Lay Out Your Book in Microsoft Word

No matter how many times people point out that it’s not a great idea, people continue to have a desire to lay out books in Microsoft Word. It’s a given that your book will look more professional if you use a real desktop publishing program like Adobe InDesign. In fact, I lay out all my books in InDesign because I have laid out books in Word. In short, laying out books in Word is somewhat challenging and the results are not as professional, particularly when it comes to typography.

So with that disclaimer firmly in place, here is a short course on laying out long documents in Word from someone who has suffered through it. In Word, you need to know a bit about a few features to lay out a long document like a book. If you don’t get all the answers you need from this article and get stuck along the way, spend some time in the online help researching these topics.

1. Sections and breaks. To make different pages numbers for your opening section (such as i, ii, iii), you need to use sections to break up your document. Then you can restart the page numbering for the body of your book.

2. Headers and footers. All books have headers and footers, which are the text that runs along the top and bottom of a page.

3. Fields. Creating a table of contents or an index involves using fields. Newer versions of Word try to disguise this fact, but if you understand what the field codes mean, you can troubleshoot problems more easily.

4. Styles. For document consistency and the ability to automatically create a table of contents, you need to use styles. (Virtually every poorly laid out document I have ever seen is the result of someone who had no idea how to apply a style!)

Note that this article covers Word versions 95 – 2003, not 2007. In Word 95 – 2003, these features work more or less the same way with a few slight differences in menu choices. (But if you’re using 2007, you have different fish to fry!)

1. Set the Page Size and Margins

First you need to determine the final page size of your book. Assuming it is going to be professionally printed, you will be creating a PDF, so setting the page size correctly is important. For this example, I am creating a 6 x 9 book.

Choose File|Page Setup. In the Paper tab, change the width and height to 6 x 9.

Now you need to set margins. With a book, you have the concept of a “binding edge” so you need to use mirrored margins and most people advise that you make the inside margin a bit larger than the outside one. In the margin Tab of the Page Setup dialog box, make sure that you choose Mirror Margins from the drop-down and set your inside, outside, top, and bottom margins. How much larger your inside margin is than the outside margin depends on how the book will be bound. Consult your printer for recommendations.

2. Break Up the Book

In a book, the title page isn’t numbered and the first few pages that contain copyright information, acknowledgements, table of contents and other front matter generally are numbered with lower case Roman numerals, such as i, ii, ii, and so forth. To make it possible to have no header and footer, for the title and different page numbers, you need to add section breaks.

If you use Normal view, it is much easier to see your breaks (choose View|Normal to switch views). Type your Title text and then after it, place a section break. To insert a new section, choose Insert|Break and select a type of section break. For a book, generally, you use a Next Page Break (I explain more about my rationale for making that choice instead of other section break types toward the end of this article).

I tend to find it easier to set up the breaks first, then put in the text later. This way, I can get the header and footer mess straightened out before I get too far into the project. The key is to set up your sections first. You may or may not want to have separate sections for each chapter. If you plan to put the chapter name in the header of each chapter, you want to have it in its own section. Here’s what the file looks like in Normal View at this point:

3. Deal with Headers and Footers

Once you have some placeholder text in your document, you need to deal with what I refer to as header and footer weirdness. Remember that you have multiple sections. And within each section, you have the First Page Header (and footer) Left Page and Right Page. That’s three different things you have to keep track of in each section.

The key to keeping your sanity with headers and footers is to make sure you click the Same As Previous button on every one, so it is disabled. Otherwise, Word will “helpfully” copy one header or footer to the next section for you. Since you want them to be different, be sure that Same As Previous is not enabled (in case you can’t tell, this problem is the source of much hair pulling).

Section 1 is the title page, so it has no header. Section 2 (with the front matter) may or may not, depending on your layout. Sometimes people will put “Contents” in the table of contents header, for example. Section 3 is your first chapter and you will probably have three headers and footers: first page, left, and right pages. Many times the first page header will be blank, left page has the book title and the right page has the chapter title.

4. Get Your Page Numbering Working

Generally footers are easier to deal with than headers, since they often just have a page number. In this case, you actually can let the Same as Previous button remain enabled for the body of your book. However, you want the initial two sections (title page, and front matter) to be numbered differently.

To make the numbering different, in your footer, in section 2, disable Same as Previous, then click Insert Page number. Now highlight the number and click the Format Page number button. In the Page Number Format dialog box, change the number format to ii, ii, iii. And under Page Numbering, restart the numbering at 1 (so it is not continuing from the previous section).

You will now repeat the process for the first chapter section (section 3). You will restart the numbering at 1 and change the number format to 1, 2, 3. The other chapters can be set to Same as Previous and Word will just keep numbering along through the rest of the document.

5. Fix Left vs. Right Pages

In every book, chapters always start on a right hand page. When you open a book flat, the page on the right is always numbered with an odd number. After you are finished with your editing, you need to make sure that your chapters always end on an even (left) page and every new chapter opens on an odd (right) page.

Technically, you can insert section breaks that start on odd or even pages, but I’ve found that leads to errors when text reflows. (You end up with an extra couple pages somehow and can’t figure out why, which leads to much angst and cursing.) Anyway, to avoid that level of stress, I use the “Next Page” section break. Then if I need to add a page at the end of a chapter, I use a “hard” page break to add one in. To force a page break, you can press Ctrl+Enter or choose Insert|Break and click Page (note that this is not a section break, it’s a page break).


6. Generate a Table of Contents

No book is complete without a table of contents. To automatically generate a table of contents, you must set up your document using Word’s built-in heading styles. The topic of styles is beyond the scope of this article, but assuming you applied styles throughout the body of your book, within your front matter section (section 2), place your cursor where you want the TOC to appear. Now choose Insert|Reference|Index and Tables and click the Table of Contents tab.

By default, you get a 3-level table of contents, although you can change it. Set the formatting options you want and click OK.

Word magically generates the contents. Sometimes the formatting can be weird, particularly if you have long chapter titles. Fortunately, you can edit your table of contents directly if you need to. If you have a long title that runs into the page number, for example, press Shift+Enter to insert a line break to split it into two lines.

If you edit your book and need to regenerate your table of contents, you don’t have to redo all the text edits you made in the TOC. Just click the table of contents so it is highlighted. Then press F9. This command updates the table of contents field. Word asks you if you want to update the whole TOC or just the page numbers. If you’ve done any editing, just update the page numbers.

And there you have it, a 6 x 9 book all laid out and ready to be turned into a PDF for the printer. Although Adobe Acrobat is the standard for creating PDF files, you can find much less expensive alternatives online, such as PDF995 ( and PDF reDirect ( Be sure to consult with your printer to be sure the PDF files will be usable however.

Happy publishing!

About Susan Daffron

Susan Daffron is the author the Alpine Grove Romantic Comedies and multiple award-winning nonfiction books, including several about pets and animal rescue. Check out all her books on her Amazon Author page.