6 Book Formatting Mistakes to Avoid

Book formatting isn’t the most glamorous task for authors and self-publishers to undertake. It’s often approached with a groan and a less than enthusiastic mindset. After all, it’s tedious and time-consuming, and you’d rather be writing your next great book.

However, it’s a mistake for self-publishers to overlook how critical interior book formatting is, and how it can positively or negatively affect the satisfaction—or lack thereof—readers experience while reading your book.

Don’t let your book fall victim to these six formatting faux pas!

Mistake #1 –Varying Chapter Lengths

Chapter length is crucial because it sets an expectation for your readers. It influences the flow of your story and elicits emotional responses. A two-page chapter followed by a twenty-page chapter can be jarring to the reader and result in a poor reading experience. A chapter that takes up half a book can become tedious to follow, even in the most exciting stories.

Unless there’s an excellent artistic reason to do so, you’ll want to try to make your chapters uniform in length throughout your manuscript. They don’t have to be exact, but they should be within a few pages of one another, give or take. For longer chapters, consider breaking up the flow of the text with an additional space between paragraphs, or a type ornament (sometimes called printer’s ornaments). Type ornaments can be used to signify a break in a chapter, the end of a chapter, or the end of a book. They can add a nice aesthetic quality to a printed page. They signal to the reader that something in the story has shifted, such as a timeline or point of view, without the need for a new chapter.

Mistake #2 – Alternating Paragraph Styles

Paragraphs organize ideas and serve an essential purpose: signaling to the reader that a new idea has begun. They’re meant to break up the flow of text in a way that feels natural and entices readers to keep reading.

There are basically two ways to differentiate paragraphs in a printed book. Note that we’re talking about printed books specifically here, not online or e-reading, since e-readers can often be set to whatever format the reader prefers.

You’ll want to pick one or the other, not both, since that can look like a formatting error, and the last thing you want in your book are errors.

Option 1: Indent the first line of the paragraph

Option 2: Add a space between paragraphs

Mistake # 3 – No Running Heads

Can readers navigate easily through your book?

Running heads (sometimes referred to as page headers) is simply a line of text at the top of each page of a book that gives the reader important information, such as the name of a chapter or author. The idea is to choose running heads that are most helpful for your reader based on what they’re looking for and what type of book you’re self-publishing.

In fiction, you’ll usually see the book title on the top left and the author’s name on the top right. In non-fiction, readers navigate from the table of contents, index, appendix, or glossary, so chapter titles in running heads are very helpful in getting readers to the page they want to read.

Running heads can help make your book look more professional and higher quality because it conforms to the styles that readers are used to seeing, improving the reader’s experience. The absence of running heads can be glaring.

Pro Tip: Running heads should never appear on display pages such as:
  • Title
  • Half-title
  • Chapter
  • Opening
  • Front & Back Matter Opening Pages
  • Preface
  • Table of Contents

Mistake #4 – Poor Pagination

Pagination refers to the consecutive numbering of pages in your book. Books with page numbers on unnecessary pages, or incorrectly formatted pages, don’t look professional or meet the standard most readers expect.

Note: These numbers are referred to as folios. A folio at the bottom of the page is called a drop folio. A page that is counted but doesn’t require a page number, such as a chapter or display page, is called a blind folio.

In the U.S., it’s standard practice to use roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, etc.) to paginate the front and back matter of a book, such as a preface or introduction, and a standard numbering sequence (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.) for the main body of the book. This aids in the production process by allowing self-publishers to add content to a book without having to repaginate an entire manuscript, which is time-consuming and inefficient.

Certain pages should never be paginated. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Title Page
  • Half Titles
  • Copyright
  • Table of Contents
  • Dedication
  • Epigraph

Pro Tip: Page numbers shouldn’t appear too close to the paper’s edge and should always be placed inside trim lines. If not, it disrupts the aesthetic of the interior book design. A rule-of-thumb is to put page numbers at least ¼ of an inch from the edge of the page.

Mistake #5 – Incorrect Margins

Why are margins important? Think about what they do for a moment. Are your thumbs covering the text when you’re holding a book open? If they are, the margins probably aren’t appropriate for the size of the book.

In a print book, margins serve several purposes. They allow readers to hold a book comfortably, they show the type blocks easily, they make the book easy to read, and they provide space for running heads, page numbers, and other kinds of interior design elements.

They’re a key to providing a good reading experience.

Considering margins is important because books aren’t entirely flat, which means you need to leave room on the inside margins (gutters) closest to the binding to account for the curve of the binding. For book printing, centering your text block on the page doesn’t account for the fact that pages curve because books aren’t flat pages stapled together as they would be in work or school reports.

Your margins must be appropriate for your book, which depends on your chosen trim size for publication; trim size refers to the dimensions (width and height) of your printed book, such as 6X9 or 5X8, and so on.

Every page has four margins: three outside (top, bottom, side) and one inside (called the gutter).

Margins are important because they ensure that text isn’t cut off during production. Determine your page size before you set your margins because margins depend on page count, which depends on the size. For example, if you import a 5×8 book into a larger 6×9 book format, you’ll end up with far fewer pages, and your margins will be off.

Once you know your page size, look at your page count, and then use the chart below to determine your margins.

Page countInside (gutter) marginsOutside margins (no bleed)Outside margins (with bleed)
24 to 150 pages0.375 in (9.6 mm)at least 0.25 in (6.4 mm)at least 0.375 in (9.6 mm)
151 to 300 pages0.5 in (12.7 mm)at least 0.25 in (6.4 mm)at least 0.375 in (9.6 mm)
301 to 500 pages0.625 in (15.9 mm)at least 0.25 in (6.4 mm)at least 0.375 in (9.6 mm)
501 to 700 pages0.75 in (19.1 mm)at least 0.25 in (6.4 mm)at least 0.375 in (9.6 mm)
701 to 828 pages0.875 in (22.3 mm)at least 0.25 in (6.4 mm)at least 0.375 in (9.6 mm)

Mistake #6 – Poor Font Choices

Save those fancy, scripted fonts for chapter titles, headings, and other display pages. The main body text of your book needs to be readable, and those fancy fonts can be challenging to read.

For example, would you want to read an entire novel written in a font like Blackadder ITC?  Not only is it hard to read, but it can lead to confusion; the “C”  in “ITC” really looks like a “G.”  Confused yet? However, this font might be nice for a chapter title.

Your font choice should fit the following criteria:

  • Be Readable
  • Use Contrast
    • Different typefaces for chapter titles, part titles, and body text can create a pleasant reading experience. Just don’t go “font crazy.” Stick with two for fiction, and certainly no more than four for non-fiction.
  • Be Legal. Don’t use a font that’s protected intellectual property. Most fonts included with your software are cleared for commercial use, but check your licensing agreement just in case.
  • Be Appropriate. For example, the Comic Sans font probably isn’t the correct fit for your science textbook, for example. It might be great for your graphic novel, however!
Pro Tip: Some of the most easily readable fonts are:
  • Garamond
  • Bembo
  • Georgia
  • Helvetica
  • Open Sans
  • Verdana
  • Roboto
  • Arial
  • Montserrat

Isn’t it surprising how many details there are to self-publishing? The process can be tedious, time-consuming, and stressful.

R.C. Brayshaw has been partnering with local authors for nearly twenty years to make the self-publishing path easier and more gratifying. Let us do the heavy lifting with professional graphic design, book formatting, and layout so that you can focus on what you really want to do: writing your next great book.

Click here to learn more about how we can help you self-publish, or contact us today.

Read more of our self-publishing tips:

Self-Publishing: 3 Common Mistakes of Book Cover Design

3 Common Book Cover Design Mistakes

Quick tips to help you ensure that all the effort you’ve put into your book is well-represented in your cover design.

5 Book Description

These precious 100-200 words of text are supposed to convince a reader to buy your work. Where do you start?

Scroll to Top