How to Layout your Book like a Pro

6 min read

If you’ve self-published a book, you’re probably familiar the many challenges of formatting and design. Looking at a book off a bookstore shelf, it’s easy to miss the amount of work and time that goes into designing those pages. Let me tell you—it’s a lot of work. A lot.

Let’s try to make it a little bit easier.

Elements of a Book

A book and a manuscript are two different things. Even though both are comprised of your content—the story you have to tell, a guide or manual, a textbook for the class you’re teaching—the manuscript is just content.

The book is a vehicle for the delivery of this content.

Your book is your content, plus front and back matter, plus a cover. All of which then needs formatting to make reading easy.

Content – This is the meat of your book. The manuscript. The story you tell. The manual or guide you wrote to share your expertise. Whatever you’re writing about, it’s the content of your book. Remember the content includes text and images, as well as anything else like tables or charts. All of that is content.

Front Matter – When you open a book, the first page is not the beginning of your story. No book opens directly to ‘Chapter 1’. You see a half-title and full title, a copyright page, a table of contents, acknowledgments, an introduction, and any other information you need to provide a reader before they dive into the main content. All of this is collectively called Front Matter.

Back Matter – Just like the Front Matter, Back Matter is everything after the main content of your book. Usually, this includes the About the Author, any sort of index or bibliography, and often a few blank pages.

Learn more about Front and Back Matter.

Layout – The layout is tough to define. Think of it as the way your content appears on the page. Including the font, size, spacing, and justification of your text. Your image placement. The margins. The Header and Footer. Page numbers. There’s a lot going on with the Layout. Don’t worry, we’ll get into it more below.

Cover – Your cover is going to be a huge piece of how you sell your book. For this post, we’re not going to focus on the cover. But we’ve got some great content about creating a cover.

Solving the Layout Puzzle

We’ve written a great deal about laying out your book, and we even have an entire section of our knowledge base dedicated to these questions.

Today, I want to break this down in the simplest terms possible – don’t create your own interior files.

It’s that easy. Don’t do it.

Take your manuscript and decide what size book you’ll be creating. Then download the template bundle for the size you selected and unzip it. You’ll find a file with a template for MS Word sized and prepared for all of our popular formats.

These templates include standard margins, gutter, and line spacing. Take your Manuscript and copy/paste it entirely into the template.

My advice here brings up a point I’ve made, as have many others, over the years. Don’t format while you’re writing. Don’t do it. It never works out.

Order of Operations

You’ve finished your content. You’ve downloaded the templates, picked a size, and just pasted all that content in. Now what?

Pro Tip: Before you paste your content into the Template, select all and Clear All Formatting. This removes any formatting you might have applied—styling and otherwise. This won’t remove elements like breaks, but since you didn’t format while you were writing, this shouldn’t be a concern.

  1. Images – Depending on your word processing software, you may not see images in your template. While this might create additional work, it’s generally a blessing. If you set your images in the original file, but that file wasn’t sized for your book size, the images wouldn’t actually be placed correctly anyway.
    Now is the time to add those images, set them in line or tight to the text as you see fit. Carefully review how the images impact the text layout and adjust accordingly.
    Pro Tip: Make note of the pages with images. Once your content is complete and you create a PDF, pay extra attention to reviewing those pages. Images can do some tricky things with your content when converted from one file type to another.
  2. Front Matter/Back Matter – I suggest writing the front and back matter directly into the template. If you’ve already created it elsewhere, go ahead and paste it in. We’ll use Page Breaks and Section Breaks to control the layout.
    Pro Tip: For your Table of Contents in the front matter, add a placeholder page (just type “Table of Contents” and add a Page Break). You’ll want to come back and add the Table last.
  3. Page Breaks – If you have chapters or sections in your book, you’ll end each with a page break. This is going to force all content after the break to the following page. Control the layout of content on the pages with breaks.
    Be conscious of the position a page has in the actual book. Odd pages will be on the right, even pages on the left. This is opposite the way your manuscript would appear in a two-page view in MS Word or Adobe Reader.
  4. Section Breaks – There are a few instances where a Section Break is necessary, but for most of us, we’ll only use these for one reason: to start page numbering after the front matter. If you look at any professionally published book, you’ll see that the front matter is either unnumbered or uses a different number scheme (like Roman Numerals). Use a section break to define where those numbers should begin. Just add the Section Break like you would a page break, at the end of the page before numbering should begin.
    Even using Section Breaks for something relatively simple like this can be a pain. MS Word makes using sections far more difficult than it needs to be. I suggest reviewing their help pages for more info on how Section Breaks work and how to use them.
  5. Header/Footer – With contents entirely added and breaks inserted to position all the content correctly, now you need to design the Header and Footer. If you thought dealing with MS Word’s section breaks was a pain, you’re going to love working with the Header and Footer.
    I cannot stress enough how worthwhile it is to go to MS Word’s support pages for Headers and Footers. Don’t just glance at this page either. Scroll down and review the linked pages too. There are so many ins and outs of Headers and Footers.
    So what are we doing with the Header and Footer? Primarily, you’re adding page numbers. Be sure you add them to the Section that actually gets numbered (so not your Front Matter).
    Pro Tip: Save your file before you start working on the Header and Footer, then save a second version so you have a file you can tinker on without having the Header and Footer cause any problems you can’t fix.
  6. Table of Content – Alright, last step. MS Word has a tool to add a Table of Contents using Heading Styles, so if you set up your chapters/parts that way you can just add it. Otherwise, you can manually create one. We hold off on this until the very last because it can change based on the layout of text or images, and it’s not worth worrying about until the page numbers are in there.

Seems easy, right?

It can be. Using a template simplifies a lot of the prep work. Adding the elements to build your book after you’ve placed the content into the template can save you hours of work. Using templates and working through design one step at a time, in the right order so you aren’t backing up and undoing work you’ve already done, all contribute to making the design process less stressful and more exciting. You’re turning your content into a book after all! It should be fun.

Fun, but still challenging.

Follow the basic outline I’ve detailed above and don’t be afraid to use MS Word’s help site to look for solutions. Let’s finish up today with a couple of final pieces of advice:

  1. Save often. And don’t just save, but create drafts. If you’re about to dive into page numbering, save a new version of the file so it will be easy to go back and start fresh if need be.
  2. Go look at a published book (or a few even). Get a sense of where blank pages are inserted. Look at the way a copyright page and table of contents are formatted. It’s easy to overlook the details of how a book is laid out when you’re just reading. You need to look at books with a designer’s eye.
  3. Get unqualified opinions. Ask your friends, fellow authors, or coworkers to weigh in. This is especially helpful if you designed your book and ordered a proof. A professional designer will give you very specific advice, but it will all be steeped in their knowledge. Your average reader is a much better representation of your audience.

I hope this has made the process of laying out your book a little less daunting. I won’t say the process is simple, but you can do it. And after you’ve done it once, each subsequent book gets easier.

Last but not least, Lulu offers Community support and Email support to help in case you get stuck, so don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for some additional guidance or advice.

26 thoughts on “How to Layout your Book like a Pro

Add yours

    1. Hi alexandra,

      Thanks for catching that!

      I’ve updated the link, we no longer have the single zip file for all formats. The file was proofing larger and annoying to download. The link goes to our product page on Lulu xPress, which features a dropdown list to select the page size template bundle.

  1. HI I HAVE JUST COMPLETED A MANUSCRIPT OF 250 PAGES ON ‘HOW YOU CAN BE YOUR OWN DOCTOR.’ A PATIENTS BASE CLINICAL EXPERIENCE DESIGN TO HELP PEOPLE GOING THROUGH SIMILAR CONDITION. I AM NOT A PROFESSIONAL WRITER AND I AM HAVING PROBLEMS WITH EDITING,AND PUBLISHING ,ANY ADVISE PLEASE? THANK YOU.

    1. Hi Edison,
      For editing, the best advice I have is to work with a professional. Sadly, that does mean paying a pro to read and offer comments on your work.
      If you’re looking to keep your project low-cost, you might try getting help from friends and family, but for a polished book, you’ll need the input of someone familiar with book editing.

    1. Hi chukwudiokeke,

      If you’re creating a print book, I would start by getting your page numbering inserted. MS Word and most other software can make a table of contents using Heading styles, but you can just manually add one by typing the chapter title and page number out.

      If you’re creating an ebook, you will have to use Heading styles. Do not insert a table of contents at all. Just apply the Heading styles and when you convert to EPUB, the table of contents will be created for you. I suggest our ebook creation guide for more details (it’s a PDF download).

  2. Hi Paul…I have written a children’s colour picture book, which will be a series of five books. I’m now ready to publish the first one. I’m using a very famous illustrator and as a result we have pre-sales of several thousand plus! Also two independent book stores in theory will take our book…so all very positive! I’d like to self publish through LULU, however I’m worrying about the quality of the colour print and my page count which has come out at 42. I recently ordered a book self published through LULU ( STUMBLE TRIP FALL by Robert Scully) but printed by amazon just to check the quality and was horrified to see it had four plain white pages at the back, so disappointing and certainly not how I would like my book to look! I also ordered another LULU self published book The Lion’s Share illustrations by Kelly Dupre and its nicely printed, that would be my bench mark. How can I avoid these pitfalls. I look forward to hearing from you.
    All the best. Ella

    1. Hi Ella,

      Printing through retailers (Amazon in particular) can be frustrating because they do often print at a lower quality than the selected options on Lulu. In part this is how Amazon makes sure they are turning a significant profit on each sale.

      Based on the quality you’re looking for and the quantities you mentioned, I think we should get you in touch with our account managers here. They can help determine how to get the best product at the best price, and if you’re looking at large pre-orders, we can help organize that to allow you to take advantage of bulk pricing.

      I’m going to send you an email with more information (using the email you entered when you posted this comment).

  3. I’m looking into self-publishing a second edition of a 1500-page genealogy book. It appears that 800 pages is the upper limit for your services. Is that correct? Can you offer any suggestions as to how to proceed?
    Thanks.

    1. Hi Lee,

      800 is around the upper limit for page count. Sadly, this is true for the majority of self-publishing platforms out there, though I am sure there are printers who can accommodate that size.

      There are two concerns to be aware of at that page count – binding quality and price. Finding a printer who can do a perfect bound book at 1500 pages is going to be expensive, and no matter how high quality their binding, it is going to crack and break over time from the weight of all those pages.

      My suggestion would be to use Lulu and print the book in two, volumes of 750 pages each (or even three volumes at 500 pages). This makes the books easier to handle and helps ensure the binding will hold together.

  4. Dear Lulu
    Ann Chadwick -Suzie-
    Wondered how she can go about editing the booklet with more information that has recently come to light would you send the documents back for her to edit?

  5. Can a book be written in any other programs besides Microsoft Word? What about one of the free programs like Open Office, Google Docs, or LibreOffice? Thanks!

  6. I was referred to check out Lulu by a friend after I finished my first novel so tell how much dose it cost to go from mauscript to book.

    1. Hi Earl,

      Publishing can be done completely free of charge. Simply create a file to specification and upload it. Same for the cover.

      We do offer services for folks who want a professional designer to help with various aspects of the process: http://www.lulu.com/services/list

      I advise considering our service packages only if you need a heavy hand in editing and design. If you plan to do some or most of the work yourself and just need proofreading or cover design, you can probably find those services for less with a freelance provider.

  7. Hi I would like to get some information on how to get started on writing my book I really been thinking about this a very long time Now i want to put this motion
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Bobby,

      Awesome to hear you’re thinking about diving into telling your story.

      Luckily, I can give you all the advice you need in one sentence: just start writing!

      Don’t think about editing, design, publishing or anything else until the story is written. I like to try to hit a word count daily, but everyone has different rhythms and routines. What matters is that you write.

      Once you have the story written, then start to think about publishing.

  8. Hi,
    I have already written a book. Published through a company that went under.
    Want to self publish. Have the book. They no longer have digital files. How do I get started and get another ISBN number?
    Can I still use the same title and contents of my book?
    Thanks.

    1. Hi Sandi,

      So long as you hold the copyright, you can absolutely self-publish.

      You will need a new ISBN, which we can provide for free or you can buy if you want to use your own Imprint. We sell them here – https://www.lulu.com/shop/yourisbn/service/product-yourisbn.html – or you can just do a Google search for the ISBN provider in your country.

      Once you’re ready to self-publish, you can use the same title and contents, just be sure to update the copyrights page to reflect the new ISBN and copyright date.

      Here’s a link to our Publishing Knowledge Base – http://connect.lulu.com/en/categories/publish

      And if you’re getting stuck or have any questions about the process, you can always reach out to our support team – http://www.lulu.com/support

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