Book Formatting Basics

By Colin Dunbar


I congratulate you on taking the decision to invest the time in formatting your book like a professional. Doing this will separate you from the amateur self-published authors, and I assure you it will have an effect on how you are perceived as an author.

Formatting a book is an art and a science, and with hard copy books and PDF ebooks both the art & science are present. With Kindle ebooks and ePubs it’s more the science part that’s present (actually technical is a more accurate term). There’s nothing to panic about though, as all will be revealed in this blog.

In the publishing (both traditional and self-publishing) circles you will come across blogs, discussions and articles that state self published books look self published (read: amateur). In some instances I can agree with this. I know you’re not going to land up in the amateur pool… you’re going to design a professional looking book. Hoo-ha!

The big picture of book formatting is…

  • Structure of the book.
  • Interior layout and formatting.
  • Font selection.
  • Graphic images (mainly used in non-fiction books).
  • Editing/proofreading.
  • Cover design.

All of these will be discussed in detail in this blog.

Are you serious about your book, and do you want to be taken seriously as an author?

Duh. Of course you do.

If you’re a hobby writer, then I’d say you won’t find much value here.

Although formatting a book that looks good does take time, extra effort and time to create a professionally designed book will reflect a positive image on your readers, and pay dividends. And that’s really cool.

Getting bad reviews because your book looks amateur is un-cool, and it can result in poor sales… very un-cool. This can happen even if your content is great.

Speaking of content… no amount of book design and formatting skills can camouflage poor quality content, and that’s a fact. Always make sure your content is first class (and is something that people want to read). Never, never, never skip on good editing. Did I mention Never?

Over the years of offering my book design service, I’ve noticed people are generally unaware of book design elements, and especially the structure of a paper book.


It’s actually not a matter of ignorance, it’s just something that we’re not consciously aware of (until someone draws our attention to it). As author Jane Kimball once said: “I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a book designer!”

Up to now I’ve discussed the basics of the “art” part of book design. Then there is the “science” (or technical) part of book design. And if you’re not a technical type of person, there’s no need to panic… you have all the steps available in this blog… you will be able to format and design a professional looking book that can compete with any traditionally published book.

Are you excited to get going?

Book Structure

The structure of a hard copy (or even a PDF ebook) forms the foundation of what you’ll be doing when you actually format and design your book.

There is very little structure for the Kindle ebook and the ePub – for these it’s more a matter of the technical stuff to get it set up for the different devices. I say there’s very little structure because these ebooks comprise the Copyright page, the Table of Contents, and the Body. And there’s very little (if any) scope for creative layout and design options at present: these are dictated by the default options of the device. There are a few changes coming with the K8 Kindle spec, but it’s not mainstream yet.

Although there are no golden rules that says you must follow a formal book structure, a sloppy (amateur) book design will reflect poorly on you, as a self published author (and could really have a bad effect on reviews of your book, which can lead to poor word-of-mouth). And I know you certainly don’t want that.

If you look at the books in a book store, or in your bookcase – no, I’m not talking about your Kindle ebooks – you will find they usually have a very similar structure.

Structure? What’s this structure you keep talking about?

Fair question. A book’s structure is how the book is put together, that is, the physical elements that make up a book.

The structure of a traditional book consists of 3 main elements:

  • Front matter
  • Body matter, and
  • Back matter.

Front Matter

The Front Matter comprises the following:

  • Half Title
  • Title page
  • Edition notice
  • Dedication
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Prologue (only in fiction)
  • List of Figures (non-fiction only)
  • List of Tables (non-fiction only).

Body Matter

The Body is the main content of the book. This is usually divided into Chapters, and sometimes books also have Parts.

Back Matter

The Back Matter comprises the following:

  • Epilogue (mostly fiction)
  • Afterword
  • Conclusion
  • Postscript
  • Appendix
  • Glossary (non-fiction)
  • Bibliography (non-fiction)
  • Index (non-fiction).

And to wrap up the book design package there is the Front cover, Spine, and Back cover design. For the Kindle and ePub ebooks the cover will only be a 2D flat front cover.

Relax. There’s no need to memorize all these… I’m going to give you a (very) brief description of each in the next post, and you’ll hear more about them later.

Even though this is the structure of a traditional hard copy (paper) book, there is absolutely no reason why you cannot design your PDF ebook using this structure.

Although this structure can be used for a PDF ebook, it’s not applicable to use it for Kindle or Smashwords ebooks (Smashwords actually have a recommended structure, which we’ll cover later).

In the next post, I offer an Overview of a Book’s Structure.


Filed under Book Design Basics

3 responses to “Book Formatting Basics

  1. Pingback: AME Blog Carnival: tips and tricks for writers and authors – December 2, 2013 | Author Marketing Experts, Inc.

  2. Tim

    Some authors should also be introduced to the art of book design. I remembered in a forum I am registered with, an author asked me what is book formatting. I couldn’t blame him because it’s his first book. To some, they need awareness. Thanks for this post!

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