Thursday, May 01, 2014

Three Quick Tips to Help Your Print Books Look Professional

By Marcy Kennedy, @MarcyKennedy

Part of the Indie Author Series

Many self-publishers stress out about formatting their ebooks (my post Understanding Your Ebook Formatting Options explains your choices), but they assume putting together the print book files will be easy. After all, we’re writers because we love books. We’ve read thousands of them over our lifetime. We know how they should look, right?


When we were reading all those books, we probably weren’t paying much attention to the layout, but there are definitely right and wrong ways to format the print version of our book if we want to look professional.

Let me quickly walk you through the three areas where authors often make mistakes, so that you know what to do when the time comes to create a print version of your book. You might want to be near a bookshelf as we go because I’m going to suggest you pull books off your shelf and pay close attention to the interior formatting.

1. Don’t use the fonts that come with Microsoft Word, and limit the number of fonts you use.

What’s your default font in MS Word (or whatever program you regularly write in)? Mine’s Times New Roman. Another popular choice is Calibri. Both are poor choices when it comes to creating a print book. They look okay on a digital screen. They look okay in small amounts. Put them into a print book of 50,000 to 100,000 words and it can make people feel like they’re reading a bloated school report.

Joel Friedlander has some great articles on his website about picking the right font for your book, including 5 Favorite Fonts for Interior Book Design and 3 Great Typeface Combinations You Can Use in Your Book. My recommendation is to look at the style of fonts used in traditionally published books in your genre. That’s the look you want to mimic when choosing a font for your self-published book.

Many fonts have to be purchased before you can legally use them, but there are also many great professional fonts (e.g., Crimson, TheanoDidot, Amaranth) that you can get for free. The best site to look for free fonts is Font Squirrel. Before using any font, make sure you read the license. If you’re going to use a free font, try to find one licensed under SIL Open Font License.

And once your eyes are open to the wide world of fonts, be careful not to go font crazy. It’s best to stick to two (at most three) fonts per book—one for headings like chapter titles and one for the body text.

2. Justify your text in the appropriate way.

Many authors mistakenly leave their right margin ragged when formatting their novel for print because a ragged right margin is the default setting in MS Word and is also the way we were taught in school to format our manuscripts.

Pick up any novel off your shelf and take a look at how the text flows across the page. Both the left and the right margins are flat and even (not ragged). In Microsoft Word, these are called justified margins.

Now pull a selection of non-fiction books. You’ll find the same thing.

Very rarely you might see a book with ragged right margins, but the standard across the board for formatting for print is to justify your margins so that both the left and the right sides are smooth.

3. Make sure you don’t have page numbers or running heads on front matter and blank pages.

Take the same books you looked at before and flip to two spots.

First, look at the front matter (the title page, copyright page, dedication page, and table of contents). You won’t find a page number or running head anywhere on them. In fact, page numbers will begin at “1” on the first page of the body of the book (usually Chapter One).

Another thing you won’t find on those front matter pages is a running head. A running head is the little snippet of info giving the book title and (usually) the author’s name at the top or bottom of almost every page.

Including either page numbers or a running head on the front matter pages is a common mistake made by self-published authors, and it can make our books look unprofessional. Even if you’re formatting your books in MS Word, you can create separate sections so that your front matter remains blank and the page numbers and running heads begin where they should.

Second, flip through and find some blank pages within the body of the books. They’re completely blank. No page numbers. No running heads. Making sure your blank pages are actually blank is another important detail to check for when you’re formatting your books for print.

Sound too complicated?

If you don’t feel confident formatting your print books on your own, you can hire someone to do it or you can purchase templates from Book Design Templates by Joel Friedlander. I’m currently using one of his templates to format the print version of my Busy Writer’s Guides, and so far I’ve found them to be a great tool and user-friendly. As long as you can copy and paste and follow a well-illustrated guide, you’ll be able to use their templates.

What struggles have you had in formatting the print version of your books? Do you think it’s still important to have a print copy of your book available or have you decided to go ebook-only?

Marcy Kennedy is a suspense and speculative fiction writer who believes fantasy is more real than you think. Alongside her own writing, Marcy works as a freelance fiction editor and teaches classes on craft and social media through WANA International. She’s also the author of the Busy Writer’s Guides series of books. You can find her blogging about writing and about the place where real life meets science fiction, fantasy, and myth at

Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon | Apple iBooks | Barnes & Noble

About Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction: A Busy Writer’s Guide

You’ve heard the advice “show, don’t tell” until you can’t stand to hear it anymore. Yet fiction writers of all levels still seem to struggle with it.

There are three reasons for this. The first is that this isn’t an absolute rule. Telling isn’t always wrong. The second is that we lack a clear way of understanding the difference between showing and telling. The third is that we’re told “show, don’t tell,” but we’re often left without practical ways to know how and when to do that, and how and when not to. So that’s what this book is about.

Chapter One defines showing and telling and explains why showing is normally better.
Chapter Two gives you eight practical ways to find telling that needs to be changed to showing and guides you in understanding how to make those changes.
Chapter Three explains how telling can function as a useful first draft tool.
Chapter Four goes in-depth on the seven situations when telling might be the better choice than showing.
Chapter Five provides you with practical editing tips to help you take what you’ve learned to the pages of your current novel or short story.

Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction also includes three appendices covering how to use The Emotion Thesaurus, dissecting an example so you can see the concepts of showing vs. telling in action, and explaining the closely related topic of As-You-Know-Bob Syndrome.


  1. Thanks Marcy. Always good to see these things in a list. Especially while I'm formatting my book for print. lake

    1. My pleasure. Hopefully I've saved you a little time as you format :)

  2. No sans-serif options for the body text, eh? I realise the conventional wisdom would claim otherwise, but personally, I find sans-serif fonts much, much easier to read than fonts with serifs (seriffed fonts tend to make me accidentally jump lines).

  3. Hi Janis and Marcy,
    Thank you for sharing your self-publishing expertise, Marcy. I'll be saving this post for future reference. :-)