Formatting a Paperback for the Indie Author


With the recent switch over from Createspace to KDP print, I’ve seen a lot of turmoil and confusion about formatting for print. Hopefully, I can address all of your concerns with this article. Just like Formatting an eBook, there are technical and customer expectations that your finished work must meet or it will not be printed correctly. It does not matter how great your novel is if there are editing marks left over in the final product or if the border isn’t sized correctly or if your title page is on the “back side” of the first page because your word processor added a mysterious blank page.

The act of flipping a few pages before starting the book builds anticipation for the reader.

Don’t be afraid to pull a few paperback novels that you have laying around and look at them. Turn them over, peak inside and compare how the books start and end. Review the order of the Front Matter and if there is any Back Matter. Compare different genres to get a feel if there are differences that one audience might expect and another might dislike. No matter the software used to produce the final copy, one will have to include these elements so that your book appears exactly like every other book on the shelf. The act of flipping a few pages before starting the book builds anticipation for the reader. Give them this privileged even if we all know very seldom actually read any of the front or back matter.


Don’t upload a doc(x) file

What I mean is do not upload any file format that is editable. Only upload a PDF, it is the gold standard for “portable” documents. If you upload a doc file, it is rendered differently on every device to fit the new editor/viewer, and will cause unnecessary errors. If there is one piece of advice you take from me, finalize your work as a PDF and upload the PDF. KDP, Smashwords, Lulu, they all accept doc files and this may seem like a short cut, but on most word processors it is about 2 extra clicks to produce a PDF and you will have the satisfaction that the printers will print EXACTLY what is on the page and nothing more or less.


The Book Dimension

If you did my prerequisite step and have a printed book in hand, you will notice that it is not the size of A4 paper. Instead, it is much smaller, perhaps 4 1/4 inches by 6 3/4 inches, also known as the trade paperback standard. You are going to have to decide what the TRIM SIZE of the book you are making will be. KDP has a handy guide here, with all sizes and shapes they accommodate. For what it’s worth, I stick with the nice and simple 5″ X 8″. In fact, all of my printed books are this size. But choose one that meets the needs of your audience. A number of years ago, I used Lulu for publishing paperbacks and they do offer more choices than KDP, but as you all know Lulu books do not make it to Amazon’s web store.

Lock in a Trim Size fairly early as this determines how to format your cover as well. There are cover templates that one can download and use to fit your front and back cover on, then upload that as a single PDF. Works much better than the gross cover creators that both Lulu and KDP provide.

You can use Microsoft Word or Libre Office to set the pager size, border size, etc and produce a good looking novel. If those are the only tools you have or can afford than use them, but remember to produce that PDF copy at the end.


No this isn’t some bold statement about the author dripping blood, sweat, and tears on the page. For most novels you are going to choose “Book without Bleed” all this means is that if you have content outside of your borders, it will not print outside the text border. If you have a PDF, you will know instantly if this is going to be a problem.

If you select Book With Bleed, you have to do additional math to compensate for the content that bleeds into the borders as it will go into the “gutter” and may not look very nice depending on where the content is centered.


If you are like me and word processors don’t quite have the extra bits that make the book feel more professional, like gutter settings( how close your text is to the binding) or alternating headings but only starting on the content section. If you want extra flexibility and a tool used by professional the world over I recommend LaTeX, Which is essentially a programming language for type setting. LaTeX is primarily used for mathematical or scientific text books because it can render equations, graphs, images, and more, perfectly.

There are editors like TeXstudio or TeXworks ( I prefer this one ) which make it easier to learn and start making your book. Below I will post a few sections of my template.


\documentclass[10pt,twoside,openright]{memoir} %print format
%\documentclass[10pt,ebook,oneside,openany]{memoir} %ebook format
%pick 1 of the above documentclasses
\usepackage{graphicx} %must load this before setting geometry
\graphicspath{ {img/}} % load image from sub folder 
\usepackage[paperwidth=5.0in, paperheight=8.0in,bindingoffset=.50in,bmargin=.75in]{geometry} %page size
\usepackage{bookman} %Font
\usepackage{upquote} %for single comments
\usepackage{blindtext}  %for dummy text

\makeoddhead{right}{\footnotesize First Last}{}{\footnotesize \thepage}
\makeevenhead{right}{\footnotesize \thepage}{}{\footnotesize Title}

\author{FIRST LAST}


    {\Huge \raggedleft \@title \par}%
    \hrulefill \par
    {\Large \raggedright Book 1. Subtitle \par}%
    \vskip 5cm
    {\Huge \@author \par}%



\input{frontmatter.tex} % link to another doc where I set control the Frontmatter content
%Save book text to external files and import them, so things stay clean
\input{prologue.tex} % link to another doc where I have the prologue
\input{backmatter.tex}  % link to another doc where I set Backmatter content


And then in separate documents I have the content, this keeps it nice and organized so that no single file gets too large and hard to read and understand.


\chapter*{1. Chapter Title} 


If you have LaTeX fully installed and using one of the Tex Editors then you can compile this directly to a PDF and off you go, ready to upload. I can also use this to transform the Tex data to TexHTML, which I can use Calibre to import then convert to EPUB and fix up any conversion issues with Sigil. As Shown in the Article on Formatting for an eBook. This workflow allows me to produce both a printed book and eBook from the same source of information which makes it quite functional and flexible.

If you are interested in more details, I have more code and the final PDF for this example all here on my github:

I’m sure this looks daunting, and possibly overkill for many. But I promise you that taking a few hours to produce a fully realized novel will come across to your readers by providing a perfect copy of the book.

Alternatively, there is another open source typesetting program call Scribus, that many fellow authors use to give their book that final pizzazz. Or if you like to spend mega bucks there is InDesgin and other paid products, but I do not endorse those.

Wrap Up

Is it totally necessary to use a typesetting program?

No…but all the big name publishers do. If you want your product to appear as professional as possible and resemble a traditionally published novel, than you may want to consider taking some time to familiarize yourself with a typesetting program. Your readers will thank you, when they don’t throw away your book in disgust because it looks home made.

What ever you do to produce your print novel, you should have 2 PDFs. 1) is your entire cover; front, back, and middle section, all in one image, and 2) your novel, fitting the dimensions of your cover. If you have these files, setting up your novel on any service will be painless and by the second or third time you will not even have to worry about ordering a proof copy.

If you get stuck, or fear that you are going down the wrong path, please reach out to me on Twitter @StewStunes and I will try to help.