I’m a read-a-holic and always looking for new authors to feed my addiction. I’ll read just about anything, but have come to the point where I refuse to purchase another horribly formatted eBook. Don’t get me wrong. I understand that when manuscripts are converted to eBooks, the formatting can have issues here and there, but what I’ve been seeing is way past the limitations of conversion programs. I’d also give a free pass to authors if instructions weren’t readily available online for free, but they are. So as a reader I feel that the if an author doesn’t care about his/her work enough to take a few minutes to format it correctly, then chances are this author didn’t take the time or expense to invest in proper editing. Instead of complaining—well, just complaining—I want to be part of the solution. Below please find instructions for formatting a manuscript so you’ll have fewer issues when you convert it to an eBook. Following the eBook formatting are instructions for print book formatting.
The steps below are for Microsoft Word 2007, but the same principles apply no matter what word processing program or version you use. The Help feature in your program is your friend. Please note: There is more than one “right” way to format a book. This is one of them. With minor tweaks, you can update your eBook-formatted manuscript for other purposes. Always check with the publishing houses and/or agents you send your manuscripts to. Each may have their own guidelines. It’s simple to change margins and spacing (most want 1-inch margins and double spacing).
- Set your margins 1 inch around.
- Font: Georgia is currently my font of choice. I find it easier to read, but my version of easier may not be your version. Other widely used fonts are Times New Roman and Veranda (some find this clunky). Not all conversion programs (programs that convert your word processing file into an eBook) are created equal. Some will automatically convert fonts it doesn’t recognize to a font it does recognize. To minimize worries about font type, I believe Times New Roman is accepted by just about all of the eBook converting programs (ECP) out there.
- Different ECPs accept different font sizes. To be safe, stick with 10pts, 12pts, 14pts, 16pts, and 18pts. I skipped the odd sizes on purpose because there are ECPs that only accept these sizes. If your font size doesn’t work for the ECP, most will either increase or decrease the font size to one the ECP accepts.
- Feel free to use bold, underline and italics with most ECPs
- With ellipses (…), the Chicago Manual of Style recommends using a space between each period (. . .). In my opinion, it’s best to not take them up on this recommendation and should be ignored when formatting your manuscript to keep from ending up with a manuscript where two periods can be on one line and the third period on another line. And for those of you who say you MUST follow the Chicago Manual of Style or publishing houses will not accept your manuscript. This is one recommendation many publishing houses also ignore. And if you are still worried about using the word processors ellipses, the good old folks who maintain the Chicago Manual of Style even say it’s okay to use the word processors ellipses: Chicago Manual Of Style reference. Just be consistent.
- Justify the text (Ctlr+j), which gives it that clean even look on the right side of the margins.
- You may Center chapter headings.
- Use Page Break to start a new page for your chapters. Place the curser on the new line, then from the main menu go to Insert, then Page Break.
- Most ECPs will create a new page if you have more than three consecutive blank lines. I know many of you like to start your chapters a few lines down the page, just don’t start that line more than three lines down or you may insert a bunch of blank pages into your manuscript.
- Use something physical instead of a blank line for scene breaks, and Center your scene breaks.
- You can use an image (be sure to center it), but some ECPs have issues with images. For my eBooks, I just use keyboard characters to avoid this.
- Do a search on the Internet for free decorative scroll. Ensure they release permissions for commercial use. Select a few you like, then resize them and use them for your books.
- You can also use characters available on your keyboard. I’ve seen some publishing houses use something as simple as … Yep. An ellipsis. But if you have to use characters, I say go for it. The greater than and less than sign may not be the most beautiful, but I think they are better than an ellipses, or use a tilde. For example: <><><><><><>, <<<<<<>>>>>>, >>>>><<<<><<>><<>>, ~~~~~~~ or * * * * * *. Stay away from special characters in eBooks because some of the ECPs won’t recognize them and you may end up with a bunch of squares or whatever to replace them in the conversion. Trust me when I say I learned this the hard way.
- With eBooks, the best practice is to indent the first line of a paragraph (without using tab). I say this because some ECPs will automatically place a blank line between paragraphs and others won’t. By indenting the first line, you won’t need two different files to submit. Don’t worry. It is acceptable to have that blank line and indentions in eBooks. Just ensure your manuscript is consistent.
- Do not use the “Tab” key. Instead, set your Paragraph setting.
o Right click your mouse
o Select “Paragraph” from the menu
o In the Indention section, for Special select “First Line,” then for “By” make it .3. Now .3 is my preference for eBooks and print, but I don’t suggest using more than a .5 or less than .3.
o While you are in the Paragraph settings, decide if you want a blank line between paragraphs, and for Line Spacing select “Single.” On Line Spacing, some people prefer more space between lines. I like single-spacing because sometimes the ECPs adjust the spacing for some paragraphs and not others when I use more than “Single” spacing, which makes the manuscript look sloppy. It’s not consistent and seems to have no rhyme or reason, which annoys me, so I avoid that issue. I don’t suggest you use more than “Double.” From what I’ve seen, if the ECP doesn’t accept the Line Spacing you have selected, it will select what it determines is the closest to something it uses. Now when you send your manuscript out for editing and as a submission, be sure to change this to double- spacing.
- Do not include page numbers, headers or footers in your eBook versions. If you are sending it out for submission or for editing, be sure to include the heading information (book title, author name and page number).
- This post is about fiction, but if you venture into nonfiction, most ECPs can’t handle bulleted lists very well. Okay, let’s be honest, eBooks have quite a few limitations formatting wise. You won’t hit many of the issues when you release fiction.
That’s it. If you’ve already written your manuscript, reformatting margins and such is easy. The most complicated part is if you’ve used Tabs in the manuscript. To clear the Tabs out and set indentions:
- Highlight the entire manuscript (Ctrl+a)
- Delete all Tabs
- Find and Replace all
o Ctlr+f : On the replace tab, Find what:^t
o Shift+6 = ^
o On the Replace with:
There is nothing in the replace, thus you are replacing the tabs (^t) with nothing. This removes the tabs.
- Highlight the entire manuscript (Ctrl+a)
- Follow the instructions in the eBook formatting for setting the indention.
- Anything centered will be indented, so you need to scroll through the manuscript and correct that.
Don’t worry; it’s much easier than it sounds. Once you get in the groove, you’ll be amazed how fast you’ll have a good-looking manuscript. Now when you convert your manuscript, be sure to scroll all the way through and check for paragraphs that may not be indented or indented too much or items not centered and such.
If you don’t have an eReader, be sure to view your converted eBook in Calibre or download Amazon’s and Barnes & Noble’s eReaders for your PC to view the eBook file you create, then make adjustments as needed before you upload into the online stores.
Print Book Formatting
You’ll like this part. Take the file you formatted for eBooks and update it for a print book. First, you need to decide what size you want your book to be. If you read the print version of Become A Successful Author, it’s 6 x 9. Go to the library and/or bookstore and take note of what the popular sizes of books in your genre are. While you are there, pay attention to the price also. I’ll come back to price later.
Now that you know what size you want your book to be, you need to know how to set your margins. Just about every print company I looked into had templates you could download for the basic size books they offer or they’d email one to you. If you want a custom size, you may have to contact the company and ask for a template or specifications for that size and ensure they’ll print the size you want.
A template will show what your margins should be, the header, the gutter, all that good stuff. Many times the template will be a blank Word document that you can just copy all of your manuscript (Ctlr+a) and paste into the template (Ctlr+v), then you change the header accordingly. If you use a template, don’t be afraid to make adjustments.
Here are a few additional items to consider when converting to print format.
- The more pages, the greater the expense. The larger the size, the greater the expense.
- You get to have more fun with the font. Don’t get too wild and crazy with the body of your text, but why not make the chapter headings and scene breaks something snazzy.
- You don’t have to start chapters at the top of the page. I wouldn’t suggest going more than a third of the way down to start. Be consistent.
- I know the smaller the font size the fewer pages, therefore, the lower the cost, but say no to eyestrain. Don’t go smaller than 8 pts. I like 11 pts and feel that’s plenty small enough. But that’s me. If you are creating a large print book (16 pts or greater), be sure to indicate Large Print on the cover and in your product description.
- Front matter (the pages before the novel starts, such as title page, copyright page, acknowledgments) has a specific order. You can refer to the Chicago Manual of Style (most libraries carry this) or look at the front matter of a book from any traditional publishing house. Yours should be similar.
- Be sure that the manuscript portion of your print book starts on an odd page.
- If you are using a template from a company, it may use the same header for each page. I like my headers to have the the book title on the even pages and my name on the odd pages. If you don’t know how to create headers, in the Help area of your word processor, look up header, footer, section breaks, section headers.
- Have your front matter be the first section of your book and the manuscript start the second section. Do not have page numbers in the first section of the book. Some people use Roman Numerals, but that’s more common in nonfiction titles.
- Using Microsoft Office 2007 or later, save the file as a PDF to send it to the printer.
Just say no to poorly formatted manuscripts.
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