5 things you need to know about Page Layout before you Self-Publish

Understanding Page Layout Graphic

Over the years, we here at Lulu have done our best to demystify the book publishing process. From basic word processor information to the book cover design to the complex role of a marketing campaign, we always try to give our authors the tools they need to be successful. Today I’ll brush up on five of the most common questions I see about page layout. Because we know that the overwhelming majority of our users do their design work in MS Word, I’ll make all of my examples regarding Word. But that doesn’t mean the principles don’t apply to any word processor or layout program.

All right, let’s dive in and look closes at five things you need to know when laying out your pages

First Steps

Before you do anything else, I recommend going to our Create Page and downloading the template for your book.

Select the size, binding, and format to get the correct template. Then open the ZIP file and grab the file mark “Template.” We preset this file to the right page size and added the margins and gutter for you. If you want to use an existing file or create your own template, you must follow two steps:

  1. Page Setup–Located under the File drop-down, you can select your page size from the list available or add a custom size. Note that US Trade 6 x 9 is not standard for Word, so you must add it.
    Select “Manage Custom Sizes”, set the size to 6 x 9 (or your preferred size) and save this layout. If you use an unlabeled custom size, Word may not properly keep your page size when exporting.
  2. Margins & Gutter–This is a section we’ll cover later, but for now remember the standard minimums:
    Margins minimum = 0.5”
    Gutter minimum = 0.2”

Now you have your page sized and some basic margins added. Take your manuscript and paste it into this template so we can start on your page layout!

Breaks

Reveal formatting on the Page

We touched on a lot of the concepts I’ll be covering today in a blog posted dedicated to book layout back in January. While that post focused on general layout information, we’re going to get into some real details about how to handle the most challenging and important elements of page design.

The first is the art of the “break.”

Microsoft Word (and all other word processors too) gives you an option to break a page. Essentially, what the command does is cause the current page to end. Any more content you add will appear on the next page.

Some users might say, “oh I just hold down Enter until I’m on the next page.”

Don’t do that! Ever!

Using a hard return to move to the following page might look fine on your screen. But will it look fine when you convert your file to a PDF so we can print it? Probably not.

Breaks—both page and section—divide the page dynamically, so that when you convert to a new file format, they will retain the proper space.

Pro Tip: When designing your interior, it’s wise to turn on Reveal Non-Printing Characters (also known as formatting marks) so you can see formatting marks on the page.

Page Breaks

A Page Break ends the content on the current page and moves to the next. For most books, you’ll use one to end every chapter. As I mentioned in the first part of this section, breaks control how the content is arranged on the page. A Page Break is the most basic and useful kind of break.

Aside from the need to push content from one page to the next, a Page Break is helpful in controlling how content is built around an image. Specifically, if an image is low on a page, follow it with a Page Break to keep text from appearing under the image.

Page Breaks allow you aesthetic control over page content.

Section Breaks

Section Breaks are a little more complex. They come in four flavors:

  • Section Break (Next Page) – starts the new section on the next page
  • Section Break (Continuous) – starts the new section on the current page
  • Section Break (Odd Page) – starts the new section on the next odd page
  • Section Break (Even Page) – starts the new section on the next even page
Section Break

The essential accomplishment of a section break is to allow you to add unique formatting to specific areas of your file. For most book creators, the Section Break will be used to define where page numbers begin and how Header content appears.

Ever seen a book with the author name and chapter title on alternating pages on the top of the page? Setting that up requires applying Section Breaks.

As you see in the image, the page on the left shows the title of the first chapter (“Down the Rabbit Holes”) and the page on the right (the first page of chapter two) shows that chapter’s title (“The Pool of Tears”). The section break is splitting the file into two sections, allowing for the text in the Header of one section to vary from the text in another section.

Getting to the Header & Footer

Don’t worry about the Header yet, we’ll get to that in just a moment.

What we need to say finally about Section Breaks is how to choose which break to use.

You will use Section Break: Next Page. The Odd and Even break options force the next active section to the next odd or even page, respectively. This is fine to use, but remember that it will always break to the defined type of page. So, if you insert a Section Break: Odd Page on an odd page, it will skip the next even page (leaving it blank) and begin the next section on an odd page. This can cause unwanted blank pages.

Pro Tip: Use Section Breaks sparingly. If you plan to set chapter titles in the Header, you’ll need one at the end of each chapter. You’ll also need one between the front matter and body of your book. Otherwise, use page breaks to control the placement of content. This is vital to a consistent page layout.

Header & Footer

Header and Footer

There are a lot of elements that go into the Header and Footer. Let’s start with a look at the options available in the Word Ribbon for Header and Footer.

The first thing to notice is the information line below the Header. It tells you the page (even or odd), the section number, and the current status regarding previous sections. What is all this information about?

Link to Previous

In the Ribbon, you’ll see the button Link to Previous is currently selected. What this means is that the section your cursor is selecting (in the image Section 2 is selected) has a Header or Footer linked to the settings of the previous section.

Linking is useful for including page numbers across multiple sections. For example, a Header with the author name on every even page and the chapter title on the odd page will still have a continuous page numbering on the bottom. The Footers would need to be linked and the Headers would not.

You can control individual Header and Footer linking by clicking your cursor into the Header or Footer you want to link and check that box.

Different First Page

Different First Page is a setting you’ll find very useful if adding text to your Header.

In the example for Section Breaks, you may notice that I added a chapter title on the first page of the chapter (the first page of section 3). In most novels, this page doesn’t include a Header. And that’s where the “Different First Page” option comes in.

This setting is independent of the Odd & Even page setting. This means if you activate Different First Page and Different Odd & Even Pages, your section will have three independent Headers (or Footers)—the first page, the odd pages, and the even pages.

Different Odd & Even Pages

Checking this box set odd and even pages independently within the section. Now you can edit the Header or Footer for odd pages without impacting the even ones, and vice versa.

If you use any of these functions, be sure to apply the settings before adding content.

Header and Footer in action

You have a short book with seven chapters. Each page will feature the book title on the even page Header and the chapter title on the odd page Header. Page numbering will be continuous.

  1. Set a section break: next page after the front matter (on the page before Chapter 1).
  2. Set a section break: next page at the end of every chapter.
  3. Click on the Header in each section and select Different First Page, Different Odd & Even page, and de-select Link to Previous.
  4. Click on the Footer in each section and select Different Odd & Even pages and Link to Previous
  5. Add page numbers to the Footer (see the next section for more on Page Numbers).
  6. Manually add the book and chapter titles to the Headers.

Pro Tip: It is very important to apply and verify all the settings in your Header and Footer, in all sections, prior to adding your content.

Page Numbers

Page Numbering

In this image, you see the Add Page Numbers panel. This screen also displays an option to show the page number on the first page of the section. Like the setting in the Ribbon, you can control whether the page numbering appears on the first page of the section. This is separate from the Different First-page option for Header and Footer.

Remember, linking sections will allow page numbering to continue from one section to the next.

Page Numbering details

Pro Tip: Add all section breaks and format your sections before you add the Header and Footer content (text or page numbers).

Front Matter

The front matter—title pages, copyright page, acknowledgments, table of contents, and introduction—rarely includes page numbering. Some books, particularly non-fiction books, will include long introductions with unique page numbers, such as Roman Numerals.

Once you’ve selected the Page Number command, you can click “Format” to change the details of the specific page numbers you’re adding.

Be sure to set the number you start on if you’re adding page numbering past the front matter. Your first chapter will probably be Section 2, so the default option to continue from the previous will not work (as Section 1 either has no page numbering or uses a unique numbering set up).

Using what you’ve learned about Section Breaks, you’ll set up page numbers per section. The “Link to Previous” option can apply to a series of sections to link the numbering continuously even if using multiple sections in the body.

Margins/Gutter/Bleeds

Lulu tries to make the Margins and Gutter easy for you with some pre-formatted templates. But you need not use these and if you’ve already begun formatting your file it may be more work than it’s worth to paste the contents into a pre-formatted file.

Let’s assume you’re working with your own file and you’ve already set the page size. Is your book going to need to be Full Bleed?

Briefly, Full Bleed means you have content (almost likely images) that should stretch to the edge of the page. If you do, you must work with a page preset to allow for this. Luckily, it’s simple to do!

What you’ll do is add 0.125” to the margin on all sides of your file. If you’re making a 6 x 9 book and need full bleed, set the page size to 6.25 x 9.25. Then add your content right to the edge of the page, staying aware that the extra 0.125” will be trimmed away.

Pro Tip: If you’re creating a book with a lot of images and Full Bleed, use software like Adobe Photoshop or InDesign to create your pages. MS Word and other word processing tools are best suited to text-based content.

Create Page Layout Templates

I like to save all the common sizes (under File > Page Setup) and a Full Bleed version so I can easily set my page size:

Page Size Options

Okay, so you’ve got your page sized correctly. And you added margins, and a gutter based on our minimums. But what are these things?

The margins are the space around the edge of the page—the white space framing your text. Go pick up any novel and you’ll find a margin. It’s important to hold to this convention because it makes reading much easier and more comfortable for your reader. Could you imagine a page, top to bottom edge to edge, covered in words? Yikes.

The margins on top and bottom will also be where your Header and Footer content will live. Be sure to check the Format > Document > Layout settings to position your Header and Footer the right distance “from the edge.”

Custom Page Layout

If you have a 0.5” margin and you set the Footer to appear 0.8” from the edge, adding page numbers will “hide” the actual number behind the content!

Why?

Because the bottom Margin is smaller than the Footer! I recommend setting the Header and Footer distance to match the top and bottom margins. Once you’ve got your page numbering added, you can tinker with this distance to adjust the position of the page numbers.

Pro Tip: Be careful to check the “Apply to” drop-downs in any formatting panel your working in. If it lists “This section” any change you make will only apply to the section your cursor is in! Most often you’ll want to use “Whole document” to keep your settings uniform.

Control Margins by document Section

Text Layout

You got the page set up and ready to go. Your Headers and Footers are all in place. Now you need to consider the actual layout of the text on the page.

Thankfully, laying out the text isn’t hard.

The most important thing to do when creating your body text and preparing it is to use the same style. Style based formatting is the standard way to apply fonts, spacing, size, color, and any other feature to your text. Control your styles with the Styles Panel from the Ribbon.

Heading Style Quick Select

I highly recommend learning about styles. They will streamline the page layout and provide you control over your book’s interior design. With style-based formatting you can:

  1. Set the line spacing
  2. Set the text size
  3. Select the font
  4. Create unique styles for different sections (including chapter titles, quotes, lists)
  5. Maintain consistency throughout your file
  6. Position the text on the page consistently

Text and Page Layout Options

And that’s only a tiny portion of the options you’ll have. Just right-click on a style and select ‘Modify’ to see the entire list of options you have:

Modify and create styles

The most important and often used options will appear in the panel, and you’ll notice in the image above I’ve expanded the drop down on the lower left. Additional options can be accessed here to further customize your style.

Word also has a handy feature for creating a table of contents using styles. If you apply any content that should appear in the table of contents a Heading 1, Heading 2, or Heading 3. Just use the Insert>Table command and select the Table of Contents options. The table will use your Heading styles to populate a list with the styled text and a page number!

One last thing to consider with your text formatting is some best practices. There’s always some room for customization in your book, but in general, you want to be certain your book is enough like other books that readers will actually read it!

Text Settings

Justified Text – Word will default to aligning your text to the left. But we should set all text to ‘Justified.” This setting will automatically adjust the kerning and spacing to make your text fill the space between the left and right margins. Go look at any printed book and you’ll see that, aside from the last line of a paragraph, it justifies the text.

Line Spacing – There isn’t a hard and fast rule for line spacing, but increase the space between paragraphs slightly. Usually, 1.25 normal spacing is enough. For the lines themselves, there isn’t any need to provide additional spacing.

Text Size – Text should be 12 points. If you’re publishing a long work and want to reduce page count, 10 point is the smallest you should use. Likewise, for a “large print” edition, use 16 points. For other text like Chapter or Section titles, exercise your creativity. Just know your page size; don’t use 48 points in a 6 x 9 book, otherwise, you’ll end up with an entire page just for the chapter title!

Indenting – There isn’t a strict rule, but it’s not a bad idea to indent the first line of paragraphs 0.5” or less.

Finalizing the File

The list and instructions here touch on some common issues self-published authors might run into while creating their book files. But the list is hardly comprehensive. MS Word is a rich and powerful word processor despite being cumbersome to use. There are features upon features available.

Don’t get overwhelmed though. Follow the many guides out there (including this one!) and you’ll end up with a working file to publish your book!

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23 thoughts on “5 things you need to know about Page Layout before you Self-Publish”

  1. Scrivener looks better and better.
    But an interesting post with good things to keep in mind. Thanks!

  2. Great post. Hopefully you could provide similar formatting guidance for InDesign users doing travel or photo books, who, though we may not do text heavy books would still like to observe proper conventions to format the right way while still incorporating our creative elements.
    Thanks.

    1. Hi Den,
      My intention is to add a similar How-To for InDesign sometime soon(ish). I’m not as well versed with InDesign, so I have to get some practice with it and layout a few books before I can go into the kind of detail I want. But it is on my mind!
      Thanks for reading!

  3. I am an SEO professional and I write contents for my site very frequently. Your points are the excellent resource which I can use to explore my writing skill which will enhance my content quality.

  4. Wish you guys hadn’t changed the ‘create preview’ format the other day. I don’t feel safe uploading my entire manuscript for preview. Someone could hack the entire document and alter it. You should strongly consider returning to the original ‘create preview’ format. It was much better and much safer.

    1. Hi Priscilla,
      I’m not aware of any recent changes to the preview function. You shouldn’t need to upload a manuscript for the Preview (though we provide that option for ebooks) – the preview is built from select pages within you book. I believe the default is set to the first 15 pages.
      If you’re seeing something odd with the preview, reach out to support so we can investigate further.

  5. Thanks for this information! I had always wondered why my mass-market publications had varying page divisions when I would order proof copies for multiple revisions. I had always wondered why the text wandered from page to page in word to print, and now I now! I was using hard returns to keep paragraphs together instead of using Page Breaks to force a new page. I’ll go back to that book and fix the source text now!

  6. I have to write lot of contents in Ms word for marketing purpose,your given tips will be very useful for me to set page layout before self-publish,very nice post,Thank you.

  7. I’m helping an author update his 300 page document (lots of checklists and many full page B&W pics) and of course each section is preceded by a “section break (odd page) so that the intro to the section is correct. Word “Print Layout” does not display blank pages inserted because of that section break and it is driving me nuts. Is there a way to cause Print Layout to actually display what will be printed? It seems like a no brainer that Print Layout should do just that!

    1. Hi Rob,
      The short answer is ‘no’ unfortunately. Section breaks inserting a ghost page is one of the most frustrating problems with doing page layout in Word.
      I’ve got two suggestions to try to fix this.
      First, pick a section you want to break and be sure there are no page/section breaks currently inserted. Then insert a Section Break-Next Page on the last line of text. Not on a separate line, but immediately following the end of the text for that section.
      Sometimes, using a separate line will push the break to a new page, inserting that ghost page.
      Second, try first adding a Section Break – Continuous, then follow that with a Page Break. That will create a section, but will not push content to the next page (the Page Break will do that for you). This second option is less than ideal, as it can create issues with adding Header/Footer content, since the break is technically on the last page of the previous section.
      Hope these tips are helpful!

  8. Robert Bramel

    Thank you for your response and the clarification. The big problem with any work around is that only the page-break-odd continues to work if the upstream content is modified (e.g., inserting a couple of paragraphs). As I understand your proposals nothing other than PBO determines whether a page is needed. I don’t understand why MS can’t offer to display something like Print Layout using the information it generates when Print Preview is invoked. As in “Oh! You’d like to be able to see all the pages arranged exactly as they will appear when going to the printer?! I’m sorry, that information is unavailable!” Even if it takes a little bit of time to create that would be valuable. As it is now, the only way to see what will be printed is to scroll, in print preview, through hundreds of images one at a time. (Frownie face!)

  9. Robert Bramel

    I thought I found a “solution” but it just exposes new weirdness.

    I saved my document as a PDF (s/b as printed) and compared it to the print layout (3 pages at a time). Strangely, the PDF produced a blank page where I wasn’t expecting one (and wasn’t in the word doc), so I inspected the Word document and sure enough there was a section break-odd-page inserted. I didn’t think I’d put it there, but I deleted it and replaced it with section break-page. Instead, the break page odd returned!

    I deleted that, making sure there was no break of any kind, then inserted section break continuous, but again the break page odd returned! Any thoughts?

    (I’m using word 365-Mac if that makes a difference. I have both 365 Mac and 365 Windows on my computer but find Mac much more intuitive)

    I tried saving this file as a PDF using word 365 Windows, but could not make that work.

    Thanks for your help!

    1. The bonus page appearing in the PDF sounds about right. And replacing the Section Break-Odd with a Section Break-Page is the solution I would recommend. That section break reappearing later I can’t explain, though I have to hope it was an error in saving the file.
      It’s possible there is something in the way the header/footer are linking across sections that are causing the break to revert to an odd page, though I’ve never encountered this precisely. I have seen header/footer linking create some really weird situations when editing a DOCX. Sadly, my best suggestion in this scenario is not a fun one: I would clear all breaks and header/footer content and start over from page one. A huge pain, I know. But once breaks start misbehaving, I find editing them has as much chance to make it worse as to correct the issue.
      As for your version of Word, I use Mac 365 too and find it to be the best for outputting a consistent file. Windows works fine, but often is a pain to keep the page size correct while exporting a PDF.

  10. Your 6×9 Style Guide appears to have different margins for right-side and left-side pages, so that there is more space on the inside of each page where the binding happens. But I accidentally lost this formatting when copying and pasting my manuscript into the Style Guide file. Can you help me figure out how to get it back? Thanks!

    1. Hi TJ,

      We’ll have a look at the style guide and update it to correct that issue. Thanks for letting us know about it!

      In the meantime, I suggest reaching out to our support team (lulu.com/support) and they can help you get the file set up correctly.

  11. Robert Bramel

    Thanks Team Lulu for the thoughts about section breaks and extra pages! I finally decided, even though this is a 300 page document, that I’d be better off creating a whole new document and just copy-and-paste short sections (paragraph up to maybe a few pages), making sure that no breaks of any kind were copied across. So far so good, and after a day I’m up to about page 160. I’ve recreated all of the many pictures from a resource folder, edited them carefully in Photoshop to be the right size and in JPEG, recreated all of the tables, and made sure any breaks were necessary and appropriate.
    I’ve noticed a few things along the way. Any picture I’ve pasted in that is a little bit too big for the margins will tend to make the word document unstable (jitter, random scrolling, forced scrolling to the bottom). As soon as I’ve adjusted margins and pic size the program settles down. Also, speculatively, I noticed that having the document open in Word 365 in both the Mac version and in Windows 10/ inside VMWare/ inside my iMac at the same time causes problems. Maybe it was a coincidence, but slow, unsteady Mac performance picked right up when I shut down the PC software. Hmmm.

    1. Hi lgkaye,

      The biggest challenge I’ve had with text boxes is wrapping text around them. Often, the way text wrapping appears will shift when converted to a PDF for printing, leading to more problems as the content is rearranged. The best solution in that scenario is to keep the text boxes ‘inline with text,’ but that doesn’t work for everyone.

      If you’re having trouble with the text box layering over other content or a more technical issue related to the file, you might want to reach out to our support team.

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