Formatting your book — sounds boring, right? Turns out there are a lot of things to know when it comes to formatting your ebook and print book. This post will break down what you need to know!
Formatting doesn’t have to be scary, complicated, or expensive! So, let’s find out what you need to know.
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Formatting might sound boring. But it’s super important and can be very simple. Let’s dive into the whys and hows.
First of all, formatting is usually the last thing you’re doing, after your book has been edited or proofread. If you’re sending ARC copies to a team of reviewers, you might need to format before this stage in order to send to them in a format they can read on an ereader. (Read more on beta and ARC readers.)
Formatting stresses us out, but it doesn’t have to. So… what really matters? Ultimately, reader experience is king. Your main goal with formatting is to keep your readers centered in the story. The end. Readers want simple. Not distracting. Not fancy.
Don’t think it has to be more than simple. Our goal should be to keep our readers in the story. Weird formatting or mistakes can pull the readers out and distract them from being lost in the fictional dream. Or, in the case of nonfiction, it might pull them out and undermine your authority.
Wherever you write your book (Word, Scrivener, Google Docs), you need to be able to export it into a mobi file for amazon and an epub file for the other retailers. There are lots of ways to get a finished product.
- If you WANT to get fancy (for some genres, like epic fantasy, this might be more fitting), I’d recommend Bookly Style for custom images for chapter headings and more.
WHERE TO FORMAT EBOOKS AND BOOKS
Formatting can be as simple as using Word, or as complicated as adding different images for each chapter. There are a lot of options, and they don’t all have to expensive. Whatever works best for you and comes up with a clean and simple format readers can read–that’s what you should use!
It does NOT have to be expensive. It does NOT have to be complicated. Sometimes–dare I say often–simple is best.
Formatting your ebook with Word
Word is simple. It can be used to write and format simply (with chapter heads, spacing, etc) before using another program to put it into a mobi, epub, or PDF. You should make each chapter a Heading 1, while the rest of the document is Normal. Simple. Easy. And you can go straight from Word to your final document, or go from Word to one of the programs we get into next.
Formatting your ebook with Kindle Create
I haven’t used Kindle Create, but this is a great program. It ONLY works to format for Amazon, but can be great for their platform. It’s also a good way to finish out your formatting in Word to get things like the Table of Contents (which is tricky).
Formatting your ebook with Draft2Digital
Draft2Digital allows you to format even if you don’t distribute with them, which means a free tool. When you upload a book with D2D, you can set up the formatting on the third stage. Basically, their tool allows you plug in a Word doc and spit out a finished mobi or epub. You can’t make changes within their porgram, so everything has to be done in the Word doc before you get there.
Formatting your ebook with Vellum
Once I made $300 a month, I made it my reward to purchase Vellum. For $250, you can get the format for ebook and print. Vellum works on mac, or you can use Mac in the cloud on PC. It makes every part of formatting incredibly easy. I would NEVER go back.
Here’s a video I created on some of the differences between Vellum and Draft2Digital:
Formatting your book with a third party
You can always hire the formatting out. If you are talking about a simple text book, this should NOT be expensive. Because, remember? Formatting is about user experience and whatever will not distract the reader and pull them out of the story.
If we’re talking cookbooks or books with tons of images, it’s a totally different animal. Poetry books, again–different.
If you hire out formatting, make sure you’re not spending hundreds for simple text formatting you could do with Word. Formatting of a simple book or ebook that is all text should NOT cost a lot of money.
WHAT YOU NEED TO CONSIDER WHEN FORMATTING YOUR BOOK
Here are some things to think about when it comes to some basic–and some odd–formatting things you might run into.
Text messages, emails, or social media
Increasingly, we need to consider modern forms of communication in contemporary books. There are many options for these. But I have a few questions you need to answer as you’re making your choice:
- How will it look in various formats and devices?
- Will it distract the reader?
- How will it translate to audio?
I’ve seen some very distracting options for texts and social media. Using too much italics and bold fonts are distracting and hard to read. No one wants to read a lot of communication in bold or italics, and if there is no name attached to the text, it can be confusing who is talking. Small caps or trying to use other fonts can be annoying and are best avoided, though I’ve seen that as well.
Personally? I would make the case for the name (in bold or not) with a colon and then the text. That makes it clear who is speaking (for audio), looks good across devices, and isn’t distracting to readers. Don’t make it artistic. Make it clear and readable.
This works best (IMHO) for a text conversation or longer texts. Every so often, sharing a single text might work best without the break. In something like the following example, I would set it up like dialogue, but use italics rather than quotes. I would not suggest this for longer communications.
EX: Jake pulled out his phone to see a single text from Shelby, which said, I’m waiting out front.
One setting you might have to adjust if possible (in Vellum, it is) is how the text after a little break like this looks. In the above image, the text acts like a scene break, which you probably don’t want, in order to avoid the way “Jake didn’t want to respond” looks.
In other programs you might not have the option, but in Vellum, you can make the text an alignment block and delete the extra space after that would cause this, or change the settings about how the text starts after a break.
Images in books
If you’re planning to format and upload your books for Amazon and other retailers, images aren’t always the best idea. They can cost more in deliverability, and also don’t look the same across devices. Unless you HAVE to have them, images may not serve your book well.
If your book is image heavy, you should consider delivering via PDF on your own website or utilizing a platform like Lulu, which might have more print options than Amazon print.
When you format, you can choose whether to justify the right side. If you choose to justify, that means that the right side will be even along the edge. A lot of traditional publishers use this and it’s definitely the choice for print books.
In ebooks, however, choosing to justify can create readability problems. E-readers allow for the reader to choose the size of the text. This can create issues as the reader struggles for justify the text and make it even, resulting in weird spacing. Just this week I had a reader email me about issues in my book, which were really spacing issues because I’d accidentally chosen the justify option. (Usually I don’t.)
Here’s one that I accidentally justified. An ARC reader sent me the image, thinking it was a mistake.
This one isn’t even a horrible example, but you can see the extra spaces in the first few lines. It’s also showing you how using drop caps to start new chapters (even a smaller drop caps) can affect reading. In this case, it’s quite distracting.
While many authors want to do what traditional publishers do, I’d prefer to stick to the reader’s ease of reading. Some may prefer justified, but when it comes to odd spacing, I would rather stick to non-justified. Totally up to you, but consider how it will look at various sizes and on different devices.
Paragraphs and indentation
For fiction books, paragraphs should have an indentation, with no white space between the paragraphs. Leaving extra spaces is a trick used by page stuffers, who aim to make books longer to get more page reads out of Kindle Unlimited.
Even if that’s not your goal, if you’re adding extra spaces in your book, that might distract readers and get you flagged from Amazon.
Nonfiction books can either format with the indents and no spaces, or have no indentation and a space between the paragraphs, like this blog post. Your choice.
You can also choose to start a chapter with drops caps or not in a lot of the programs. There are also other options like small caps or no indent for the first line of a chapter, or after a break. I do like something different at the beginning of a chapter, but in that last example, every so often, that kind of formatting creates weird results.
For any of these considerations, if you’re choosing a traditional publisher, you should see what their house style is and what they prefer. You might end up creating a sort of house style of your own where you know how YOU like your formatting to be.
QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN FORMATTING
I’ll leave you with some questions to ask yourself when it comes to formatting. These might help you make different kinds of decisions that you have to make.
- Does it serve the reader?
- Is it distracting in the text?
- How much does it cost?
- What are the guidelines for the publisher you’re using?
- What is the industry standard, or the typical usage within your genre?
- Will it translate for audio when you go down that path?
and, last but most important:
- WHERE COULD I BETTER SPEND MY TIME AND MONEY?
Formatting matters. But mostly in the sense that it shouldn’t distract and pull readers out of the story. It shouldn’t take you tons of time or cost a lot of money. It should be basic. Basic and readable is better than fancy and distracting. Your formatting should serve the reader’s experience in the story, not be clever or fancy for the sake of being clever and fancy.
Suzy Taylor Oakley says
Excellent info, Kirsten, thanks! I always go for “easiest on the reader,” whether I’m writing, editing or formatting. I appreciate that you do, too.
I enjoyed reading this because it’s simple and you gave great resources. Thank you! I feel a tad more confident that I can do this self-pub thing!
Jessie Newburn, Writer says
Very helpful. Truly. You brought me to points of consideration I wouldn’t have known to think of.
One question I have is how can I be sure when formatting that the pages are in a decent layout for different size eReaders. I use my phone to check the final copy but when uploaded to a kindle for example I offer get story title at the end of one page and then story start on the next page so it looks awful. Any ideas?
Kirsten Oliphant says
You really can’t. Ereaders allow for changing of fonts and font sizes which may mean different looks and pages being split where you don’t want. So, just do your best to format tbr way it should be, but as for what gets put where, that will depend on factors outside your control.