Book Formatting and Cover Design Make Your Manuscript… a Book

book formatting

Excerpted from BookBaby’s latest guide, 5 Steps To Self Publishing, Part II of our series addresses your book cover design and how book formatting makes your book… a book.

You can create a beautiful book, inside and out. Once you’re finished with your content, you need to make sure your book looks as good as it reads.

The cover is a make-or-break sales tool for your book

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The average online book buyer will spend less than a second scanning a single cover image during the average browsing session. How will your book stand up to this near instant “yes” or “no” buying decision?

Book covers aren’t just important to authors in hopes of gaining sales. They’re important to readers, too! According to Deloitte’s research paper, Technology, Media & Telecommunications Predictions 2015, “A key value of print books appears to be their cover. Covers have been shown to drive sales; but they also send a message to those around you about what you are reading and what kind of person you are. As has been noted, ‘the act of reading a book in public conveys important information to other readers.'”

A great cover design can also speak to fans of a genre and tell a little (or a lot) about the style of writing and the genre your book fits into. Here’s a gallery of some of the standout book covers designed by the professionals in the BookBaby Design Studio.
book formatting and design gallery

Selling your book starts with an eye-catching design

Many authors believe that your cover is your very best sales tool. We humans are a visual species, stimulated by compelling graphics and imagery. The virtual online bookshelves are crowded, making it all the more important to stand out when it comes to your cover. And that goes for both Download your free copy today! and printed books available via Print On Demand. If you captivate readers from the outset – with the outside of your book – they’ll be drawn to find out what’s inside.

Here are three tips suggested by the BookBaby Design Studio for creating an eye-catching cover that sells:

    1. Be unique. It’s important to stand out. If you are choosing images yourself, make sure they are distinctive in their appeal. Take a look around Amazon and check out all of the other covers in your genre and make sure yours is different. Keep to one theme and don’t over-clutter. Think about what the driving message of the book is and use this as the focus of the design.
    2. Be bold, use color. Color increases readers’ attention span by 82% and makes an impression that is 39% more memorable. Strong, contrasting colors are likely to have the most impact and be the most readable.
book formatting 80x115 thumbnail
80×115 image
  1. Think about your thumbnail. Online retailers will usually display your book cover as an 80 × 115 pixel thumbnail, so it’s important to make sure your cover design is clear and readable at different resolutions. View your cover image at varying image sizes and make sure it looks good when it’s small.

It’s the little design touches that make a book… a book!

What makes a book a book? It starts with words. Lots of them. Tens of thousands usually. Or pictures. Or both.

Next you have to have a cover and a back cover if it’s a printed book. But beyond that, well, it gets a little hazy. Should we create a Table of Contents or a Title page or The Foreword?

For a book designer like BookBaby’s Becky Rodriguez-Smith, what goes into a book is dozens of different things, large and small, that comprise 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.”

That professional look is usually accomplished by a service called book formatting. But 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!”

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 gives the author a chance to make corrections and provide comments to improve the final product. “We’re not formatting in Word or using any kind of template,” explains Becky. “We use design software developed specifically to produce beautiful-looking books.”

“The designers here at BookBaby have been around for a while. 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!”

“We’ve learned over the years and through experience what is going to grab the attention of readers and keep it.”

This post was excerpted and adapted from 5 Steps To Self Publishing: All the essential information you need to go from manuscript to marketplace. Download your free copy today.

See more great BookBaby-designed book covers on Pinterest

5 Steps to Self-Publishing 
Free Guide

Read More
There has never been a better time to self-publish
Sell them with your cover design
Book cover design tips for independent authors
How A Self-Published Author Got Extraordinary Book Cover Design
How To Design An eBook: 3 Tips For Creating A Cover That Sells

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Steven Spatz is a writer, marketer, and President Emeritus of BookBaby, the nation’s leading self-publishing service provider. After a successful career with companies including Mattel, Hasbro, and Pinnacle Orchards, Steven joined AVL Digital in 2004 as Chief Marketing Officer, leading the direct-to-consumer marketing teams for music industry-leading brands Disc Makers, Oasis, and CD Baby. The native Oregonian was tapped to lead BookBaby, the company’s new publishing division, in late 2014. BookBaby’s growing book-printing operation is located outside Philadelphia, PA, and employs over 100 book-publishing experts across the United States to meet the printed and eBook needs of thousands of self-publishing authors around the globe. Steven retired as brand President in 2022 and continues to contribute via weekly emails, industry guides, and posts on the BookBaby blog. He’s in the process of relocating full-time to southern France in early 2023. 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


  1. Book Baby is such a great resource for all of us little old ladies in tennis shoes (I am sure the above writer from the South is thinking, “Speak for yourself, Lady”).

    If Book Baby wants me to provide a “reply” to Ms. Adams, this is it: YOU GO, GIRL. YOU CAN DO IT, WITH BOOK BABY’S HELP.

  2. Hello—it’s me again! I forgot to mention I was born and raised at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains, at the crossroads of the Coosa River and the spring fed Choccolocco Creek, in rural Alabama. I am a Southerner. So most my stories have the flavor of the South. About a life of which many people have no knowledge. Also, how many stories do you think makes a collection? I know it depends on number of pages of each story. I think mine average 8 to 10/12 pages….typewritten in Word Doc. Times Roman/12, they also have page number and last name. I know I will have to remove the name on each page, but as you can read, I am green but anxious to learn and grow. Thanks again!!

  3. Hi! I believe in and admire the work you do. I realized I could ‘spin a good tale’ in a Santa Monica College creative writing class in 2010. I have since written a collection of short stories and would like to take advantage of one of your cost-effective program: $19 for a book or $199 for several copies of book. I live on a very fixed income but have several friends, who like my style. think I have the ‘it’ factor and are willing to invest in my publishing endeavor and put forth some money. I need to know the exact, approximate cost from start to finish. I will be 80 years of age in August 2018 and would like to have my collection published by then. I am also working on a poem collection for a Chap Book to be published later. These stories were written for a college-English creative writing class so they have had professional proofing for grammar, spelling, etc. But I think I would need lite editing, formatting and style, cover design and I’m sure other services you feel necessary. I want a professional book. Could you please give me an estimate and guidelines for submission for publication. I have a word doc now and each story title. Thank you very much….Peggy


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