Poetry Books: Guidelines & Design Options


Poetry books often come with their own special design and formatting concerns. If you’ve written a poetry book, this video will provide some helpful tips to help your book’s production go as smoothly as possible. I’ll also share some design and formatting options unique to poetry.

Changing the Margins of Your Poetry

Many poems contain special formatting achieved by using Spaces, Tabs, and Hard Returns. This is fine if you’re typing within the final page margins of you chosen book size. But, most of our authors write their manuscripts in much wider page margins, usually 8 ½ x 11. For most other types of books, these are the margins we recommend. But if your book is poetry, it is better if you change the manuscript’s margins to fit your chosen book size before submitting it for publication. This way, you can see how the change in margins may affect the manual formatting in some of your poems, and if necessary you can correct any errors you find.

Our two most popular book sizes for poetry are 5 x 8 and 6 x 9. I’ll show you how to change the margins to 5 x 8 first.

Changing the Margins for a 5x8 Book

For Microsoft Word users, go to ‘File’ and ‘Page Setup’. In the window that pops up, first go to the ‘Paper’ tab and make sure that ‘Letter’ is selected and that your page size is 8 ½ x 11. Then, click the ‘Margins’ tab. Set your top and bottom margins to 2.25. Set the left and right margins to 2.38. Then, set your gutter to .13. Next, where it says ‘Multiple Pages’, select ‘Mirror Margins’. Then, click the ‘Layout’ tab. Where it says ‘Header and Footer’, set both to 2 inches. Finally, click ‘Okay’.

Changing the Margins for a 6x9 Book

Now, let’s go through the same procedure, but this time we’ll change the margins to fit a 6 x 9 book. Go to ‘File’ and ‘Page Setup’. Then, click the ‘Paper’ tab to make sure ‘Letter’ is selected and that our page size is 8 ½ x 11. Then, in the ‘Margins’ tab, we will want to set the top and bottom to 1.75, the left and right to 1.88, and the gutter to .13. Select ‘Mirror Margins’, and then click the ‘Layout’ tab. Set the header and footer to 1.5 and click ‘Okay’.

Once you’ve changed the margins to match your chosen book size, look carefully through your manuscript. If you’ve done a lot of manual formatting with the Space Bar, Tab, and Enter keys, you may need to fix some things. But, if you margins have been changed correctly, this should be the last time you’ll ever need to do so.

Design & Formatting Options

Now, I’ll share a few design and formatting options. Whenever you have a preference about the options I discuss, write them down in your Submission Information Form. Step Two of the form is for interior layout. Where it says Special Instructions, you can communicate your design preferences to your Design Team. If you have no preferences, go ahead and say so on the form. Your Design Team is happy to do what they feel looks best, but your book might go through production faster and with fewer revisions if you make some choices ahead of time and list them on the form.

Hanging Indentations

Once you’ve changed your manuscript’s margins to fit your chosen book size, you may see long verses of poetry that no longer fit the width of the page in a single line like you intended. If so, you’ll want to either choose where to break these verses or format them with what’s called a Hanging Indentation. In a hanging indent, the first line of a verse is flush with the left margin, but any additional lines in the verse are indented. A hanging indentation is the traditional way of formatting a verse that should be read as a continuous thought even though it doesn’t fit on a single line.

To create a hanging indent, highlight the paragraph or verse of poetry in which you want to create the indent. Then, go to your Horizontal Ruler at the top of your screen. If you don’t see the Horizontal Ruler, go to ‘View’ and ‘Ruler’. On the Horizontal Ruler, drag the hanging indent marker to the position at which you want the indent to start. Your selection now has a hanging indention.

If you like, you can selectively format your hanging indents yourself or you can specify on your Submission Information Form that you would like all long verses of poetry to have a hanging indentation.

Page Breaks & Facing Pages

After you change your margins to fit your chosen book size, you may see poems that used to fit on a single page now take up two. Where the pages break in a poetry book, as well as which pages are facing one another, may or may not be important to you. If they are, you should include in your Submission Information Form how you would like your Design Team to handle page breaks and facing pages. I’ll discuss a few options you might want to consider.

For poems that will not fit on a single page, your Design Team can either let the text break naturally or they can try to balance the two pages with an equal amount of text. If the text breaks naturally, the first page will be full and the second page will have however many remaining lines of poetry there are. If you would prefer the pages to be balanced, you can decide for yourself where to break the text or you can have your Design Team take care of it for you. To break the text yourself, just position and click your cursor where you want the text to break. Then, go to ‘Insert’ and ‘Break’. In the window that pops up, select ‘Page Break’ and click ‘Okay’. If you want your Design Team to balance the pages for you, be sure to say, “balance pages for multiple page poems” in the Submission Information Form.

Another thing to consider in poetry books is facing pages. In all books, there are left and right-hand facing pages. You may prefer that long poems be broken across facing pages or you may have a pair of poems that would work best opposite one another. If this is the case, you can adjust your manuscript to make your facing pages work or you can instruct your Design Team to do it for you. If you want to do it yourself, you can insert page breaks wherever needed, as we learned how to do earlier. Keep in mind that the first page in your manuscript is a right-facing page. When you turn that page, Page 2 is on the left and Page 3 is on the right. All even numbered pages will always be on the left and all odd numbered pages will always be on the right. This will help you figure out whether or not certain pages will end up facing each other in the final book or if a page turn will come between them. If you prefer your Design Team to do this for you, specify on the Submission Information Form if you would like long poems to be on facing pages or which particular poems need to be facing each other.

Please be aware that in order to make facing pages work your Design Team may need to insert a blank page side or rearrange the order of poems. For example, let’s say in the middle of your manuscript you have a short poem followed by a long poem and you would like the long poem to be split across facing pages. If the short poem falls on a left-facing page, the long poem will need to skip the right-hand page so it can appear together on facing pages. This leaves a hole on the previous right-hand page. If it is okay to rearrange the order of your poems your Design Team can place another short poem on the blank page. Please be sure to write on your Submission Information Form whether it is okay to rearrange poems or insert a blank page side to make facing pages work.

Text & Page Alignment

It is easy to mix up text and page alignment so let me first illustrate the differences. There are three kinds of text alignment: Left aligned, right aligned, and center aligned. If the text alignment of your poems is important, specify on the Submission Information Form what the alignment should be. If you are using different kinds of alignment, be sure that you submit your manuscript in the final book margins and put on the Submission Information Form to keep text alignment ‘as is’.

In addition to text alignment, there is also page alignment. In poetry books, the vertical alignment of the page is either top aligned or center aligned. In addition, you may wish the pages to be horizontally centered. Page alignment does not change your text alignment. For example, a poem with left-aligned text can still be vertically and horizontally centered on the page. You can leave the page alignment up to your Design Team, but if you have preferences, be sure to include them on your Submission Information Form.

Table of Contents

Finally, if you would like a Table of Contents in your book, the poems can be listed in either alphabetical or chronological order. If you have a preference for how your Table of Contents should be organized, be sure to include this in the Submission Information Form.

If you have any questions or concerns about your poetry book’s design or formatting, please don’t hesitate to give us at a call at 1-888-728-8467.

Additional Information

Poetry Publishing