All the things you might want to know about book formatting before you self-publish your book

In this blog I want to talk about some of the (boring to you, fascinating to me) things a vegan book formatter (also called a typesetter) goes through.

If you have no clue about what formatting is, visit my author page, read this blog on what formatters do, or watch the video about why self-published authors need to hire a book formatter.


1. Anyone can learn book formatting.

You can format your own book using Microsoft Word (PC version – Macs have different functions and I started learning on a PC so I wouldn’t do it on a Mac). You just need to know all the proper settings for books (Layout > Margins > Custom Margins is where all the magic is). I’ve had clients who’ve formatted their draft manuscript with photos exactly the way they want it to look, and that’s not the way to do it. You need to:

  • Write the book first (without images)
  • Have it edited
  • Then format it (with a proper title page, copyright page, table of contents, images, then back matter)

You can take online courses to learn how to format a print book (which is what I did) or you can get book templates online and try to use those (just be aware of #5).

Cover design is part of formatting, but when you’re self-publishing, it’s a separate file. Don’t include it with your manuscript. I’d suggest hiring a pro for this too, although you could potentially learn to design your cover yourself.


2. Not everyone should do book formatting.

Some authors don’t even know the basics of Microsoft Word, like creating headings for chapters, page breaks (and the difference between section breaks) and so on. So if you don’t know the basics and aren’t willing to learn to format, hire someone. Trust me!

The ebook is a whole different ballgame. To create an .ePUB file (which is the file type for Kindle books) you need a program that converts the manuscript into HTML code (yes, Word can do this, but not properly). Then you have to make sure things look right in the ebook because if you don’t, Kindle readers will have problems and if they do they could give your book a bad review. (Don’t feel bad about bad reviews, but we can try to avoid them in the first place.)

One book on numerology I bought in Kindle format maintained the page numbers from the print version, so sometimes they were in the middle of the page…and the book didn’t have a hyperlinked table of contents so when I wanted to skip ahead or back to sections, it took time to find them. I even tried to contact the author after I’d learned to format ebooks and told him about the problems I was having (without pitching my services). No response. (Sigh)

You can view your ePUB file using a program called Kindle Previewer. You can also do it in the Books app on Apple devices, but it may not catch everything.

#4 is really important for print books too.


3. Being vegan doesn’t make automatically guarantee good book formatting.

Sorry if this post was click-baity. But, not only am I the only female book formatter of colour that I know in the world, I’m the only vegan book formatter I know.

So if it’s important that you work with as many vegans as possible in your book journey, holler at me or visit this post on making a vegan book.

If being vegan is less important to you and you’d like some referrals to other formatters, contact me anyway (I only know one other formatter and she was my course instructor).


4. Proof before publish!

Especially if you’ve done your own formatting, receiving a proof of your book and making sure it looks the way you wanted is SO important. For my uncle’s series, we double-spaced lines (except quoted text) even though double-spacing is pretty unheard of in the industry (1.5 spacing is okay). He was the only one who got the proofs, so he approved the formatting. And he also spotted a bunch of formatting mistakes I’d made—this was before I knew what I was doing was formatting, and I didn’t know about the importance of section breaks. So those things got fixed before he launched the book.

With one book I formatted, the author asked for changes after receiving the proof of the book, and I made them to both the print and ebook files. Once the book launched, I bought a hard copy to relish in my work, only to find out that many things had changed. Photos were added or swapped out, pagination changed, chapter starts changed, and even the spine shifted slightly. (I had the original working Word file, so these interior changes would not have been easy to do.) I bought the book as a single purchase and paid for shipping so it costed $40 CAD. I was shocked and disappointed.

The author admitted they had a friend change the PDF file quickly (even though I was making revisions for free) and they didn’t order a second proof, so they didn’t know that much of the book had changed from the original version. They declined my offer to make the changes they wanted properly and said they would leave the book as is.

Because of formatting alone, I wouldn’t recommend the book even though its content is good. I refuse to leave bad reviews for books, even though I’ve read several bad Kindle books by now.

Worst thing is, my name is credited on the copyright page for all the interior formatting work!

5. Mimic your favourite books by top publishing houses.

When I was inadvertently formatting my first few books, it’d have helped if I used a model as a guide. I literally took out a ruler and measured the space between text and the edge of the page!

A client recently published her book with a local hybrid publisher and I really like how it looks, with the exception of there only being black & white pages inside (not all books should be in colour, but I’m hoping my second one will be again). I also like how it’s a hardcover but that there isn’t an extra paper jacket on the outside—the cover is printed right onto the hard cover of the book.

So, because I really like the size and formatting of her book I’m going to mimic it as much as I can for my second book (I’ll be using an online self-publishing service so may be beholden to what it has available). Here are some of the elements I like:

  • Two sets of fonts: One for headings, another for text. There’s even a third font used for chapter titles, which I’m not going to do.
  • Illustrations: The start of each chapter has a little illustration of the world, which is cute.
  • Endorsements at the start: Not every book will have these big names, but it’s a nice touch for when someone first picks the book up and sees that there are some notable folks endorsing.
  • An index: Not every book needs one, but it really adds a pro touch.

So if you’re going to do your own formatting, you may as well model it on pro books that already exist. Bookstores may be more likely to want to carry the book too.

I’m going to be formatting the print and ebook I’m publishing this year (target launch date is November 1, 2022), so if there are any other tips to add to this blog, I’ll do that in a few months!

Need a vegan ghostwriter, vegan editor or vegan book formatter to help you polish your book or ebook so you can wow readers? Contact me!

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