Print Interior Design Basics

illustration-of-books-pvBy Cecilia Lewis

Previously, I’ve discussed options for ebook formatting for self-publishing authors. But what about print formatting? Many indie authors choose to tackle the formatting for print books themselves, for a number of reasons. But interior design for books is more complicated than one might think, and the number of options is vast. Some of the technical terms—trim size, running head, verso and recto—can also seem overwhelming for beginners. With so much to consider, how does one even begin? Here’s a breakdown of the most important elements to consider:

  1. Size

Obviously, one of the most important decisions is the physical size of your book. This is what’s called “trim sizes,” and there are several industry standards. However, the standards can vary quite a bit among hardcovers and trade paperbacks (while mass market paperbacks tend to be more consistently sized). Most indie authors will probably be looking to print trade paperbacks. The most common page dimensions for a trade paperback (that I’ve seen) are 5” x 8”, 5 ½” x 8 ½”,  and 6” x 9”. Which one you choose is mostly a matter of personal preference, though there are several things you should consider. The larger the page size, the more words will fit per page. Therefore, a larger book will have fewer pages, and will be cheaper to print. However, larger books can sometimes feel too unwieldy, and more text per page makes it harder to read.

  1. Font Face and Size

The look and size of the font are an influential factor, of course. You’ll want to make sure that the font isn’t too small or unreadable, and the lines must be properly spaced. Choosing a font is mostly a matter of personal preference, but keep your readers in mind. Readability should be the primary goal here. If you want to get really detailed, you can also adjust the text width and height to make any given font better suit your needs. Also, when choosing a font, make sure that you actually have the licensing rights to use it. Most fonts in MS Word are safe to use, but not all are available for commercial use.

  1. Paragraph Settings

Most fiction books will indent every paragraph except the first paragraph of a chapter or scene. But the size of the paragraph indentations can vary, so play around with it to see what you prefer. Also, consider whether you want to use a drop cap—where the first letter of the first paragraph of each chapter is “dropped” and specially formatted. Another thing to consider is hyphenation—do you want the words at the end of each line to be hyphenated, or just to drop down to the next line? And if you end up with the very last line of a chapter on a page by itself, do you want to change the line spacing or other elements to make them fit on the previous page? There are no standards here, so you’ll have to experiment and see what you prefer.

  1. Margins and Gutter

The size of a book’s margins can vary widely. They will greatly affect your page count—smaller margins mean more words per page. With print books, it’s very important to pay attention to what’s called the “gutter,” meaning the part of the inside margin where the pages attach to the spine. If the inside margin is too small, part of the text will be cut off when the book is printed. If you’re using CreateSpace, they require certain minimum margins, so keep that in mind as well.

  1. Header/Footer

The top and bottom margin are the header and footer. With print books, you may want to choose either one or the other as the location of the book title, author’s name, chapter title, or page numbers. This is what’s referred to as a “running header” or “running footer.” If you’re going to include both author name and book title, the author name will be on the verso (left side, which is actually the reverse side of each page) and the title will be on the recto (right side, on the front of each page). Alternately, you can place the book’s title on the verso and the chapter titles on the recto. If you’re only using page numbers, the most common placement is centered in the footer. All of these elements can be either centered or “outside aligned,” meaning lined up with the outer margin. You might also want to use a different font for any/all of these elements.

  1. Chapter Headings

The chapter headings are where you can get most creative with formatting. Graphic elements, images or flourishes, and special fonts are all great aspects to consider. You’ll also want to think about how far down the page you want the header to be and where the text itself will start. Consider whether you want all of the chapters to start on the right-hand page only, or on either side. (It used to be standard to have chapters start only on the right, but it’s more common now to use both to avoid the blank pages.) Additionally, think about your scene breaks—decorative images are common there as well.


Of course, there are many more aspects that you may want to consider, but this should cover the basics. How particular you want to get about the details is entirely up to you. There are no right or wrong answers here, just personal preferences.

However, it may be a good idea to compare several published books to get an idea of what some standards might be. You’ll see widely varying results here, but it can still be helpful to see what different options may be available to you. To start with, I’d recommend looking at this great spreadsheet compiled by author Jordan McCollum, which compares interior design elements across eight different books in great detail.

Also, here’s something to consider if you’re using MS Word: templates. This isn’t completely necessary, but for authors who are formatting in MS Word, I’d recommend using a template so the basic settings are already in place. CreateSpace offers templates for free, and you can also find them elsewhere online. If you’re comfortable using Word, you should be able to adjust and customize the template to whatever look you want.

What do you think? Which formatting options do you prefer? Which ones did I leave out? Let me know in the comments!

Interested in professional editorial services for your manuscript? Check out my Services page for more information about what I offer.

This post is part of my Self-Publishing Series. For more information about self-publishing, check out the other posts in the series here, and follow the blog to see future posts!

Related Links:

-Self-Publishing Print Books: CreateSpace vs. IngramSpark

-What to Include in Your Backmatter

-The Pros and Cons of Physical Copies

-Ebook Formatting: Conversion Options


4 thoughts on “Print Interior Design Basics

  1. Aeryn Rudel says:

    Great advice. I think one of the best thing an indie author can do, as you suggested, is to look at published examples in his or her own genre and try to find the commonalities. Researching what readers in that genre “expect” a print book to look like can influence your decisions for fonts, margins, chapter headings, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

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