BACKPACKED WEEK: How to Make a Real Book


Welcome to Backpacked Week! This is where, for one week, I post about the newfangled self-publishing stuff I’ve picked up from self-publishing my third book, Backpacked, which is out now, and thereby slip numerous reminders about my new book, Backpacked, being out now, into my blog posts without you feeling like I’m just incessantly bombarding you with the news that my new book, Backpacked, is out now. (And only $2.99 on the Kindle store. Bargain!) You can see the week’s schedule in Monday’s post but for today, our topic is how to make a real book, i.e. the interior file for your Print-On-Demand paperback

***UPDATE JUNE 2013: Re-reading over this post I noticed that it contains a major error. On front matter pages, end matter pages, title pages and blank pages, there should be NO page numbers. You can do this by creating MS Word’s ‘Sections’ feature, e.g. break your book into sections and remove the page numbers from the pages listed above. This is something I’ve learned as I’ve gone along (oops!) and this post was written forever ago, so apologies! But that’s how it should be done. ***

The internet is teaming with instructions, tips and advice on how to format your e-book – just look around this very blog for plenty of articles about tabs, paragraph returns and Normal paragraph style (all of which seem to mention the incurring of headaches). But there is no where near as many articles or places to go for information about what should be inside your Print-On-Demand paperback. This is a shame, because it’s easier to make your POD paperback look like a “real” book. Alas, it’s also easier to make it scream “self-published!” An imperfectly formatted e-book can be forgiven, in a sense, because some traditionally published e-books aren’t all that pretty either and the most important thing to a reader is that your e-book be readable. But you’ll never get away with it in a paperback.

Back to the Bermuda Triangle

I’ve said before about how, it seems to me, there’s a Bermuda Triangle-type effect in self-publishing and that into it disappears everything self-publishers know about real books. That’s why, I believe, many of them do things like put patterns on their book jackets instead of images, print quotes like, ‘”Suzy is a great writer” – my mom’ on the back and start their chapter ones on their page ones.

Before you sit down to lay out the interior of your POD book, look at real books. This is the single best thing you can do for your own POD interior. Try to study books in the same genre as yours. If you’ve written chick-lit, look at some chick-lit books. What’s on their first page? Where do they put their dedication? What does their copyright notice say? Are the acknowledgements at the beginning or the end?

The Ingredients

I think the best way to make a great looking POD book is to keep things simple. Be professional, but don’t be overly ambitious. Make sure you have everything you need in there but resist the urge to get carried away.

If you download a MS Word template from either Lulu or CreateSpace, your book’s page will already be correctly formatted. This means that the even pages (the pages that appear on the left-hand side as you read the book) will have slightly different left and right hand margins to the odd pages (the pages that appear on the right-hand side as your read the book), allowing for the space that will be lost on the pages when it’s bound.

Put in page numbers. The easiest way to do this is to Insert -> Page Numbers. Make sure your page numbers are formatted differently for your odd and even pages (so they appear on the “outside” of all pages when bound), which will happen automatically if you’ve downloaded a template. Check the box that says “Don’t show number on first page.” I make my page numbers slightly smaller than my body text, i.e. if my body text is point 11, I make my page numbers point 9.

Make the odd page your bestest ever friend. The odd page – the page on the right-hand side as you read the book – is where everything starts. It’s where you’ll put your title page, start your chapters, start your sections – everything always starts on the odd page. If you get to the end of the chapter on page 85, you don’t start the next one on page 86. You skip it, leaving it blank, and start your chapter on page 87 instead.

Create your front matter. This is the stuff that goes at the start of your book. If I could get one message to every self-publisher on earth, “Books don’t start on page 1!” would be high on my list of potential candidates. You can modify this for your own needs, but generally I lay out my front matter like this:

  • Page 1: About the Author OR Praise for previous books/editions
  • Page 2: ISBNs, copyright notice, disclaimer if applicable
  • Page 3: First title page (author name, title, sub-title)
  • Page 4: Also by, i.e. list of your other titles (or blank, if you don’t have any)
  • Page 5: Second title page (title only)
  • Page 6: Blank
  • Page 7: Dedication
  • Page 8: Blank
  • Page 9: Start book.

Click the image to see the beginning of Backpacked in PDF.

Pretty up your body text. Stick with a proven, simple font. I use Book Antiqua. I don’t recommend using Times New Roman because it’s not used in “real” books, generally, and so you using it in yours is a tell-tale self-published sign. Justify all your paragraphs and for fiction, use first line indent on them. I’d stick with around 0.3″ – take into account the size of your book. For instance, on a page measuring 5.5 x 8.5 (the size of Mousetrapped and Backpacked), anything more would appear to stretch half-way across the page. Block paragraph style generally works better for non-fiction.

Start your chapters on new, odd pages, about a third of the way down the page. In Mousetrapped, I simply typed “One” in the same font and size as the body text and then made it italic, then typed the chapter name in capital letters and made that bold, and left-aligned them a space or two above where the chapter actually started. Like this:

But then last week I was messing around with the interior of Backpacked, and I had an idea. There are two fonts in MS Word which are very similar to the fonts used on the cover design: Impact and Bradley Hand ITC. What if I used them to make the text on the title page look like the text on the cover image? Well, it would look like this:

That worked so well that I went and redid all the chapters headings, centering this time around, and using the same combination of Impact and Bradley ITC. That ended up looking like this:

Backpacked also had five parts, and I made title pages for them using a piece of MS Word ClipArt (which will appear to be black and white in the printed book), like this:

I liked that so much then I went and redid the entire interior of Mousetrapped too*, so they’d match. Everything with me has to match, if you didn’t know that already…

Create your end matter. (I hate calling it “back matter” which dredges up all sorts of connotations!) You don’t really have to put anything here, but you’re a fool if you don’t. This is where you can do things like:

  • Type “THE END” – my absolute favorite bit of writing books. FACT.
  • Add an author’s Note. Use these sparingly. There’s nothing more annoying than an unnecessary author’s note – it can come across as self-indulgent, and leave a bad taste in the reader’s mouth right before they put down your book
  • Add acknowledgments. This is where you guarantee yourself sales by putting people’s names in print. If their name is in there, cha-CHING!
  • List your references, or a further reading list.
  • Give your readers a reason to join your online platform. List your website URL, your Facebook page URL, your Twitter username, etc.
  • Put your about the author here if you didn’t stick it in back at the start.
  • Put ads for your other books. Yes, you’ve listed them under your “Also by…” list back at the start, but why not take the opportunity here to tell readers what they’re about? You can add images; just remember that they’ll appear in black and white in the finished book.

The Thick of It

So let’s say you’ve studied real books, not started yours on page one and put everything listed above in your paperback interior. Does that mean you get an A+ from me? No. A B, maybe. (Minus.) Because there is yet another landmine for POD self-publishers to step on, something that affects the appearance of their finished book almost as much as the cover design, font and layout: how thick it is. A much neglected consideration, how many pages your book has doesn’t just affect your unit cost and list price. It can also be a big, neon sign that points to your book with a red arrow and blinks “Self-published!” on and off repeatedly.

My 180-odd page, 6 x 9 proof copy from Lulu. Utterly unimpressive. John Mayer for scale and eye candy.

The very first POD I ever saw was one of my own: a Let’s Just See What This is Like proof copy of Mousetrapped that I ordered from Lulu. It was extremely slap dash – I basically copied and pasted my MT manuscript into the 6 x 9 document template, made a cover using Lulu’s cover creation software and added to cart. And it was horrible, because it was way too big and far too thin.

The difference between 180, 6 x 9 pages and 232, 5.5 x 8.5. pages. 

It really annoys me when self-publishers make decisions based on money alone. Yes, you obviously have to take that into consideration, but you won’t make any money if it’s all you’re thinking about, because your book won’t sell any copies if it’s been designed by a bottom line. Don’t refuse to leave blank pages because you don’t want to pay for them, and don’t pick a larger trim size so you’ll have to pay for fewer pages.

Collect the whole set! (Although you can’t, because Results isn’t out yet!) Self-Printed is 6 x 9, Mousetrapped and Backpacked are both 5.5. x 8.5. and Results will be 5 x 8. All my books are by CreateSpace. 

If your manuscript is novel-length – say, 80,000-100,000 words – you’ll have no problem making your book look like a “real” novel. When it comes to choosing a trim size, don’t start at CreateSpace or Lulu. Start on your shelves. Pick out a book you like the look of, and then get out a ruler and measure it. Next, find the closest trim size on offer at your chosen POD website. Download the corresponding template, and copy and paste your manuscript into it. Create a few blank pages at the start, add a few blank pages at the end and move the start of all your chapters to their own, odd-numbered page. This will give you a good idea of how many pages –or how thick – your book is likely to be. If your book is shorter than that, go for a smaller trim size to make more pages.

If this all sounds too much like hard work, I can do it for you. Click here for more information.

*Please note that if you were to order Mousetrapped from Amazon today, you would get the original interior. It can take 6-8 weeks from the files to update in all distribution channels.

Find out more about Backpacked here

14 thoughts on “BACKPACKED WEEK: How to Make a Real Book

  1. Linda Acaster says:

    David G has a signpost to your blog and I’ve been reading. I’m about to take the plunge with print thru Createspace, so your suggestions are very useful. A question: do you use use the standard single spacing, or do you add it a little extra kerning?

  2. Tony James Slater says:

    Great info you’ve shared here Catherine, thanks! I’m quite nervous about attempting a Createspace version of my book, I’ve been putting it off for almost a year now! It just seems so… irrevocable. Permanent. I’m sure that’s just a trick of the mind, but I’m glad to have some instruction regardless. I like the thought of there being templates I can use, so I’ll go in search of those now. Well, after I approach my bookcase, ruler in hand…

  3. Peter says:

    Hi Catherine. Sorry to bother you. Nice article, though it raises many more questions for me. I’m wondering what font size to choose? And how all this ties in with having a cover created, and formatting the ebook version? It seems like such a vast complicated mosaic, I don’t know where to start. For example if I use a cover designer who offers formatting, won`t they structure the pages for me if I ask them? Regards.

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