book design

Outstanding Book Design in 8 Steps

Ann O'Brien

Ann O'Brien

May 23, 2022

Deciding to self-publish your book is a big step but coming up with the content you love is only part of the process. Authors who want to self-publish will need to create a print-ready file of their work that is ready to send off to be digitally published. But knowing exactly what steps to take to create a beautiful book design is not necessarily obvious even to the most astute writer. So we have created an 8 step checklist to help you create a book you will be proud of to present your writing to the world.

1. Decide on Binding Style and Size

It may sound basic to start with style and design, but so much of the book layout depends upon the size and style of binding an author chooses. Each binding type requires specific considerations for the layout of the book, and the size of the book can also play a part in the layout choices a self-publishing author makes while designing their book.


Books can be bound in four specific styles that each have their own look, feel, and uses. Books can have a spine or not, use holes and strong materials to create a binding that flips, or be put together booklet-style with staples.

  • Perfect Bound –Perfect bound books have a soft cover and must be at least 8 pages in length for self-publication. Books created with perfect binding are very durable, but they do not open flat and require additional inside margin space, called the gutter, to accommodate the binding style.
  • Saddle Stitch – This binding process uses folded pages and a folded cover that are secured by staples called stitches. Saddle stitch binding works with books or booklets between 8 and 80 pages in length, and books with this must be printed in groupings of four pages to avoid having any blank pages.
  • Plastic Coil Binding – This binding style uses plastic rings that are wound through holes punched on the gutter of every page and so require larger margins. Plastic coil bound books do lay flat well and coil bound can be between 8 and over 500 pages.
  • Wire-o Binding – Similar to plastic coil, the wire-O binding also uses holes with a larger gutter margin to accommodate the wire ring binding. Wire-o also can lay flat and can be between 8 and 300 pages.


Choosing a standard size for the type of binding you want to use will help cut costs when self-publishing.

Perfect Bound: any size up to 9×12, but smaller than 5×7 cannot use PUR adhesive; landscape mode can be 5½ x 8½, 6 x 9, 8½ x 11, and 9 x 12 books

Saddle Stitch: 5 ½ x 8 ½, 6 x 9, or 8 ½ x 11 finished book size

Coil: 5½ x 8½, 6 x 9, 8½ x 11, or 9 x 12 finished book size or up to 11×17 as a special order

Wire-O: 5½ x 8½, 6 x 9, 8½ x 11, or 9 x 12 finished book size or up to 11×17 as a special order

2. Create the Outline or Structure

Your book may already have a structure within the content, but now it is time to create a storyboard of what you want to include in the digital format of the book so you can prepare the layout design for each page. Parts of your book to think about are:

  • Front/back cover design – use a professional designer if you need help creating a design that will represent your work
  • Table of Contents and/or Index – create and place at the front or back of your book
  • Chapter/section dividers – may use ½ or a whole page to start chapters, but sections usually always start on their own page
  • Pictures/graphics – decide where they will go and what kind of layout design works best (full page, two-page spread, small blocks of photos) as well as what if any text will accompany them
  • Blank pages – decide if you will you use them between sections, at the front/back of book or have none

3. Consider Page Layouts and Rules

Once you know where all of the parts of your book will be located and what you will or will not include, it’s time to think about the layout design of your pages.


Generally speaking, do not try to widen your margins on the book to ultimately use fewer pages (and pay less for self-publication.) Because densely-packed pages are hard to read, consider how much text your reader is expected to absorb in one page before shrinking margin sizes. But small margins also can impact text on the page that is visible, since the gutters of perfect bound, spiral, and wire-o books need to be at least ¼- ½ inch larger to accommodate the binding process.

In addition, all bound books will be trimmed to even up the outside edges once the binding process is complete. Books with narrow or small margins run the risk of having text sliced off the outer page edges if the printing process’s natural small amount of slippage conflicts with the text on the page.


Pay careful attention to using two-page photo spreads with regard to the type of binding you have chosen and where the photos will be located. All photos should have an additional “bleed” amount built into the layout of the page. This is an extra blank ¼ inch border around photos that will help account for slippage and trimming in the publishing process.

4. Use Consistent Fonts

One of the easiest ways to create consistency throughout the book design is to decide ahead of time the font and font size you will use. Stay away from cutesy fonts like Comic Sans or Papyrus, because they are hard to read with large volumes of text. Consider sticking to five standard sizes for the whole text of your book:

  • 30 pt for large page or section headers, used sparingly
  • 16-24 pt for section or chapter labels
  • 12 pt bold for further section headers within the text
  • 10-12 pt regular for the text itself
  • 8 pt for footnotes, page numbers, and captions

5. Make Text Look Great: Do’s and Don’ts

While the text content of the book is the reason for the book itself, designing the paragraphs and text shape during the editing process is a good idea.

Don’t let any single line be “orphaned” on a new page, separated from its paragraph. Instead, begin the sentence on the new page even if that means the bottom margin on the previous page is a little larger as a result.

Don’t create a “widow,” which is a single word that is stuck on its own line by itself. Instead, add in another word somewhere in that or a previous sentence to avoid this printing no-no.

Don’t crowd the text. Check to be sure that your “leading,” or space between the lines, is adequate so the text is easy to read and lines don’t appear bunched together.

Do think about how the border of each paragraph looks, called the “rag.” You don’t want the rag to be distracting to the reader. Consider adding manual page breaks to get rid of a distracting rag or even justifying your pages to align the margins on both sides of the page instead.

6. Include Crisp Pictures and Graphics

All photos should be at least 300 dpi to print with high resolution in your book. When using graphics, scalable (vector) graphics will be sharper than raster graphics.

7. Create a User-Friendly Experience

The point of your book is to make reading the information a good experience. So when developing the book design, keep the user’s experience in mind. Using page numbers, a Table of Contents, descriptive captions on photos or other elements intended to make finding and understanding the contents of your book should be included when it will improve the user experience.

8. Think About the Big Picture

It’s easy to get bogged down in the details of preparing a book design for printing. When a page is giving you trouble, remember to take a step back and look at the page in the larger context of the book rather than focusing on the tiny details.

Getting Started

Preparing your book for self-publishing involves thinking about a lot more than just creating good content for the book. Our 8 checklist steps are a great place to start for the self-publishing author. Consider snagging a free online book template to help you navigate the requirements for prepping a book for publication, too. Make sure you work with a respected printing company like Publishing Xpress to help you self-publish your work as well, so you know the final product will be a book that you can be proud of publishing.

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