Here is a collection of tips, best practices, and templates if you are writing a book, especially for the interior layout part. You want your book to look clean, beautiful, and not scream “self published.” It’s not rocket science, and little choices add up to a big difference.
This article has two main parts:
- Best practices to format biography, memoir, life story, or family history books. Think of it as a layout checklist.
- Writing a book templates – these include a template for: (1) the story spine and emotional structure to engage readers and hit all the right emotional beats (2) A timeline template, and (3) A book layout template for Microsoft Word.
First, decide whether to lay it out yourself or hire a professional
Your first decision is to decide whether the interior layout is a DIY project or if you should hire it out. With new software and templates, you can totally do this yourself. That said, do consider finding a professional if you have a little budget because I’ve learned the hard way that packaging a book for press can take a crazy amount of time. Professionals know how your book should look, and there is more to interior layout than you might think.
Don’t make amateur mistakes on your book interior layout – follow these best practices
This is not a comprehensive list, but below are some pro tips for book layouts that look professional and not self-published. There are hyperlinks embedded so you can learn more.
Formatting you should set up during the work-in-process phase:
This part of the checklist includes items to set up on the front end while you are writing your book. I write in Microsoft Word, so these screen shots apply to Word. Keep reading below this section for formatting to put in place when you create the actual layout.
- No extra lines between paragraphs: Click here for a great article on how to take control over spacing between paragraphs.
- Indent each paragraph: I like 0.3″ or 0.5″ in a final book.
- Auto indentation: Set up the paragraph formatting options so each paragraph automatically indents, rather than using the tab key. This matters because if you manually insert tabs, then create an ebook, you have to remove them all manually. Click here to read how to indent paragraphs in Word. Not only that, but it’s slick and easy to do it once.
- Dialogue on its own line. Each line of dialogue should appear on its own line. Click here for an article about formatting dialogue.
- Italicize thoughts or put in quotes? There is no hard-and-fast rule about this, but my stylistic preference is to italicize thoughts. The important thing is to decide up front and be consistent. Here is an article with more discussion of pros and cons.
- Only one space after sentences: Most of the world has received the memo by now that there are no longer two spaces after sentences. However, if you’re still hard-wired to add two, my recommendation is to do a universal “find and replace” at the end of your project and fix it that way.
Below is a photo showing the settings I chose in Microsoft Word, in the “Paragraph” dialogue box:
Choose software for creating the actual book layout:
Once your book is written and edited, you move onto creating the actual layout. My recommendation is to NOT do this in Microsoft Word, but to use software especially for layout. Professionals use programs like Adobe InDesign (the gold standard) but there are now great free software options through book publishers. Here are three options to consider:
- Blurb BookWright: I have used blurb to print single copies of hardbound books. Blurb has free BookWright software you can download for creating your layout, which gives you the option to upload to Blurb for free for printing, or to export in a print-read PDF for $5. (Check for current pricing.) Click here to explore Blurb BookWright.
- Kindle Create: Free software by Amazon for creating your layout. Click here to explore Kindle Create.
- Simply Memoirs software by Family Heritage Publishers: At RootsTech in 2020 I met with Family Heritage Publishers and was very impressed with their print quality and almost 70 years of expertise in the book printing business. I got especially excited that they have launched software to lay out your book. In my mind, this is a game changer for choosing working with a specialized printer. Click here to explore Family Heritage Printers and their writing a book template.
Formatting to set up when you create the actual interior layout:
Okay, now that you have decided what tool to use to create your layout, here is a checklist of formatting choices that will make your final book look professional. Keep in mind that most of the photos below show how to set up the options in Microsoft Word, even though I am NOT recommending you create your layout in Word.
- Justified text: When you choose alignment that is justified, this alignment, there will be some hyphenation. If this leaves you with more hyphens than you like, simply override them manually. In other words, your book should not have a “ragged right.”
- Line spacing that breathes: My personal preference is to set up the line spacing at “multiple” 1.1.” Single spacing is too tight for comfortable reading, while anything more will increase your page count (and print cost). You have some latitude here however. As a practical note, for for read-aloud sessions with clients, I do double spacing. (What’s a read-aloud session? I’m so glad you asked. Here is my article about why I NEVER skip this step.)
- Do not leave widows or orphans: These are single lines at the bottom or top of pages. See screen shot below.
- No page headers on new chapters: Omit these on the first page of chapters, as well as on title pages and the like. You can remove them by setting up each chapter as its own section. It’s kind of a hassle in Microsoft Word. Sorry.
- Even/odd page number positioning. Even-numbered pages are always on the left, and odd numbers go on the right.
- Margins: Make sure there is at least 0.75″ to 1″ all around.
- Gutter: The gutter (middle margin) should be 0.875″ or more.
- Use a serif font for print: By “serif font,” I mean something like Times New Roman, and not “sans serif” such as Helvetica or Arial. And for the love of Pete, don’t get fancy with the font. Look for something modern and clean, without calling attention.
- Print a proof and assemble it exactly as it will lay. This can take patience on a home printer, but it helps if your printer does double-sided pages without jamming. You want your two-page spreads to face each other so it opens like a book.
- High-res photos, optimized for print: Photos should be scanned at high-resolution, and optimized for print. Consult your printer for specifications.
- Use this checklist: Thumb through the whole book, page-by-page to make sure everything is right, and refer to this list. Fix changes, and print the whole thing again. When you package your PDF for the printer, print that document again. Yes, you will chew up some trees.
- Remember – the best layouts are imperceptible: You want readers to sense that the book is pleasing and professional, without having the layout calling attention.
Best practice – don’t embed your photos inline if your book is paperback size
I know, you really want to include your photos inline where they should go in terms of relevance to the story. It will mean more to the reader, you say. This way makes logical sense, you say. You are not wrong, I say.
But…There are some reasons to avoid doing your interior layout this way.
First, there just is not enough room. Let’s say your book is a standard size for a “trade paperback” like 6 inch by 9 inch (6×9) or 5.5 inch by 8.25 inch. Below is a 6 x 9 book with the photos inserted in a section the middle of the book. You can see how there is not much room for text to be wrapped around the photos. Otherwise, the photos will be too small or else there will only be an inch or so for the text block. Layouts look bigger on the screen than they really are. My hand in in the picture below for scale.
The next reason is that if you are working in Microsoft Word, inserting and dealing with photos is a big fat pain. Captions further complicate the matter. Word just really is not set up for this. Hence, trying to get your layout to look nice with the text around it will leave you frustrated and you’ll end up fixing it, then fixing it again. It just saves a lot of labor and aggravation to group photos all in one section in the middle, or at the end.
Writing a book template for interior layout in Word
Okay, if you have decided to do the layout yourself, I have a template if you want to play with in Microsoft Word. I know, I have been railing against Word during this whole article and I still am, but if you still want to try it out, I have created a template for a memoir that was professionally printed. It has all the settings pre-created and you can copy and paste your chapters. What’s fun about this is you can quickly see length and how it all works using these settings, using your familiar software. Before using this document for your final layout, however, please sure that you can export an Microsoft Word layout to a PDF that will work for your printer. One of the tricky steps is exporting a PDF from Word that keeps a 6 inch by 9 inch layout. Word and Adobe Acrobat just don’t work well together for this depending on your version. I’ve put all the settings in place, and sometimes it works and sometimes it does not. it SHOULD have worked, but didn’t.
But even if you don’t end up using this Microsoft Word book template for your final product, it might help you see how the settings work together.
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Writing a book template #2: my method for making your story spine compelling
This is already a long article so I am going to summarize and give you options for further learning, along with a template you can download or order it on Amazon. The short version is that one of my favorite topics is how to storyboard true stories, memoirs, biographies, and fiction. This template works on full books or short vignettes, and it always sparks creativity. It’s fun, and will help make sure your story hits emotional beats that satisfy readers. My “writing a book template” template uses sticky notes for an iterative process that helps you let go of perfectionism. Scroll down for the input form to get my storyboard template.
Explore storyboarding further:
- If you’d like to read more about the book template works, click over to this article: How to Storyboard
- I have a great little booklet and pre-printed storyboard templates that you can get on Amazon in a combo package for less than $10. Click here to order on Amazon. It will walk you through the method and the posters are re-usable.
- If you want to download the printable storyboard template, you can get it with the form below. It’s free!
- Happy storyboarding!
Printable Storyboard Template
Storyboard any book, memoir, biography, or family history tale with our free printable template. It just might save your story.
I hope this “writing a book template” (storyboard) helps you in your project and save time.
If you would like help with your memoir, biography or family history check out my online course. It is fun, easy, and will jumpstart your process. The course is self-paced and you can finish it in a weekend, or take your time over a month. You keep access to the video lessons and material will