Formatting POD Novels with OpenOffice (in Linux) (part 1)

So today I went to lunner (which is like brunch but between lunch and dinner instead of between breakfast and lunch) with the much-revered Joshua Kehe, and we ate fancy mac ‘n cheese and talked about Things. Mostly these things consisted of my love life and our business lives. Also tangents into commiserating about how weird it is to be a grown-up and doing grown-up things like grocery shopping and paying car insurance. Ecchh. Nevermind all that foolishness.

The business lives part was the most interesting part. (Rather, the most interesting part for YOU, O interwebs. Personally, my love life or lack thereof is most interesting to me, but I won’t get into the details about that because I would rather this not be a journal of sad pomes. Soooo.) Josh is making himself into an expert on ebooks, and he’s the first person I run to when I have a burning question that the internet won’t give me a good answer to. Things like “Josh, how much do I price this ebook for? Josh, why should I independently publish in the first place? Joooooosh!” These are all excellent questions to ask him, and I recommend that all of you do it sometime. He really likes talking about such things.

But despite his expertise on ebooks, when I started asking questions about POD (print-on-demand, aka hard copies), he admitted that at this point his knowledge his mostly theoretical. I described to him yesterday’s trials and tribulations of formatting IN THE END for POD, and he said he’d probably hire someone when he gets to the point where he will do the same. I found this entirely unacceptable and declared that would be the POD expert, and would teach him to format his novels when it came time for him to do so.

He asked me, as we were parting, to write up an email about how I did it. But I’m not stingy! So here’s some tricks and solutions I will share with all of you~!

CAVEAT: I’m a Linux user (Kubuntu 11.04 at the moment) and I run OpenOffice for my wordprocessor and the GIMP for my image editor. All my tweaks will be given with directions for those programs, so YMMV. I never claimed to be any kind of computer guru. 🙂

(Click on the break to continue)

Trim Size

Q: What the everloving fuckshit is trim size?
A: The dimensions of a physical copy of your book. The smallest available trim size on Createspace (which is what I’m using for POD right now) is 5×8. This is “trade paperback” size.  When you think of the smallish, very booky-sized books that nestle comfortably in your hands and measure 4.25″ x 6.75″, that is “mass market” size. According to Wikipedia, trade paperbacks are basically identical in layout and page count to the hardback versions. In traditional publishing, novels (especially by debuting authors) often go straight to mass market paperback and never get a hard copy (they’re more expensive).

Q: Why do we care about trim size?
A: Because it matters. Magic. Don’t ask foolish questions.
In all seriousness, though, it may matter more or less to you depending on how much you care about how booky and correct the physical copy of your book appears. I, for example, care desperately and spent a good twenty minutes or so monologuing to my longsuffering roommate about how unhappy I was that Createspace doesn’t offer mass market size. It just looks more like a book. And because it’s smaller, my book would take up more pages and look more substantial and healthy than it would in trade paperback. I found a trade paperback size book in my house (White Teeth by Zadie Smith, which I highly recommend) and flipped to page 293 so I could SEE how many pages that looks like, and it just looked kind of sad and anemic compared to 370-or-however-many pages of mass market (the mass market book I used as reference was Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett.) Oh well. I’m just going to deal with my sadness.

So the key thing here is making your book look as professional as possible. Now, this sounds super boring when I say it like that, so think of it this way: Do you want your book to look like a book or do you want it to look like a block of pages amateurishly glued together with a kindergartener’s drawings on the front? Details matter. 

If you are not all hot and bothered by the idea of fucking around with a thousand tiny details in the interest of making your novel PERFECT, you may want to go ahead and fork over more money than Alex has to get it professionally done by someone who will get off on it.

Now, fellow detail fetishists who have not run off in terror, sit back and let’s get to the good stuff. TRIM SIZES! This is the easiest of all the things you do.

Edit -> Select All
Format -> Page -> Page 

Trade paperback is the second most booky size (*weeps* After my beloved mass market size), so we’re going to assume you agree and you’re formatting the novel exactly the same way I am.

Select “User” from the drop-down menu labeled “Format”. Make the height 8″ and the width 5″.

MARGINS ARE VERY IMPORTANT. Do them next. On the lower half of this window, on the right hand side select “Mirrored” from the Page Layout menu. This will make it so that you have booky margins. Remember: The most important thing is making your book look as booky as possible. On the left side, you now see that the margins are labeled “inner” and “outer” instead of left and right. The “inner margin” or “gutter margin” is the one closest to the spine of your book. As books are printed on both sides of their pages, the inner margins must alternate sides. This is important so that your words don’t get awkwardly glued, and so that your readers don’t have to break the spine to be able to read all the way to the end of the line. So that’s how you do that.

Make all the margins 0.5″ except for the inner margin, which should be bigger. There’s a whole table on Createspace about how wide your inner margins should be. If your book is between something like 150 and 400 pages, it should be 0.75″. So…y’know, booky length books = 0.75″. We’re good!

Click okay, then wait a few seconds for it to finish reformatting. So pretty! Look at them margins! They’re awesome!
If the narrow margin (the outer margin) is on the right, then that page is ALSO a right-hand page. You always want your novel’s title page and opening to the text (chapter one or your prologue or whatever) to be on a right-hand page. Go ahead, do a quick audit of your fiction collection and see for yourself. This is standard industry practice. I’ll wait.

See? Told you.

So screw around with it a bit and stick in some flypages if you need to make everything pretty.

Q: What the everloving fuck is a flypage?
A: At the beginning of some books, and at the ends of others, there are random blank pages that you probably never noticed. If you did notice them, you may have spent 0.005 seconds completely bewildered and a little indignant about why the publishers insist on wasting paper to kill trees like that. Well, this is why. Formatting! It’s important.

Let’s move along.

Front Matter

Q: What the everloving fuck is front matter?
A: Oh, pfh, it’s the stuff at the front of the book. Come on. You’ve got title pages, half-titles, copyright info, dedication, epigraph, table of contents, forwards, prefaces, acknowledgments, dramatis personae…
Most of those things are optional. What you DO need is a title page and copyright info. Personally I’m putting Acknowledgments in the back matter because it makes more sense to me to have it there.

Q: What’s the difference between a title page and a half-title?
A: Oh good, an intelligent question. Let’s use an example book for this. Or two! Or three!
Example book one will be Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. It is a beautifully designed book, just really visually gorgeous the whole way through. I’m referencing the hardback edition. Follow along if you have a copy.
Open just the front cover and we have a map. Turn that page. HALF TITLE! A half-title, as you can see if you are one of the blessed humans who have read this Perfect Piece of Literature, is JUST the title on the page with NOTHING else. Just title. No author. Nothing. Turn the page. On the back of it (the “verso”, as we shall call it if we want to be fancy; the front of the page is called the “recto”, by the way), we have a thing for “other books by Brandon Sanderson.” On the facing recto, we have a title page! Notice how this one has more than “The Way of Kings” written on it — author name, publisher, even “Book One of the Stormlight Archives” so that we know right up front that it’s a series. On the verso of that page, we have copyright info, and the next recto is the adorable dedication to Emily. Turn that page. Blank verso. Acknowlegements on the next page (Aha! Starting on a right-hand page too, you see!). Then contents, then ANOTHER HALF TITLE just in case we’ve all forgotten what book we’re reading and we’re all too lazy to flip back or look at the cover or the spine or something. I don’t know why this book has two half titles and a full title page. Turn again and it’s MAPS. Turn again and it’s a PRELUDE! Which is sort of like a Prologue except this book has one of those too.

The second book we’ll look at is Abarat by Clive Barker, which may beat out Way of Kings on visual beauty (but not necessarily beauty of design) simply by means of having dozens and dozens of desperately gorgeous illustrations (a line of grass along the bottom of a page, a butterfly in a margin… it has these too, besides the full-page illustrations. Gorgeous book. Lovely satin-polished paper. Work of art.)  Abarat has a flypage with watery wavy designs printed on it, then a half-title, then a title page (copyright on verso), a dedication, an epigraph, a table of contents (beginning on the left hand page, ooo! That’s unusual!). Then a chapter-heading page FOR the prologue (it says “Prologue: The Mission” and has an illustration with epigraph), another illustration on verso, actual text on facing recto.

Whew! Shall we do one more? Both of those were hardcover. Let’s check out two, actually, in a compare-contrast. Black Powder War by Naomi Novik will represent our mass-market paperbacks, and The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan will represent our trade paperbacks. Lexicon, as it is a trade paperback and designed to look in design like a hardcover, starts with half-title, title, copyright, dedication, acknowledgments, then launches straight into chapter one (on a right-hand page, mind you!). Black Powder War, on the other hand, has a “rave reviews” page, “other works” page, title page, copyright, dedication, Prologue (on a right-hand page. I just want to point this out). BPW doesn’t waste any time on these fripperies of half-titles, because it is indeed a mass-market and designed to be cheaper.

Questions? That’s probably everything you need to know about front matter. I don’t know how to write a copyright page yet, so don’t ask me. :/

Page numbering

Okay, so this is a bitch and a half–

Q: What’s page numbering?
A: Are you fucking kidding me?

Q: Why does it matter?
A: Because.

The important piece of Making Your Book Look More Booky advice here is DO NOT LET YOUR FRONT MATTER HAVE PAGE NUMBERS. If you must, if you’ve got all the things and a dramatis personae and a ten-page forward by your elementary school English teacher and a rambly preface about how you were inspired for this and then an even more rambly Acknowledgements to thank your mom and your dad and your god/s/ess/es/cat, then you may, if you wish, have Roman numeral numbering, but this is such a huge fucking pain in the ass that I will intentionally design my work to NOT do any of that not because it’s annoying, but because I don’t want to fucking deal with motherfucking page numbering for one goddamn second longer than I have to. Bitches.

This involves a lot of cajoling and trickery of your computer. You may have to hack it by doing arcane kinds of things, and let’s see if I can describe some of these eldritch pieces of witchcraft without wanting to slit my wrists with this package of Oreos I’m eating.

First trick you need to know is that if you go into Insert -> Manual Break and then select Page Break and then pick First Page from the Style menu, that will gently explain to OpenOffice that you don’t want to have any footers or headers on that page. I have no idea how to convice OO that an existing page shouldn’t have any, so what I ended up doing, after bringing myself nearly to tears of burning rage hotter than a thousand suns over this fucking bitch of an ordeal, was to insert four or five “First Pages” and then copy my front matter INTO them, rather than trying to wrastle it around some other way.

When you tentatively think you may have accomplished this, go to your first page of text, then Insert -> Footer -> Default. Then click in the footer area and Insert -> Fields -> Page number.

Scroll around with a suspicious expression on your face. Make sure that the very first page in the document didn’t get a page number. OO really liked to do this to me. Make sure all your front matter is unnumbered, and that your first page of real text has an *ACTUAL* number 1 on it even though it isn’t the numerically first page in your document.

If something went wrong, fuck around with it for a while. You’re on your own here, kid. Godspeed.


Q: What’s a f–
A: I will cut you.

Q: Why are they important?
A: Let’s all sing the refrain: Because you want your book to look as booky as possible. 

Fun fact! Times New Roman is not an appropriate font for printed books! Did you know that? It’s truth! Google “book fonts” or some such term and look at some of the things that come up. I’m using Palatino for IN THE END. As soon as I changed it from TNR, I was all, “Oooouh~” because you don’t really NOTICE  how not-booky TNR looks until you change it to an actual booky font. DETAILS MATTER.

If you don’t know how to change a font in OpenOffice, I don’t even know why you’re here. You can download Palatino and several other useful fonts for free on the interwebs. The “Select All” button is your best friend.

And then of course there is the really subjective question of whether or not your chapter titles should be in fancy-font. Quick tangent: DO NOT USE FANCY FONTS IN THE MAIN BODY OF YOUR TEXT. They should be FLAVOR. Like habanero peppers. A teeny hint makes a dish exciting. If you ever use a fancy font throughout your book, I will make you a dinner composed entirely of habaneros and we’ll see how you like it. (And yes, I know there’s a couple masochists out there who would totally do it, but shut up ruining my analogies).

Anyway. Fancy font chapter headings are really up to you. Pick a font that is thematically relevant but not overly so — like if your novel is about ice skaters, don’t have a font that looks like it’s made of ice. That’s lame. I decided to go with the fancy-font chapter headings because I liked how it looked; I just used the same font that is on the cover: East Anglia. It helps tie the whole text together into one thematically consistent unit.
Be tasteful!
Make it booky!

Drop Caps

This is so much fun! Drop caps are the BOOKIEST looking thing of all! Way of Kings has drop caps. Black Powder War has drop caps. Demon’s Lexicon does. Kafka on the Shore (Haruki Murakami, and another trade paperback) has them, but White Teeth (Zadie Smith, also trade paperback) doesn’t. Abarat does. American Gods (Neil Gaiman) doesn’t have them in either the English mass market version or the Russian hardback version. Howl’s Moving Castle (Diana Wynne Jones, mass market) has an alternative to drop caps — the first few words of each chapter are italicized. Before you go making conclusions about mass-markets, though, let me tell you that Elantris and Warbreaker, both by Sanderson, have drop caps. So does Kushiel’s Dart (Jacqueline Carey), though they’re subtle in all three of these books — only slightly larger and in an inoffensive fancy font. Way of Kings has the most dramatic drop-caps — wait! Nope! Good Omens (Gaiman and Pratchett) has the most dramatic ones. Even though it’s mass market paperback (compared to hardcover behemoth), Good Omens has drop caps that are half-again as big as the ones in Way of King AND they’re bits of art like the illuminated capitals in a medieval manuscript — doubtless that was intentional.

Ahem. I got a little bit excited and carried away there. You’re probably wondering —

Q: What the everloving fuck are drop caps?
A: *facepalm* Because you didn’t get it from context. Drop caps appear at the beginning of chapters (or in the case of Good Omens, at the beginning of major sections, since Pratchett doesn’t DO chapters). They’re decorative large capital letters that drop down (get it? That’s why they’re called drop caps) to take up several lines with the text flowing around them, no indent before them. They can be super fancy or very simple. Sometimes the rest of the word is in small-caps after it. Sometimes the rest of the line is italicized. The best thing to do here is to fetch out your favorite book and see how it’s done in there, and then just do it that way.

Oh right, and you need to know how to do it. Select the word or the paragraph or the letter, it’ll work no matter how you do it, then go to Format -> Paragraph, select the Drop Caps tab, click the tickybox for Display Drop Caps, adjust how many lines you want them to take up. Way of Kings takes up three lines per drop cap, but I felt that was excessive for mine, so I went with two lines and I feel that is quite emphatic enough for me in this book.
Note: You can’t select the whole document to do this, or it’ll give you a dropcap at the beginning of EVERY PARAGRAPH which is something you DO NOT WANT. Remember: Be TASTEFUL. You may, if you really want to, do it at the beginning of every scene break, but definitely not for every paragraph.


I can’t teach you how to make a nice cover in one blog post. It cannot be done. (“I’ve seen guys eat their own headsets trying, it CAN’T BE DONE.”) Half of making good art is being able to step back and decide if it LOOKS nice. Does it LOOK like a book cover? Fix it until it does. Look at some of your favorite books for reference.

I made the cover for IN THE END without a Wacom tablet or ANYTHING fancy. I just spent six hours with a trackball mouse. As I mentioned before, the program that I used for it was the GIMP. Elements you can see on the cover of IN THE END are gradients (the gold bars), excessive use of the Paths tool (which is my dearest beloved; lets you draw by clicking and dragging curves until you like the look of them, THEN actually putting down the color), layers, transparency (on the back cover), and then this other delicious thing I’m just going to direct you to and let you play with — Filters -> Alpha to Logo -> Glossy. Just play with it. It’s AWESOME. That’s how I did the title! 🙂 You see how it looks all cool and layered with that textured pattern on it? Click the “use pattern for outline” and “use pattern for text” tickyboxes and select the patterns you like.

Color balance is a thing. Visual balance is a thing. Keep it simple and a bit minimalist, because it will look better with less work from you, especially if you aren’t artistically inclined.

And it’s now 2am. You’re welcome, everyone and Josh. If you have any further questions, pop ’em in the comments and I’ll answer or write another post or something! Thanks for reading! I hope it helped.

Edit: I forgot to talk about some stuff here! Like page layouts! Margins! Gutter width! I’ll add more posts about those as they occur to me.

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