Your book layout can be one of the most challenging and easily overlooked aspects of publishing. A professionally designed book is deceptively simple. But any designer who has done the page layout for a print-on-demand book knows there are a lot of factors and variables when preparing the print file.
There’s no definitive list of to-dos and requirements for making a book layout that will print perfectly. But this plan will help you achieve the best design for your book.
Book Layout Software
The most popular options are Microsoft Word and Adobe InDesign. I’m going to avoid specific instructions about how to use these tools and instead look at best practices. But each layout software has its benefits.
Lucky for you, I’ve got guides to the best page layout platforms on the market:
#1 Finish The Book
If that first point made you roll your eyes, please stick with me here. It may seem obvious that the content needs to be done before you can start creating the book.
But that’s not always the way our brains (or creative processes) work. I have to restrain myself from tinkering with spacing, adjusting fonts, or adding margins while I write.
There’s a very practical reason to finish all the writing, editing, and revising before laying out your book too: each edit will change the character count in your file, potentially shifting formatting. Those shifts can affect page layout, numbering, and more.
So the key takeaway here is: Don’t tinker with layout or formatting while you write or edit.
#2 Create Front & Back Matter
Pick a book off your shelf and look at the first few pages. You’ll see a title page, copyright, maybe a table of contents, or some critic’s reviews of the book. That’s your Front Matter.
Now take that same book and go to the end.
You’ll probably see some acknowledgments, an about the author page, and maybe some advertising for the next book from that author. That’s your Back Matter.
The front and back matter bookend your book (I’m sorry, publisher humor is nearly Dad humor).
Your front and back matter need to be part of your content. I suggest creating a new version of your finished manuscript and labeling it ‘print’ in the filename. That’s the file you should add the front and back matter to.
Most importantly: be aware of blank pages in your front matter. Most books will have a blank page or two, particularly in the front matter. We usually do this to set up the spread layout for the rest of the book.
#3 Research Genre & Style
You’ve written a sprawling historical romance. There’s passion and drama and deception.
Then you publish it with a cover depicting two robots attempting to salsa dance. Despite your Danielle-Steele-level romance writing, the book doesn’t sell.
When you’re writing and publishing, there’s a fine line between being original and meeting expectations. You need a book that visually and physically meets the reader’s expectations of your genre, while the contents are unique and engaging.
Fortunately, this exercise is relatively easy.
First, write down five books you’ve read that are thematically similar to your book. Then search those books and look at the genres they’re in across a few online bookstores. Write those genres down and look for repeats among the five titles.
Somewhere in there is your genre.
Last step; search your genre and look at best practices for layout, font, and cover design. You’ll want to hold to those standards to create a book that looks like your genre to readers.
#4 Create A Style Guide
I love guides and templates. It’s an easy way to ensure long-term consistency. For your books, that’s akin to branding. You don’t see brands like Nike or McDonalds flippantly changing their logos or fonts, do you?
A style guide for your book is helpful for your formatting and doubly useful if you hire a designer for the interior or cover. Here’s a basic style guide template I like to use:
Heading 1 (Title) – Style / Weight / Size
Heading 2 (Chapters) – Style / Weight / Size
Body – Style / Weight / Size
Header/Footer – Style / Weight / Size
Title/cover #1 – Style / Weight / Size
Title/cover #2 – Style / Weight / Size
Trim size –
Primary color – #hexcode
Secondary color – #hexcode
Black/text – #hexcode
Title/cover – #hexcode
Your guide can be as simple or as detailed as you’d like. Once you’ve got your style guide ready, you’ll have a document on hand to reference as you layout your book.
#5 Set Up Your Pages (Master Pages)
Open up your preferred layout tool. Create a new, blank file (or open a template from Lulu). If you wrote your book in Word and you’re using Word for the layout, you still should open a new document to begin the page layout.
You’ll need to know your page size (informed by your genre research, naturally). I recommend downloading the appropriate template bundle and using our single-page template to start your project.
You need a book that visually and physically meets the reader’s expectations of your genre, while the contents are unique and engaging.
Open up the page and verify the dimensions. Yes, even if you use a template, you should still check the page setup specs to be certain everything is right. You’ll have some preset margins too; you may need to adjust those based on your book design.
If you’re in Affinity or InDesign, you’ll want to prepare Master Pages. I usually have a Master for the front/back matter and another Master for the body. That makes it easy to apply a running header/footer (with title/chapter/author and page numbering) to just the body of your book.
#6 Add Your Content
I like to add my content in sections. First the front matter, then I grab a chapter or two and go from there. As I add content, I do little fixes and set up my page breaks. That’s about it though.
If you’re using Affinity or InDesign, you’ll want to check that none of your text boxes are overflowing. With a Master for the body pages set to include page numbering, you should check on that too. Your software and templates will get most everything right, but you should still double check to be sure.
It’s very important to note that you do not want to fuss with page numbers if you are using MS Word. Not yet, at least. Save them for last, right before you export the PDF.
#7 Page Vs. Spread Setup
This can be tricky. For most of us, it’s easier to layout a book in Spreads, but print-on-demand printers want files in Pages.
Here’s an example:
When you’re viewing a file as Spreads, the pages are paired just like they would be when you’re holding a book open. It’s incredibly helpful to see the book the way a reader will see it when you’re doing the layout and design.
But once it’s time to print, you need those individual pages. You could work in Pages, but that creates the risk of mis-aligning your final PDF pages. InDesign and Affinity make it easy to choose ‘pages’ when exporting to give you a spreads view of the book while designing and a PDF of individual pages.
#8 Respect The First Page
Here’s that Spreads image again with the first page included:
This is important: The first page of printed books is always on the right. And because that right-side page is opposite the inside of the cover, there’s no left-side spread.
Tedious, I know.
The solution, when viewing your book layout as a spread, is to isolate the first page as you see it in the image above.
If you’re doing your layout in Word, you won’t have any options to view your book with this ‘book view’ layout. I don’t know why.
You’ll need to be very careful and conscious of page placement if you’re doing the layout with Word. Other tools like InDesign will isolate the first page from other spreads automatically.
#9 Apply Styles
You’ve got a book file that is nearly ready for exporting. The last major hurdle is to apply all your styles (from the style guide we covered earlier).
When I add my content, I like to clear all the formatting first. Since I do most of my writing in Google Docs, I simply select all, go to Format > Clear All Formatting, and you’ve got a clean unformatted text. Word and other word processors will have similar features.
Now you need to create (or update) the styles in your layout software. Refer to your style guide. After that, I like to break my content into text blocks to apply the styles. Here’s an example:
After the Heading 1 / Heading 2 text, the rest of the chapter uses the Body style.
#10 Export Your PDF
Export that PDF! Check all your specifications to be sure layers are being flattened and fonts are embedded. You’ll also want to look for image compression to be sure any pictures or graphics are rendered properly.
Fortunately, we’ve got three exceptional tutorials on our YouTube channel to help you export your PDF for printing.
Once you’ve got your PDF, you’re ready to print!
#11 Print And Review
Note that I said ‘print’ and not ‘publish.’ Go to your Lulu account and create a new book project for printing. Don’t publish it, don’t put it in distribution, don’t assign an ISBN. Just upload your files and order one copy.
You will find something that needs editing. A stray misspelling. An orphaned line at the bottom of page 39 throws off the balance of the page. That first printing is NOT your finished book. It’s the test to get those last improvements and corrections in.
Go through that first printing carefully and edit your file.
If time allows, do all this again for the second printing. With a little luck and thorough editing, that second run copy will be your finished product. It should be very near to perfect.
And if it’s not? Just revise again!
The Advantages Of Print-On-Demand
Turning a manuscript into a book is an art. The most well-designed books are rarely flashy though. It’s a bit of a hidden art; when the design is working, you won’t notice it.
One of the biggest benefits of print-on-demand is your opportunity to iterate your book. That could mean designing a new cover, creating a hardcover edition, or just cleaning up formatting as you learn more.
Now you’ve got a solid plan for laying out your book and plenty of resources to help you design like a pro!