Formatting is a Pain in the Patootie

I spent three days last week formatting manuscripts for paperback and for Kindle. Formatting is something I’ve taught myself and it does not come naturally to me, though it is getting easier. I simply can’t see spending money to pay someone else for something I can learn to do myself. Not on my budget.

However, if I had more money, you can bet your sweet patootie I would pay a professional to do this. It’s quite worth it to have someone who knows their stuff format your novel. I want to tell you that if you can’t afford to do that, then you can learn it. If I can do it, so can you.


This isn’t going to be an everything you ever needed to know sort of article, there’s already tons of those available for your perusal. I’m going to tell you some very basic here’s how to get started information and offer suggestions.

I have been working on getting Descending ready to launch. I did my paperback on Createspace, the program I know best. I keep track of the versions as I go along the painful path to a finished formatting. Descending took thirteen tries before everything was as I wanted it. I had the basics already, fonts embedded, page breaks between chapters, etc, and it still took thirteen tries to get it right.

In whichever word processing tool you use, get accustomed to viewing all formatting marks. This is invaluable. One of my worst bugaboos were things getting off center based on invisible formatting marks, such as page breaks, being in the wrong place. If you can see all of the things, your job becomes easier.

Once you upload to somewhere like Createspace, use the previewing tools provided. They’re your best friend for the duration. Each time you upload a new version, take a look at the entire work. A small change can create formatting errors later in the work if you have formatting marks in the wrong place. Check everything, even if you’ve just corrected a typo.

Here are some simple basics of things to consider and look out for. If any step doesn’t make sense, then you know what areas you need to use your Google-fu for.

Trim size and margins

-Chose your book’s trim dimensions, and change the page size of your manuscript to fit.

-Fix your margins. Check standard margins for the type of book you are formatting. Add gutter space and make certain that the margins are mirrored.

20150726_181022Pick your trim size before you start.  Research what is most common for the type of book you are formatting.  Keep in mind that your novel will not be the same size as a mass market paperback.  It will be a full size paperback.  Non-standard print sizes can limit your other options, such as paper color, etc.


-Chose fonts carefully. Fancier fonts might be fine for a title or chapter heading, but you want a nice legible font for the text. Don’t use a sans serif. Search what fonts are most common for what you are publishing. Georgia, for example, is a common and easy to read choice for reading on a screen, such as an E-book. Times New Roman is a tried and true font for printed books. Those aren’t the only options. Research what your best options are.

-Embed the fonts in the document. If you don’t know how, find out.

-Choose justified alignment for print books, left alignment for Kindle.

Section breaks

-Now is the time to add section breaks. These breaks go at the end of the previous section, not at the beginning of the next. This will help keep you from getting blank pages in your work. At minimum, you need three sections.

1- The first is for everything that comes before the body of work. Title, copyright page, dedication, foreword or preface if needed. At the end of all of this, put a section break.

2- The second section is for the body of the book. All your words go here. In your header and footer, make sure you sever the link to the previous section. This is how you add page numbers to the body of the book without getting them throughout. At the end of your body of work, put a section break.

3- This section is any blank pages or “about the author” that you want to add. Make sure you go to the header and footer to remove the link to previous so that your page numbers will not appear here.

Page breaks

-Now is a good time to add page breaks. At the end of every chapter except the last one, insert a page break. This will keep your chapters starting on a new page even if you go back into the work and edit it. For E-books, chapters generally begin at the top of the page. For print, you’ll want a nice blank space at the top, one third to one half of the page should be blank above the chapter beginning.

For Print Books

-Embellishments are not possible in E-book form, but very nice in a print book. These are the little flourishes one might find around a chapter heading, or to denote a break in the action. These can help you design a book that looks more uniquely yours. Play with some of the wingding-type fonts. There are charts that you can find on Google that will show you all the characters. There are also some fonts that are specifically for making flourishes, like Nymphette, that you can download. Once again, make certain that you embed the fonts in the file.

Here are a couple of examples from my novel, Descending:


Here’s a little embellishment I did for scene breaks in Descending. Look!  Little planes!  It’s a combination of Webdings and Wingdings.


Here’s a flourish for the chapter headings done with the font, Nymphette.  You can also see the nice blank space above the chapter beginning as well as the gutter space on the left.  This was for the print version, so the alignment is justified.


Those are the basics. If you can master the above, you are well on your way to formatting your own books for publication. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. Check and recheck, and be prepared to fix errors. All it takes is a little know-how, time, and a big scoop of patience.

My novel, Descending, is now available on Amazon and Kindle. Click the “My Books” tab at the top of the page for links, information, and a review as well.


About JulianneQJohnson

I am a writer in Indiana who lives with two cats, two ferrets, and one fiance. I enjoy cheap coffee and expensive chocolate.
This entry was posted in Formatting your book, getting published, writing, Writing Advice and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s