reach out to her if you have a book that needs simple formatting without a super short turnaround time. Carol Beth Anderson also does formatting using Vellum for $50.00/book. You can contact her as well. Nicole Scarano offers book formatting using Vellum. Unlike me, she updates hers and offers premium formatting. Join her Facebook group if you’re interested in learning more. (These women are friends of mine, but i haven’t used their services. My recommendation is not an endorsement and they are not affiliate links.)
The fact is, booksellers won’t take your book for their stock if it’s not formatted properly, libraries won’t want your book in their stacks, and readers won’t want to read. It’s not that difficult to properly format your interiors. It’s not being snobby to want the books you buy to look like books, because if an author doesn’t care about doing it properly, I shouldn’t care about reading it. I’m not going to make allowances and exceptions for an author who should know better, and neither do booksellers. There’s a tweet I responded to by my friend Anne I mentioned above, about the stigma self-publishing still faces, and there doesn’t have to be. (Though I know for a fact her books are beautiful!)
Authors can be part of the problem or part of the solution. Books are your business. Take pride in every aspect, and others will do the same.