Formatting Is Your Friend

DeatriI’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).

eBook Formatting

  • 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.

My eBook conversion programs of choice are MobiPocket (to create the Kindle file) and Calibre (to convert the Kindle file to ePub)

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.

ePublish with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iStore

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.

Deatri King-Bey

If you found this post helpful, please use the share buttons to spread the word about it.

As Featured On EzineArticles

Don’t have a copy of Become A Successful Author? What are you waiting for? Become A Successful Author will be used in the “How To Write That Novel” course at Chicago State because it covers everything from branding to writing to editing to formatting and uploading electronic and print books to marketing and so much more. Your time is money. Look at all the time, thus money, you’ll save by ending your search for answers: Purchase Become A Successful Author (eBook) for only $4.99 from: Amazon (US), Amazon (UK), Barnes & Noble  or print copies for only $7.99 by using the Contact page of this website and tell Dee know how many copies you’d like and shipping address. She’ll email the ordering information.


21 thoughts on “Formatting Is Your Friend

  1. Robin Wolstenholme

    I whole heartedly agree that readers should not accept poorly formatted books and stories in ebooks. Just because a book is offered at a low price doesn’t mean it should lack quality. If the price is the only reason you ate buying a particular book then there are plenty of places to get ebooks free. It also doesn’t have to cost an author a fortune to get editing. Have friends edit for you or trade services with other authors that you can link up with on various writer groups. There are also editors dedicated to offering discounted rates for acknowledgement in the ebooks they work on, such as those on

    1. Deatri Post author

      Hello Robin,

      Welcome to Become A Successful Author. We are in BIG TIME agreement on formatting, but I can’t agree with you on the editing. Professional editing is extremely important and worth the cost if you want to have a high-quality brand that people look for. An advantage that many people forget about professional editing is you learn so much about the craft in a good developmental edit that can be carried into future works, thus making your editing cost less. I don’t recommend having a friend or even an author edit your book unless that person has been through the editing process a few times (professionally) in your genre. And even then, there are three different types of editing the manuscript should be taken through before it’s sold. I encourage authors to put money away weekly as an investment in your business. At times you’ll be able to get great deals on pricing for services or even something for free, but some things you will need to pay for. I know this will sound harsh, and I’m not speaking to you specifically, Robin, but to authors in general. If you aren’t willing to invest in making your book the best it can be, why do you expect others to invest in it (by buying it).

  2. Bettye Griffin

    Hi Deatri,
    If I may add, if you’re formatting for the Nook, instead of inserting page breaks to start text on a new page, insert *section* breaks. The Nook doesn’t recognize page breaks.

    1. Deatri Post author

      Thanks Bettye, and you most certainly can add. Everyone should remember that with each ECP there will be differences. By the way, I use page breaks and it works for me. So folks try both ways until you get one that works for you. There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

  3. Jeremy Soldevilla

    Great post, Deatri! I hope plenty of people read it. Sadly, most self-publishing writers have little understanding or even awareness of proper formatting. Plus, many of the self-publishing companies don’t care about the quality of what the writers send them — whether it’s an ebook or a bound book. It’s one of the reasons that vanity presses and self-published books get such a poor image. The same goes for cover designs and content. The internet has made it so easy to crank out things, that quality and basic principles are being ignored, mostly out of lack of awareness of what is right. More posts like yours are needed to raise the level of awareness. Good work!

    PS We are fans of Georgia too. All our books are set in that font.

    1. Deatri Post author

      Thanks Jeremy. One of my favorite saying is anyone can become a published author, but not everyone can be a successful author. If you don’t invest in proper formatting, cover and content, then your brand will ever be looked at as substandard. Many want that quick, free fix that isn’t out there.

      Thanks again and come on back.

  4. Deatri Post author

    Dee Here. I belong to a fantastic group over on LinkedIn called Book Publishing Professionals. Here is one of the comments from the group about formatting from Gordon Williams.

    Thanks for giving me permission to share, Gordon.


    A couple of points from my own experience:

    -Epub (and possibly other ebook formats) can’t handle small caps. They just come out as regular caps. You’ll have to manually capitalize the text and then set a smaller font size. Around 75 percent of your base font will work well (e.g. Make small caps 9 pt if your base font is 12 pt.)

    -Pre-testing on an ereader is a must. The emulation programs that display ebooks on your PC are too forgiving of formatting errors.

    -In addition to Calibre, the free program called Sigil is excellent for tweaking your epub files. You can even use Sigil to create and clean up a Table of Contents.

    -A good method for cleaning up a word processing file before conversion is the Smashwords “nuclear method,” described step-by-step in the Smashwords style guide. The Smashwords conversion program appears to be built on Calibre so you end up with a very Calibre-friendly file. This method eliminates all formatting and starts with a clean slate. The down side is that any italics or bolding, etc. will have to be entered manually.

    -If your cover art is designed for a trade or mass-market paperback, you’ll need to redesign for ebooks. Otherwise your cover will either be distorted or it will have blank space at the sides. A 6”X8” cover (3:4) will scale nicely to fill the space on Kobo and Kindle ereader screens.

  5. Deatri Post author

    Dee here again,

    K.D. another one of the fantastic members over at the Book Publishing Professionals group had something to add to Gordon’s comment.

    Thanks K. D.


    I just wanted to add a bit of feedback to Gordon’s thorough response.

    As for small caps, epub, can in fact, handle them, it’s just that they need individual coding, unless you create a style for them. We work with a conversion company that is very reasonably priced, and they are able to handle these–if we ask them to. We have decided not to, because the additional time and expense is not cost-effective in our ebooks. Just wanted to clarify that it is possible.

    As for the recommendation to use the Smashwords process, we as a publisher used to publish quite a few titles through Smaswords–but avoid it now. Their process is so inflexible, that we often had files bounced back–often with no explanation, and NOT always received promptly.

    As for covers, we’ve now published approximately 250 titles and have found the best resolution for cover art is 400×800.

    Best of luck,

    K.D. Sullivan
    CEO/Untreed Reads Publishing

  6. Pingback: How to format your self-published manuscript to look professionalChristopher Matthews Publishing

  7. Minnie E Miller

    About formatting an eBook.
    I’ve been re-reading my original manuscript for a novel I self-published. I didn’t bother any of the print book format, just made some minor changes. Now I want to use that same manuscript for self-publishing an eBook.

    BTW, I self-published a novel on Kindle a few years ago. Haven’t seen it on an eReader because I did’t own one.

    I’ve read your formatting instructions and ready to go, I think.

    I’m keeping all these different formats separate and on a flash drive.

    Your instructions are great. Without them I would’ve been stumbling all over the Internet searching for information.

    I’m totally glad I don’t have to include headers and footers! They drove me nuts trying to get the headers on the right pages and OFF the wrong ones. (Chapter pages)

    So now I begin to break down the book and create the eBook, by myself *Mama!*

    I printed Calibre conversion and ePub for Nook for more understanding. Seems so far that calibre is free to use.

    One Step at a time.

    Will talk soon. Thanks again.

    1. Deatri Post author

      Excellent Minnie.

      Yes, Calibre and MobiPocket both have free software. You will need to use them both. First use the MobiPocket to change your Word file into a prc file (kindle book) then use Calibre to turn the .prc file (Kindle book) into an ePub. If you need assistance, you have my email.


  8. Cheryl Hill

    I recently completed an EBook in PDF Format. I purchased my own ISBN. The title of my EBook: Give Your Child the Gift of Reading! (Subtitle)The Gift of Reading is Forever! My EBook is filled with 40 years of acquired knowledge about how to teach a very critical skill/most important of all academic skills, actually, of which, this vital knowledge is shared with a wide audience: parents, grandparents/caretakers, tutors teachers, librarians, other literacy professionals, etc.

    This is actually a professional “How To” book for educators in teaching children to read with explicit phonics; yet, I tried to write and exhibit pictures in a simplistic manner so that, even, lay persons like parents, grandparents/caregivers, tutors could follow along to engage their child/children appropriately.

    I have plans to next produce my book in print/paperback so that I can go places or be invited places to show case it for physical sales and have my book sold through mass distribution. Exploring quotes on how to best move forward with a print version of my book. However upon reading one of your articles, I am now aware that I can still have book events even with an EBook!

    I began with bare bones minimum upfront expense going with the EBook as a downloadable link via Adobe (Free of cost); and then going on eBay, not to auction, but to sell at a fixed price; with a featured charitable giving notation to let buyers know that a percentage of sales will be going to a selected non-profit. Showcasing my book in this manner began January 12, 2012. I’ve sold one EBook so far to our mutual friend Edwina Putney! In fact she referred me to your website and the your book: Become a Successful Author! I will be purchasing by the way.

    If you do not mind, I’ll like to send you a free copy of my EBook. I noticed your comments about how proper format is so critical to the success of an EBook. To me, my EBook looks good–but, of course, I’m bias, it’s my book. Edwina has given me Kudos! Now, Edwina as a retired librarian, I definitely respect her astuteness regarding the quality of the content, but she would not necessarily share the same insight as a published author about EBook format.

    I would prefer an enhanced cover; I used one of the option choices of covers within Word 2007.

    In moving forward to get my book listed with Amazon and Barnes and Noble I uploaded a Word Document of my book per instruction of due to the fact that they said in order to have them show case my EBook on their site and ensure its proper format to be distributed to Amazon and Barnes and Noble, they would need for me to upload a word document of my book so as to be converted to epub which is the desired format for Amazon and Barnes and Noble, etc.

    Contrarily, once I uploaded as directed, they emailed me with a bunch of complicated instructions in juxtaposition to the content of my book. For example, Lulu told me that I would have to get rid of my charts and graphs—–well, what good would that do when my word charts and/or graph formats are specific to the subject matter of my book? has an offering that an author can show case their EBook in PDF Format on Lulu’s site but will be restricted only to Lulu.

    I noted that you mentioned intuit when considering an individual website choice for featuring and sell your books. I just spoke with them recently and will be following up. I was considering going with the least expensive; but waiting for a follow up calls from one of the website sellers to explain all the options and which one would work best.

    This book is actually my second book to complete in total completeness (there are others in semi-completeness—but not yet, completed in total completeness)
    R is for Reading Books is a gorgeous picture book being illustrated by a bona fide artist. I still owe him the other half of his money so I was hoping to do well with my EBook because it is
    compressively informative about a critical academic skill foundational to all other academic skills; plus any of the profits made could help me settle with my illustrator for my other book.

    In my EBook, Give the Gift of Reading, I used pictures which were in public domain and no longer under copyright.

    Thanks for giving me a platform to share the growing pains and dilemmas of being a new author.


    Cheryl E. Hill

    p.s. I announce about my EBook to my FB Friends and everyone I know on my personal email list and I tweeted!

    I do not have a lot of followers—never really used my Tweet account previously.

  9. Pamela Headrick

    Good post! One comment about ellipses…I never use them because some eReaders and conversion software convert them to strange code (S with a carat). Also the copyright symbol often comes out a “?”. I stay away from symbols which is sometimes difficult when I format novels with foreign words included (Latina heroines and French heroes!)

    1. Deatri Post author

      Thanks Pamela,

      I just found out something cool about the ellipses. Someone sent me a way to put the space between them so it doesn’t break the line. I’ll try that next. It’s hard trying to follow the rules, but make the books still look good. Anywhooooo, I was told to try nonbreaking spaces. That way if the ellipses are at the end of a line, they will not break into the two lines. In MSWord for Windows use Control-Shift-Space between the inner dots:

      I haven’t tried this yet. I’ll try it later today and let everyone know how it works.


  10. Pingback: Formatting Workshop

Comments are closed.