Book Formatting Standards and Rules

So what are the standard  book formatting rules? Is there a nice  list of rules that I can apply to my book layout? It would be nice wouldn’t it. Unfortunately there is no such thing. What there is a somewhat rapidly evolving set of standards for layouts for  eBooks and a rather more traditional set of standards for print-on-demand books

Book formatting standards have changed through time

Formatting, layout, typesetting, whatever you call it, should really only have one purpose:

to make reading the book an easy and pleasant experience for the reader

Standards for eBooks

For eBooks  formatting means two things – the mechanical standards such as the ePub validator and the various checks that Amazon’s KDP platform performs when you upload a book. This will eliminate the gross errors that I’ve seen even, indeed mainly, traditional publishers make including:

  • page numbers in an eBook;
  • tiny clickable superscript footnote references;
  • gross typos
  • no table of contents at all.

However what gets missed is the editorial stuff.   My check  list for eBooks goes something like this

  • checking there is no mention of page number anywhere  e.g. “go to page 69 for further explanation”;
  • checking they author is not using of  the print version’s ISBN’;
  • not using images to include important text;
  • not using complex tables which are unreadable on a small eReader, or smaller phone, screen;
  •  making sure any links “are live” that is clickable if the reader is connected to the Internet;
  • ensuring that at the end of the book there is some form of “call to action’ – either the blurb for the next ook in the series or an author’s bio plus links to their website;
  • checking that  the vital first 10% of the book (the bit that browsers can sample in a book store  cluttered with unimportant content such as reviewers comments, dedications, and for some fiction, the table of contents.

Standards for Print Books

The rules for print books are somewhat better understood, well they should be. There is huge variation of how how books are laid out for print, but here are some common “must-haves”.

  • the “main pages” including title pages, start of the table of contents, the start of the book, and the start of page parts or chapters of the book should be on a  recto (right hand) page; 
  • blank pages should NEVER have page numbers, headers or footers on them;
  • table of contents should include pages numbers and page numbers count  from 1 for the first page ie the 1/2 title normally, even though they are never shown;
  • page numbers normally start to show at the start of the book ie not on the table of contents. Older standards was to use small-roman numbers for the front-matter, but I don’t often see that any more;
  • numbers don’t restart through the book, but you can have different running heads for separate chapters or parts  –  usually done in “how to” style books.

Book Formatting Styles

Because I hand-craft my book formatting work, I can play with the styles. So a children’s book may have coloured headers, a  book about witches may have a tiny  witch icon as a section break. There are no real standards, except you need to do something that is appropriate for the book’s content and its audience.