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  • Writer's pictureM.C.

Formatting a Novel for Print Publication

If deciding to self-publish a print, or hard copy, version, the novel must be prepared for publication. Completing the story is just the first step. Other items to consider are:

  • Hardback or paperback editions, or both,

  • Artwork and “vibe” of the cover,

  • Dimensions of the book,

  • Size of the print, i.e. font size,

  • Additional content at the beginning and end of the book, such as the title page, dedication, acknowledgements, and biographical information, and

  • Marketing blurbs to include on the back cover and/or inside jacket cover, if a hardcover and dust jacket approach is used.

For ease in creation, first decide which elements to include in the book and then create all that content before trying to format it into a final layout for publication. (There are other blog posts that list and explain each of the major book elements.) Similarly, purchase an ISBN, register the book with the Library of Congress, and obtain all needed copyrights and permissions.

A publishing company will need to be identified, even if it is one established specifically for this purpose. Information on setting up a publishing company, or any type of business, is found through each state’s Secretary of State.

A printer/distributor must also be identified and account established. Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and IngramSpark are two common choices. The goal of formatting is to create final, production-quality files of both the book text and cover (usually separate, special-format PDF files) that can be uploaded to the printer for creation of the book.

Formatting guideline documents are available from both KDP and IngramSpark. They contain invaluable information, so I highly suggest downloading and reading them.

Once the above decisions are made and content created, formatting the book can begin.

There are two major components that need to be formatted: the cover and the text, and each requires different skills and tools.

The Text

Choose the right tool in formatting the book for publication. Most printer/distributors require special-format PDF files (PDF X-1a:2001) which are only natively created using Adobe tools, such as Adobe InDesign. MS Word, Google Docs, Scrivener, and LibreOffice – as far as I’ve researched – do not create the appropriate format PDFs. Adobe Distiller can help with creating the correct PDF from these applications, but it is easier in the long-run to use a native Adobe application.

Another reason for using an Adobe application is font choice. Other software, like MS Word, uses different fonts, and not all are available in Adobe to include in the PDF. To ensure the font used will work in the final file, choose native Adobe fonts.

My suggestion for the main text font is Caslon. There are many blog posts about which font to use, and many will work, but for my preference, Caslon is best. It is easy to read, professional-looking, widely used and accepted, and native to Adobe.

Select a separate, sans-serif font for headings and titles. This font should also be easy to read, and should be used for chapter headings, header/footer information like page numbers, and the table of contents.

For a highly-professional look, use this same font on the cover for at least the publisher, marketing blurb, back-cover quotes, etc. if not for the main title and author’s name. Only two fonts need be used to create a professional-looking publication.

In the formatting application, set up the appropriate margins for the size of book you want, usually a bit larger than the final dimensions to allow for cutting, and set the document properties to allow for two-sided printing and a gutter margin in the center to accommodate the binding of the spine.

I suggest using sections as much as possible for easy control over the display of header/footer information and page numbers. For example, lower-case roman numerals are often used as page numbers in the front matter, switching to standard Arabic numbers at the start of the story. Also, page numbers aren’t usually displayed on the first page of each chapter or blank pages.

Start the book with a half-title page, which only has the title presented the same way as the cover, and then the full-title page, which also has the title as well as the author and publisher information. Progress from there including the desired elements, such as a dedication, table of contents, main text, and acknowledgments.

Once complete, identify the total number of pages of the book, as that number will be needed to accurately create the cover.

The Cover

To create the book cover, two sets of skills are needed: artistic skills to create the underlying image, and graphic designer skills to create the actual layout. Either of these skills can be hired out, though expect to pay several hundred dollars for each.

Nearly any type of artwork can be used for the cover. Paintings, alcohol drawings, pencil sketches, or photographs can all be used for cover art. Working with an artist may get you something custom, but whatever you use, be sure to have the original creator’s permission. A contract covering copyright and payment terms should be implemented.

Whatever the medium of the original artwork, a high-resolution image (at least 600ppi) needs to be created. There should be some flexibility within the image, either through cropping or scaling, to support different book sizes. For example, a standard audiobook cover has different dimensions than a paperback.

A graphic designer can then layer the artwork with other cover elements, such as the title, author’s name, publisher information, ISBN area, and marketing information. Each printer/distributor has a tool to create a layout template for the cover. This PDF template can be loaded into Photoshop and identifies crucial items like the cutting areas, margins for text, and the location of the ISBN barcode. The tools also calculate the width of the spine, so the number of pages of final-formatted text needs to be known before the cover can be completed.


Once the files are complete, upload them to the printer/distributor. In that process, the printer will identify any issues, such as the fonts not embedded in the PDF. Correct any errors and try again.

Though the process sounds daunting, with some preparation and organization, as well as plenty of patience and an eye for detail, a high-quality, professional-looking novel can be created for self-publishing.

Good luck and many sales!


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