What to send to your print formatter

Whenever I’m ready to contact my copyeditor or cover designers about my next project, I make a list of everything they’ll need. That way they have everything in one email and I can relax because I’ve sent them everything they need right up front. No need for a million emails back and forth asking, “What about this? Or this? Or this?”

As someone who offers services to other authors, I’m on the receiving end of this too. I’m an author, so I get it that other authors are busy and might not collect all of their materials and ideas together into one email. So I like to tell them up front exactly what I need. It helps them know what to send me and it helps me remember everything I’m going to need.

When I first started taking on formatting jobs, I had no idea what I would need. Like publishing, I was mimicking other author/services businesses and making it up as I went along. Thankfully, the author I was working with (who has been a very frequent client of mine) was very cooperative and understanding.

By now, I’ve pretty much got it down pat and, depending on the author’s attentiveness, I can get a formatting job done in the same day that it’s sent to me. In a lot of cases, I get a commission for a job in the morning, send the invoice by the afternoon, hand over the formatted PDF in the evening, and receive payment later that evening. In one day, everything is done.

Before I dive in to what I need from an author as a formatter, I thought it’d be helpful to go over my formatting process. The following is just a quick overview of how I format a book:

  1. If it’s a new client, find an InDesign template for the trim size they’re looking for. If it’s the next book in the series that I’ve already worked on, I just copy the preceding book and rename it before diving in.
  2. If the author knows the fonts used on the cover, I find and download the fonts. If they don’t know…the hunt begins (this is usually the most frustrating part of the whole process).
  3. Create the title page. I try to match the layout on the cover, though sometimes that’s harder than others.
  4. Adjust the header so it matches the book’s title and author’s name. I try to use the same fonts as the title page throughout the book. Usually a cover will have multiple fonts. I pick the one that works the best for the size and the placement and use it consistently for the book title, author name, and page numbers.
  5. Paste in front matter. Typically, I use a file that has already been formatted, so the copyright page maintains the font size and style, though it may need to be centered based off the amount of text. Also, some authors have more pages in their front matter than others (pages like Acknowledgements, Dedication, “More by this author…”) that need to be accommodated.
  6. Format the chapter header to match the same font style of the cover and title page.
  7. Paste in each chapter and adjust the number of pages and text boxes accordingly.
  8. Skim through the text and search for any italics or any other changes to the text like bold, underline, spacing, proper use of special characters (EN vs. EM dash is the most common).
  9. Repeat steps 6-8 until the end of the book.
  10. Add in back matter similar to the way I added the front matter.
  11. Some authors like to have a table of contents at the front, others don’t find it necessary for print. Those who do, I go through and write down what pages each chapter begins on and add it to the table of contents.
  12. Skim through the document to catch any glaring issues. Most of the formatting process is tedious and easy to skip a step. After a while, all the pages and chapter numbers start to look the same!
  13. Export to PDF and skim through the document again.
  14. Send to the author and see if any changes need to be made. Done!

The process isn’t hard by any means. It’s tedious and time consuming. Typically, I can finish a 50,000-70,000 word book in 3 hours. Not terribly long, but I know a lot of authors who would rather spend those 3 hours writing.

Even if you’re not using me as your print book formatter, I hope you find this list useful. In true author style, I mimicked my copyeditor’s (Tammy Salyer) post about what to send to your editor.

  • The Book – First and foremost, I need an editable copy of your book. It needs to be editable because, like a lot of print book formatters, I use InDesign to lay out the book. I need to be able to copy and paste the text into InDesign to work with it.
  • The Cover – This is only important if you don’t already have the ebook for sale on Amazon or some other place online I can look at. I more or less just need to see it to copy the style of the text for the title page.
  • FONTS – I read somewhere, and I can’t remember where, that designers spend most of their time searching for fonts. That could not be truer. If you know the names of the fonts used on the cover (better yet, if you HAVE the fonts that you could send along), that would make your formatter’s job go 10x faster.
  • Trim Size – Pretty easy to guess why this is important. The size of the inside of the book needs to match the size of the cover.
  • Any Special Requests – If you have an idea for the inside of the cover, please share it. For me, I try to give the interior of the book its own identity and match the identity of the cover so the whole product looks solid inside and out. But if you have an idea going through your head of a different layout (and layouts for books are pretty standard, but there is some variation), please let your formatter know!

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