A woman wearing a white shirt is reading from a blue book

Hi, writer! Welcome back to the Indie Publishing Roadmap series. This week’s topic is all about formatting decisions you’ll need to make for your novel.

But I’m no formatter, so I’ve asked my friend and colleague Ines to write this post! More information about Ines’s work and where you can find her will be at the end of this post.

Without further ado, let’s get started!

Thank you for having me, Hannah!

Hi there! I hope this post will help you with getting organized to format your book.

Before You Start Formatting

Once you’re done with writing and editing your manuscript, instead of jumping right away into formatting, I would suggest doing two things:

  1. Clean up your file: Make sure you have accepted/rejected all comments in the manuscript, turn off track changes, and do a search & replace for double spaces, as well as extra spaces before punctuation. These often get introduced by mistake when accepting changes, when either you or your editor were editing the text.
  1. Proof the text one last time in a different format: By this point, you’ve read through your manuscript so many times that your eyes will only see what they want to see. A good way to reset your brain, and your eyes, is to change the font and print the file (either to PDF or actually printing it to paper). The goal is to move away from Word and look at your manuscript in a different format.

Doing these two steps will allow you to move on to the formatting phase with a file that is mostly clean of errors. Taking the time to do this will save you a lot of time down the road!

Self-Formatting or Hiring a Formatter?

The process of getting your book ready for publishing will depend a lot on whether you format the book yourself or choose to work with a professional book formatter.

What’s important to understand is that if you take the DIY approach, without any experience and little knowledge about typesetting & page layout, then you’ll need to spend quite a bit of time doing research.

You will not only need to read about how books should be formatted, but also learn about the technical aspect of it. This is so you make sure you’re doing it correctly and that the final result will be comparable to any other well-formatted book in your genre.

If you choose to hire a book formatter, then you will, for the most part, be guided through a process where you will be able to brainstorm and take decisions with the help of a professional.

Alternatively, you might not want to be involved in this creative process. In that case, you can simply delegate those decisions to your formatter, which means they’ll make the decisions for you since they know exactly what the publishing industry standards are for the genre of your book.

Print or eBook?

Now comes the point when you have to think about which formats your manuscript will be published in.

Are you going to publish your book in print, eBook, or both? If you’re writing a novel, you probably want to have it in both versions. Giving your readers the option to get a print copy and access the story digitally is always a good idea!

When thinking about the eBook version, will it be a reflowable eBook or one with a fixed-layout? A formatter will be able to explain the differences to you and advise on the format that is best suited for your book.

A quick way to describe it would be that in a reflowable eBook the content flows automatically adjusting to the device’s screen size. In the fixed-layout format, it will look like a copy of the printed book (for which the reader will have to zoom in and out the digital pages). The reflowable format is ideal for novels that contain mostly text.

In case you are self-formatting, do your own research and know that when going for the reflowable format, the manuscript should be prepared differently for print and eBook.

Thinking you could just format your book for print and convert it to a reflowable eBook at the end is a common mistake. You would be creating a lot of unnecessary extra work for yourself!

And when using programs that automatically convert your manuscript into eBook files, be extra careful and review your exported files page by page to make sure no errors were introduced during the conversion.

Page Layout & General Structure of Your Book

Before actually starting with formatting your book for print, there are a few choices you need to make:

  • Book’s trim size
  • Margins sizes
  • Information to include in the front and back matters
  • Fonts for titles and body text
  • Paragraph style: indented or block paragraphs
  • Which information headings are going to display
  • Placement of page numbers in the page

Once all these have been defined, your manuscript can be turned into a book. Now the formatting & page layout work can start! If you hired a formatter, that’s when you relax and wait for them to deliver a PDF for your approval.

If you’re self-formatting, have a look at some of the best-selling books in your genre, see how the pages are structured, and use them as examples to format your own book.

Remember that readers expect the layout of pages to look familiar, so the goal should always be for the book to be easily recognizable for what it is. Prioritize readability over design!

And don’t forget to check your printer’s submission guidelines, so you can create a file that meets their printing and publishing requirements.

To Sum Up

There’s a lot that goes into formatting books. If this is something you enjoy, you have time to learn and you are up to the challenge, it will be a fun process to go through and you will learn so much with it. If just the idea of formatting frustrates you, then outsource the task and save yourself from a big headache!

There are book formatters out there for every budget. Have a look at your options and see who would be a good fit for you.

I offer a free 30-minute consultation call to discuss what you’re looking for and the opportunity to see if we are a good fit. Feel free to reach out if you’d like to chat about your book!

And before I go, I leave you with what a well-known typographer once said:

“I have seen too many books with great covers but horribly designed content. It’s like great packaging, but when you open it, the food inside looks brown and boring. It may still be nourishing, but my appetite is gone.”

— Erik Spiekermann

Thanks to Ines for sharing her knowledge with us!

If you’re in need of a formatter, go check out her website and services. You can also connect with her on Instagram, where she posts more formatting tips.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the Indie Publishing Roadmap series to learn more about self-publishing your novels.