Self-Publishing Part 5 – Formatting and Finishing Touches

By on July 24th, 2013

Book marketer Lynn Serafinn shares her tips for making a professional-looking book layout that creates an enjoyable experience for your readers. Part 5 of a 5-part series on self-publishing.

In the previous four blog posts, I’ve been sharing my 10-part checklist for self-publishing. So far we’ve covered ‘must do’ items 1-9:

We’ve finally reached the end of our checklist! Here’s what we’ll be looking at today:

Must-Do #10: Formatting, Uploading and Ordering Your Proof

So let’s get started.

Why It’s CRUCIAL to Give Attention to the Interior Layout of Your Book

One of the most common criticisms self-published books receive is that the formatting looks shoddy and unprofessional. Nonetheless, when new self-publishing clients come to me, I often find that formatting is frequently the last thing on their mind. Typically, they’re far more concerned with the message of the book and about getting a good cover than they are about the aesthetic experience their readers will have as they turn the pages.

While a beautiful cover is an invitation to your readers to pick it up and check it out, a poor interior layout will cause these same readers to close the book and STOP reading. Even if your content is the definitive revelation of the mysteries of the Universe, poor attention to font styles, sizes and line spacing contribute greatly to the physiological impact of a person’s reading experience. Lack of attention to ‘pause points’ where you break up the text with sub-headers (for non-fiction) or little glyphs/images, can deprive your readers of breathing space and make it difficult for them to absorb and locate relevant information.

About 5 years ago, I created a basic ‘house style’ for my own books. I know this style works because I have received dozens of letters from readers who have told me things like:

  • ‘Wow, I’ve never read a 400 page book so quickly’ or
  • ‘I literally couldn’t stop reading’ or
  • ‘I found your book so easy to read’.

While you might think these kinds of statements are reflections on the content or writing style of the books, I believe they are equally reflective of the layout. A clear, clean and ‘spacious’ layout that delivers an aesthetically pleasing visual experience can keep your readers reading. A bad layout can make readers fatigued, unfocussed and just plain bored, even if they are interested in the topic. Ask any skilled designer and they will confirm this.

The bottom line is this: even if a million people buy your book, unless they enjoy the experience of reading (hopefully to the end), they won’t remember it or talk about it to others.

DIY or Hire Someone?

Knowing how important your interior layout is, it’s crucial you make the right decision about who is going to format your book—you or a professional. This decision really depends upon two things:

  • Whether or not you have the technical skills and software to do it
  • Whether you have the time, patience and interest to learn how to do it right

At this point, it’s also important to add that formatting for paperback is entirely different from formatting for eBook formats. Furthermore, formatting for Kindle is significantly different from formatting for Smashwords. Below, we’ll look at a few considerations for all of these scenarios.

Preparing for Paperback

Most professionals who do interior book layout use InDesign or similar programmes. Back in the ‘old days’ (10 years ago) I used to use Adobe PageMaker. These kinds of programmes are generally necessary if you intend to use offset printing.

However, for digital printing, such as those used in POD (print-on-demand) services like Lightning Source, you can actually format your paperback book in Word and convert it to high-resolution PDF. If you’ve done it correctly, the print book will look exactly as it does in the PDF.

Using Word doesn’t necessarily mean your book will look less professional than if you used InDesign IF you know what you’re doing. I’ve formatted at least a half-dozen books using Word (for myself and my clients), and I’ve had several major publishers tell me that they looked really professional.  None of them guessed I had used Word for my layout (which is when you know you’ve done a good job).

It’s beyond the scope of this article to write a detailed ‘how to’ for formatting your book in Word, but here are some basics:

  • Plan ahead. For non-fiction books, be sure to organise your book into clear sections, chapters and sub-headings within the chapters.
  • Define and use formatting styles in Word. Most people who use Word will format every word or paragraph individually. Word has the capability of defining styles (similar to the idea of CSS style sheets on websites).  Spend some time getting to know how to use these styles and plan out the styles for your book. It makes formatting much easier and more consistent,
  • Define headers, footers and page numbers carefully.  Ensuring there are different styles for odd/even pages and first pages of sections can make your book look much more professional.
  • Use section breaks and page breaks. Putting section breaks for each chapter can help you organise your headers and footers, and ensure all your chapters start on an odd numbered page (on the right side as you’re looking at the book). Again, be SURE you understand how to use these properly because you can end up making a mess of your headers and footers if you don’t.
  • Use branded glyphs/graphics as dividers. It’s always a nice touch to use some sort of graphic to put at the beginning and/or end of chapters. This should be something ‘branded’, i.e., something that relates to the cover of your book. For example, for my book Tweep-e-licious, I used the image of the Twitter bird that appears on the cover of the book.
  • Use high-res (300 dpi) images. For print, images should be 300 dots per inch or they’ll look blurry or fuzzy. Images you got from the Internet are typically 72-96 dpi.
  • PRINT your finished layout and check it MULTIPLE times. NEVER send your final layout to the printer until you’ve seen it in a hard-copy. Print out your entire book and check everything including headers and footers, section breaks, consistency of where chapters start, etc. And don’t forget to check that your Table of Contents (TOC) has the right pages listed. Circle in RED any mistakes you find and meticulously correct them in your manuscript, checking them off as you go along. Then, after it’s all fixed, print the whole book out AGAIN and check it one more time.
  • Use a commercial quality PDF converter. For digital printing, you need to convert your book to a 300dpi version PDF. Be sure to embed all fonts. Word 2013 has this capability. If your version of Word cannot do this, you might need to buy a PDF converter or ask someone else to do it for you.

Ebook Formatting

I spoke a bit about the different eBook formats (and also their royalties, etc) in my previous article EEEEEE-Books!! 5 Top Questions – A Short Intro to Digital Media for Authors Who Haven’t Got a Clue.

Once again, you can do it yourself, but if you haven’t done it before, or you don’t have time to learn how to do it, I strongly recommend hiring a highly recommended professional for this. You might start by asking other authors, or by checking Smashwords’ list of Independent Smashwords Formatters and Cover Designers.

If you decide to do it yourself, be sure you read the style guides for your chosen eBook distributors.

I’ve done all the formatting for my Kindle eBooks as well as those of many of my clients. Amazon says you can upload a plain Word Doc, but really it’s not so straightforward. The first few times I did it, I had to upload my book several times before I got it right. In the end, I opted to create an HTML file, as I feel comfortable with HTML code, and I can troubleshoot most issues more easily in it than in the messy code of MS Word. Using a good HTML editor (I use Dreamweaver) has many advantages over Word when you’re making sure your images are placed properly, your font styles are displaying correctly and your hyperlinks within the document are working right.

Just as you did with your print layout formatting, it’s important to think carefully about the experience you want your eBook readers to have when they read your book. For example, if the print version of your book has a lot of footnotes or references, you’ll need to hyperlink directly to these references from the body text. That way, the reader can move quickly to the reference without having to scroll through your entire book.

You should also hyperlink from your TOC to your chapter headings. I did this for my books the 7 Graces of Marketing and Tweep-e-licious. The latter presented an even bigger challenge because it’s a reference book, containing 158 Twitter Tips. For someone who is reading the paperback, they can easily flip back and forth between the TOC and the relevant page number of the tip they want to view. I did my best to replicate this experience by listing EVERY tip in the TOC, and hyperlinking directly to where it appeared in the book. Then, at the end of every tip, I put a hyperlink that said ‘Back to Table of Contents’ so people could jump back to the list. This took me a LONG time to do, but it really paid out in the end product because it allowed my eBook readers to use the book as it had been intended—for reference.

Lightening Source (LSI) also has eBook distribution services, but their formats are very limited. I think if you stick with the two distributors above you should be able to cover all the bases.

NOTE: You cannot use the same ISBN for your eBooks as you did for your print book. Also, each of the above eBook formats will need a UNIQUE ISBN.  Smashwords also requires you say ‘Smashwords version’ on your front pages, so as to distinguish it from other versions. Please read more information about this in their free Smashwords Style Guide.

Uploading Your Materials and Getting Your Proof

Each of the above self-publishing formats has different requirements for uploading. I won’t go into uploading your materials to Kindle or Smashwords, because they have all that information on their websites, but here are a few key points for Lightning Source.

For Lightning Source (LSI)

For your print version at LSI, you’ll need to submit:

  • The Interior of your book as high-res PDF
  • The Cover/spine/back of your book as PDF

My experience is that some browsers get ‘hung up’ when trying to upload materials to LSI. I recommend uploading via Google Chrome, as I have had the best luck with it.

At the time of uploading, be SURE you request a proof copy of your book. The last time I checked, this was about $40 USD.  You should receive it within a week. Go through this proof CAREFULLY. Look for obvious errors like unplanned blank pages, missing images or weird characters. If there are errors, you’ll have to go back to your layout and make corrections and re-upload and request another proof.

NEVER, EVER, EVER approve a title until you are holding a finished copy in your hands that is free of errors. If you rush the proofing process, all your good effort will have gone to waste. Take your time. Breathe. The world can wait one more day for your book to come out.

Once your proof is approved, your title will be fed/distributed to wholesalers (Amazon) for sale. The book will automatically appear on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. within a couple of weeks. It will say it’s ‘out of stock’ but don’t worry. This is normal. See my article, How to Kick Start Your Book Sales – Part 2 for information on how to get your book to appear ‘in stock’.

And that’s it! You are now a (self) published author! Congratulations.

Now, all you need to know about is how to market your book. And for that, I hope you’ll take a look around this blog and subscribe so you can receive all our future info articles.

And lastly, if you need one-to-one personal help with your self-publishing or book marketing journey, drop us a line via the contact form on this website.

Lynn Serafinn
24th July 2013

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LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.

Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.


@LynnSerafinn @SpiritAuthors @7GracesMarketng @GardenOfTheSoul


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  1. Hi! I just found this series. I was wondering if you had done, or considered doing, an update to this series. A lot has changed in 2 years! But it’s still vital information for many authors wanting to publish independently.

  2. Hi Monica,
    Thanks for reading! I’m no longer blogging regularly on this website (too many thing to do!) but I’ll consider it as a topic if I do. You are right. Things are constantly in a state of change in the modern world of self-publishing.


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