How to Format a Manuscript for Self-publishing

manuscript formatting

Guest Post by Dave Chesson

It can seem complicated to format a manuscript for self-publishing, but with the right software and formatting knowledge, it’s not as difficult as you may think.

In this article, I’ll provide you with the know-how to properly format your manuscript for printing or ebook publication. You’ll also learn which software programs are best to help you through the process.

Why is Book Formatting Important?

Because you want the words and images to make a cohesive unit. Otherwise, the finished project will look unprofessional, resulting in poor sales and bad reviews.

Good formatting means making sure all the text looks good, from margins and headers to pagination. You want a book that’s visually appealing and easy for readers to follow, so they never lose interest.

Certain guidelines must be followed when formatting ebooks or print books, including font styles, margins, and layout.

The Difference Between Formatting a Book and Formatting a Manuscript

manuscript formatting

Manuscript formatting is when you prepare a document to submit to an editor, publisher, or agent. It involves making sure your document has the right margins and spacing, but you are not preparing a finished product for sale.

Book formatting for self-publishers, on the other hand, is where you prepare an ebook or print book the way it will look when it actually ends up in the reader’s hands. It will no longer look like a manuscript. It must look the way a published book looks.

This article focuses exclusively on book formatting, not manuscript formatting.

Ebook vs. Print Formatting: What to Watch Out For

Ebook Formatting

Ebooks differ from print books. First, you don’t have to worry about setting the font size, line height, page numbers, or margins, as these are automatically determined by the e-reader.

Additionally, individual users are able to change these inside their Kindle or Nook.

Instead, concentrate on:

  • Paragraph indentations: Make sure they’re uniform and similar to the indents in traditionally published books.
  • Chapter titles: Professionalism is key here. Add images and tasteful fonts to make your chapter headings pop, but avoid extremes.
  • Contents: In ebooks the Contents page should link directly to each section, rather than listing specific page numbers. Most formatting tools will automatically do this for you. And avoid the archaic label ”Table of Contents,” which says no more than “Contents.”
  • Page breaks: Each new chapter should start on a new right hand page.
  • Hyperlinks: Include such in your ebook to direct your reader to any place on the Internet.
  • Footnotes: You can’t include footnotes on the same page as your text in an ebook, so they need to be converted to endnotes so they show up at the end of each chapter.

Print Formatting

manuscript formatting

Formatting your print book can be a lot trickier if you’re not careful. Good formatting software will help.

  • Margins: You need to ensure the right margins so your text has plenty of white space around it and doesn’t get cut off. Amazon offers guidelines about how wide these margins should be.
  • Gutter size: The gutter is the margin on the inside-facing part of your pages — in the middle. Naturally, it appears on the right of the left page and on the left of the right page. Its size should account for the space you need for bookbinding.
  • Font: To avoid being a telltale self-published book, choose among the few fonts used by traditional publishers — a serif type and easily readable.
  • Headings: Each page of your print book should contain the book title, the chapter title, or the author’s name.
  • Trim size: This is the actual size of your printed book. It can range from a huge textbook to a mass-market paperback. Trim size affects page count.

The above applies to formatting a standard print book. Click here if you are producing a large print book.

Formatting Software

While Microsoft Word is great for manuscript preparation, it’s not the best for formatting a book for self-publishing.

A few options:

Atticus

Atticus is relatively new and is quickly becoming one of the leading choices.

It formats manuscripts for both ebook and print and even has large print options.

Plus it’s over $100 cheaper than the leading alternative and works on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Chromebook.

Vellum

Vellum has many of the same features as Atticus.

It sells for $199 for basic ebook formatting and $249 if you want to add print formatting. It is known for resulting in beautiful books and for making the process easy.

Scrivener Compile

Compared to Atticus or Vellum, the lower priced Scrivener is complicated.

However, you can make do with Scrivener’s compile feature.

Kindle Create

A free option, Kindle Create was designed by Amazon to format books. It is limited in its design functions and carries a learning curve.

I recommend Atticus as a first choice, followed by Kindle Create if you’re on a budget.

But what if you don’t want any of the tools on this list?

Should You Hire a Formatter?

Formatting a book yourself may be too much to worry about. If that’s you, consider hiring a formatter. The best place to find one is on Fiverr or Upwork. Carefully vet the options and invest the time to find a good formatter you can afford.

However, formatters generally charge more than the cost of the formatting programs listed above.

What programs have you used? Was there one you love that I missed? Let me know in the comments, and I will check them out.


Dave Chesson is the creator of Kindlepreneur.com, a website devoted to teaching advanced book marketing. His tactics help both fiction and nonfiction authors of all levels get their books discovered by the right readers.

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