Indie publishing is not for the faint of heart. Want to know what I really think about it? Check out this post here. One of the biggest issues I run into is having time for everything. So I’m all about finding people who can make my book look professional while I keep writing.

When I read Spireseeker by E.D.E Bell, which I knew to be indie published, I slammed the book down and declared, “This is what an indie book should look like!” I truly couldn’t tell it apart from traditional books.

After some back and forth emails, I met the most patient man and typesetter in the world: Chris Bell with Atthis Arts LLC. 

He’s here with mega-awesome tips to making your book like perfecto.

How to Typeset your Book Like a Pro

What basic steps should I take to make my self-published title not look self-published?

I’m not saying that self-published books can’t look wonderful. While we’ve all heard of the stigma associated with self-published writing and editing, we don’t often think of the “oh, this looks self-published” reaction someone might have before even reading a word. With today’s easy-to-use automated tools, it’s easy to miss the little things. These few simple tips should help ensure that when someone picks up your book, the only thing they notice is your terrific writing.

Tip: Pick up your favorite book.

What do you like about it? A quick Google search should tell you which font the publisher used. Look at the page headers and footers. How are the chapter title pages laid out? Are the first letters fancy? Does the book have a table of contents, or a lovely dedication page?

Tip: Print on off-white paper.

Unless you are writing a textbook, select a cream or off-white paper. If your printer offers a heavier, high-bulk, or textured paper, consider it.

Tip: Use a serif font.

Serif fonts have small decorative embellishments at the ends of the brushstrokes. This makes printed matter much easier on the eyes. Common fonts used in books include Garamond, Palatino, and Minion.

Tip: Justify and Hyphenate.

For a fiction novel, the main text should be fully justified with hyphenation. Specific passages (quoted material, poetic passages, etc) that stand out may have different spacing, justification, and sometimes fonts, but the main body of text should be fully justified with hyphenation. Be careful with the hyphenation settings: consecutive hyphenated lines look bad and should be avoided.

Tip: Include proper front matter.

While books can vary drastically on the layout and design of the main text pages, the front matter is surprisingly fixed. Start with a half title page with an optional series title on the back side, followed by a full title page with the copyright page on the back side. Consider buying The Chicago Manual of Style—most publishers follow the style guidelines prescribed within this guide. The cost of The Chicago Manual of Style might just pay for itself in the first 30 pages (“The Parts of a Book”), but contains a wealth of style rules for spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

Tip: Set inside/outside margins.

For a bound book, the side of the page that is bound needs more space than the outside margin. Stick a printed a page of your manuscript into a book of the same size as yours—you may need to cut the width of the paper a little smaller and align the paper up to the outside edge. Adjust the margins until it feels balanced when reading. In general, the inside margin needs to be at least .125 inches more than the outside margin.

Tip: Use high-resolution graphics.

Graphics that look good on a screen may not be good enough for a printed book. Color or grayscale raster graphics must be at least 300 dpi and without a lot of compression to look good in a printed book. Black & white bitmap images should be at least 1200 dpi. Vector graphics (that use shape definitions instead of small dots) work very well for printed books—as long as your software supports them without converting them first to raster graphics (dots). If your book uses lots of graphics, I strongly suggest typesetting within a desktop publishing tool or hire a typesetter that has the proper tools.

Can I typeset my book myself using Microsoft Word, or should I use a different software tool?

Modern word processing software includes many typesetting features, but they are often difficult to use and not flexible. Quality typesetting requires you to be able to make fine adjustments to character and word spacing (kerning/tracking), make changes to hyphenation rules, customize the look of drop characters at the first line of a chapter, and sometimes even change the look of a font (e.g. skew) – all things Word processors cannot easily do, if at all.

A good example of this is ligatures. MS Word versions prior to 2010 do not support ligatures. Ligatures are special character combinations that the font has defined as a single glyph. “Th” and “ff” are often defined as ligatures:

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 6.38.38 AM(MS Word 2003)


Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 6.39.05 AM


(Adobe InDesign CC)


The standard desktop publishing software used throughout the publishing industry is Adobe InDesign. InDesign takes significant time to learn and master, but is the most powerful and flexible typesetting tool available. It used to be a very pricey piece of software, but Adobe recently switched to a subscription model that allows you to license their software for a little as one month at a time.

What steps can I take during writing to make typesetting easier on myself or a hired typesetter?

Tip: Use formatting styles.

Do not use the font/formatting buttons in Word (Bold, Italics, Underlined, etc). Instead, use styles to identify text that requires special formatting. So if you want to emphasize a word, use an Emphasis style instead of just making the text italics. This will also help you in editing. For example, you can initially define emphasized text as bold and red—but change the style definition to italics for the printed book.

Why should I consider hiring a typesetter?

Even with modern publishing tools, typesetting is still an art form. A typesetter will look for awkward paragraphs or page layouts and make unnoticeable spacing adjustments in order to present lines, paragraphs, and pages that are pleasing to the eye.

Look again at your favorite traditionally published book. You likely will see that facing pages have the same number of lines with high symmetry (the lines match up even if there is a break in text on one page). You will also notice that paragraphs never end with a partial line on a new page (called orphans), never end with a single short word on a new line, or rarely end with a line that extends to the full right margin. Some words will be hyphenated, but you will probably not see consecutive lines with a hyphenated word. You likely will also not see consecutive lines that end in the same word. These are all done by the typesetter to help the reader have a pleasing experience when looking at the book.

How much should typesetting cost, and what will I get?

Typesetting costs run all over the map. Prices quoted online range from $2/page to more than $25/page, depending on the complexity of the work, the size of the printer/business offering the service, etc. Fortunately in today’s age of self/partnership publishing, self-publishers often work together in trade to reduce costs. Editing and marketing are often traded among self-publishers, but typesetting services can be traded by small publishers as well.

When the typesetter is done, you should receive a print-ready pdf file that is the finished interior of your book. In addition, you should receive a file package that contains the typesetting files (InDesign files, included graphic files, etc).

InDesign has the ability to export your book in an e-book epub format. If you plan on releasing your book as an ebook, this is a great way to start your e-book file creation. However, e-books are essentially self-contained websites—they have little to do with a printed book. A good e-book will require someone to go through the internal files to ensure a clean presentation of your book on a variety of e-readers. A typesetter who works with InDesign should be able to provide you an epub export of your book on request. And if you are really lucky, you may find a typesetter that knows how to craft a beautiful e-book as well—saving you time and money while giving you an e-book that has a similar look and feel to the printed copy.

Other questions?

Leave a comment—I’ll be happy to try to answer any questions posted online!

Learn how to make your self-published book look just like a traditional with Chris Bell from Atthis Arts! #typesetting #selfpublishingtipsChris Bell is a managing partner of Atthis Arts, LLC—the independent publisher of E.D.E. Bell. Atthis Arts is expanding into partnership publishing for authors looking for a professional publishing experience while keeping the freedom of independent writing. To consider publishing with Atthis Arts, check them out here.

Chris may also be available for freelance typesetting. If you would like to talk to Chris about typesetting your book, contact him here.