10 Common Formatting Mistakes

Professional book interiors require more than software.

Typesetting is the arrangement of text and images for publication, commonly known as formatting. It’s an art form that requires knowledge and experience.

Software applications like Word, Vellum, and Amazon’s Kindle Create do offer indie publishers DIY alternatives, but even the best ones don’t prevent mistakes. If you want to craft a professional interior, you need to know more about the art of typesetting.

Enhance Reader Experience

Have you ever noticed the interior design of a book? What drew your attention to it?

A lot goes into publishing a book: editing, copywriting, cover design, formatting, printing, distribution, and more. It adds up quickly, costing both time and money.

As a novice indie author, DIY formatting seemed like a simple way to save money. During my career in the tech industry, I’d produced nearly two dozen technical documents. I knew how to use Word and Adobe and how to format documents according to specifications. It didn’t seem like formatting a book for publication would be so different.

But the depth of knowledge and details that go into formatting a book goes beyond formatting technical documentation. As a result, I made several mistakes that couldn’t be ignored and I had to reformat the books. It cost me both time and money (in the form of change fees and extra proof copies).

My typesetting skills have come a long way since then. Dedicated study and experience has taught me much (and continues to do so). I’ve learned that the purpose of interior formatting isn’t just to produce a readable format, but to create a design that adds ambiance to the story—enhancing the reader’s experience. And that quality craftsmanship requires more than the right tools.

Crafting a professional book interior requires more than software.

Format like a Professional

Adding ambiance to a story through interior formatting is a challenge for even skilled typesetters. However, following good design principles and avoiding common mistakes is a good place to start. To help, I’ve complied a list of ten common formatting mistakes and included a printable formatting checklist below.

#1 Widowed & Orphaned Lines

When the last line of a paragraph is the first line on a page, it’s called a widowed line. When the first line of a paragraph is the last line on a page, it’s called an orphaned line. Widowed and orphaned lines can disrupt the flow and pacing of a story. They’re also easy to overlook, and even software programs like Vellum don’t prevent them from happening.

#2 Indenting First Paragraphs

Industry standard manuscript formatting requires indenting the first line of every paragraph. However, purpose dictates conventions, and with the interior formatting of books, design and reader experience prevail over function. Thus, the first line of the first paragraph in each chapter should not be indented.

#3 Left-Aligned

Book text should be formatted as justified, not left-aligned. Justified appears similar to left-aligned, except that justified also aligns the line endings on the right to create a more visually symmetrical and balanced page design.

#4 Mismatched Trim Size

Trim size is the physical dimensions of the book. It’s an important consideration for cover design, but it also affects the interior design for printed copies. The interior file for a print book needs to match the exterior trim size. Otherwise, the margins in the printed copies will be off. It may not be noticeable with some designs, but with other designs it could be problematic.

#5 Full Page Images

Full page images can be tricky to incorporate because of margin and print bleed requirements. The interior margins and print bleeds must be formatted correctly and consistently throughout the file. If they aren’t, then full page images may not cover the entire page or text margins may be too narrow.

#6 Image Optimization for Digital Formats

While higher resolution files are best for producing crisp images in print, the file size of higher resolution files are detrimental to ebooks. Larger files increase the cost of ebook delivery and the amount of memory needed to download and store an ebook. If an ebook’s file size is too large, readers may have trouble downloading it or choose to pass on it altogether.

Image optimization is about finding the right balance between all of an image’s properties to create a smaller file for ebooks without sacrificing quality.

#7 Front Matter & #8 Back Matter

Front and back matter are the collection of pages that appear before and after the story. Some of these pages are optional, but some are not. All books should have at least have a title page, a copyright page, and an author biography page, and, when possible, include the pages that connect readers to more books by the author.

Also, book design begins with the exterior cover and should flow consistently throughout the entire book—including front and back matter.

#9 Chapter Headings

Chapter headings should be consistent throughout the book and appear one third to halfway down the page. Centered chapter headings are more common, but left or right aligned chapter headings are also acceptable.

#10 Font

Font is a subtle way of adding ambiance to a story—much like lighting a candle to set the mood. Some styles are better suited to certain genres, but keep the font choice simple for readability.

As an example, look at the differences in the fonts below. All are the same size, but each one adds a different ambiance to the sentence. Some are more formal than others. Which do you like best and why?

All in the Details

The interior design of a book is where marketing and storytelling meet. It should invite readers in and elevate the reading experience. The key to achieving this result lies in using the right tools and understanding the art of typesetting.

Have you encountered any book designs that elevated your reading experience?

Looking for a professional?

In addition to being a writer and an artist, I’m also a certified copyeditor who offers formatting and proofreading services. Learn more >>

Published by K.A. Cummins

K.A. Cummins is an award-winning author and artist. Her publications include Havok Publishing, Rattle, Blue Mesa Review, and her middle-grade series, Snow Globe Travelers.

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