When you’re learning how to self publish a book, a key step in the process is book formatting. Although it’s nothing like learning how to write a book or how to edit a book, if this is your first time formatting then it can be a decent challenge.
And because of this challenge, authors who self publish make common errors that hurt the credibility of their book—which is obviously not the goal.
Instead of ugly errors, the goal is to make the reader think a big publishing house like Random House used all their resources to publish your book, even though you self published.
With a little attention to detail, you can overcome your lack of experience to avoid the common formatting errors in self publishing. Or if you’ve already made a few errors, many of these are easy to correct so don’t beat yourself up about it.
Before you read on, recognize the numbered list below shows what not to do. (This can be confusing because many of my list posts involve lists of what to do.)
9 Book Formatting Errors To Avoid
1. Double spacing after periods
It amazes me that people double space after a sentence period. Maybe I’m young, but I’ve never seen that taught and the redundancy doesn’t make sense to me.
I guess writing instructors taught this method before my time and it carried over to the typewriter, but it’s a bad habit for your book in 2016. Do your book and your readers a service by having one space after periods to avoid this unsightly problem and other potential problems.
2. Odd numbered pages on the left
When you open a book, the first page should always be number 1 and on the right side. Based on that logic and book standards, odd page numbers (1, 3, 5, etc…) are always on the right and even page numbers (2, 4, 6, etc…) are always on the left.
However, you’ll find self published books with even page numbers on the right for some unknown reason. Little do they know how bad they look. It’s as backwards as putting your pants on your top and your shirt on your bottom.
So even if there’s front matter (copyright information, table of contents, etc.) on the first technical pages of your book, whenever page number 1 comes, be sure it’s on the right side or you’ll look foolish.
3. Choosing a bad font
It’s a fact that some fonts look better for ebooks (digital reading) and other fonts look better in print (physical reading). Sans serif fonts are often better for digital screens and serif fonts (Times New Roman) are considered best for print. But I’d never use Times New Roman—boring!
If you’re picking the font yourself, Google the “best fonts for (ebook/paperback)” and pick from the credible suggestions. If you hire a good formatter, they should have some good suggestions and options for you to pick from. (Another note, be careful that you only use a font that you’re allowed to. You don’t want any legal problems later on by taking a font you don’t have permission to use.)
Your main objective is to pick a font that is accepted in your format and is easy to read for your readers.
4. Putting page numbers on blank pages
For proper formatting (such as odd page numbers on the right) you’re going to have blank pages in your paperback edition. The key is that these blank pages stay blank.
Don’t include a page number on blank pages because there’s no point and this is bad practice. Page numbers are used as references, and a blank page doesn’t have text, chart, or images to reference. However, you still need to account for the blank pages in your overall page count.
5. Running heads on blank pages or chapter pages
Blank pages and new chapter pages will trick authers into committing another error: having an unnecessary running head. If you’re not familiar, a running head is the book title, author title, or chapter title that you commonly see at the top of books.
These running heads don’t belong on new chapter title pages. And again, blank pages need to be blank for goodness sake.
6. Using both indented and block style paragraphs
First-line indent paragraph style has a small indent at the start of each paragraph. Block style paragraphs have no indent to start a paragraph, and they have a white space separating the paragraph above it (for reference: the blog post you’re reading is in block style paragraphs).
Based on your book, pick one style (indented or block) and run with it. The critical error is when self publishers use both paragraph styles, or go back and forth with different paragraph styling throughout the book. If the reader’s conscious doesn’t recognize it, their subconscious will tell them something is off and that leads to a bad reading experience.
Non-fiction books often use block style paragraphs because this helps the reader extract more information and separate thoughts in their head. And fiction books stick with indented paragraph styles because that aids the story’s flow from paragraph to paragraph.
7. Indenting with a tab
If you do choose first-line indent paragraph style, there’s a right way and a wrong way to format it. The wrong way is to indent your paragraphs by clicking the tab key. Doing this is convenient, but it makes the indent bigger than it should be so it looks funky.
Instead, you want your indents to be smaller (something like 0.5 inches should work, give or take). This detail is probably the least egregious of all errors on this list, but if you can resolve all the errors then it’s a good idea to take the effort to do it.
8. Tiny margins
Super small page margins make your book harder to read and awkward to hold without covering the words. Self publishers will do this to decrease the page count, and thus save money.
But there are better ways to decrease the page count than giving your readers tiny margins. You can decrease the font size or pick a smaller font. These options don’t give your reader a negative experience.
9. Low-quality pictures
The image you see on your screen is not the same as the one you’re going to get when your book is printed. What looks clear on your laptop may turn out blurry. And another difference from digital to physical is the image color. Your images could appear lighter on screen and come out darker in your book, or vice versa.
For this reason, among other reasons, it’s so critical you do a test run by printing a few proofs before you officially publish your book.
While quality interior formatting can’t make your book into a masterpiece—only the content can do that— it will give your reader a pleasant experience that leaves a positive impression going forward. And that’s worth more than you know.
Because positive reader experiences turn into better book reviews, more visits to your author blog, and more sales for other books you’ve written—everyone knows the best customers for new products are previous customers.
And at the least, a professional formatting job prevents a negative reader experience.
So whether you format the book yourself or hire a formatter (I always hire to spend my time doing better things), take your time and double check that your book doesn’t have any of the formatting errors described in the list above before you click publish.
When you work that hard to learn how to write a book, it doesn’t make sense to be sloppy at the end with your formatting.
What questions do you have about formatting? Would you rather hire a formatter, like me, or do it yourself?