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11 Steps To A Professional Book Layout

If you’ve self-published a book, you’re familiar with the many challenges involved‌. As if writing a book isn’t hard enough, you’ll also need to plan your marketing, determine how to sell the book, and know how to layout a book. Looking at a book off a bookstore shelf, it’s easy to miss the amount of work and time that goes into the book layout. Let me tell you—it’s a lot of work. A lot. 

Let’s review the best practice book page layout and page format.

How To Layout A Book

There are four essential parts of your book; the front matter, content, back matter, and cover. The first three combine to make your print-ready PDF file, while the cover will get designed separately. 

For this post, we’re going to focus on the first three, but if you’re ready to work on your cover, ‌get started by reading this article.

Book Spine And Cover Best Practices

Your book’s spine is an often overlooked piece of your cover. But a book spine requires some special attention. And ignoring it can ruin your cover!

First things first; your book design turns your manuscript into a complete file for your book. Even though both are composed of your content—the story you have to tell, a guide or manual, a textbook for the class you’re teaching—the manuscript is the raw content. You’ll need to carefully design your book file using book layout software to turn that manuscript into a print-ready file.  

New User Guide

Jump start your publishing journey with our free guide!

Best Book Layout Software

To reiterate, page layout design is not the same as word processing. You want to write and edit your book using a word processor but once the words are there, you’ll switch to a design software for all the book layout.

You’ve got a ton of options for laying out your book file. You can use any program that can export a font embedded PDF, but I strongly recommend using one of the tools I’ve (conveniently) reviewed in the past:

The Ultimate Guide To InDesign For Authors

Learn the basics to importing and laying out your book using InDesign

Affinity Publisher Review: An InDesign Alternative

Affinity Publisher is the newest publishing software to rival InDesign in features and pricing.

Parts Of Your Book Layout

Let’s quickly review the parts of a book that you design for your book layout.

Content

This is the meat of your book. The story you tell, the manual or guide you wrote to share your expertise, the history you’re recounting, or whatever your book might be. Remember, the content includes text and images, as well as anything else, like tables or charts. All of that is content.

Front Matter

When you open a book, the first page is not the beginning of your story. No book opens directly to ‘Chapter 1’. You’ll see a half title and full title, a copyright page, a table of contents, acknowledgments, an introduction, and any other information you need to provide a reader before they dive into the main content. All of this is collectively called Front Matter.

Back Matter

Just like the Front Matter, Back Matter is everything after the main content of your book. Usually this includes the About the Author, any sort of index or bibliography, and often a few blank pages.

Learn more about Front and Back Matter.

Cover

Your cover is going to be an enormous piece of how you sell your book. For this post, we will not focus on the cover. But we’ve got some great content about creating a cover.

Solving the Book Layout Puzzle

I’ve written a great deal about laying out your book, and we even have an entire section of our knowledge base dedicated to these questions. While there are specific details you’ll need to focus on (I’ll get to those next), it’s important to acknowledge that every book layout is unique. 

When you approach the problem of how to layout a book, you need to first clearly define what kind of book you’ll be designing. That might be obvious when comparing a textbook to a graphic novel or photo book to a fiction book. But even similar books, like a fictional story and a memoir, will have some unique elements—everything from fonts to endnotes to the use of graphics.

Once you have a sense of the ‌book, creating a professional page design hinges on meeting reader expectations. Sometimes an uncommon design can work, but with anything, it’s best to start simple and only approach weird or genre-bending designs once you’ve mastered a basic book layout.

With that in mind, these 11 points are relevant when designing any kind of book. Some ‌details will change, but if you don’t get each of these steps done right, you risk your book appearing unprofessional (and likely causing potential readers to pass it over).  

11 Steps To A Professional Book Layout

#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 fonts, adding text formatting or page margins, and working on my page layout while I write.

There’s a very practical reason to finish all the writing, editing, and revising before laying out your book: 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 and 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

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. 

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, make a list of 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 McDonald’s 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:

Fonts

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

Page

Size – 

Trim size – 

Margins – 

Colors

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 lay out your book.

#5 Set Up Your Pages (Master Pages)

Open up your preferred layout software. 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.

Lulu Product Options & Templates

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. 

Book Creation Guide

Our free guide to creating your book PDF files and preparing your work for publishing and printing with Lulu.

#6 Add Your Content

I like to add my content in sections. First the front matter, then I add the body text a chapter or section at a time. As I add content, I do minor 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, ‌check on that too. Your software and templates will get most everything right, but you should still double check to be sure. Now is a good time to look critically at the white space, line height, indentations, and other book layout factors that will affect your reader’s experience.

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:

Pages
Spreads

When you’re viewing a file as spreads, your software pairs the pages 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 Publisher will give you options when exporting your PDF—either individual pages or spreads. Always be sure to select ‘pages’ so your print-ready PDF can be printed.

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 a couple of notes:

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.

Sell Your Book, Your Way

Sell books on your own website with Lulu Direct.

Sell Your Book,
Your Way

Sell books on your own
website with Lulu Direct.

#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:

Heading 1, heading 2, and Body styles highlighted

After the Heading 2 / Heading 3 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.

This is one thing too many independent authors skip. I can’t fathom working for months or even years to write and edit a book, only to forgo actually reviewing the final product before you start selling. 

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 book design is working, you won’t notice it.

One of the biggest benefits of print-on-demand is the option to order a single copy. You can get a proof copy in-hand quickly, make changes as needed, and even update the book later to match new marketing efforts. That could mean designing a new cover, creating a hardcover edition, or just cleaning up formatting as you learn more. Use that to your advantage as you learn the ins and outs of book layout.

Now you’ve got a solid plan for laying out your book and plenty of resources to help you design like a pro!

Get Started

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publish your book for readers all over the world.

Get Started

Create a free Lulu account today to print and publish your book.

Paul is the Content Marketing Manager at Lulu. When he's not entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person but considers himself cat tolerant.

33 thoughts on “11 Steps To A Professional Book Layout”

  1. One more note here, I promise: When you say “direct” do you mean people sell from their blogs or websites, facebook, link to your website? And also my completed project is a memoir/cookbook, so there are only about 15 recipes in it at the end of each memoir section and so it has a lot of traditional memoir manuscript writing and is longer than a cookbook by far, so not sure the cook book template would be appropriate. It will for my second project. Thoughts on this?

    1. Precisely! We generally aim to help authors who don’t want to point their readers to a retail site to purchase. You can learn a little more about our direct ecommerce integrations here: https://ecommerce.lulu.com/
      Basically, we want to help authors use our printing services to maximize their profits.
      I agree, a traditional cookbook template likely won’t work well for your book design. Since you’re doing something a little more original, I would definitely look to either do the design yourself, or hire a freelance designer to layout the book for you. I doubt you’ll find a template that really fits your needs.

  2. That answers a lot, thank you! Will look at the layouts you suggest. I presume that your templates on your website don’t help enough? I understand about Amazon. Do you distribute other places for the 80/20 split besides your website? I understand the advantage to a service like yours is expanded distribution but including Amazon?

    1. Our templates are pretty simple – they just give you the page size and margins/trim lines to work with. Adding the content would fall entirely on you. So most of what you need can be done through settings in your page layout software.
      We do the same 80/20 split for all retail channels! Currently we sell through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Ingram. But most of our efforts of late have focused on helping authors sell direct (so no retailer cut), so we don’t emphasize our retail distribution as much as we used to.

  3. Thanks, Paul, I’ll take a look. Am I correct that with Amazon AND your service we don’t have to pay up front, that you print them as sold? And that you also distribute through Amazon? And we just have to account for your costs and percentage? Is that the case with many of them or are some geared so you just pay for printing and have them delivered to you? Can we order author copies? My daughter is a professional photographer but I know the layout can be trickier for a cook book, too. I doubt many of them would have formatting figured out for you? Thanks for your time. Even though I’ve published before, I’ve never self published, so there is a lot to it.

    1. You’re correct, using Amazon (they call the service Kindle Direct Publishing or KDP) or Lulu will incur no upfront costs. Most other self-publishers (like Ingram Spark) charge a setup fee before you publish. But with Lulu, there isn’t really any costs. You create the book and list it for sale, then you earn the revenue from sales based on the price you set.
      We do offer an author price as well; you just pay the printing/shipping cost for your own book. Our profits are tied to sales (we do an 80/20 revenue split, so you keep 80% of your revenue per sale). And you’re right that we can distribute through Amazon too, though you should note that Amazon takes a MUCH bigger cut of the revenue.
      As for the formatting, that’s the most difficult part. I’ve yet to find a resource for templates/designing a cookbook that I’m happy enough with to share, but you can find templates to get started on the web. I strongly recommend using a page layout tool like InDesign or Affinity Publisher to create the file.

  4. Hi. I have written a wood fire cookbook/memoir and am interested in self publishing. I’m also considering doing a carnivore cookbook. Both would have photos taken by my daughter who is a professional photographer. So I’d need color and maybe special formatting. Is this a complicated procedure we’d need help with or can we manage it without paying for extra services?.. and would Lulu be the best company for this project? (I have also published two literary books at university presses as well as fiction and nonfiction in national publications and other university magazines, but am unfamiliar with self publishing so far.) Thank you.

    1. Hi lynnfay73,
      Lulu is your best option for a cookbook you design entirely. That means laying out the pages/pictures and generating a PDF to use for our printing services. I’d check out our cookbook page for templates and inspiration about sizes/binding.
      If you’re looking to just upload into a ‘plug and play’ type of service, that’s not something Lulu is well suited for.

  5. printing company Parramatta

    As we all know how book is printed on exterior part, the interior part is little complicated because of layout selection, contents, font style, font size, cover theme, image settlement and numbering process. It takes more time than exterior printing.

    1. Hi alexandra,
      Thanks for catching that!
      I’ve updated the link, we no longer have the single zip file for all formats. The file was proofing larger and annoying to download. The link goes to our product page on Lulu xPress, which features a dropdown list to select the page size template bundle.

  6. HI I HAVE JUST COMPLETED A MANUSCRIPT OF 250 PAGES ON ‘HOW YOU CAN BE YOUR OWN DOCTOR.’ A PATIENTS BASE CLINICAL EXPERIENCE DESIGN TO HELP PEOPLE GOING THROUGH SIMILAR CONDITION. I AM NOT A PROFESSIONAL WRITER AND I AM HAVING PROBLEMS WITH EDITING,AND PUBLISHING ,ANY ADVISE PLEASE? THANK YOU.

    1. Hi Edison,
      For editing, the best advice I have is to work with a professional. Sadly, that does mean paying a pro to read and offer comments on your work.
      If you’re looking to keep your project low-cost, you might try getting help from friends and family, but for a polished book, you’ll need the input of someone familiar with book editing.

    1. Hi chukwudiokeke,
      If you’re creating a print book, I would start by getting your page numbering inserted. MS Word and most other software can make a table of contents using Heading styles, but you can just manually add one by typing the chapter title and page number out.
      If you’re creating an ebook, you will have to use Heading styles. Do not insert a table of contents at all. Just apply the Heading styles and when you convert to EPUB, the table of contents will be created for you. I suggest our ebook creation guide for more details (it’s a PDF download).

  7. Please I am having issue with setting up the acceptable table of content by Lulu and that is the only thing holding me from publishing, please I need help

  8. Hi Paul…I have written a children’s colour picture book, which will be a series of five books. I’m now ready to publish the first one. I’m using a very famous illustrator and as a result we have pre-sales of several thousand plus! Also two independent book stores in theory will take our book…so all very positive! I’d like to self publish through LULU, however I’m worrying about the quality of the colour print and my page count which has come out at 42. I recently ordered a book self published through LULU ( STUMBLE TRIP FALL by Robert Scully) but printed by amazon just to check the quality and was horrified to see it had four plain white pages at the back, so disappointing and certainly not how I would like my book to look! I also ordered another LULU self published book The Lion’s Share illustrations by Kelly Dupre and its nicely printed, that would be my bench mark. How can I avoid these pitfalls. I look forward to hearing from you.
    All the best. Ella

    1. Hi Ella,
      Printing through retailers (Amazon in particular) can be frustrating because they do often print at a lower quality than the selected options on Lulu. In part this is how Amazon makes sure they are turning a significant profit on each sale.
      Based on the quality you’re looking for and the quantities you mentioned, I think we should get you in touch with our account managers here. They can help determine how to get the best product at the best price, and if you’re looking at large pre-orders, we can help organize that to allow you to take advantage of bulk pricing.
      I’m going to send you an email with more information (using the email you entered when you posted this comment).

  9. I’m looking into self-publishing a second edition of a 1500-page genealogy book. It appears that 800 pages is the upper limit for your services. Is that correct? Can you offer any suggestions as to how to proceed?
    Thanks.

    1. Hi Lee,
      800 is around the upper limit for page count. Sadly, this is true for the majority of self-publishing platforms out there, though I am sure there are printers who can accommodate that size.
      There are two concerns to be aware of at that page count – binding quality and price. Finding a printer who can do a perfect bound book at 1500 pages is going to be expensive, and no matter how high quality their binding, it is going to crack and break over time from the weight of all those pages.
      My suggestion would be to use Lulu and print the book in two, volumes of 750 pages each (or even three volumes at 500 pages). This makes the books easier to handle and helps ensure the binding will hold together.

  10. Dear Lulu
    Ann Chadwick -Suzie-
    Wondered how she can go about editing the booklet with more information that has recently come to light would you send the documents back for her to edit?

    1. Hi John,
      As long as you own the copyright to your work there should be nothing stopping you from re-publishing with a different publisher.

  11. Can a book be written in any other programs besides Microsoft Word? What about one of the free programs like Open Office, Google Docs, or LibreOffice? Thanks!

  12. I was referred to check out Lulu by a friend after I finished my first novel so tell how much dose it cost to go from mauscript to book.

    1. Hi Earl,
      Publishing can be done completely free of charge. Simply create a file to specification and upload it. Same for the cover.
      We do offer services for folks who want a professional designer to help with various aspects of the process: http://www.lulu.com/services/list
      I advise considering our service packages only if you need a heavy hand in editing and design. If you plan to do some or most of the work yourself and just need proofreading or cover design, you can probably find those services for less with a freelance provider.

  13. Hi I would like to get some information on how to get started on writing my book I really been thinking about this a very long time Now i want to put this motion
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Bobby,
      Awesome to hear you’re thinking about diving into telling your story.
      Luckily, I can give you all the advice you need in one sentence: just start writing!
      Don’t think about editing, design, publishing or anything else until the story is written. I like to try to hit a word count daily, but everyone has different rhythms and routines. What matters is that you write.
      Once you have the story written, then start to think about publishing.

  14. Hi,
    I have already written a book. Published through a company that went under.
    Want to self publish. Have the book. They no longer have digital files. How do I get started and get another ISBN number?
    Can I still use the same title and contents of my book?
    Thanks.

    1. Hi Sandi,
      So long as you hold the copyright, you can absolutely self-publish.
      You will need a new ISBN, which we can provide for free or you can buy if you want to use your own Imprint. We sell them here – https://www.lulu.com/shop/yourisbn/service/product-yourisbn.html – or you can just do a Google search for the ISBN provider in your country.
      Once you’re ready to self-publish, you can use the same title and contents, just be sure to update the copyrights page to reflect the new ISBN and copyright date.
      Here’s a link to our Publishing Knowledge Base – http://connect.lulu.com/en/categories/publish
      And if you’re getting stuck or have any questions about the process, you can always reach out to our support team – http://www.lulu.com/support

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