How to Format a Paperback Novel for the UK Market

Using Word to Format a Paperback – UK

I make a part of my income from formatting novels for other writers, so obviously it would be madness to give away the secrets of how I do that, right?

Well, maybe that is actually wrong. Some people have time but no money, others have money but no time. If you are one of the latter, and you want your novel formatted just reach out to me and I will do a professional job for you at a reasonable rate.

If on the other hand, you are time rich money poor, then below is the secret laid out for you in full detail. It’s my first final draft (We all know what a first final draft is, right? It’s the one you think is perfect but it isn’t really) so if you spot any mistakes, or if it raises more questions than answers, please tell me.

And just like how some restaurants will supply the recipes for their signature dishes, safe in the knowledge that many customers would sooner leave it to the professionals, I am happy to let you see how I do what I do. If nothing else, some of you might appreciate why my charges are actually a little on the cheap side.

How To Format a Novel in Word

Okay, here’s the link you need. This is a .DOCX file so it is only going to be useful to people using Word 2013 or later. Also, your computer will warn you not to open it unless you are sure it’s from a safe source. I can only tell you, there is nothing sinister in there and you are just going to have to trust me. I can’t prove a thing. But most people coming here probably already know me, so that’s cool.

BasicNovel129x198

This file is set up exactly like a novel with the correct page size and general layout conventions. In addition, instead of consisting of generic lorem ipsum and Insert Title Here, text, the document itself is a step-by-step instruction manual for how to tweak and adjust the settings to suit your own personal aesthetic preferences.

When you open it, I recommend you save a copy with the title of your novel, and then set about dropping your text into place while keeping the original version to check back in case you did anything wrong.

 

 

What is an ISBN, and Do I Need an ISBN for My Book?

Does my UK Published Book Need an ISBN?

You might think the answer to this is a resounding yes, and in most cases it will be. In fact, technically the word “published” pretty much presumes you have an ISBN. However in some cases, the answer may surprise you.

Read on for more information.

As always, please note, this article is written in the UK for self-publishers who need a UK perspective on the subject. Readers in the USA or Australia may find the general information useful, but not the specific UK bits.

What is an ISBN?

An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is like a birth certificate for a book. It means that the book is a recognised entity in the world. But if a human is born and, for whatever reason, does not have a birth certificate, then they are still a human being and every bit as real and legitimate as someone who does have one.

And just as a human needs a birth certificate, or some form of official recognition such as a naturalisation certificate, to participate in all aspects of society, so a book that wishes to be part of the big wide world of Goodreads, Amazon, Waterstones, and other major retailers, needs an ISBN

However, a book is still a valid thing – a product – which can, in certain circumstances, still be sold even without an ISBN.

When is it okay NOT to have an ISBN?

If your book will be sold exclusively by you; within your personal network, via your own website, at events and talks, or through third party selling sites like eBay, then is does not require an ISBN.

In addition, if you have a good friend or relative who owns a shop, and they have promised to stock your book, and they will buy copies direct from you, you do not need an ISBN. Even if the local bookshop wants copies and they are happy to buy them from you, then you probably don’t need an ISBN although the absence of an ISBN could really put them off.

When do I NEED an ISBN?

A barcode and ISBN on the back of the book makes it look more professional, so even if you think your local shop will buy direct from you, it might improve your chances if you have the ISBN.

You DO need an ISBN if you hope to see your book stocked in any book retailer that you can’t directly supply (and usually even if you can), or in any official organisation that sells books, e.g. the National Trust gift shops or any museum gift shop. These organisations will not (except in extremely rare circumstances) buy direct from the author. They also NEED a barcode in order to use their scanner at the point of sale.

N.B. – being ABLE to order your book does not mean that a particular shop will ever hold stock. That’s another big side issue.

You need an ISBN if you hope that your local library will buy a copy. Without an ISBN they simply can’t buy it at all. Also, without an ISBN you cannot claim any public lending rights royalties. (see below).

They may be persuaded to accept a donated copy, but you should check first because libraries do not usually accept unsolicited books to their collection. If your book has a lot of useful local content they are more likely to accept a copy and put it into the system. Even if you give them a copy, some libraries may still require a barcode, which realistically means you need an ISBN.

You also need an ISBN if you want to see your book listed on Goodreads, or to list it normally on Amazon. And, of course, if you are using any print-on-demand and distribution service, like Amazon KDP or IngramSpark then you can’t proceed without allocating an ISBN.

Amazon will, eventually, create a page for any book that has an ISBN. So will Goodreads.

You can add it yourself, or wait until it gets added, but it will be there when, or in case, anyone wants to review it or discuss it on Goodreads, or sell a second-hand copy on Amazon.

The Pros and Cons of an ISBN

Cons

  • ISBNs cost money to purchase (quite a lot if you only buy one! See “How do I get an ISBN in the UK” – below)
  • Once your book is published you have to give some to the legal deposit libraries.
  • It’s a bit of extra hassle

Pros

  • Your book looks official (because it is)
  • Your book can (in theory) be stocked in bookshops
  • Your book will (eventually) get listed on Goodreads and Amazon

That’s … more or less it, in a nutshell. I feel as though I have missed something here but I have to publish at some point.

How do I get an ISBN in the UK?

First of all, if you are self-publishing or being traditionally published with Blue Poppy Publishing then we handle all of this for you.

If you are self-publishing independently then you will need to purchase one or more ISBNs from Nielsen.

You can ONLY purchase UK IBSNs from Nielsen. 

If anyone else offers to sell you an ISBN then your book will be officially published by them. The main exception of which I am aware is that Amazon KDP will offer you a free ISBN. While that technically means they are the the publisher of your book, it doesn’t mean a lot and you are still in control. However, if you are going to publish your book with a print run, or with IngramSpark either as well as, or instead of KDP then you need your own ISBN and you may as well apply it to KDP as well. (There is still some debate over this but it’s a side issue)

Here’s the link for the Nielsen ISBN store https://nielsenisbnstore.com/Home/Isbn

As soon as you go there you will note (at the time of posting) that the pricing system is just about the most unfair looking scheme ever.

  • 1 x ISBN = £91
  • 10 x ISBNs = £169 (or £16.90 each)
  • 100 x ISBNs = £379 (£3.79 each)
  • 1,000 x ISBNs = £979 (98pence each)

I expect there is a valid reason, but I can’t fathom it. Probably to do with processing fees. Heaven only knows how it works for Amazon, or Harper Collins who must use tens of thousands of ISBNs

Anyway, there’s nothing you can do about it, but do not be tempted to buy an ISBn from a company offering them to you for a tenner, or whatever. As I say, they will then officially be your publisher and you will almost certainly have difficulty listing your book properly on the database.

How do I get the book barcode for my ISBN?

Rule ONE: Don’t pay for this service.

The ISBN you get from Nielsen doesn’t come with a barcode. But you need one on your book. Luckily, there are plenty of websites that will make a barcode for you free of charge. My favourite one to use is BooksFactory who are a printer based in Poland. I love their quotes form, too, because it is instant and doesn’t require my email to get a quote. Also they are usually cheaper than everyone else’s, especially on very short runs.

Anyway, their barcode generator is here; https://booksfactory.co.uk/index.php?cPath=78_80
just copy and paste the number into the form and hit go. It will generate a B&W PDF of your barcode at the correct size – 25mm (1″) high – to insert into an InDesign or Photoshop (etc.) cover file.

Registering your book on the Nielsen database

This will need an article of its own at some point. If you want it and it’s not here then ask and I will try and motivate myself to write it.

In brief. Nielsen’s websites have terrible UI and I spend a lot of my life screaming at the screen. There are two main parts.

  1. https://www.nielsentitleeditor.com/titleeditor/ for adding new titles to the database
  2. https://bookorders.nielsenbooknet.com/ for informing you of any new orders from wholesalers.

Nielsen isn’t a wholesaler, they are a data service. You list your book/s on their Title Editor site with the correct ISBN, title, author name, cover, and all the other pertinent information and they serve it to the wholesaler which seems now to be just one comany, Gardners, who then provide that same data to the retailers, Waterstones and the rest.

If Waterstones want a book they place an order  with Gardners who then send you and order through the Book Orders site. You raise an invoice and post the book to Gardners in Eastbourne, and they then open the package and add it to the order from the branch of Waterstones in your High Street. I know it seems crazy, but not as crazy as Waterstones ordering books from thousands of different athors.

Anyway, it’s a massive minefield and one of a number of good reasons to self-publish through a small independent publisher like Blue Poppy Publishing.

What is Legal Deposit?

As soon as you create a book-baby with its ISBN birth certificate you also have to give, free of charge, a copy of your book to the British Library. This is a legal requirement and you don’t get paid a penny for it. In fact you have to cover P&P as well.

Legal Deposit Office,
The British Library,
Boston Spa,
Wetherby,
West Yorkshire,
LS23 7BY

In addition they will probably ask you to send 5 copies to the other Legal Deposit Libraries. Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Cambridge University and the Bodleian at Oxford.

If they ask, you are legally obliged to send them, but you don’t have to volunteer.

Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries,
Unit 21 Marnin Way,
Edinburgh,
EH12 9GD

Again you can’t charge and you have to pay for postage. It is, however, worth using a signed for service. From personal experience, they haven’t always been 100% perfect in acknowledging receipt. Sorry to have to say that.

If you are using a Blue Poppy ISBN then this will all be handled at this end, and you don’t need to worry.

What about Public Lending Rights – PLR?

If your book is stocked in an offical UK library, and if even just one person borrows it, then you become entitled to PLR.

It’s not likely to be a fortune, possibly a few pence, perhaps a few pounds, but it’s every year, it’s free to sign up and if you don’t then you don’t get anything.

This is another area that could do with expanding into more detail but if you visit https://www.bl.uk/plr you can find more information. If you already have a book in print with an ISBN of course, then you should register, and claim your title.

How do I Self Publish my book in the UK?

A famous quotation goes something like “Everyone has a book in them.” and, although the quote goes on to say, “…and in most cases that’s where it should stay.” we at Blue Poppy Publishing think that there are still a lot of great books, both fiction and non-fiction that could and should be published.

A bit about Blue Poppy Publishing, Devon.

I am at great pains to point out that we are not a vanity publisher, but also we are not a traditional publisher either. I guess we are really an “assisted self-publishing” company, suitable for someone who has already decided to self-publish anyway but needs a little extra help.

That means that if we publish your book, we don’t buy the rights, or guarantee sales, but we will help with those aspects of self-publishing that you either can’t or won’t do yourself and, while we try to keep costs to a minimum, it will be you paying the bills just as if you did it all yourself.

Blue Poppy PublishingTM

Of course, we do still have to make sure we don’t publish a book that isn’t well written, interesting, original and well produced. Every book that carries the “Blue Poppy Publishing” logo will affect the sales of our other books. If it is good, then readers may want to try our other authors. If it is awful they will never forgive us.

Also, we tend only to want to work with authors from our local area, and then again, you might just want to do it all yourself and not involve us at all. So as crazy as it may seem, I’m going to set out some of the things you need to know to self-publish a book in the UK.

This will then link to other articles giving you more detail on each area.


The Basics of Self-Publishing.

Cost of Self-Publishing

Anything from nothing to a few thousand pounds is usual.

You can publish a book for zero cost, but you should be careful. A great deal depends on what your hopes and aspirations are for your book, but even if you only want to print off a few copies for close friends and family, you should at least take the time to ensure your book has been properly edited, even if that just means re-reading what you have written and trying to correct obvious spelling mistakes. You will also need to format the book and create a cover. If you are good at these things already, or are willing to learn, you may be able to do them yourself, although there is an art to book cover design that arguably extends beyond what can realistically be taught.

If you have ambitions to be a professional or semi-professional writer, then you really do need to spend some money to make sure your book is up to scratch. But how much should you spend and who can you trust in a minefield of companies who are out to take your money?

We have certain trusted editors, illustrators, cover designers, and printers whom we have used on previous occasions and I will provide their details. We also offer formatting and cover design and preparation in-house, although I make no claim to being a top cover designer I don’t charge much.

Yes, but how much?

How long is a piece of string? Well here goes.

Basic editing costs, as a rough rule of thumb, £10 – £20 per 1,000 words.
If your book needs a structural edit and major rewriting then it will be more because that is a separate stage. For more on editing see here.

Formatting is something you can do yourself, but if you don’t want to learn how, we can format a typical digital manuscript in ‘Word’ for about £100 (for a straightforward novel). Things like illustrations and indexing can push the cost up.

For cover design, again, most people can do this themselves, but if you can’t or don’t want to, you can spend anything from £10 for a plain one-colour cover with the title and author name, to several thousand pounds on a fancy production from a famous cover designer. We would suggest you don’t spend more than about £500 though. You need to consider how you are going to make your money back. 

Printing; of course you don’t have to do a print run at all. You can use a Print on Demand (PoD) service, such as Ingram Spark and or Amazon KDP. We like to do a print run if we can though because the unit cost per book works out cheaper; sometimes a lot cheaper.

UK book parameters.

How big should your book be? What type of paper? Which font should you use? These are all questions that plague new self-publishing authors. The problem is there is no single correct answer to any of these type of questions, but there are at least a few possible guidelines you might want to follow.

Size matters

One option is to take a ruler into a bookshop and measure books similar to the one you have written. I did that. I felt stupid.

Novels

If you are talking about a novel, there is one best size for UK distribution. It’s 198mm x 129mm (we also produce some books in 195 x 125 for cost reasons of which more later) Other sizes can be used, but this is the size of most paperbacks you can buy in bookshops.

While on the subject of novels, there is a lot of dispute about how many words constitutes a novel. NaNoWriMo accepts 50,000 words as a full length novel and I’m going to accept that, although a great many novels are from 85-100k words these days. I think that fewer than 50k is a novella, and 10k is a short story. But the most important thing is to tell your story. However many words that takes is correct. 

Non-fiction

There are a range of sizes in non-fiction which can include the standard novel size, mentioned above. This is ideal for memoirs and narrative non-fiction for example. Other sizes, such as A4, A5, 9″ x 6″, 10″ x 8″ etc. are also common. A lot will depend on things like how and where you expect people to read the book. A coffee table book will want a large format, whereas a pocket guide to cheese will need to be, well, pocket sized. Who you choose to do your printing may also be a factor in your choice. This would be a whole blog post in itself. 

Children’s Books

With younger children’s books (3-7+ years) all bets are off. They can be all sorts of sizes. That said, a square format 8″ x 8″ is a good starting point. 8″ x 10″ in either landscape or portrait can also work, as can A4 or A5.

Novels for older children (6+ years) will usually fall into the same category as novels for adults. Rules for children’s non-fiction are equally reflected in those for adults.

Paper quality

If you use a PoD publisher like KDP then you don’t get much choice. (you get more with IngramSpark now) You can’t usually print hardback editions either. You can now! If you use a printer you have far more parameters. It’s a minefield of options for different purposes, but the first and biggest choice you have to make is whether to use white paper or cream (or beige or whatever they call it). The choice is relatively simple.

  • Novel? Cream
  • Non-fiction? White
  • Kids’ picture book? White

The paper will typically be between 70gsm and 90gsm and honestly there are too many qualities to choose from. It is probably best here to ask the printer to send you some swatches and give you their recommendation. It may not be worth a few pence extra per book for a slightly nicer paper, since readers don’t really seem to mind. 

For younger children’s books I tend to prefer a heavier paper. Little hands are more likely to tear pages by accident. The heaviest I have used is 150gsm with a 350gsm cover. But that’s maybe too much. Again, asking the printer is usually a good idea. They are the experts. 

Fonts

This begins to fall under formatting, which is a whole separate subject in itself. As a very rough guide, print books for regular readers should use a “serif” font. I use Garamond for adults and young adult books or Century Schoolbook for children’s books, although others, such as Times New Roman, Georgia, or Palatino are just as good. Note that different fonts look larger or smaller than each other for a given size. Of these Garamond is the smallest, which is why I usually use it at 12pt. Century schoolbook is the largest of those shown here, and I tend to use 12pt for older children (8-12) and 14 point for younger readers (6-10).

Different serif typefaces shown in size order from smallest, Garamond, to largest Century Schoolbook. The fonts shown are Garamond, Times New Roman, Georgia, Palatino, and Century Schoolbook.

For very young children, beginner readers, I prefer to use a simple sans serif font with ‘single story’ A, and G etc. however, following the golden rule of never using ‘Comic Sans’ I searched for alternatives.

Please don’t imagine there are any hard and fast rules for children’s books, but I like to try and give them a fighting chance of reading for themselves by using a familiar and fairly regular font which resembles how they are first taught to write. That said, many of the best selling picture book use a serif font so whatever people say there’s no one correct answer. 

If you want to get creative, do it in the headings.

Fonts for reading are clean and simple. It is never a good idea to use any fancy font for the main body text. If you want to use a fancy font on the cover, or in the chapter headings go for it. But even then, don’t go too crazy.