Formatting PDFs for print on demand (POD)


(c) Lisa Scullard for Writing Buddies, February 2013

If you have formatted a document for e-book already, it is a good starting-point for your print version (n.b. This does not work successfully the other way around, due to format restrictions in e-books). Otherwise, your original document may be in Word, Works, Rich Text Format or Open Office text (ODT).

Firstly, you will need to decide on your physical book’s dimensions. The most popular, and easiest to set up free distribution for, are ‘Digest’ (5.5”x8.5”) or ‘US Trade’ (6”x9”). Not all sizes work for extended distribution, and some are more expensive to price afterwards, so the above are recommended. Choose one or the other – unless you wish to publish a hardcover, in which case select US Trade (6”x9”).

Start by downloading a free template file from Createspace (templates available here) or Lulu (templates available here) for your interior. The templates work in both Word and OpenOffice, and either download will work for both websites later. This sets up your page dimensions, mirror page styles including ‘gutter’ (the deeper margin that appears in the book’s spine to account for page bend), and trim area. Do not alter the page layout, unless prompted to do so by your online previewer later upon uploading (for example, if prompted to increase the gutter margin for books of over 400 pages – you will be told how much the gutter needs to increase – remember to decrease your outer margin by the same difference).

Using Ctrl+A, select and copy your document, from either your e-book document you created earlier, or your original document if you have not created an e-book yet. Open the pre-sized interior template with either Word or OpenOffice, and paste your document into it. Make sure your document already has a front/title page followed by a page break included in your original document before pasting it in, as the template begins with title page formatting already set. The first page of your novel will look odd (e.g. centred, heading style, bold) when you paste it in, if you do not start your book with a title page.

If you have previously created an e-book and used it as your source, all of your title page, copyright page, table of contents, page breaks and formatting will be preserved. If you have not created an e-book from your original document before, you will need to do some basic cleaning-up at this stage:

For clarity, set your paragraph formatting like this:

  • Left indent: 0cm
  • Right indent: 0cm
  • First line (special): 0.5cm
  • Above paragraph: 0cm
  • Below paragraph: 0cm
  • Line spacing: 1 line

It is up to you how you set out your justification. Both left and parallel margin justification is fine, so it is your choice depending on your preferred aesthetics. Centralising chapter headings, and right justification for other information, is also used.

You will need a title page for the very first/front page – just the title, in the font/size of your choosing, and your name underneath.

The next page is your copyright page. The legal minimum, to protect your rights, is to say ‘Book title © (your name)(year)’ and on the next line ‘The moral right of the author has been asserted’. You do not need to write anything more. If you have given yourself a publisher name, also include it on this page, e.g. First published by XXX Press in (year). You can also list other titles you have previously published on this page.

Then your Contents page/pages should appear, followed by an Introduction page and/or About the Author, a dedication if any, and then your chapters.

Always insert a page break at the end of a chapter or information page. The page break should be immediately after the last full stop of the chapter. This will be preserved if there are any later edits – do not use line returns to move new Chapters onto the next page, which will corrupt at every minor edit anywhere in the book – always use Insert/page break or Ctrl+Enter at the end of the last line of a chapter or information page.

Insert any headers, and page numbers. Your pagination will traditionally start with odd numbers (from 1) on a right-hand page, and even numbers on the left. (N.b, these pages appear back-to-front on-screen while editing in parallel viewing mode – what you will see side-by side on the screen is the right-hand/odd-numbered page on the left, and its reverse to be printed on the right, i.e. the following left-hand page as you turn it in the printed book).

To displace page numbers at the beginning of a book, for example to start with Chapter One on Page 1, click in the footer before the page number on any page, and go to Edit/Fields. In the ‘offset page numbers’ box, type the number of pages you wish to skip before page numbering visibly starts. So if your copyright page, Contents, Introduction and About the Author take up four pages before Chapter One starts, type ‘-4’ numerically (minus four) in the box. You will need to do this for both the left and right-handed page.

Traditionally, Chapter One starts on the right-handed page (viz, offset as page 1). If you have not enough pages beforehand to offset with an even number, it is perfectly acceptable to have a blank page facing page 1, or an image, or a dedication. It is entirely up to you, and often more visually pleasing to have this ‘space’ on the left-hand page, rather than a continuation of previous information such as contents or introduction facing the start of the first chapter.

Your headers are also a matter of aesthetics. You may have your author name as one header, and the book title on the facing page – or if the book is part of a series, you may have the series title on the left and book title on the right, or book’s main title on the left and sub-heading on the right. Or simply the book title on both pages. Once a header is filled in on an even page, it must then be filled in on an odd page to appear throughout, as the page style in the template is ‘mirrored’ but information in these fields is denoted as ‘right page’ and ‘left page’ entries, so like the page numbering field settings, headers must be done twice, but do not have to match on left and right pages.

Page headers are also a space to be creative. You can use Wingding swirlies either side of your title or name, exotic fonts, experiment with font-size and capitals, or just use traditional text. Remember that what you are seeing on the template will print in the finished book as actual size, so opt for clarity, whatever you use. The same goes for your title page and chapter headings – have fun with it.

Footnotes and endnote positioning from your original document will be preserved. You do not need to worry about these. Endnote pages will have a separate header area to the rest of your book, so in your header area there you can have something different if you wish, such as ‘References’ or ‘Articles’ – whatever is relevant to your notes, or you can just fill in your book title/author name as before.

Any internet hyperlinks will need to be changed to actual internet addresses – remember that there is nowhere to click in a paperback book yet!

Some things you can of course do differently in paperbacks, compared to e-books. You can use line returns for spacing and positioning on the page – every page will be printed as you see it on the template document, so you have more freedom. You can use as many different fonts and sizes as you like, special characters, smiley faces, foreign text – whatever takes your fancy.

Any images should be added last, using Insert/Picture/from File, and in order from the front, as they will shunt all text and corrupt the layout of pages following them, which will then need any formatting issues corrected. Pictures will only print grey-scale if you opt for black and white interior printing (pencil drawings and pen-and-ink look wonderful). Short books can be printed with colour interiors – some POD printers only have ‘shiny’ paper stock for this (as in a photobook, or cookery book) and it applies to every page, even those without illustrations. The only decision to make there is cost, as they are more expensive to produce, so you may find it cost-prohibitive to produce a full-colour interior book if it is very long.

Format your pictures using right-click/Picture to resize or crop. Do not drag the corners of the image to re-size – they will distort, and no longer maintain aspect ratio or picture quality. Use the ‘percentage of original’ re-size control in the Format Picture ‘Crop’ window. Vertical and horizontal should match – ensure that if you insert 30% in the vertical, you also put 30% in the horizontal instructions to maintain proportions. You can wrap text around images by aligning them left, right (or centred, if that floats your boat!), right-clicking on the image and selecting ‘Wrap’ or ‘Page Wrap’ and the wrap style you want. If edits are made later, remember that everything shunts up or down a page, and images are the worst offenders. Always check your document from the beginning thoroughly after inserting images and if any further changes afterwards are made. If something nasty occurs, like images overlapping after an edit, or text vanishing behind a picture, it’s best to click on ‘Undo’ and try again.

Once you have finished adding to your interior, proofreading it and dealing with any problems, such as hanging lines at the end of a chapter (where a single line appears in a lonely fashion at the top of the last page in a chapter before a page break – the best way to deal with this is to either give it some company by breaking up a few longer paragraphs in that chapter to move it all down a few lines, or to bring it back a page with some editing – some of my best edits/additions have occurred while dealing with end-of-chapter hanging sentences!), you can page-number your Contents list, which is very pleasing to see in a printed book. If your contents list is still hyperlinked from your ebook file, you can find your page numbers easily by navigating your way through the list and noting down each page that every chapter starts on. Keep a note at this stage of the total number of pages in your document. If you edit at any point after page-numbering your contents list, and it gains or loses you pages, you will have to re-page-number the contents list of every chapter after the loss or gain.

The neatest way to create a numbered contents list in a print book is to use an invisible table. Just insert a table two columns across and with as many lines as you need. Drag the centre line across to the right to make room for longer chapter headings. Cut and paste your chapter headings from the original list, one at a time, into their positions in the table. Then insert your page numbers. Left-justify the chapter headings in the left column, and right-justify the page numbers in the right column by selecting the column, and clicking the appropriate justification button on the toolbar. While the table formatting box is visible, select the entire table, and change the line-style to ‘none’. You will see in your print preview that the lines are invisible. You can also adjust the spacing above and below text in the boxes using Format/Paragraph – this one below is set to 0.05cm, both above line and below line:


About the Author
Chapter One


Chapter Two


Chapter Three


Chapter Four


If your chapter headings, or any headings/text elsewhere in the book still contains navigable hyperlinks, it is now a good idea to right-click on each and remove the hyperlinks, as they may otherwise appear blue, underlined, or in different fonts after saving and exporting to PDF.

Here’s a small problem I’ve encountered when pasting a document into a template using OpenOffice, which is easily remedied. If your prose/paragraphs are refusing to justify vertically at the bottom of pages, or cutting off prematurely and leaving large empty gaps at the bottom of sometimes half a page or more, once you have dealt with all the other issues, this can be remedied. Click the cursor into the prematurely abbreviated paragraph, then in the OpenOffice toolbar select Format>Paragraph and select ‘Text Flow’ in the pop-up box menu. Look for the check-box that says ‘Do not split paragraph’ and make sure it is UN-ticked, before clicking on ‘Apply/OK’. The other check boxes should also be left clear.


Un-tick this box in the image above, and confirm by clicking Ok/Apply – all four check boxes should be empty

Your paragraph will now wrap properly to the bottom of the print template. You will need to do this on every following page where the error gaps appear. The gaps may reappear with any further edits to the document, or in really irritating cases if it has been closed after saving and then re-opened, so make sure that this is the last formatting correction you make before saving and exporting the finalised version as PDF. If you are inserting and justifying images as well for an illustrated print book (see below), you can do these paragraph corrections at the same time. You may find that the book is shorter as the text moves up a few pages throughout the whole book, meaning the page numbering in your contents list may also need to be checked and changed. It is all worth it in the end, trust me!

Remember to save your work (‘Save as/Book title’, so you still have a copy of your blank template) in whatever file type you are using.

To export as PDF: In OpenOffice, a text-only book will save perfectly using ‘File/Export as PDF’, and following the prompts. Open the new PDF of your book after saving, and check it to ensure you are pleased with its appearance (and for typos!)

For illustrated print books, or to export from Word, you will need to download a free unlimited-use third-party program called ‘doPDF’ and install it on your PC or laptop. This is required to address problems in documents corrupting during export, such as images shunting to overlap text and blank pages appearing, and also works beautifully when exporting PDFs from Word, Paint, and other programs with no automated PDF creator. It is a small file size and has had no issues in the last two years I have used it. It works by setting itself up from the ‘File/Print’ menu. Once installed, go to File on the toolbar, then select Print… and in the control window, select the printer ‘doPDF’ from the drop-down printer choice menu. Click on ‘okay’ to proceed. It will say as usual ‘printing’ but is not actually printing, but converting the file. Once finished, it will open your new PDF automatically for you to check using your own previously installed Adobe Acrobat. Make sure your Acrobat viewer zoom setting is re-set to 100% to see your new PDF at actual size. You may find yourself having to search for its saved location in your ‘My Documents’ afterwards, but it’s worth it!

You now have a complete interior to upload onto either Createspace or Lulu, or both. Lulu makes lovely dust-jacket hardcovers, so if you have made a 6”x9” interior, you can use it for both hardcover and paperback versions.

Cover image:

You have two choices – you can use the high-quality online cover creators on Createspace or Lulu, using their templates, and add your own high-resolution images, or free non-copyright images (e.g. from These cover creators will calculate the spine width for you automatically and give you a range of font styles, backgrounds and layouts to use. Or you can create your own complete wraparound cover file from scratch. You will need to know the spine width and dimensions required by typing in your page count, trim/book size, and paper quality choice into the Createspace calculator or Lulu, and downloading a cover template to follow, which will have the trim area marked out as well. The cover you create for one site will not be the right spine width for the other, as the paper used by each is of different gauges. The best tool I’ve found to create these single covers is OpenOffice Draw, which exports files as PDF, although you could also use MS Paint or Photoshop, using ‘doPDF’ as your exporter via the Print menu as before. You may find creating a single wraparound cover can be hit-and-miss – I have done so for four of my books and thoroughly enjoyed it, although it was very time-consuming, as covers have to be precisely actual size. I also use the cover creators for other titles and Lulu, as I can use a single image created myself for the front cover, and the rest is just selecting background and font colours on the back and spine to match, and adding a (usually square) author image for the reverse.


Createspace is owned by Amazon, so you only need your Amazon details to set it up, and like KDP for Kindle, it is free to publish, with ISBNs, and to distribute to, Amazon UK, and Amazon Europe. It is also free to list your books elsewhere such as libraries and academic institutions and for direct shop ordering, but it will require you to raise your US cover price. You will need your bank details for any royalty payments.

Use the step-by-step method to publish and follow the prompts. It will issue you a free ISBN, listing Createspace as the publisher. If you buy and supply your own ISBNs, then you are the publisher. Select your trim size and paper stock at this stage – the classic cream paper is good quality, slightly thicker gauge than stark white.

Use the online previewer to review your book after uploading the interior file – reviewing your book by ordering a print copy, before approving it for distribution, can take up to two months just to arrive from the U.S.A. – so it is worth it to go through the online previewer pages as well as quite fun to watch the virtual pages turn and load.

If the online previewer detects problems with your file, address the ones such as ‘insufficient gutter’ or ‘insufficient trim area’. Ensure that if you increase your gutter area, that you decrease your outer margin area by the same amount – or you will narrow the middle text area and increase your page count, forcing you to re-format and re-page number again. A bit of adjustment either side usually does the trick, but a gutter deficiency of a couple of millimetres won’t spoil the readability of the book.

Problems such as low image resolution (as low as 72dpi) do not affect book printing or distribution, and there are perfectly good image reproductions at low-res in print books. Low resolution is generally fine for small graphics and scanned artwork. Photographs print better at a more optimum resolution, 300dpi, which is the recommended resolution for all images in a print book.

If you have selected ‘black and white interior’ any images you have inserted in colour will show up in colour on the previewer, but will print as greyscale (the same goes for the preview on Lulu).

However, you can select a full-colour interior on Createspace, on white paper stock only. The Createspace full-colour interior option is excellent, with a matte finish as in all good colour books, and very good reproduction quality for cartoons and illustrations as well as photographs and graphics, illuminated or colour text. Your book will be more expensive than a black and white interior, so is worth doing if you have a graphic novel or a great many illustrations (for the best value for money) as it applies to every interior page included in the overall price, and for cost-effectiveness is best for shorter, densely illustrated books, no more than 150 pages in length – where readers can appreciate they’re getting a full-colour book without feeling too extorted!

Once you have approved your file, ignored any minor issues and moved on, created or uploaded your cover (a great fun part to do online, as you see it appearing before you!), you will see a summary and a button to ‘submit files for review’. You now wait up to 48 hours, biting your nails, for the human reviewers to quickly check the files as well. Reasons for rejection can be things like the author name and title of the book differing from how they appear on the cover, or another ISBN appearing on the copyright page – I had my other books listed here with their ISBNs, and was told those ISBNs were ‘not correct for this title’ and to update them. I ended up removing them from my book-list altogether, as it was quicker than pointing out their own oversight in not realising they were associated ISBNs alongside a list of my other books. But usually they just highlight minor issues such as image resolution, which can be ignored. You then approve your file by going back onto the site and confirming it for distribution, selecting your sales outlets, adding a description and author blurb, and it will appear on Amazon within a few days. Order a print copy to review as well – it is very cheap, will take a while to arrive, but you will have a copy to proof-read and mark-up for any changes.

Createspace now offer the expanded distribution channels for free should you choose to select them – brilliant. This means your book can be ordered by high street stores and academic/library institutions in the USA. You will be required to raise your cover price, but it will still keep your book within the reasonable price range for a new title.

You can also select your cover ‘finish’ at this stage – gloss or matte (both options are free).

Createspace will offer to forward your paperback file to the KDP site to publish as an e-book for you. I would suggest you say no, especially if you have already published it as an e-book on KDP. This is because you have no idea how your book, optimised for print, will appear on an e-reader. There may be blank e-reader screens, and there will definitely be no linked table of contents or nice hyperlinks elsewhere. Use the e-book formatting guide to optimise an e-book version and publish your ebook separately.

You can upload new versions at any time, and go through the review process again. Always select ‘Interior’ and ‘Change/upload new version’ from your product’s dashboard on Createspace to upload your new edits. Don’t delete the book and start from scratch, or upload it again from the start, or you will have multiple versions available with different ISBNs. Always make changes to the existing book. This will ensure the old version is updated with the same ISBN, and the same product page, rank and ratings on Amazon.

On Lulu: A similar step-by-step process is used, somewhat clearer, to publish books and make available to the public on Lulu, or to distribute to Amazon etc. I find it easiest at present to have my Amazon version published by Createspace with their free ISBN, and to make special editions, hardcovers, and easy-ordering copies for author events printed by Lulu, as paperbacks from Lulu only take two days to arrive. For that, you can select one of the first two publishing options – ‘Make private and available only to me’ or ‘Make public to sell in the Lulu marketplace’ without an ISBN (these two options are 100% free).

Once you complete the process, there is no reviewer stage, and your book is available instantly. Look for coupon codes on their homepage, which are a regular feature – you can get up to 30% off coupons, or free postage, all of which adds up to considerable author savings when ordering copies for your own events. If you have selected option two as above, you will have a Lulu product page to share with the public and on your blog, and your book will be visible via search and browse, unless you make it private and available only to you. You can change your book’s visibility at any time by selecting ‘Revise’ from your author dashboard.

You can have ISBN versions distributed from Lulu as an alternative to Createspace, but the last time I checked into this, the process requires you to have your PDF created by an ‘approved’ agent – so unless you want to pay for this too, stick with Createspace for distribution and ISBNs. You can use Lulu as well as Createspace, for identical books for your own purposes – you are the self-published author and maintain control where your publishing platforms are – but you cannot add your Createspace ISBN as your own on Lulu, as it is not transferable.

An alternative print-on-demand company is Lightning Source, which have a very good reputation, distribution reach (although it is up to you to do the selling and marketing to outlets as before – just because the printers say they supply high street stores does not mean that the shops will automatically order yours for their shelves), and like Createspace now do as a free option (you can order a sample booklet from Createspace to see their cover quality alternatives), they have the option of matte (not smooth satin-finish matte) covers for paperbacks if you like the slightly rubbery recycled car-tyre tactile effect rather than the traditional print-on-demand gloss – but they are expensive and slow to set up, and you have to have a business bank account in your ‘publisher name’. It can cost over £475 to publish one book through them, and spotting a single typo would cost (at last report) up to £88 to upload a revised version. Remember that it’s 100% free to use Createspace and Lulu for the same, and there are no limits on the number of revisions you upload to either of those. Worth mentioning is that if you publish on Createspace, and a customer orders your book from Amazon in the UK or Europe, your book will be printed by Lightning Source anyway, as Createspace have subcontracted their printing locally with Lightning Source to speed up delivery to EU customers. And at no cost to you. (Info: Createspace at London Book Fair, 2013)

A note on uploading illustrated print books: Files of over 15MB will take a long time to upload, and may time out or crash if the site is very busy. Keep persisting, try uploading at different times of day, and close all other work and windows. If there is an apparently insurmountable problem, which so far I only encountered once on Lulu with a file refusing to upload, I looked on their advice page and downloaded an FTP client program which allowed me to transfer the file directly onto their server. It took three hours via FTP, but when it finished and I signed back into that author’s account, the illustrated PDF was available to select from their ‘My Files on Lulu’ at the interior stage of publishing, so it can be done. I have not had problems with Createspace – you just need a little patience while the bigger files upload. If you have compressed the images, as in the instructions for formatting e-books, uploading issues are likely to be less troublesome.