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self-publishing : typesetting and formatting your book

Why preparing your manuscript is important

When many first-time self-publishers consider the design elements of their book they only think of the front cover. But the design of the pages inside those covers have just as much impact and require the same amount of careful consideration. In order to make these pages look as great as possible, we have put together a few handy tips.

Some self-publishing companies will do the design work for you if you pay them an upfront fee. However, it’s easy to get this right on your own and save yourself some cash by using CompletelyNovel and all the DIY tools already available on your computer and the internet. If you really do need a bit of help, we can offer assistance from £35/$55 (more details on our services for writers page).

How to set up your page size and your margins

Word processors usually default to A4 or US Letter size, which is most common for home printing. However, those page sizes aren’t standard for the book publishing industry. As you’ll know, books are typically printed with smaller pages, so if you are self-publishing the first thing you’ll need to do is adjust your page size.

At CompletelyNovel we use the two most popular sizes for our books: Demy and Crown.
Here are the measurements that you need to know about. Note that you need to make your pages slightly bigger in your document than the finished book size. This is because a few millimetres are trimmed off each edge in the printing process.

Book size Measurement Dimensions that you need to use Size of the finished book Recommended margin
Demy Width 146mm 140mm 23mm (left and right)
Height 222mm 216mm 23mm (top and bottom)
Crown Width 195mm 189mm 23mm (left and right)
Height 252mm 246mm 23mm (top and bottom)

If you’re not sure how to change the page size, or the margins in Microsoft Word, then you can take a look at the help here:
Word 2003 – Changing page sizeChanging margin size

Word 2007 – Changing page sizeChanging margin size

If you choose to publish your book on CompletelyNovel you will be reminded how to set up your document to ensure that your book will be completely ‘print-ready’ at the end of the process. You will be able to preview your book online and order a beautiful proof copy to make sure it has turned out as you want it (handy to check before other people start buying it).

How to prepare your text—font, size and layout

Your font and text size need to be consistent and clear. A decorative and unusual font may look great in a title, but it’s usually not a good choice for the entire text, as it’s harder to read than plainer, traditional fonts. It’s generally accepted that serif typefaces are easier to read for a long period of time than sans-serif fonts (a serif is the little projection at the start and end of the letter). Good serif typefaces to use for legibility and readability are Baskerville, Caslon and Century Schoolbook. These should be available if you are using Word.
If your book is being viewed totally on screen, and not printed, then some argue that a sans-serif is better rendered on screen. Good sans-serifs are Verdana, Optima and Arial.

There’s a great video on the importance of type from the people at Penguin here – How to choose a font for your book.

Choose a font size that suits the type of book that you are writing. The ultimate line length for readability is 12 words per line. Always aim at that for the average. If you set your typeface in 12 point, which is best in terms of legibility, then your line length is determined for you. You should then alter your margins so that the line length at 12 pt is about 12 words on average.

How to manage your chapters

It is good practice to start a new page for each chapter; you can do this by adding a page break just after the last sentence. In Microsoft Word this can be achieved by clicking the ‘Insert’ menu and then selecting ‘Break’. This way, even if you change the size of the page, your chapter headings will remain at the top.

Some people prefer their chapters to start on the right hand page. If you want to set your book up that way, then you need to make sure that each chapter starts on an odd numbered page.

Get personal

You can have some fun with icons and little pieces of decoration. Make something of your chapter title or number; make it bold, larger, use a different typeface, make it all caps or give it a little motif, perhaps. Also, consider how much space you have between the chapter title and the start of the text. Make sure this is consistent throughout the book.

Here’s a few of our favourite chapter headers from Warm Bodies, The Children Act and The Color Purple.


Illustrations, diagrams and photos can really make a book come to life. Children’s books will benefit from some good illustrations to make them stand out and be memorable to the reader. Non-fiction books often require, or can be greatly enhanced by, specialist and technical illustrations.

CompletelyNovel uses printers capable of printing high-quality black, white and grayscale images. Use the highest resolution images that you can to ensure that they come out looking sharp. Bear in mind that you can’t print colour pages inside your books at the moment (but this is coming soon!)

Extra tips for making your manuscript look professional

In order to make your book look professional, it’s important to make sure that the presentation is consistent throughout. Keeping the size and layout of the text and headings consistent is essential, so don’t forget to check this. The simpler you can make it, the easier your life will be! Consistency and good design on the pages will also make your book easy on readers’ eyes.

If you’re feeling extra-motivated, we have some other expert advice on getting your hyphenation, line-spacing, title page, copyright page and justification looking ship shape here.

What to do if you don't use Microsoft Word

If you don’t use Microsoft Word you can still use CompletelyNovel, but we will ask you to convert your manuscript into a PDF format. Files can be converted to PDF using Open Office (a free suite of programs similar to Microsoft Office),, or a variety of other free or paid-for pdf-creating software.
Don’t worry if you’re not able to do that – for a small charge we can help you out.

So… all pretty straightforward, huh? Now you can go ahead and start publishing!

Download our guide to typesetting and uploading your book on CompletelyNovel.

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Questions about publishing?

We offer expert services for writers who would like some extra help and guidance.

  • Cover Design Consultation for just £35/$55

  • Professional typesetting from £35/$55

    Whatever your question – our friendly team are here to help.

Five top tools in Microsoft Word

1. Add Page Breaks

These are ideal for ensuring that new chapters always appear at the top of the next page.

Either go to the ‘Insert’ menu and click on ‘Page Break’ (with the cursor in the place where you want to put it) or hold down Ctrl + Enter.

2. Use paragraph styles

Keep the format and layout of your document consistent using paragraph styles. Take a look at this helpful tutorial on styles from Emma Barnes of Snowbooks (there’s also a Part 2 and part 3).

3. Justify

To ensure both ends of each line reach the page margins, simply highlight the text that needs to change and click on the justify icon.

4. Remember the page numbers

Page numbers should feature at the bottom of the page and we recommend that they should be centred to ensure they always appear in the same place.

5. Use the undo tool

If you make a mistake and lose half your text, just click the ‘undo’ icon in the edit menu or hold down Ctrl + Z and you will step back to the stage before you made the mistake.

Remember to save the new version under a different name so you can always return to the original if you need to. And if you are not sure how to do something, just ask google and you will generally find the answer!