Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Simple Book Formatting

First off, I'm no expert in book formatting by anyone's definition of expert.  But I haven't had any complaints on the four books I have out now, and Amazon hasn't sent me a nasty-gram telling me my book is formatted poorly, so I'm guessing it's all good.

When I first started out, I asked friends for recommendations of book formatters.  They happily provided names and URLs.  I went to those sites and a few others, researching the idea of someone else formatting my books for publication.  Then I saw the prices.  Yeeouch.  So I sat down and researched how to do it myself.  It was a scary thought.  Book formatting is one of the big issues people have with self-published books.  Indents all squonky. Chapters starting in weird places on a page.  Titles all farqued up.  Whole paragraphs or scenes centered in the middle of a book for no obvious reason.  (And those are just the problems I've had as a reader.) 

Formatting can make readers put down a perfectly lovely story.  It's a damn shame, but it's true.

So, here are a few thoughts on how I do it - myself, without ripping out too much hair.

First, I use MS Word.  Amazon and Word are besties and work well together.  Draft2Digital is also buds with Word, so it's all good if you want other distribution outlets.  There are other software programs out there, but I haven't tried any of them, so I won't touch on them here.  (Perhaps others can relay their experiences in the comments.)

Second, I work simple.  I do not 'track changes'.  If you track changes, you might want to copy your manuscript into a new file that's free from all that extraneous code.  I also don't use graphics for chapter headings, first words, scene breaks, etc.  Yeah, people like that stuff.  They like legible books formatting better in the long run.

Okay, so with those two things in mind, take your manuscript file and delete any bookmarks you might have in there for your own use.  There should be only three bookmarks - START, TOC, and END.  START goes at the beginning, TOC is your Table of Contents (which is totally necessary even for fiction and I'll explain why in a moment), and END goes at the end.  Easy.

Now that you're ready to format, Select All of your manuscript.  Change the font to something simple and easily readable.  Nothing funky, nothing unusual, nothing fancy.  I use Calibri, because it's a default and Amazon seems to like it.  Since ereaders make font-size pretty much up to the individual reading the book, I set the manuscript at a standard 12-point. 

Next we'll play with chapter headings. You need to take each of your chapter headings and make it an actual HEADING in Word. If you have an older version of Word, I can't help you.  I have Word 2007 - with the graphic bar instead of the drop down menus.  Click on Home to bring down the graphic bar (or if you haven't selected to hide your graphic bar, then just go to Home).  Look for the Styles section. You should see boxes with font in them "AaBbCcDd" and words underneath the font.  Everything you type is typically 'Normal' by default. You want to select your chapter heading and then click the square that says Heading1. Your chapter heading will now look totally different and you can use it or you can change the font, the size, the color, etc. to suit yourself.  The important part is that the computer now sees those words as a HEADING.

Do that for every chapter.

Go to the bottom of your manuscript and insert a page break after THE END.  At the top of that new page, insert a Table of Contents by going to the References tab and clicking the Table of Contents icon at the far left of the graphic bar.  There are several styles available.  I pick the first one because it's the simplest.  Click it and it will create a TOC for you.  If you've created all the Headings properly, you should see them all in a nice list down the page. 

SAVE your work. 

Why so you need a TOC in your book?  Because that's what ereaders use to navigate your book.  They're on Chapter Seven but they want to go back and look at something in Chapter One? Or they see something in Chapter Twelve that makes them wonder how it ends? This is how the ereader knows where to go.  This is also where the bookmarks Start and End are useful.  The TOC and those bookmarks are there to help readers jump around in the book if they want to.  Not my thing, but to each his own.

Okay, so you have your manuscript ready for readers to read.  Really.  That's the most basic way to do it.  "But what about the snazzy stuff? Titles? Scene breaks?"  Hey, I said it was ready to read, not ready to SELL.  I'll get to that tomorrow, if I can. (If I forget, poke me in the butt.) The point here is you can send it to your Kindle right now and it will read just like any book you'd buy off the site.

Here are some other important things to remember when formatting your manuscript:

- Always use Tabs to indent.  The Ruler Bar above your words is the simplest way.  If you're not sure how to do a hanging indent for each paragraph, there are tons of instructional sites to help with that.
- Always have a hard Page Break between chapters. (Insert Page Break)

Some people prefer to set up all the fonts and headings when they're writing the first draft.  It would certainly save a step or two.  Personally, I just type the way I always type and do the work at the end.  :shrug:  Your mileage may vary.

If I think of anything I missed, I'll update here and let you all know in subsequent posts.  If you see anything I missed or that's confusing, let me know and I'll add or clarify as needed. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have proofreading notes to input so I can format this and get it uploaded for all y'all to read.


  1. Always curious about how others work through this. I do a few things a little differently, and do searches in Word for pesky coding and weird things like extra spaces, but the bottom line is pretty much the same. :)

    1. Oh yeah, always do the searches for extra spaces. I was a secretary who was trained to double space between sentences. I can't help myself, so finding the double and replacing it with a single is a total necessity. Not sure about the pesky coding. I don't think I put any in to start with - or at least I haven't seen any. It could be lurking in there without my knowing. =o\

  2. Such a lot of hard work, but truly appreciated by me, the reader. You just don't think of all these things when you pick up a book or open an e.

    1. Thanks, Fran. It's all just part of doing the job right. And, for me, part of being a super tightwad with my money. If I can do it myself, I won't pay someone else. I can't. It's not in my nature. ;o)