Having self-published three books, and worked with a number of independent authors on their own self-publishing journey, I was delighted when Nick Lewis asked me to share my experiences on his blog in a three-part series on the subject. Certainly there’s no one true way to self-publish, but my intention with the series is to share the lessons I’ve learned about navigating the process with minimal stress and professional results, using tools that most of us already have on our desk tops.

creating a book for publishing
How would you like to see your own book on a library shelf?
(Image via Shutterstock)

My way isn’t everyone’s way. The internet is awash with advice on self-publishing, much of it excellent, some of it rather prescriptive. Ideas differ about the best distribution channels, formatting options, what we can do ourselves and when we need professional help. I’m not a tech specialist or a graphic designer. I am a professional proofreader who is a fairly proficient user of Microsoft Word and I’ve worked in publishing (in-house or freelance) for over twenty years. My self-publishing goals were twofold: professionalism and simplicity. This series of posts reflects the choices I made in order to achieve those objectives.

Today’s post focuses on the mechanics of print publishing and why, in the digital age, having a print version of your book is still a great idea if you want to maximize sales. Part I looked at the mechanics of self-publishing, and Part III will address the benefits and challenges of self-publishing as compared with the traditional publishing/agency model.

A word on being conventional …

The two ‘mechanics’ posts include recommendations and guidance on following basic publishing conventions regarding layout and design. Why? Because every deviation from convention disengages your reader from what your words say and engages them with how those words look. Yes, there’s no law when it comes to layout. However, readers are used to seeing book text laid out in a certain way, and deviations can act as red flags that scream ‘DIY job’ from the rafters.

When I published my books I wanted people to think, ‘Great! – Louise Harnby’s written a book that will be interesting to me,’ not ‘Louise Harnby has self-published.’ It’s the content that counts and that’s where I want my customers’ focus to be. Reader disengagement is therefore a fail, though one that can be avoided with just a little extra effort.

I already have an e-book – why bother printing?

Providing a printed version of your book is just good business practice, pure and simple. Why? Because different customers have difference preferences. The e-publishing market is booming, but print isn’t dead. It’s not even sickly. ‘A new Pew study finds that readers are embracing e-books on a variety of devices but that print is holding its own … e-reader and tablet usage is growing, but it isn’t cannibalizing the book buying market,’ says Malcom Brown (Daily Beast, January 2014).

Most of us don’t need a Pew poll to tell us this. Our own family and friendship networks show us. On my side of the bed is my Kindle Paperwhite; on my husband’s are four paperbacks. He’s simply not into e-books though he appreciates why I find digital delivery so convenient. It’s not just about convenience, though – there’s also the data-permanence issue. When you own a printed book, you own it physically. And when it comes to reference and other non-fiction material in particular, some customers still prefer being able to navigate their way to specific chapters or sections of interest by flicking through pages and bookmarking them with bits of sticky paper. Different strokes for different folks.

The nub of it is this: the writer who decides not to offer the customer the option of print is actively cutting out a sales stream. Since most of us who self-publish want our work to be read by as many people as possible, it makes sense to increase choice, not restrict it.

Print options

As with e-publishing, there are lots of options when it comes to generating a print-ready book. You can work directly with a designer and printer, hire an organization to carry out these steps in the production process for you, or sign up with the likes of CreateSpace, Lulu or BookBaby to name but a few. The choice is yours, and you should carefully check the costs of production and terms/conditions of service before you sign anything.

Colleagues have reported being very happy with the results of using service providers such as Lulu and BookBaby. However, after some lengthy research, I chose CreateSpace to create my printed book because it best suited my particular needs. To clarify, I’m not saying CreateSpace is the best way – it’s simply the option I chose.

The CreateSpace model allows you to upload a PDF generated from a Word file. If you’re a Word user, this means that you can control the design and layout using software that you already own and are familiar with rather than using unfamiliar software or working with external templates. Because I designed my book in Word, the only cost to me, in terms of production, was the percentage of income earned that CreateSpace retains with each sale.

Are print books economically viable for the self-publisher?

When I embarked on my first excursion into print publishing, I did so with some trepidation. Surely the costs of producing something that could physically sit on a bookshelf were going to be prohibitive. And if that was the case, the only way to make the project economically viable was to pass that cost onto the customer, a fact that would impact on sales.

I was therefore delighted to upload my finished PDF to CreateSpace and find that I could price it in line with other comparator books in the market. Not only that – I’d still earn a few quid from each sale after CreateSpace had deducted its costs of production. The income stream isn’t as lucrative as that from e-publishing but it’s still an additional income stream from a market segment that I couldn’t have tapped if I’d only e-published.

Print-on-demand vs bulk printing

One of the best things (in my opinion) about using the likes of CreateSpace is that my books are all generated via print-on-demand. This means I don’t have to fork out money up front to make the product available. Nor do I have to worry about appropriate warehousing. Furthermore, CreateSpace automatically arranges for the book to be available in its own online store and (because it’s an Amazon company) across multiple Amazon territories around the world. All of this means my warehousing, distribution and print costs are handled by someone else.

Some writers may prefer to have bulk copies of their printed books available for sale directly from them, thus securing a bigger income stream from sales. If that’s you, by all means source a reliable printer to see what the costs would be. Just don’t forget that you’ll have to handle the merchandizing and warehousing arrangements.

One final word about print-on-demand – there’s a damage-limitation element. Writers are human, and even though their book may (should) have been through a round of self- and professional editing or proofreading, many can’t help tweaking post-edit (I know this is true because I’ve done it!). Every tweak risks the introduction of an error. The beauty of the print-on-demand model is that you can always upload a revised version of your book (in the same way that you can upload revised files of your e-books). Yes, we all strive for perfection but print-on-demand does mean that mistakes can be rectified in a manner that doesn’t leave the author with unwanted bulk stock.

Formatting your print book in Word

Using Word as the foundation isn’t the only option, of course. If you already have InDesign or Quark, you may choose to use them. You may have Publisher as part of Microsoft Office. I created my first print book using Publisher and was pleased with the results.

However, if you don’t have these tools, or are unfamiliar with how to get the best out of them, Word is a superb option. First, it’s a powerful design tool that can produce aesthetically pleasing and professional results. Second, if you’ve already created your e-book in Word, you can make a copy of the file, carefully amend your styles palette, and generate an attractive book file that incorporates the design elements you were restricted from using in the e-publishing process.

I have three golden rules when it comes to formatting Word files for print publication:

  • Use styles
    To prevent reader disengagement, use Word’s style palette to ensure that each element of your text (chapter headings, subheadings, body text, quoted material, etc.) is presented consistently.
  • Follow publishing conventions
    The publishing conventions to attend to for print books are more labour-intensive than for e-publishing because you’re not restricted by the quirks of e-book distributors’ conversion platforms. See ‘Layout conventions’ below for a summary of my recommendations.
  • Read Printed Book Design 101
    Joel Friedlander’s excellent free guide helps authors create professional-looking books by taking them through the steps of interior layout, cover design, and tips on how to avoid simple mistakes that act as red flags to amateurism.

Layout conventions

When preparing a file for print publication, there are some basic layout conventions that are worth attending to in order to prevent reader disengagement. The following is a summary of the main things to watch out for.

  • Paragraph indents
    Don’t indent the first paragraph in a chapter or in a new section (e.g. under a heading). It will jar your reader because it’s unconventional. If you’re unconvinced, go to your bookshelf, pull down any book, and look at how the paragraphs have been styled.
  • Chapters
    Use the styles palette in Word to ensure that each chapter heading appears on a new page.
  • Page numbers
    Right-hand pages (called rectos) should take odd page numbers, and all left-hand pages (versos) should take even page numbers. Page numbers in the main body of the text should be arabic (1, 2, 3, etc.), while those in preliminary pages (copyright page, contents, preface, etc.) should be roman (i, ii, iii, etc.).
  • Parts
    If your book is divided into Part 1, Part 2, etc., place each new part title on an odd-numbered page (which should be a right-hand page).
  • Running heads
    These are the headers one most often sees at the top of pages in non-fiction texts. They may comprise the book title on the left (verso) and the chapter title on the right (recto); or rectos and versos could both take the chapter title; or the book title can go on the verso and the author name on the recto. Page numbers are sometimes included in running heads.  The style you choose is less important that consistency. Running heads are important for non-fiction work because they remind the reader where they are in your book, and what the focus of the content is in a specific section. I’d recommend using them in non-fiction work. However, following publishing convention, don’t include them on part title pages, chapter title pages or blank pages – it looks amateurish because your reader isn’t used to seeing this in books produced by mainstream publishers.
  • Stranded lines and unbalanced pages
    Set your paragraph styles up in Word so that you avoid orphans and widows. These are lonely single lines that appear at the bottom or top of a page. If, when you’ve laid out your text in Word, you find that just the first line of a new paragraph is stranded at the bottom of a page, or just the final line of a new paragraph is stranded at the top of a page, set your paragraph styles up in Word by selecting Paragraph>Line and Page Breaks>Widow/Orphan Control. Similarly, check that text on facing rectos and versos is roughly the same depth.
  • Double spaces
    As with e-book files, avoid using two spaces after a full point. It isn’t necessary and will make your text look gappy. Even if you’ve been taught that this is the ‘right’ thing to do, or it’s something you prefer, follow professional convention. Readers who like two spaces won’t notice that you’ve only used one (because it’s not noticeable!) while readers who like one space will be irritated that you’ve used two. Still not convinced? Professional typesetters don’t do it. Professional book designers don’t do it. Professional publishers don’t do it. The Chicago Manual of Style says it’s ‘unnecessary in published work’ (though they acknowledge that some editors have a preference for it). Standard professional publishing asks for one space, and given that we want to our books to appear professionally published, I’d recommend you use one, too. Farhad Manjoo in ‘Space Invaders’ presents a lively and entertaining summary of why using two spaces is not advisable, and how this practice emerged in the first place.

Summing up

The mechanics of print publishing aren’t difficult, though for the DIYer they’re arguably more time-consuming than is the case with e-book creation. The process is still affordable, though – you can use software that you already own.

If you’ve already created an e-book in Word, you can save yourself time by amending the styles to suit your print design. Perhaps most importantly, by offering a print version of your book you are giving your customer a choice. And that’s a good thing for everyone!


Louise Harnby is the author of  Guidelines for New Authors (free ebook),  Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.

I am a highly recommended professional proofreader with 24 years’ publishing experience. I specialize in providing proofreading solutions for clients working in the social sciences, humanities, fiction and commercial non-fiction. My customers include publishers, project management agencies, professional institutions and independent writers. An Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), I trained as a proofreader with the Publishing Training Centre and qualified with distinction. Freelance since 2006, I have proofread over 450 books.

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