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Formatting Books: How I Do it and What I Use

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Hey there book lovers! Are you ready to take your writing to the next level and turn your manuscript into a published beauty?

Well, get excited because today we’re diving into the world of book formatting!

Formatting may seem like a small detail, but it can make a huge impact on the overall look and feel of your book. Get your book formatting wrong, and it will pull the readers out of the book, and will likely lead to horrible reviews for you book.

But don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

Whether you’re a seasoned author or just starting out, this guide will give you the tools you need to turn your book into a masterpiece.

So let’s dive in.

What File Types Are We Even Formatting?

As you dive into the exciting world of book formatting, it’s important to know what you’re actually formatting! With all the different file types out there, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

EPUBs are the most common file type for ebooks, and are widely accepted by most retailers. This file format is optimized for digital devices, making it easy for your readers to access your book on their e-reader or tablet.

PDFs are also essential if you need print versions of your book. PDFs are versatile and can be used for both digital and print distribution, making them a great choice if you’re planning on selling your book in both formats.

MOBI files used to be essential for Amazon, but they’ve been discontinued. While MOBI files are still widely used by some indie authors, EPUBs are now the preferred file format for most retailers.

Guidelines for Formatting

Usually, I go with Amazon’s guidelines, since if you can make your book work for them, you can do it for pretty much anyone. However, there are other guidelines to consider:

A List of Terms

Here is a brief list of formatting terms that I’ll use in this article. It’s good to be up to speed on some of these, because there’s a lot of lingo that goes into formatting books.

  • Back Matter: The content following the main text of the book, including an author biography, discussion questions, bibliography, etc.
  • Bleed: Design elements that extend past the edge of the paper.
  • Font: The typeface or appearance of text.
  • Footer: Any element placed in the bottom margin, such as page numbers.
  • Front Matter: The material appearing before the main text of the book, including the title page, copyright information, foreword, etc.
  • Header: Any element placed in the top margin, such as the book title or author’s name.
  • Line Spacing: The distance between lines of text.
  • Margin: The white space around the perimeter of the page.
  • Orphans: A single word separated from its paragraph, appearing on the next page by itself.
  • Rag: An uneven margin on either the right or left side of the page.
  • Trim Size: The final dimension of a book.
  • Verso: The back side of a page, such as the reverse of the title page which holds the copyright information.
  • Widows: A solitary word at the bottom of a paragraph, not continuing on to the next line.

First Things First: My Favorite Formatting Program

chapter themes in atticus

When it comes to formatting a book, there are many good programs out there to choose from. A lot of people use Scrivener or Microsoft Word because they are writing programs with formatting capability, but the truth is that they don’t actually format books very well.

People used to use Vellum because it was considered the best, but it only worked on Mac, making it difficult for Windows users.

That’s why Atticus is my favorite formatting program.

atticus logo

Atticus is not only available on all platforms including Windows, Mac, Linux, and Chromebook, but it’s also over $100 cheaper than Vellum. For just $147, you can get a lifetime subscription to Atticus, making it an affordable and accessible option for all authors.

Atticus does everything Vellum does, and more. With Atticus, you can format your book with ease, create stunning book covers, and even preview your book on a variety of devices.

The software is user-friendly and provides step-by-step instructions, making it easy for even the most technologically challenged authors to format their books like a pro.

How to Create Front and Back Matter

When it comes to formatting a book, front and back matter are essential components that set the stage for your story and provide important information for your readers.

Front Matter

Most books have front matter before the main content, often expressed in roman numerals. The front matter of a book typically includes:

  • Half-title
  • List of your other books
  • Title page
  • Dedication page
  • Praise or accolades
  • Table of contents
  • Maps or illustrations
  • Epigraph
  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • Prologue

Note that not all of these are required, but can be commonly found all over your favorite books.

Each of these elements serves a different purpose, from providing background information and context to dedicating the book to someone special.

The table of contents, for example, gives readers an overview of the book’s structure, making it easier for them to navigate and find specific information.

The foreword, preface, and prologue provide additional context and information about the book, helping readers understand what they can expect from the main content.

Back Matter

In addition to front matter, back matter is another important component of a book’s formatting. Unlike front matter, back matter is placed after the bulk of the book, and is an important area for marketing your next book or getting people to come to your email list.

Back matter can include a variety of elements, such as:

  • Acknowledgements
  • About the author
  • Afterword
  • Note from the author
  • Discussion questions
  • Glossary
  • Indexes
  • Copyright permissions
  • Bibliography
  • Sneak peaks
  • Other books by the author

The back matter is a great opportunity for you to engage with your readers and encourage them to connect with you further. Whether it’s through a note from the author, discussion questions, or sneak peaks of your next book, the back matter gives you a platform to build a relationship with your readers and keep them coming back for more.

Print Formatting…It’s Hard Without Atticus

Formatting a book for print is a big deal, and it’s essential that you get it just right!

Margins and Bleed

The first thing to consider when formatting a print book is the margins and bleed.

The margins are the white space around the edges of a page, and it’s important to know what each vendor wants in terms of the size of these margins.

Bleeds are an important aspect of print formatting too – they’re the extra border around the document that ensures an image or color extends to the edge of the page. To make sure your bleeds are just right, set them to 0.125″.

Trim Sizes

There are a number of “trim sizes” meaning the actual physical dimension of your print book, that you want to be aware of.

There are a lot of them, but most fall into one of the following categories:

  • 4.25″ x 6.87″ is the size for Mass market paperbacks, which are commonly found in grocery stores and airports.
  • 5″ x 8″ or 5.25″ x 8″ is the size for Trade paperbacks, which can be seen in bookstores.
  • 6″ x 9″ or 6.25″ x 9.5″ is the size for Hardcover books and paperback graphic novels.
  • 8″ x 8″ or 8″ x 10″ is the size for Children’s picture books.
  • 8″ x 10″ or 8.5″ x 11″ is the size for Coffee table books, picture books, activity books, cookbooks, craft books, and coloring books.

Once again, if you’re using a program like Atticus, you’ll have access to these and a lot of other trim sizes, which you can adjust with a single click.

Headers and Footers

Next up are headers, footers, and page numbers! These are in the top and bottom margins of the book and are important for making your book look polished and professional.

Headers can include page numbers, book titles, author names, chapter titles, your viewpoint character, and more.

Footers usually only include the page number, but can also include footnotes.

Choosing Your Fonts

When choosing the font for your book, make sure to select one that’s easy and comfortable to read. Don’t use an abnormal font – instead, choose one that’s normal and standard.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule – children’s books and large print books can have abnormally large text, but for most books, stick to a standard font.

Indents, Spacing and Rags

Wow, we’re getting into the nitty-gritty of print formatting! Let’s dive into indents, spaces, and rags!

Indents are those first line spaces you see at the beginning of paragraphs in fiction books, and they help guide the reader’s eye. You may need to adjust the indent width in your formatting program, but it’s all worth it for that clean and organized look!

Line spacing is the space between each line of text, and it’s recommended to set it around 1.3 for a comfortable reading experience.

And when it comes to alignment, rags happen when you use left or right alignment and it creates an uneven margin on one side. But, you can easily justify the alignment, and most formatting programs will add hyphens to some longer words to make it look better.

Widows and Orphans

Now, let’s talk about those sneaky widows and orphans.

A widow is when you have the last word of a paragraph on a single line, and an orphan is when the last word of a paragraph is the first word on a page.

You want to avoid these as much as possible, but it can be a challenge without a good formatting tool like Atticus.

Page Breaks

Last but not least, let’s talk about page breaks! It’s important to use page breaks instead of hitting enter multiple times between chapters. This makes a proper break between chapters and helps with the overall coding of the book.

Going the Extra Mile with Chapter Themes

If you’re interested in really setting your book apart, using chapter themes is THE BEST way to do this.

Doing great chapter themes is nearly impossible with most programs, especially Microsoft Word or Scrivener.

But with Atticus, this process is easy!

A good chapter theme can have the following:

  • The chapter number
  • The chapter title
  • A subtitle or epigraph (if needed)
  • An ornamental image among the titles
  • A background image
  • Fancy fonts to make the titles stand out and match the genre (this is the only time you should use fancy fonts)
  • Your main text should start half-way down the page
  • No indent on the first line
  • Drop caps on the first letter of your main text

Atticus makes all of this easy, blowing the roof off what’s possible with chapter design. See this for example:

beautiful mockup in atticus

Final Thoughts

I hope by now you can see why I would want to use Atticus for my book formatting needs. Everything I listed above is easy to do.

Seriously, it took me only 5-10 minutes to format one of my books, whereas with Word, Scrivener, or even a powerful formatting tool like Adobe InDesign, I would have to go page by page to verify everything was okay.

With that in mind, I hope you will check out Atticus, because I’ve found it to be a huge help for me, and I know it can be for you too!

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