This blog was featured on 07/02/2019
How to Make Your Indie Book Look Professional
Written by
Maria Murnane
July 2019
Written by
Maria Murnane
July 2019

It takes more than a good cover to make a book look professional. What about the formatting? With the help of designer Jerry Dorris, I self-published my first novel before it got picked up by a traditional publisher, so I asked him for some tips to share in my blog. Here’s what he had to say:

1) Choose the right trim size:The "trim size" of your book refers to its measurements after production. The typical sizes are 5" x 8", 5.5" x 8.5" and 6" x 9". As a general rule fiction trends toward smaller sizes, and non-fiction trends toward larger sizes.

2) Pick the right paper colorMost indie publishers offer two options for paper color—cream and white. Cream paper is a smidge thicker and will increase your final spine size. It's rare to see non-fiction books with cream paper, but if cream will better match your cover, then feel free to be a rebel. Choose visual appeal over trends!

3) Design with bleeds: “Bleed” is the excess imagery that extends past your book’s trim size. The image is said to bleedover the edge. The effect is to give you an edge-to-edge look. This is something to do on your chapter opening pages to give them a unique look. This effect can be seen on the edge of your book when it is closed. If the bleeding images are random, the edge of your book can look messy if overused. However, if you use bleed consistently, it can help the reader know where to place her thumb. An example would be a thumb index where all the pages in a chapter have the same edge mark, while the following chapter's edge marks move down.

4) Work on text density and readability"Text density" refers to the amount of text on a single page. The average book has 250 words per page. You can stretch or condense a manuscript by changing text size or line spacing to affect the amount of words on a page. 200 words is the least you should do, with 400 words being the most. The denser your text, the more your reader will notice gaps created by small words left alone at the end of a paragraph (called an "orphan"). You can eliminate these by manually adjusting the "kerning" (space between letters) on the orphaned paragraph.

5) Create ample margins"Margin" refers to the space around your text. At a minimum choose .5" margins on your outer edges (top, bottom and side) and .75" on your inseam edge (the margin that goes into spine). For thicker books (more than 250 pages) you will want to have wider inseam margins. The thicker the book the harder the book is to fully open. If you have too small of an inseam margin, your text will become hard to read.

Jerry is the creative director at Along with his team he has designed hundreds of books for indie authors. I thank him for sharing his expertise! 



Maria Murnane writes bestselling novels about life, love and friendship. Have questions? You can find her at



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