One of the biggest hurdles toward self-publishing is putting together the actual book. Programs like Quark and InDesign are expensive with steep learning curves. You can go the other route and try to do everything in a program like Word or Google Docs but you are working hard to get a pretty basic looking book. Or you can use a free program like Papyrus Author. For this post, I’ll be using Papyrus Author. You can download it for free at I’m not affiliated with Author Papyrus. Big thanks to my author friend A.F. Stewart ( for telling me about this free and effective layout program.

The first step toward publishing a book is managing the content. You can use Papyrus Author as your word processing program, upload a Word or Google Doc or copy and paste from a document into Papyrus Author. From my experience with this program, the most efficient method would be to use Papyrus Author as your word processor. The free program has a number of excellent features such as:

• Full Featured Word Processor
• Grammar- and Spellcheck
• Advanced Book Writing
• Interactive Writer’s Thesaurus
• Extensive Automated Backups
• Compatible to MS Word
• Publish to ePub, Kindle Mobi or Print Book
• Front Matter & Author Data Generation
• Introductory Style Check
• Pinboard and Notes Next to the Text
• Navigator with Chapters, Scenes and Events

For our purposes, the free version will be good enough. The paid version features are designed more to enhance the actual writing process with style analysis, research and citation tools and story timeline creator. Let’s get started.


Once you’ve downloaded Papyrus Author, open it up and you will see a screen like this:

Select New Project and then decide what type of document you want to create. The book I will be laying out is called Ordeal in French Lipstick by Amy Zoellers. I want to thank Amy for volunteering to be my test subject for teaching purposes. You can find Amy on Instagram at

Because her book is poetry, I don’t want indented paragraphs, so I will choose a Paperback 6×9 NF. This means my book will be formatted for a six by nine inch paperback book with the nonfiction (no indentations) format. The size of a book is referred to as the trim size.

Author Papyrus automates the difficult choices, like gutter width, the margin running along the interior book spine and the margins along the outer edge. If you want images that run off the page, called full bleed, Author Papyrus will manage that as well. They have a wide selection of hardback and paperback templates in all the common trim sizes from 4.25×6.875 (a small pulp genre pocket book) to 8.5×11 (magazine size). Amazon print-on-demand now publishes hardbacks as well.

Select which size you want, enter the name of your document, and click on the blue Create a New Project button. Your book template will open up.

You will notice some information is already written in your book such as the title, subtitle, author, publisher and copyright. None of these will be accurate and you can’t change them on the page. This was the very hardest part of using Author Papyrus for me, and it took me about 10 minutes to sort. I will save you that time.

At the top of your screen you will see a menu, and one of the menu selections is Document. Click open and select Document Properties. An information box will pop out with three tabs named Front Matter, Book & Author and Metadata. We only need the first two.

Select the Front Matter tab and you will see fields where you can enter your book details. Title, subtitle if you have one, author name, publisher and copyright. Once you have that filled in, click the Apply button in the bottom right hand corner of the box.

All your book details should now be updated. Move to the next tab marked Book & Author. You will see two fields, one for Book description and one for Author description. Under Book description you will copy and paste your blurb. If you read my first book in the Building Author series (Building Story), you already have that prepared. If not, this is a good time to write it and a handy place to keep it.

Here’s what it looks like with Ordeal in French Lipstick with Amy’s book description and bio:

This is all good. Now it’s time to start laying in the poems.

You’ll notice the Table of Contents already has two chapters:

  1. My First Nonfiction Chapter
  2. The Second Chapter

We are going to change these now.

Again, we aren’t going to change the Table of Contents directly. For now, we want them to autopopulate so we keep our chapter titles and pages consistent with no headaches. Author Papyrus already has samples set up for us to work in. Scroll down from the Table of Contents until you find this:

  1. My First Nonfiction Chapter
    This is a normal paragraph without any indention. Exchange this text with your own words.
  2. The Second Chapter
    This is a normal paragraph without indention.

Now go to the document that you want to publish. Find the first title or chapter title, select and copy it. Go back to your Author Papyrus, select 1. My First Nonfiction Chapter, and paste your own chapter or poem title there.

If you like the numbered chapter or poem titles, leave as is. If you don’t, look to the top of your page, on your menu bar near the font menu. You will see something that looks like this:

H and H1 mean Header and Numbered Header. With your title highlighted, select numbered header or no numbered header. You will notice your Table of Contents updating as well. If it doesn’t, save your document and check again. For this example, I am selecting the heading with no numbers.

Now hit return until you have a new line. Copy the body of your poem or text and paste. Hit enter to move your cursor to a new line. Go back to your menu, and under Insert select Page Break. Now your cursor should be at the start of a new page, and in this case it should read:

  1. The Second Chapter
    This is a normal paragraph without indention.

Repeat what you just did with the last chapter and you are well on your way. Copy, paste, Insert Page Break, repeat until you have all your poems pasted in.

Now it’s time for a little hard work. It’s common for your formatting to be lost in the copy and paste process. You need to go through your document and check that all your italics, bolded words and line breaks made it over, especially with poetry.

Once you have done all your initial checks, you can customize your book. If you don’t like the default fonts, simply highlight what you would like to change, select the font you would like to change to and hit enter.

Do this until you have your book text looking exactly how you want. Author Papyrus will do all the hard parts like calculating gutter width, keeping your chapters and page numbers organized and you can leave yourself sticky notes in the work area to the side if there are things you need to remember.

Next week, we will learn how to find high quality, public domain illustrations, format them and add them to your book.

By Angela Yuriko Smith

Angela Yuriko Smith is a third-generation Shimanchu-American and award-winning poet, author, and publisher with 20+ years of experience as a professional writer in nonfiction. Publisher of Space & Time magazine (est. 1966), producer of the Exercise Your Writes YouTube podcast, two-time Bram Stoker Awards® Winner, and HWA Mentor of the Year for 2020. She shares a weekly calendar of author opportunities at

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