This year’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) just finished and if you took part, congratulations! You spent long nights pouring your heart and soul into writing your book, but of course, your work doesn’t end there.
Now it’s time to polish your book so you can either submit it to literary agents or, as more and more people do now, you could take the more direct route and self-publish. Either way, you’ll want to make sure your book is formatted properly so it won’t look clumsy to whoever reads it next.
Imagine reading a masterpiece like The Great Gatsby or The God of Small Things with margin misalignment and different fonts. Those errors would definitely be distracting. To help you fine-tune your book, we’ve gathered some layout and formatting tips you can keep in mind while you complete your masterpiece.
Find out what your Publisher or Agent recommends
First, if you’re submitting your manuscript for publication, you should find out what the agents or publishers you’ll submit to recommend. Although most agencies and publishers ask for similar formats, some specifications might differ. Check their websites first, so you follow their exact format guidelines when you submit.
However, if you’re going to self-publish, or if an agent or publisher hasn’t specified any formatting, here are some industry-standard guidelines you can follow:
Unless you’re writing a children’s book and want to use a playful typeface, make the font throughout your book simple and consistent. We recommend using a dignified serif font, such as Times New Roman, or Courier New (or an equivalent).
Multi-colored text can distract the reader from the actual emotion of the story line, so we advise using the color black throughout the book.
Maintain the same font size—ideally 12pt—to make your text easy on the eyes and non-distracting for your reader. Chapter headings can be a bit bigger, though we don’t recommend going over 16pt-20pt.
Margins are the columns of whitespace between the text and the edge of the page. Margins also help direct your reader’s eye movements. Too many words on a line would mean a longer sustained movement, making it uncomfortable for some to read. That’s why it’s ideal to leave an even 1-1.4 inch space from all four sides of your content.
Your title is the most crucial part of your book. Have you ever gone to a book store wanting to buy a book, but you can’t quite remember the title? It’s like finding a needle in a haystack.
Make your title as unique, memorable, and relevant to your story line as you can so readers don’t draw a blank at the bookstore or the library. When you format your book, make sure you place your title exactly at the center half of the first page to grab the reader’s attention.
On the next double-spaced line, type by or a novel by or written by, then on the next line down, add your pen name or your real name—whichever name you plan to start your writing career with.
Give your readers a break at the end of each chapter to process what they just read before going on. Always start new chapters on a fresh page.
When a reader is going through your book, your chapter headings should stand out, making it easier to browse, quickly find where they left off, and better follow your story. The body text should be placed at the center of the page or half-way down towards the center of the page.
The chapter title or number should be placed in the top half of the page or at the center of the page. You can write the number in letters (e.g., Chapter Ten), or use numerals (e.g., Chapter 10). Just be sure to be consistent either way.
Unlike in school where teachers often require you to format essays with double-spaced lines, you should use single spacing for books. After all, you don’t want readers to think you’re using extra space just to fill up those pages. Be a little stingy and use single-spaced lines and a single character space between words.
Set apart the beginning of a new section from the rest of the text with either a paragraph indentation or a full line space. For indentations, we recommend half-inch indentations for the first line of each paragraph and for the first paragraph of a chapter. If you use line spaces to separate your paragraphs, a single line space is best.
Start numbering your pages from the first page where the actual story starts. Don’t include your flyleaves, front matter, title page, or other pages at the front or back of your book that have no connection to the story.
Get a head start with Writer
To make it even easier for our Writer users, we’ve introduced new document themes in Writer that use the recommendations above as default formatting. Get a head start with these new special book themes. Go ahead and finish your bestseller with Writer today!
Have any questions or feedback? Let us know in the comments below, or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.