How to Prepare Your Manuscript for Publishing: Print

The Complete Writer
Section VII: Publishers and Self-Publishers

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How to Prepare Your Manuscript for Publishing:

The most sensible way to prepare your book for print-on-demand publishing is to hire a graphic designer to do the layout and run interference with the printer for you. But of course . . . we rarely take the most sensible way. How boring would that be, eh?

Let’s look at what one needs to launch the print-on-demand venture:

The manuscript

That seems self-evident, so let’s clarify it: the edited manuscript in its absolutely positively last draft in perfect shape.

This is to say not to get ahead of yourself. Don’t conceive any silly ideas to the effect that you’ll slap what you have in a page layout and then add, subtract, multiply, and divide in page proofs. Even if you’re not paying a graphic artist to do the design and page layout, the amount of time added by making corrections in the laid-out copy will cost you dearly. So, be sure your content, heads, and subheads are in as final a form as they’re ever going to get.

The page layout

This is the book’s interior design. It’s the physical way all the book parts we explored in chapter 35 will look once the magnum opus is in print.

You can come by this in three ways. One is to hire a graphic designer to visualize the book’s size and physical appearance and design a graphic layout to make it so. If your book has a lot of images or other kinds of graphics (such as tables, graphs, lists, and the like), you would be well advised to have a professional design its interior layout.

That is also true if you have a specific reason to need a perfectly designed, exceptionally handsome finished product. If, for example, your book will be a marketing device for your business, you absolutely should hire a graphic artist to handle the design. If it is to be something you want to hand down to your family’s future generations—a gift, that is, to the scions of your dynasty—you probably should consider the cost of a graphic designer as money well spent.

Most readers haven’t a clue, however. And so this brings us to the second pathway to page design: a do-it-yourself template.

Unless you’re very skilled with Word, trying to set up a book without a professionally designed template is counterproductive. Setting up margins and gutters correctly for a printer’s trim size is no easy DIY project.

You can acquire templates that allow you to lay out a book in Word or, if you know the program, in InDesign. Also, it’s not difficult to use Apple’s Pages to set up a book’s margins, if you know the correct trim size and you have some degree of design and technical sophistication.

A Google search will reveal a number of entrepreneurs who sell templates pre-fabricated to lay out books in Word. For this book, for example, I am using Joel Friedlander’s[6] “Focus” template in a 5.5 x 8-inch trim size.

(Trim size, by the way, is the size the pages will be cut. The final size of a paperback book is the same as its trim size.)

You can obtain templates at CreateSpace,[7] Amazon’s print-on-demand supplier. I haven’t done so, because friends and associates have had mixed results with CreateSpace, and so my preference is to work with a local print-on-demand vendor. However, many people have been happy enough with CreateSpace’s products.

If you’re bound and determined to do this job yourself, bear in mind these crucial factors:

  • Word is not a page layout program. It can do a serviceable job, but the result will never be a great job.
  • You will need some serious sophistication in the use of Word.
  • The job will take three to six times longer than you expect.
  • Your computer will need to convert the Word file to a print-quality PDF. Most Macs will do this if you choose “print to PDF” instead of “save as PDF.” Many PCs will not. To make that happen, then, you will need to download and learn to operate Adobe Distiller or Acrobat Pro.
  • To get the PDF right, if you’re working on a Mac, you must go through the Word document and make sure every section is formatted in the correct trim size. Otherwise, the default settings (letter-size paper) will apply and your print-on-demand supplier’s upload software will tilt like an old-fashioned pinball machine. I expect this applies on a PC, too.

It’s not hard to do these things, nor is it unreasonably hard to learn them. But it can be very time-consuming. Do be prepared for this factor.


We visited the International Standard Book Number in chapter 35. An ISBN is not required unless you intend to sell your book in the retail market or try to get a library to stock it. Brick and mortar booksellers and libraries require an ISBN. Amazon does not need it for e-books but does require it for print books.

You do not need an ISBN to secure your copyright. The ISBN has nothing to do with copyright.

Consider how you will distribute your printed book. If it’s a family history or genealogy that you’ll give to the aunts, uncles, cousins, children, and grandchildren, then you will not need an ISBN. If you’re going to sell it through a retailer, then you do need an ISBN. The ISBN is easily purchased through Bowker.[8]

A bar code

Same principle applies here: print books intended to be marketed through retailers need a bar code keyed to the ISBN. Bowker will sell you a bar code, for a pretty penny. You can get one for free online, though, from CreativeIndie.[9]

The cover art and copy

You will need high-quality camera-ready artwork for your print cover. Minimum resolution should be 300 dpi.

Although it is possible to produce an acceptable cover using PowerPoint and a photo editor (this book’s cover was created with those tools), I don’t recommend it. InDesign is designed for graphics such as book covers, but the learning curve is steep. Gimp, the online freeware that apes InDesign, also can help you create your book’s artwork, but it is no easier to learn than InDesign. So, unless you have training in page layout software, you’re well served by hiring a graphic designer for the job.

Smashwords, a distributor of e-books, has a list of graphic artists who are willing to work for cheap.[10] I have never used any of these vendors and cannot comment on their quality; some apparently do e-book covers only; others may be experienced with wrap-around paperback covers. Another option in the low-rent category is Fiverr[11]; many people say they have found excellent graphic artists to do a one-off project like a book cover. It looks like a pig in a poke to me: be sure to ask for references.

If you feel you need a very high-quality cover—you do, if you intend to sell the book in the retail market—then you should go to one or more of the graphic artists’ associations that provide lists of members looking for freelance work. Brescia University lists the seven most prominent such groups.[12] The Copyeditor’s Desk also can connect you with one of our skilled and experienced subcontractors; get in touch through the Contact page at our website.[13]

Interior images

Print-on-demand technology cannot yet handle color images, at least not well. You will need to provide your images in black and white format. Convert color images to black and white in your photo editor or in Word. You can find Word’s conversion function in “Format > Picture > Recolor.” Select “grayscale,” not “black and white.” Adjust exposure and contrast as needed to attain the best reproduction.

The layout process

If you have a Word template, copy and paste your edited manuscript into the template, chapter by chapter. Using the Word “styles” that come with the template, format every element of the book’s file as appropriate. Most template makers provide instructions for how to do this. Follow the instructions closely.

Insert images using Word’s “Insert > Picture” function, bearing in mind how they’re likely to look in their position within the format. Size and position accordingly.

If you have not already done so, desaturate the images to make them black and white.

Now, here are some things you need to know about page layout.

Running headers should never appear on the first pages of chapters. You can set Word to omit them in the Insert > page numbers function.

Chapters should always open on a recto (odd-numbered) page.

If the preceding chapter ends on recto page, then the back side of that page (the verso, even-numbered page) should be left blank.

No page number or running head should appear on any blank page.

You cannot make Word do this automatically. The (sort of) easy fix is to create a blank text box in another file and “fill” it in white. Save to disk. Copy the text box to the page you want to be blank and move it over the running header, to cover it. If it does not hide the type under it, format the text box: format > text box > layout > in front of text. Assuming you print on white paper, the text box will hide the redundant running header. Obviously, this will not work on ivory paper.

Front matter should be paginated in lower-case Roman numerals; the rest of the book is paginated in Arabic numerals. Accomplish this by entering a section break (not a page break) at the end of the page of the front matter. Then in “Insert > page number,” instruct Word to paginate the front matter i, ii, iii… and the next section 1, 2, 3… starting anew with the numeral 1.

First paragraphs below every chapter title and subhead should be set flush left.

Other paragraphs should be set first line indent, and that indent should not be Word’s standard half-inch. About .2 inch works for most page layouts. Experiment if your layout is nonstandard.

A typical trade book paperback is 5.5 x 8.5 inches.

The spine size depends on the number of pages; your print-on-demand vendor’s software will calculate the width for you. Copy runs from the top to the bottom, not the other way around. Either the author’s name or the title may appear first. The publisher’s logo appears near the bottom of the spine.

Allow many more hours for this project than you imagine it will take. Page layout in Word is a time-consuming and challenging chore, even for people who are proficient in Word. If you don’t have strong admin-assistant level skills, you will be tearing your hair.

And that is why I strongly recommend hiring a graphic designer to do the page layout as well as the cover. You can do it, but it will make you crazy.

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