Today I’ll brush up on five of the most common questions I see about page layout. Because we know that the overwhelming majority of our users do their design work in MS Word, I’ll make all of my examples in reference to Word. But that doesn’t mean the principles don’t apply to any word processor or layout program.

Alright, let’s dive in and look closes at the first two things you need to know when laying out your pages!

First Steps

Create a template for your book with the pages sized and the margins properly set. Doing this ahead of time is smart, as it prevents any shifting or distorting of content if you need to make the changes later:

  1. Page Setup – Located under the File drop-down, you can select your page size from the list available or add a custom size. Note that US Trade 6 x 9 is not standard for Word, so you’ll have to add it.
    Select “Manage Custom Sizes”, set the size to 6 x 9 (or your preferred size) and save this layout. If you use an unlabeled custom size, Word may not properly retain your page size when exporting.
  2. Margins & Gutter – This is a section we’ll cover later, as it’s my fourth “Thing you Need to Know,” but for now you should know the standard minimums:
    Margins minimum = 0.5”
    Gutter minimum = 0.2”

Alright, now you should have your page sized and some basic margins added. Take your manuscript and paste it into this template so we can get started laying out the pages!

#1 – Breaks

We touched on a lot of the concepts I’ll be covering today in a blog posted dedicated to book layout back in January. While that post focused on general layout information, we’re going to get into some real details about how to handle the most challenging and important elements of page design.

The first is the art of the “break.”

Microsoft Word (and all other word processors too) gives you an option to break a page. Essentially, what the command does is cause the current page to end. Any more content you add will appear on the next page.

Some users might be saying, “oh I just hold down Enter until I’m on the next page.”

Don’t do that! Ever!

Using a hard return to move to the following page might look fine on your screen. But will it look fine when you convert your file to a PDF so it can be printed? Probably not.

Breaks—both page and section—divide the page dynamically, so that when you convert to a new file format the proper space will be retained.

Pro Tip: When designing your interior, it’s wise to turn on Reveal Non-Printing Characters (also known as formatting marks) so you can see formatting marks on the page.

Page Breaks

A Page Break simply ends the content on the current page and moves to the next. For most books, you’ll use one to end every chapter. As I mentioned in the first part of this section, breaks control how the content is arranged on the page. A Page Break is the most basic and useful kind of break.

Aside from the need to push content from one page to the next, a Page Break is helpful in controlling how content is built around an image. Specifically, if an image is low on a page, you may want to follow it with a Page Break to keep text from appearing under the image.

Page Breaks allow you aesthetic control over page content.

Section Breaks

Section Breaks are a little more complex. They come in four flavors:

  • Section Break (Next Page) – starts the new section on the next page
  • Section Break (Continuous) – starts the new section on the current page
  • Section Break (Odd Page) – starts the new section on the next odd page
  • Section Break (Even Page) – starts the new section on the next even page

The essential accomplishment of a section break is to allow you to add unique formatting to specific areas of your file. For most book creators, the Section Break will be used to define where page numbers begin and how Header content appears.

Ever seen a book with the author name and chapter title on alternating pages on the top of the page?

Setting that up requires applying Section Breaks.

As you see in the image, the page on the left shows the title of the first chapter (“Down the Rabbit Holes”) and the page on the right (the first page of chapter two) shows that chapter’s title (“The Pool of Tears”). The section break is splitting the file into two sections, allowing for the text in the Header of one section to vary from the text in another section.

Don’t worry about the Header yet, we’ll get to that in just a moment.

What we need to say finally about the Section Break is how to choose which break to use.

In general, you are going to use Section Break: Next Page. The Odd and Even break options force the next active section to the next odd or even page, respectively. This is fine to use, but remember that it will always break to the defined type of page. So, if you insert a Section Break: Odd Page on an odd page, it will skip the next even page (leaving it blank) and begin the next section on an odd page. This can cause unwanted blank pages.

Pro Tip: Use Section Breaks sparingly. If you plan to set chapter titles in the Header, you’ll need one at the end of each chapter. You’ll also need one between the front matter and body of your book. Otherwise, use page breaks to control the placement of content.

#2 – Header & Footer

There are a lot of elements that go into the Header and Footer. Let’s start with a look at the options available in the Word Ribbon for Header and Footer.

The first thing to notice is the information line below the Header. It tells you the page (even or odd), the section number, and the current status in regard to previous sections. What is all this information about?

Link to Previous – In the Ribbon, you’ll see the button Link to Previous is currently selected. What this means is that the section your cursor is currently selecting (in the image Section 2 is selected) has a Header or Footer linked to the settings of the previous section.

Linking is useful for including page numbers across multiple sections. For example, a Header with the author name on every even page and the chapter title on the odd page will still have a continuous page numbering on the bottom. The Footers would need to be linked and the Headers would not.

You can control individual Header and Footer linking by clicking your cursor into the Header or Footer you want to link and check that box.

Different First Page – Different First Page is a setting you’ll find very useful if adding text to your Header.

In the example for Section Breaks, you may notice that I added a chapter title on the first page of the chapter (the first page of section 3). In most novels, this page doesn’t include a Header. And that’s where the “Different First Page” option comes in.

This setting is independent of the Odd & Even page setting. This means if you activate Different First Page and Different Odd & Even Pages, your section will have three independent Headers (or Footers)—the first page, the odd pages, and the even pages.

Different Odd & Even Pages – Checking this box set odd and even pages independently within the section. Now you can edit the Header or Footer for odd pages without impacting the even ones, and vice versa.

If you use any of these functions, be sure to go through and apply the settings before adding content.

Example – You have a short book with seven chapters. Each page will feature the book title on the even page Header and the chapter title on the odd page Header. Page numbering will be continuous.

  1. Set a section break: next page after the front matter (on the page before Chapter 1).
  2. Set a section break: next page at the end of every chapter.
  3. Click on the Header in each section and select Different First Page, Different Odd & Even page, and de-select Link to Previous.
  4. Click on the Footer in each section and select Different Odd & Even pages and Link to Previous
  5. Add page numbers to the Footer (see the next section for more on Page Numbers).
  6. Manually add the book and chapter titles to the Headers.

Pro Tip: It is very important to apply and verify all the settings in your Header and Footer, in all sections, prior to adding your content.

That’s all for this week! Join us next time for the second part, where we’ll cover the last three tips and some final advice for creating your print ready file!