Setting up Your Book: The Basics

Setting up Your Book: The Basics

When I started into publishing, much of the whole process seemed so complicated and so difficult. One of the reasons I started this blog was because I was having a great deal of difficulty finding helpful websites to walk me through the “how to’s” of publishing. I thought I could be a support and help to others on this process and provide clear, practical help in this area where there appeared to be a lack.

Since that time, I have found a number of helpful sites, but they eluded me at first. I still, however, have a desire to provide a simple, clear blog through which authors can easily find the information they need.


One of the big challenges an author faces is how to get a book from their computer to the actual printer. A printer (whether Createspace, Ingram or just about any other) will typically require the interior of your book to be in a high resolution PDF file.

In addition to this, the file needs to be set out exactly how you would like it to look once it’s printed. The font size, the layout of the page, the page size, the page numbers, headings and more all need to be set up just right.
To make it even more complicated, there are pages in a book such as the copyright page, dedications, a table of contents, etc. These pages are supposed to go in a certain order and, as an author, you need to know that order.

While this sounds quite complicated, it can be done simply and professionally in MS Word. You can set up your book and export it to a PDF in a way which is exactly what a printer needs.Β  If you do not have MS Word, it is actually much cheaper to buy the software and set your book up with this software than it is to hire someone to set the book up for you. It’s also not a huge amount of work, although it can appear complicated.


On this note, I tried Pressbooks to set up my book. Unfortunately, I found it fairly limited for this kind of thing (getting your book to a PDF), but it is helpful in terms of ebooks. I will be posting a blog on using Pressbooks soon, so keep your eye out!


What I hope to accomplish in this blog is to walk an author through a simple process of setting up your book for print. Since there is so much out there already on how to use MS Word for this, I will not be going into the technical steps of “where to click” in MS Word, but I’ll be concentrating on those areas you need to pay attention to in setting up your book.

For information on how to set up the file in MS Word, Createspace has this helpful guide called, “A Step-By-Step Guide to Formatting Your Book’s Interior.” You can also google certain questions and phrases (I’ll give suggestions below) for how to work through specific issues.


Here are some things you need to understand

Understanding Recto vs. Verso

First things first. You need to know the lingo. When you open a book (we’re talking English books that move from left to right), the left hand page is called the Verso page and the right hand page is called the Recto.

Typically, everything important starts on a Recto page (chapters, table of contents, dedication, maps, etc.). Not much should start on the Verso page. An exception to this rule is the Copyright page. It’s typically on the Verso (left hand) page.

You will notice in a typical novel that each chapter will start on the Recto page. You’ll notice that in order to keep this consistent, occasionally an extra page will have to be added in and as a result, there will be one empty page in between certain chapters. Keep it to one, not more. You’ll never need more than one to cause the next chapter to start on the Recto page.

You’ll notice as well that some books are starting chapters on the Verso page. While this appears to be a new trend in some places, I would recommend that you not jump in on this trend. The reason for this is that a critical eye will see your chapter starting on the Verso page and… they will be critical. This could cause some readers to see your book as “unprofessional.”

The final thing you need to understand about setting up your print file is that the first page (in your PDF) is treated by the printer as a Recto page. In other words, the first page is not the inside of your front cover, but it is in fact the right hand side page that you see when you first open the book.


Figure out your Trim Size

You need to figure out the size of your book. This is called the Trim Size.

There is no real standard size for books. Non fiction can often be 9″x6″ and fiction is sometimes 8.5″x5.5″, but there is no real standard or typical size. You need to take a look at some books in your genre and pick a size you like. I wouldn’t recommend larger than 9″x6″ for a fiction book (aside from children’s books). It’ll start to look a little funny.

The size you choose will say a lot about your book in the hands of a reader and it will also determine how many pages your final printed book will be (a smaller trim size will mean more pages needed in order to print your entire book). More pages mean more cost to you. I found that each page with Createspace cost me nearly 1.5 cents (US) to print. That’s significant. At one point I changed the font and font size and those changes cut the number of pages in my book down about 50 pages. That saved me about 70 cents per copy. That’s a LOT.

If you’re new to writing, you might think that a book with more pages will feed your ego a little more. It might, but it will definitely accomplish this feeding at the cost of your royalties.

In MS Word, you’ll need to set up your page size with the exact size of your book. Do not set up as a bookfold, but instead set up your individual page.

Createspace has some templates you can download for your page size. You can find these templates along with some helpful information through this site: How to Create an Interior PDF of Your Book.



A margin is the empty space around your text on the page. I would adjust your margins later on in the formatting of this file. There is no real requirement for how large your margins should be around your page, however, you do need a decent amount as “white space” in your book (the area of the page where there is no print). This white space is really important to the look and feel of your book.

I would recommend you adjust your margins after you get the text of your book in there as you’ll then be able to see how it looks all together. You’ll likely want to adjust the margins a bit more or less to make your book appear more readable.

Experiment with your margins. Set up your book and after your text is in there, print a few pages and see what looks good and feels “comfortable” to you as you read. I printed up a number of pages (to test font and more) and cut the pages down to size (8.5″x5.5″). I was then able to see what a page would look like printed. If you need more space around the text, add more in!

For the interior margin (gutter), check out How to Create an Interior PDF of Your Book for Createspace’s recommendation for the gutter margins.

I went with the following margins for my book:

Top: .75″
Bottom: .65″
Left: .5″
Right: .5″
Gutter: .2″

This meant that my gutter actually had .7″ (the gutter plus the right/left margins), even though Createspace recommended .5″. I wouldn’t recommend going with the absolute minimum recommended gutter. My gutters are a little larger and after looking at the printed book, I wouldn’t want to go any less.


Choose Your Font

Your font size and type needΒ to be chosen, keeping in mind what’s easy to read. I would recommend you check out my blogs on choosing a proper font type, Part I and Part II. Typically, books are around a 10 or 11 point Serif font. I went with 11.5 point Garamond font as I’m writing to a slightly younger audience.

As you choose your font, remember that titles are typically sans serif and all the rest is typically serif. For the interior of the book, I did the chapter titles in a sans serif font, but everything else is in a serif font.
I would recommend you find a number of books in your genre and find one that has a font size and text you like. Move through the fonts in MS Word till you find a match and go with it!


Page numbering

Dealing with your page numbering is tricky because you have to think in terms of verso (left) and recto (right) sides of the page. Have you noticed that the chapter typically starts on the recto page (right hand side)? There’s a reason for that… it’s kind of the standard way to do this.

In a little while, I’ll be posting a blog on the order of your Front Matter pages. Keep your eye out!

For now, keep this in mind. Your page numbering should start on page one of your first chapter. You can probably start it on the first page of your prologue as well, if you have one, but if you do that your prologue should definitely run right into your first chapter. I started my numbering on the first page of my prologue, although this will likely irritate some people (I think you’re supposed to start it on chapter one).

Since your numbering starts on the first page of your first chapter and not on the first page of your file (your title page), Google the following phrase: “How do I start numbering on a later page in MS Word.” This should give you lots of sites which will walk you through how to do this properly.



A page header is the small section at the top of a page. The header can contain your book title, chapter title, author name and more. You don’t even have to include any text in your header if you don’t want to. A lot of works of fiction do not use a header of any kind, however, some do. When you use a header, typically they are on the outside margin (right hand side of the recto page and left hand side of the verso page), although centered is common as well. Sometimes the one side shows the author’s name, the other side shows the book name.

Your header should not start on the first page of the book, but rather on the first page of chapter one. Try Googling, “How do I start a header on a different page in MS Word” to give you some help with this.

I initially formatted my book with a header. When the proof copy came, I found I didn’t really like it. The final product does not include a header.


Front matter

Front matter is the stuff in your book from the page after the cover till page one of chapter one. This includes the title page, cover page, etc. After this comes the body of the book and after that, what is called the “back matter.” The back matter includes the epilogue, maybe a glossary, pronunciation guide, etc.

The next part of this blog (to be posted shortly) will walk you through some of the pages you need or can consider having in your front and back matter.


So, there you have it. These are the basic building blocks for setting up your book.Β  Check out the second part of this blog, Setting up Your Book: Front and Back Matter, to see some more specifics on this part of the process.

Comment below with your experience, thoughts or questions about this.


23 thoughts on “Setting up Your Book: The Basics

  1. Hi again. I thought I was unable to reblog from my phone, so I waited till I had access to my laptop, but it appears that I can’t see the reblog button on your site, the one that is generally right beside the Like button. I can only see the general share buttons which don’t offer reblogging on WP as an option. Could you help me out with this? Thanks

        1. Pradita, I’m glad you brought this up as I hadn’t noticed the missing reblog button. πŸ™‚ It turns out that since I have a self-hosted WordPress blog (, the reblog button is not available for my site. The good news is, this blog can still be reblogged, but the way to do it is to use the Press This plugin. Here is a short article from on how to set this up so you can reblog from just about anywhere, I believe:
          happy blogging!

          1. Thanks a lot Shawn. I’ll try it out and see if I can reblog it that way. If not, because I’m generally ill-informed about the ways of the blogosphere, I’ll create a pingback for your article. Thanks again and have a great day 😊

    1. Hey Pradita, I was just looking into this all a little bit more (because it annoys me when something is needlessly complicated) and here’s what I found. If you go into your WordPress account and click on settings, you’ll see the categories, “General, Writing, Discussion, etc.” Click on Writing and at the bottom of that page, there should be an option for “Press This.” What you do is drag the “Press This” button up to your bookmark bar and you can re-blog pretty much anything on the web simply hitting that button.
      Once the button is there, there are two ways to do it. 1. Go to the page you want to re-blog and hit the Press This button. A new window will pop up and you can add in some comments or just re-blog. When you hit Publish, it publishes your comments plus a link to that page to your own blog. Or, 2. Go to the page you want to re-blog and select the specific stuff you want to re-blog (highlight it) and then hit the “Press This” button. It’ll then re-blog what you’ve highlighted along with any comments you add in. Hit Publish and you’re all set.
      In the end, it’s quite simple, but I’m surprised how hard it was to find all this out. I just stumbled upon the “Press This” option in the settings today.
      Hope this helps!
      I think I will probably post a blog about this sometime. I searched around a lot on the net and only found confusing answers. πŸ™‚
      Hope you are having a great day!

      1. Wow ! You did some great research on the topic. Thank you so much. I was just thinking about how I could weave your article into one of my own just so I could create a link to it. If this works, great! Thanks again πŸ™‚

          1. Hi. I just reblogged your article on my blog (finally). But I couldn’t find the Press This button on the ‘Setting-Writing’ options. I found it instead in ‘Tools’ through the dashboard. I don’t know why it was this way, but in the ‘Settings-Writings’ option the Press This button was unresponsive. Maybe you could add this bit of info into that article you’re proposing to write on the Press This feature from WP. Thanks again πŸ™‚

  2. Thanks for the tips!! I’ve always found print books pretty easy to set up using just Word. The first time can be a bit of challenge and you’ll find yourself sitting there making pantomime books with your hands trying to sort out with page is on which side of the book, but after you’ve tackled it the first time, it’s pretty straightforward. With ebooks however, there’s plenty of places you can go wrong and you have to be sure to keep all the formatting clean.

    1. For sure! I’ve used scrivener to make some ebooks and it is relatively simple. I’ve also been using Pressbooks to make ebooks. It’s somewhat limited, but ebooks can be simple. How do you make your ebooks?

      1. I’ve been tempted to try scrivener, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Basically, I just take my document (I use Pages), create a title page, set a page break for each chapter, use “Heading 1” for each chapter heading, and make bookmarks for the TOC. I then export this into a .doc and an ePub…Smashwords seems to work better with the .doc, while Draft2Digital never seems to format my doc files properly so I just upload the ePub to them then take the mobi D2D makes and use that for my KDP (although KDP does pretty well with doc files).

          1. There’s some overlap in the retailers they distribute to. I’ve found D2D tends to “ship” faster than Smashwords, so I use all D2D’s channels, then use Smashwords for the places D2D doesn’t cover. Plus, Smashwords is handy for a promo since you can create coupons.

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