“Formatting” a book refers to designing the interior of the book. The font, indentations, scene breaks, chapter headings, illustrations like the maps you’ll see at the beginning of fantasy books, and other inside elements are all things that are handled with interior formatting.
If you’re an indie author, the formatting is your responsibility, since you don’t have a publisher taking care of those services for you.
Your options as a self-published author are to do the formatting yourself, or to hire a person to format it for you. Which route you take depends on your goals, budget, timeline, and technical skills.
Can I pay someone to format my book?
Yes, you can pay someone to format your book!
There are many companies and freelancers who offer book formatting services. You can often bundle an interior format with a cover design, so you have fewer people to hire. This is typically a cheaper option than hiring a cover designer and interior formatter separately.
If you’re hopping through every traditional hoop of publishing a book, interior formatting is the book production step that happens between the professional line edit and the final copyedit.
Handling the interior formatting yourself is reasonable and fairly easy to do, as opposed to many other steps in the book production process that you may want to hire out for. So if you’re looking to trim a little off the final cost, you might want to do your own formatting. We’re going to talk about the pros and cons of each option, so read on!
How much does it cost for book formatting services?
The cost of formatting a book can range greatly from $30 to thousands of dollars. For the average novel, you can expect to pay a professional designer a few hundred dollars.
Factors that affect how much you’ll pay for book formatting services include:
- Complication of design. Is it a basic, text-based book? It’ll be on the lower end of the price spectrum, whereas more complicated designs, like educational books with lots of graphs and imagery, can easily cost over $1,000 to have professionally designed.
- Type of book. Ebooks are usually much quicker to format than physical books, so getting an ebook will be cheaper. Most authors try to publish in as many formats as possible, leaving them with a bill for an ebook, paperback, and hardback interior design.
- Experience level of the designer.
- How many changes you request. Most designers will allow a few rounds of feedback and edits, but if you have too many overhauls of their design, this will usually crank the price up.
So is hiring a designer worth the investment?
There are some book services that you’re almost always better off hiring a professional for, if your budget allows. For example, writers and editors typically have different skill sets, and they can’t necessarily do each other’s jobs. Even if a writer is also a professional editor, it can be very, very hard to spot the flaws in our own work. That’s why hiring an editor, if reasonable, is better than trying to edit our own books.
Another example of when you might want to hire someone else is for the cover design of your book. Design is a skill that takes many years to hone, so unless you’re ready to invest the time to learn, hiring a professional will give you the best result. Along with that, cover trends change constantly, so having an industry expert design a cover that would best sell your book in your genres makes more sense than doing it yourself.
Interior formatting, however, is one of those things that you can learn to do yourself without a real quality dip. If you’re looking for a straightforward, simple interior design, then you’re probably capable of doing it yourself. It’s just a question of knowing the dimensions required for different book formats and platforms, then fiddling around and testing it until you get it right.
Can I format my own books?
With my own self-published books, I have done both options: hiring a third-party for formatting and doing it myself.
When I hired someone to do the interior formatting for Little Birds, I paid $200 (bundled with a cover design. $700 total), for an incredibly straightforward, standard formatting of the ebook and paperback. (Disclaimer: that was an unusually low-priced bundle deal, as well as being several years ago.)
When I designed Starlight, I used Adobe InDesign ($20.99 monthly subscription) and followed Nadège Richards’ Skillshare classes on formatting an ebook and formatting a paperback with Adobe InDesign. Using a Skillshare class to guide you can be free if you can get it done in the two-week trial! Otherwise, a Skillshare subscription will run you $32 per month.
If you have access to Microsoft Word and would like to trim a little more cost off, Nadège also has a course for designing a paperback in Microsoft Word.
So I paid roughly $200 to hire someone for Little Birds, versus $20 to design Starlight myself, plus a couple weeks invested in learning the program coming from zero experience with it. I’m overall much happier with the Starlight design, because I was able to make any changes I wanted. I used unique scene breaks, chapter headings, and incorporated illustrations with the pieces. I invested less money, learned a new skill, and ended up with a product I liked better than the one I paid someone else to do.
When deciding if you’ll hire out or DIY, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- How much money do I want to invest?
- How much time do I want to invest?
- Do I want to learn a new skill?
- Is my skill set at, or close to, a level where I can accomplish what I’d like to accomplish with the interior formatting of my book?
Answering those questions should give you a pretty clear idea of which avenue is best for you and your publishing goals.
What is included with book formatting?
If you’re at a total loss as to what “book formatting” really includes, here are a few elements and terms you may want to familiarize yourself with so you know what to expect from hiring a professional, or what to handle yourself.
Margins refers to the blank space around a text or image on every page of a book. Wider margins mean you have more blank space, narrower margins means the words will take up more space on the page. The margin size you use depends on the genre, book format, page content, and design preferences.
Bleed refers to the space on the edges of the page that will be trimmed in printing. The “bleed zone” is outside of the trim area, and the “margin zone” is inside the trim area. When formatting, it’s important to know the bleed zone of your specific printing service so your pages don’t end up lost in the physical production of your book.
“1. Trim is where the product will be cut.
- Bleed is the zone outside the trim area.
- Margin is the zone inside the trim area.”
Drop caps are the first letter of a new chapter that are usually big and fancy. You can utilize drop caps in many creative ways, or you can do a standard one with the same font as the rest of the text, just taking up three-four lines, like this example:
Whitespace is the “unused” space on a page. It doesn’t necessarily have to be white, but whitespace refers to blank, solid-colored space on a page. To save money on printing costs, many self-published authors minimize whitespace in their formatting so they can get more words on fewer pages. While that is a valid strategy, it’s also important to keep in mind how a lack of substantial whitespace will detract from the overall visual appeal of your book.
These are only a few of the elements to keep in mind when you’re formatting a book. Illustrations, graphs, footnotes, references, copyright, author page, table of contents, dedications, prologues and epilogues, “widows” and “orphans,” and countless other elements go into a well-formatted book. That means a fair amount of research is required upfront in order to format a book that is up to traditional publishing standards.
How do I get my book formatted?
If you’re ready to get your book formatted, here’s a basic order of operations:
- Decide if you’re doing it yourself or hiring out.
If you’re doing it yourself:
- Choose a program. There are many programs to use, the most common of which being Microsoft Word, Adobe InDesign, and Vellum.
- Learn the program. YouTube, Skillshare, and the software’s website should give you access to plenty of tutorials to accomplish your vision.
- Format it!
- Have someone else look it over, like an editor or writing partner. Having a second (or third, or fourth) set of eyes can help you spot mistakes.
- Proofread! It’s so easy to mess things up during the interior formatting stage, even if you’ve already had the book professionally edited. I always hire a final copy edit after the interior is formatted to catch those typos and slip-ups. I also use an editor who previously worked for a print magazine, which means she’s trained to find formatting errors (like orphans and widows), as well as grammatical typos.
If you’re hiring out:
- Know what you’re looking for. You should have an idea of what you want your book to look like, as well as some finalized information (like the genre and the finalized manuscript).
- Find a good designer. You want someone knowledgeable of different formats. For example, KDP and IngramSpark have different requirements and dimensions for different formats. As a writer, you don’t necessarily need to know the specifics, but your designer must.
- Research the designer. Read their reviews, talk to previous clients, and check out their portfolios to see if they can do the kind of job you’re looking for.
- Review their work when they’re done, and be honest! If you’re unhappy with something in your design, the only way they’ll know is if you tell them.
- A final proofread, always.
Hire a book formatter?
If you’ve decided to hire a book formatter, the first time will be the hardest. It’s great to put the time into researching anyone you hire before you do so. Whether that’s editors, cover designers, interior formatters, marketers, etc., you’re trusting someone with your career! It should be a partnership, so choosing the right person and making sure you keep open communication will save you a lot of time and stress later down the road.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind for hiring your book formatter:
- Make sure you do your research on the designer, read through their testimonials, and see examples of their previous work.
- Be open and communicative of what you want.
- If you arrive at a disagreement on something, be sure to hear your designer out on their opinions. After all, you hired a professional because they know more than you! That doesn’t mean rolling over for anything they think is best, but try to keep an open mind and appreciate the expertise you’ve paid for.
- Carefully review every page to ensure everything is how it should be. You can check this resource for tips to spot errors.
- If you’re happy with their design job, hire them again! Finding people who you love to work with can be difficult in any industry, so keep connections with people you like to work with. It’s a big time investment to find someone new, and repeat customers can often get a discount. That means it makes good business sense to try and find a good designer the first time.
- That said, if you’re unhappy with the job they did or the interaction in general, don’t be afraid to shop around for someone else on your next project.
Hopefully that’s enough information for you to feel confident in your choice to either hire a book formatter or try it yourself! Self-publishing is a big old game of trial and error, so don’t be afraid to experiment until you find a system that works for you, then document what you did so you’re not reinventing the wheel with every publication.