Preparation and formatting for your book block

Prepare and format your book block

Editing and proofreading is the first step of creating a clean file. Errors should be minimal as you move move to the formatting your book block. This article assumes editing and proofreading is complete. It looks at what a typesetter expects of a clean manuscript and provides tips on the actual formatting. The concepts apply whether you are passing your manuscript on to a professional designer, or choosing to DIY.

A clean manuscript

Spacing and indents 

For the least frustration and the most flexibility in final formatting, let the computer do as much work as possible. As well as consistency, your document will be able to move to computers and programs with minimal hiccups.  

No double returns or extra spaces

Use paragraph styles to create the indent or paragraph space you want rather than adding an additional return, tab or number of spaces. This will help with consistency and eliminate an extra line at the top of a page. It will also make it easier for a designer as they won’t need to strip out the extra clutter.  

Two spaces after punctuation is a hold-over from typewriters. The typewriter used the same amount of space for an “i” or an “m” so an additional space was added after punctuation for clarity. In typesetting there has always been only one space.

Set tabs

Reserve tabs for tables. Set tabs rather than using the preset tabs with multiple tab entries. For your table of contents use a right tab to keep page numbers lined up. Eliminating the clutter will help when changing page sizes or importing the file into InDesign a formatting program.

Insert page breaks

Pressing “enter” multiple times will push the text to the next page and look okay on your screen but the text will move with almost any formatting change. Use page breaks (control-enter) to start a new page for a chapter in a word processing program.

Create consistency with styles

Use paragraph styles to create consistency throughout your book block and ease later formatting. Body text, headline and subhead styles are required for almost every book. Create additional styles for block quotes, kickers, captions or other specific formatting. This is even more important in creating your e-book. Avoid over-rides at the paragraph level.

For print, InDesign provides “keep” options which can be set at the paragraph style level to force new pages, ensure a minimum number of lines after a subhead, and start pages with at least two lines.

If you are passing your work on to a designer they can import your file (docx, doc, rtf) and modify your styles for an efficient workflow. If all the text is “default style” their first task is adding styles. At this stage, how your file looks is not as important as it being properly tagged.

Consider the hierarchy

If you add a subhead, everything after that subhead would naturally be included until there is another subhead. Consider your topic, genre and audience in designing the heading hierarchy to communicate your ideas.

Using the HTML level 1, 2, 3 standards will work well if you have multiple heading levels. For final formatting, consider creating a style sheet document if you have more than one level of subhead. Choose how you will treat caps in your headings and check for consistency. Your designer can choose from many type sizes and treatments to guide the reader in which level is first and which is next.


A picture is worth a thousand words, especially if there is a good caption or story around it. Images can be provided to a designer as digital files; or as photos, illustrations or paintings. Screen requires small files and print shows more detail. Many of the provided scans are not of good quality and it seems to be getting worse. There is an extensive article on resolution for print at  

File naming conventions

Organizing your images with filenames helps if you are DIY formatting but is essential to ease communication with your designer. One way to identify image relationships is to modify files names by adding a chapter number and then a letter before the image description. RexieAtBirth.jpg becomes 1a_RexieAtBirth.jpg. The next image in the chapter is 1b_ and the next chapter starts with 2a_, etc. If you have more than nine chapters use two digits throughout (01, 02...) which will keep the files sorted in the directory. Adding the number gives placement and order, and provides a way to check for missing images. ? 

Image placement

It is best to have some image flexibility so pages can be filled well. Placing images at the end of chapters is easiest. Following magazine and newspaper formatting, placing images across, or at the top or bottom of the page near the reference works well, but does increase design costs somewhat.
Trying to place an image in the exact location of where it is mentioned limits design choices and is the hardest to maintain with any change in the book block.


Captions are often overlooked and they have serious communication potential. In periodicals, headlines, captions and blurbs enjoy 90% readership, where text comes in at about 10%. The five Ws are a good guide in writing better captions.

Captions can be placed in your manuscript where the photo should be inserted, or in a separate file. Include the image file name for easy identification in the design phase.

Size and tone choices

Book size and orientation

Size decisions need to be made before any page layout, artwork or cover design is begun. Choose a size that matches the genre and represents the content well. Group photos and detailed graphs are best presented on a larger page. A smaller book fits in a pocket and is easy to read on transit. Larger sizes feel like a textbook and do require a two column format for readability.

Font choice and audience will affect the appropriate type size. Typographers recommend a line length between 39 and 52 characters (1.5 – 2 alphabets) for ease of reading.

Some sizes are more efficient to print and budget considerations can play a role. A landscape layout requires that the full cover fit on a printed sheet which could reduce options and affect costs. Spine thickness can also be a concern for postage, cover printing and binder capacity.

Consider what sizes are available from the print services you are using and ask about printing efficiency.

Type and embellishments

Body fonts are causal, friendly, formal, old or postmodern. Your headline font does not require the same level of readability and can set more tone. Additional embellishments such as first character initials, type weight and colour, and rules help build the setting for your story. Other elements like quotes at the beginning of the chapter require more initial input.

You may want to make the book take up more pages or less. Type size is obvious, but increasing leading (the space between lines) generally increases readability. Space after paragraphs will take more space than first line indents. A ragged right edge is easier to read and less formal than justified text, which will take less space.

Your designer will work with the book synopsis, your guidelines and your supplied file to create a suitable template. It is recommended to print out a text and new chapter page to check before extensive formatting. Ensure the text is easy to read for your audience and the page is inviting.

The extra pages

Front matter

The pages before the book starts are called front matter and are traditionally numbered with Roman numerals. Common front matter pages are in this order: Pre-title page; Other books by (verso of the pre-title); Praise pages (optional, sometimes before the pre-title); Title Page; Copyright page (verso the title page); Dedication; Foreword and/or Preface; Table of Contents; Acknowledgements; Introduction / Prelude (we like these as part of the body). 

There is more information at

Back matter pages

Also known as end matter, these optional pages at the end of the book add supplementary information to the book. An epilogue or afterword generally ties up loose ends in the story. Non-fiction books may include end notes, indexes and other resources. Use this opportunity to help the reader connect with you and introduce your next book if possible.

About the author

A concise about the author page with photo on the last page helps build connection and authority. For tips on writing an author bio:

DIY formatting

You can create an acceptable result in an office program, but they are crude tools when it comes to assembling words and images. Type spacing is better in a true desktop publishing program but there is a learning curve. If you own Office and are working on a family history book, MS Publisher may be a good choice as elements can be more easily controlled than in Word. Jutoh is one of many available e-book formatting tools.


For books an inside margin of 3/4 inch is minimum. For a standard 5.25x8 book you can set your page to half-letter in Word with 3/4 inch margins all around. The top and outside are trimmed 1/4 inch so little additional pre-press work is required. For more on margins see