What makes a book … a book?

book formatting

While words, pictures, and ideas are what make a text, book formatting and cover design are what really transform the words and images into a “real book.”

What makes a book … a book? Sounds like an easy question to answer, so I’ll give it a shot. Let’s start with words. Lots of them. Tens of thousands usually. Or pictures. Or both.

Next you have to have a cover – and back cover if it’s a printed book.

But beyond that… well, it gets a little hazy. Table of contents? Title page? Forward?

For a book designer like BookBaby’s Becky Rodriguez-Smith, what goes into a book is dozens of different things, large and small, that make up the finished product.

“What we do is turn a double-spaced manuscript, given to us in a Word document, into a real book,” says Becky. “And when I say ‘real book,’ I mean we make it look professional, it can be compared to any other on the shelf of a book store. You can look at it, open it, feel it – and it looks like it was done by a major publishing company.”

We have a saying at BookBaby: Our job is to make the little guy look big. That means we help indie authors around the world self publish their books and distribute them around the globe – just like the traditionally published bestselling authors.

One way we accomplish this is by providing services like cover design and book formatting.

What exactly is book formatting? Let’s ask the expert.

“Actually it’s hard to explain sometimes to clients what they really get from it, especially brand new authors,” says Becky. “But once they see the finished product and see the difference in appearance, it’s very easy to understand.
It might not seem like much is happening, like applying a different style to chapter heads, designing copyright pages, and maybe running headers and footers. But it’s all those design details that really make a book a book!”

Authors have spent so much time creating the words and images for their book, it makes sense that they should go the final mile to have their books formatted for that professional-looking touch. Like almost all aspects of self publishing, authors have the opportunity to format it themselves. In fact, BookBaby offers a guide that provides some of the basic how-tos that go into a DIY formatting job.

Other authors choose to have the professional skills of a designer put to good use on their all-important work. “We’re not formatting in Word or using any kind of templates,” explains Becky. “We use special design software developed specifically to produce beautiful looking books.”

It really comes down to all the book design details. Most authors aren’t designers, and we’ve learned over the years and through experience what is going to grab the attention of readers and keep it.”

Becky has some tips for authors who are interested in having their books formatted by the pros at BookBaby.

“The important thing in sending us the finished manuscript is to keep it simple,” she says. “We’re going to import a Word document into our specialized design software, and we don’t want to introduce any new errors based on some Word styles. Avoid using styles in word, and make simple place markers rather than try to do any designing on your own. For instance, just stick a note into the text that says: ‘INSERT TABLE OF CONTENTS HERE’ or ‘INSERT THIS COPY BLOCK HERE.’ We’re going to look through every page, and we’ll see these notes.

“Communication is much more important and helpful than any kind of efforts the authors make to create the style in the document itself. We use these notes as a guide to what they are looking for in the end product.”

Becky and the other BookBaby designers format the books and then send the author a PDF proof of his or her book for review. This give the author a chance to make corrections and comments to improve the final product.

“The designers here at BookBaby have been around a decade or more. This is what we do, and we want authors to trust us to create a beautiful book. We’re not going to put something out there that doesn’t make them look great!”

You can learn more about BookBaby’s design services here by downloading this guide.

Image via ShutterStock.com.


Printed Book Design 


Read More
Book Cover Design Tips For Independent Authors
How A Self-Published Author Got Extraordinary Book Cover Design
Judging A Book By Its Cover: What Book Publicists – And Media – Want To See On The Outside Of A Book
Printed Books 101: The Components Of A Book (And Where They Go)
How To Correctly Format Your Book Interior Using Word


Steven Spatz is a writer, marketer, and the President of BookBaby, the nation’s leading self publishing services company. Spatz’s professional writing career began at age 13, paid by the word to bang out little league baseball game stories on an ancient manual typewriter for southern Oregon weekly newspapers. His journalism career continued after graduation from the University of Oregon at several daily newspapers in Oregon. When his family took over a direct marketing food business, Spatz redirected his writing and design skills into producing catalogs. The Pinnacle Orchards catalog was named "Best Food Catalog," received dozens of other national awards, and the business grew into one of the nation’s largest gourmet fruit gift businesses. After the company was sold, Spatz continued his direct marketing career with Fortune 500 companies including Mattel and Hasbro. He joined AVL Digital in 2004 to lead the direct-to-consumer marketing teams for music industry-leading brands Disc Makers, Oasis, and CD Baby. After serving as Chief Marketing Officer, Spatz was tapped to lead the company’s new publishing division in late 2014. In 2019, the AVL Digital Management team purchased the New Jersey brands, including BookBaby. The company is headquartered in Pennsauken, NJ (just outside Philadelphia, PA) and meets the printed book and eBook needs of thousands of self-publishing authors around the globe. Spatz lives in Glenside, PA with his two children, a demented cat, and some well-used bicycles. Steven loves to hear from authors, editors, and publishers in the BookBaby community with tales of publishing trials and triumphs. To tell him your story, write to steven@bookbaby.com.


  1. WOW! i was getting discouraged not knowing where to go with my manuscript after the editing…i was sure in a funk concerning this aspect and you answered my worries!


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