Before I was a writer, I was the design co-ordinator for Art Bookbindery. I designed both the interior and the exterior of books for several years. Page layout is a craft, and when it’s done correctly, the finished book is beautiful.

The artist in me enjoyed every step of the process. Who knew that typography could give you goose bumps? I absolutely love it.

The thing is, self-published books are often lacking when it comes to the layout. I’ve also seen traditionally published books that left me disappointed. The rules are there for a reason–they make the book easier to read and offer a clean presentation.

I’ll offer you the basics in design today. We won’t get into too much of the nuts and bolts of the craft like how to use InDesign or how to prevent rivers on your page, but we can cover most of the pertinent information. You might also want to visit Art Bookbindery for a bit more on book layout information. They share information on page bleed, page numbering, margins, headers, parts of a book, and font sizes. Wow–so much to cover on this topic!

Please note: if you are setting up an eBook for Kindle, don’t follow these rules. The KDP layout is an entirely different process.

Let’s get started:

1. Unless there’s a very good reason not to, always start a new chapter on the right hand side. Yes, you might be left with a blank page on the left–that’s absolutely normal. Open any good book and you’ll find a few.

2. Fully justify body text. It gives you clean lines on both the left and right hand sides of the page. Ragged type is messy looking.

The ideal program to use for book layout is Abobe InDesign, but since most of you are probably using a version of Microsoft Word, I’ll include a few print screens from the program.


3. Don’t double space between paragraphs. Please. Don’t do it. That might have been good for a high school book reports, but it doesn’t look professional in a book. The proper way to lay out a book is to indent each paragraph, with the exception of the first line of each chapter.

See “indentation” on the image above. I chose .3, but you can choose .5 if you prefer.

The way to indent a paragraph is to highlight that section, then choose, Format<Paragraph… and fill in the pop up box. For the first line, choose zero or just click the normal styles button on your tool bar.

4. Don’t press ‘enter’ twice before a quote or a between headings in chapter titles. Use the before and after spacing to get the exact spacing you want.

5. Don’t double space after periods. I thought we did away with this in the 80’s but for some reason it keeps coming back. One space is standard.

6. If at all possible, kern your letters to avoid widows and orphans. Kerning can be achieved by adjusting the space between letters. You can increase or decrease the space as I’ll show you in the image below.

What are widows and orphans?

Here’s the definition from The Chicago Manual of Style:

  • A paragraph-ending line that falls at the beginning of the following page or column, thus separated from the rest of the text.
  • A paragraph-opening line that appears by itself at the bottom of a page or column.
  • A word, part of a word, or very short line that appears by itself at the end of a paragraph. Orphans result in too much white space between paragraphs or at the bottom of a page.

Here’s an example of both:


I’ve seen at least one self published book that had a widow sitting on a page all by itself. It looked odd.

Note: I did say “if at all possible,” because in some cases, the fix could be worse than the orphan or widow itself. InDesign is made for these kinds of adjustments–Word, not so much.

I chose 4pts here as an example, but as you can see that’s too much. A setting of 1 would be much better.



7. Let your text breathe. I think that a standard setting for Word might be 1pt. I like to see it at about 1.2 pts.



8. Use high resolution images. If you are including images in your book or on your cover (including your author photo) make sure that they are high resolution. My daughter asked me the other day how she can tell for sure. I said, “It should look look about four times the size on your computer screen.”

If you are scanning images set them to scan at high resolution (300 dpi).

I can’t think of anything else off the top of my head that you probably don’t know yourself. But if I do, I’ll mention it in another post!


Oh, and if you’re thinking of self publishing your book with Art Bookbindery. Forget everything I said *smile* because Art Bookbindery has a wonderful staff that can take care of these details for you.

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