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Formatting for Beginning Indie Author-Publishers

I’ve been noticing a few posts from writers just starting to test the waters of Indie publishing. They seem to fall into one of two categories. They are either convinced that they can’t do anything except the writing, and need to pay people to do all the rest, or they are being barraged with replies telling them to get their manuscripts professionally edited.

Now we here at MGC have discussed the various types of editors. Content, continuity, copy editing and so forth. But if you are just starting out, spending thousands, or even just hundreds, of dollars on editors of unknown ability is probably not financially sensible. What you need are Beta Readers and Grammar Nazis. Writers’ critique groups can be useful, either in the real world or on line. Social media can be a good place to find fellow writers and swap manuscripts for either overall story level comments (as in: Very slow start, consider sticking the fight in Chapter three right at the start. You left Dave in jail and never mentioned him again, probably ought to do something about that!), continuity errors (Is it Cindy, Cyndi or Cindi? And when did she find the time to keep swapping her hair color?), or copy editing (pg. 2 line 4, Their, not There. Line 14, it’s spelled Bureaucrat. Please use search and replace through your entire manuscript!)

And covers. Tons of places to get art, tons of programs to deal with the lettering. If I get internet and phone service back by Thursday night, I’ll list them. And some MGC posts on covers. A good way to start planning a cover is to check out books in the same genre and subgenre as yours and see what readers who would like your book are used to seeing.

Right, browse through these for Cover help


Now onward!

Formatting. Tedious, but easy. Really.

And that’s what I’m going to concentrate on today.

Let’s start with font and size. You want a nice readable font. You don’t want cute or funny or whatever. Reading should involve the effortless transference of printed word to pictures and adventures in the mind. You don’t want the reader to pop out of the story to admire your beautiful graceful lettering.

I use Georgia, 12pt. Font size can be anything, the ebook is adjustable. But if you want to go to print, 12 is good in most fonts. So I just start there, to minimize the changes I have to make later.
Then you need to decide on chapter headings. And sub-headings.

Chapter One
16 March, 2018
Houston, Texas, Earth Prime

Hmm, a bit boring, but if you need to signal dates and places, it’ll do. You can bold all or some of them, fancy fonts, whatever. But remember—enhance the ease of reading.

Like them centered? No problem.

Chapter Two
In Trouble. Again.

A pithy bit to catch the readers attention? Sure, put it there. Especially, as I’ve recently been told, it’ll catch a browser’s eye on the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon. Excellent thought.
Too bad I didn’t realize that fifty books ago. Oh. Well.
Feel free to put in poetry, history lessons, quotes, whatever. They look classy, and sometimes that fantasy history data dump can be split up and put right where it’s handy. And most readers will skip right over it.

Now let’s talk about Styles.

I’ll talk about how to use them on Word, and perhaps people with experience on other word processors can chime in with the differences in how theirs works.

See that long strip up there on the task bar? No? Then hit the “Home” tab. The “Styles” pretty much takes up the whole right half of the bar.

Highlight a bit of an average sentence that is formatted the way you want the whole thing (other than the Chapter Headings!) formatted. Then go up to the Styles bar. Right click of the mouse on “Normal” Then click on “Update Normal to match selection” and voila! Probably you didn’t notice any change.

No worries.

Now highlight a bit of a chapter heading that’s formatted the way you like it, and back up to the Styles Bar. This time right click on “Heading 1” and “Update Heading One to Match Selection. Not much of a change, but the next time you start a new chapter, just click on Heading 1 and it’ll format the right way.


*But* And this is the neat bit, when you go to make a table of contents, it’ll grab the headings—as many levels as you want—and make a clickable table of contents, for as many heading levels as you wish.

So. That subheading? Right. Make it Heading 2.

Then that cute bit will (if you want it there!) show up in the TOC and hopefully intrigue a browser.

How do you do that?
Click the References tab.
On the far left, click on Table of Contents.
Ignore the automatic tables. Go down to third form the bottom “Custom Table of Contents” and click it.
Click off the “Show page numbers.”
Set how many levels of Headers you want in the TOC.

Hit the “OK” button, and voila! A table of contents.

You’ll probably want to remove it, and put it where it belongs. 😀

Actually, it’s pretty much the last thing to do. You’ll want to be sure the back matter shows up there.
You know?

About the Author
Other Books By [insert your name here]
Excerpt from an Upcoming Novel

Yeah, you want those in there too.

So, before you do that, let me point out a few things.

Start every new chapter on a new page. [Ctrl] [Enter] for a “hard new page.”

Have the same amount of white space around the chapter heading.

Don’t overdo it on ebooks, the small screen doesn’t need it.

I generally have a single blank line above the Chapter heading and two blank lines before the body of the chapter.
It doesn’t matter too much what you do—but for a good professional look—do every single chapter the same.

I did mention tedious, right? Do it anyway.

Then make a Table of Contents.

You can fool with the line spacing and bolding, as you wish.

Table of Contents

Chapter One
16 March, 2018
Houston, Texas, Earth Prime

Chapter Two
In Trouble. Again.

About the Author

Other Books By [insert name here]

Excerpt from an Upcoming Novel

Now take a cruise through the manuscript.

Dang. That looks good, doesn’t it? Like . . . a Real Book.

Tons of people are going to read it.


Speaking of which, a real new one of mine:

  1. Thank you, Pam! I’ve been wrestling with these issues, and this truly helps. There’s a LOT of opinions on the Net on this topic, and many (most?) quickly get lost in minutiae. It’s so impenetrable that I started a second book, as writing is so much easier for me before releasing my first! My rationale for this is that some authors claim the way to go, is have followups ready to go, for when the first one is a success. (Ever notice that you more readily follow advice when it confirms what you wanna do?) Confirmation bias, anyone? Got plenty in stock. Cheap at twice the price!

    March 16, 2018
    • I’m doing something similar, though my logic is: I want to figure out how to edit and what my likely speed is before I set a schedule I can’t make.

      March 16, 2018
      • I am not at all tech savvy. Once the ITspeak starts my eyes glaze over. So I learn by repeated errors, until I accidentally do it right.

        Still working on the getting it into print thing. But I think I’ve almost got it down to a routine.

        March 16, 2018
  2. I’ll add a couple of things to what Pam’s said — and you can find more in-depth information in the Navigating the Path tab at the top of the page — don’t use tabs. Please, don’t use tabs. They won’t be recognized when you convert your manuscript to e-book format. Don’t add extra space between paragraphs. Also, unless they’ve changed their rules, Smashwords will read more than three line returns as a page break. So be careful about that. Finally, check and double-check your e-book after it’s been uploaded and converted to Amazon or whatever storefront you are using. Download the file and check it on a native ebook reader or app. Don’t rely on the preview screen.

    March 16, 2018
    • Oh yes, I forgot about the tabs!
      See that replace key to the right of the styles? Click it. The the “more>>” button, then the “Special” button _then_ you’ve finally gotten to the list with the Tab Character. Click the tab character. It ought to be there in the “Find what:” window and the “Replace with:” window should be empty. Click on “Replace All” and they’ll all go away.

      And if you can remember (I never do) the Tab Character you went through all that to find is ^t

      Then back to Styles. Right click on “Normal” click on “Modify” and do as you wish. I recommend 1.5 line spacing and a .3 indent.

      March 16, 2018
      • I do the 1.5 line spacing as well but use a 0.33 indent because 0.3 looks too small on some of the apps. But that really is a personal preference.

        March 16, 2018
    • I don’t remember where I read one was supposed to do this–and I would have guessed here or Amazon’s style guide–but I do put a little more space between paragraphs in my short stories. I draft in Word and do not add the space by hitting enter. Instead, I put it in afterwards through Format and Paragraph, I think at ten points. Someone asked why I was doing this, and I said I understood it to make the reading easier. Is this something not to do?

      March 16, 2018
      • I’ve heard to not do it.

        March 16, 2018
        • Nothing like consistent advice from competing sources, eh? Story of my formatting life. (VBG)

          March 16, 2018
      • If it isn’t much, you’re okay. However, if it is easily seen/recognized, you’ve put too much in. Of course, this is my opinion and based on what I’ve seen and read elsewhere.

        March 16, 2018
  3. sam57l0 #


    March 16, 2018
    • Snicker.

      March 16, 2018
    • Groan. 🙂

      March 16, 2018
  4. Readers should note that Kindle and Smashwords both publish formatting guides that will lead the naive through to a positive outcome. Of particular note is the Smashwords ‘Nuclear Option”. Your ms. has all sorts of invisible format codes, some of which will not go away. How do you fix this if all else fails? Copy to notepad. You now have absolutely clean text.

    Some people really could use editing and reading support. I am about to review a good WW2 Alternative History novel. The plotting and scheming and characters are excellent. However, the author confuses mote and moat, not to mention compromise and comprise. The author has pages of Mark Twain Huckleberry Finn discourse: paragraph after paragraph of someone speaking, and not a “said” or the like in sight. The author is also somewhat enthusiastic about the efficacy of WW2 technology for bombing railroad tracks. Finally, some of the military names are critically wrong: The Long Tom was a type of artillery, not one of the UK superheavy bombs.
    On the other hand, the fate of Montgomery was quite amusing.

    March 16, 2018
  5. Luke #

    So Word still recognises some keyboard shortcuts.
    Just not the ones I was recently trying to use.

    March 16, 2018
  6. I strongly recommend *against* trying to format your ebook/kdp paperback in LibreOffice. Neither KDP nor Smashwords support uploading ODF/ODT files, and once you’ve got things looking nice in ODF (which is harder than it should be) you then have to deal with the royal PITA that is making them look nice in Word.

    For example, page styles. LibreOffice insists you use them for any page you want to look even a little different from base. So if you want all your chapters to start on the right-hand side, you have to go and manually insert a section break from the menu (CTRL+Enter is insufficient), tell it what page style the new section needs to have, and make sure that page style will flow properly into the basic left-hand chapter page, and it into the right-hand. Word, on the other hand, doesn’t know how to parse all that nonsense and will add section breaks at the end of every page – *as they appeared in LibreOffice*, which means you sometimes get two lines on a page before a break.

    And, of course, based on web standards and desktop publishing standards, the ODF is the right way to do it. Except that the industry prefers Word. Okay. Rant over. Carry on.

    March 16, 2018
    • Unless you are in one of those fields that says “Use LaTeX for these things and Word for academic articles. Unless they let you use LaTeX.” I got an ear-full over beers one night in grad school.

      March 16, 2018
      • I can imagine.

        March 16, 2018
      • If you are doing a lot of equations, LaTeX is almost infinitely superior to the alternatives. No searching drop-down pages \alpha gets you teh alpha immediately.

        March 16, 2018
        • New versions of MS Word (since 2008, I believe) have an equation editor as powerful as LaTeX’s, and with a similar input syntax: \alpha auto-converts to α (or rather, U+1D6FC, 𝛼).

          March 16, 2018
          • mrsizer #

            Interesting. I have alpha as U03B1 or alt-0945, which is showing up here as ±. It works fine in Skype and Word. α and it copy/pasted fine.

            March 16, 2018
            • Interesting indeed. From what I‘ve read I would expect copy-paste to yield characters from the Mathematical Alphanumeric Symbols block, but I’m not sorry to be wrong. I assume that ordinary italic variables, like x, copy-paste as regular letters too? (‘x’ not U+1D465 ‘𝑥’.)

              March 18, 2018
      • LaTeX is nice, once you learn it. The learning curve, though…

        I’ve typeset a four-book series for e-book and dead-tree. Once I figured out the template, I could—and did—convert between the LaTeX source and the HTML for e-books almost mechanically.

        (“Almost”, because I’d included formatting tweaks in the LaTeX, like “allow a bit of space around the hyphens on this one line here where that’s needed”, or code for certain other specially-formatted cases.)

        March 16, 2018
        • BobtheRegisterredFool #

          LyX has saved me a little bit on the LaTeX learning curve. Obviously time for some insane zealotry insisting that it should be /the/ choice for every single application. 🙂

          Word apparently has useable equation editors. But, they apparently don’t convert well to and from the Google Docs word processor.

          March 16, 2018
    • *tilts head in puzzlement* Doesn’t KDP support the upload of files in PDF? I didn’t have problems formatting in LibreOffice, then exporting to PDF for upload to KDP, at least none that I recall. (Lulu publishing – which is what we use – accepts ODT for document upload.

      That said, I wouldn’t mind getting a more detailed description of your problems with LibreOffice, because I can forward this to someone (not me) who submits bug reports and such to the folks who make LibreOffice, to help towards making improvements for indie authors. (LibreOffice directly exports to epub now.)

      That said though, it sounds like some of the problem is the differences between Word and LibreOffice and may potentially be irreconcilable as Word is closed source Microsoft stuff.

      March 16, 2018
      • KDP recommends MS Word Doc, Docx, or HTML. But they do accept a few other formats, including PDF.

        March 16, 2018
      • KDP, at least, does support importing PDFs, but in language that tells you they’d rather not (or at least that’s hiw I read it). Smashwords is even worse, because for them it’s either .doc (no .docx) or Ebook.

        As you said, though, mist of the issue is I think on Word’s end. Among the things in LibreOffice that I wish were more streamlined, though, is the adding of section breaks. Even if all they did was make it ctrl+enter for a page break and ctrl+shift+enter for a section break if would be better, because the more I have to take my hands off the keyboard the more irritated I get at the program.

        Similarly I think the Styles dialogue is overcomplicated, although that’s more than I want to get into in a blog comment and I’m basically used to it now.

        Tangentially related, table styling and functionality seems to lag Word by a large margin at this point, and creating table styles is even more annoying than text styles. DH actually gave up on LO and bought office because of how bad spreadsheets & table functionalities are.

        March 17, 2018
        • Page break is ctrl+enter; (but I may be misreading/misunderstanding, my headache is a dull thumping behind my left eye at the moment, but it is distracting)

          I remembered using PDF for uploading Sparrowind in ebook format for KDP; so it worked then.

          From my initial test of the LibreOffice EPUB exporter, it works fine and conversion to other formats should work using Calibre (my main writing box is a Debian box.)

          I’d never used Styles, etc, before I needed to use them for ebook formatting so my first exposure to it was in LibreOffice, even though the instructions I found online were for Word.

          That said, it might help if you put the suggestions for streamlining workflow or shortcuts at the Document Foundation’s site/forums; I have a vague impression that they’re working on making LibreOffice more friendly for indie writers so suggestions on that vein may be helpful.

          March 17, 2018
        • KDP, at least, does support importing PDFs, but in language that tells you they’d rather not (or at least that’s how I read it).

          If they’re discouraging PDFs at all, it’s likely because proper PDF production can be tricky for the beginner: The MS Word settings (margins, line-spacing, fonts, etc.) useful for writing and editing are often not at all suitable for reading; font embedding comes with a host of hazards; and most authors will simply not get right many of the basic rules of readable typography.

          But if you follow the rules and know your tools, or you can hire someone ˡⁱᵏᵉ ᵐᵉ who can and does, uploading a PDF is going to get you the best results in your dead-tree books.

          March 19, 2018
  7. My last post seemed to vanish, so I shall repeat the suggestion that Kindle and Smashwords both publish style guides, for free! Try reading them before you start typing; you save much pain.

    I did two heavily illustrated volumes for Kindle, namely Stalingrad (it’s a classic board war game) for Beginners and Stalingrad Replayed. Inserting figures in word is an incredible nuisance, and at least once I had to start over.

    If you format in some exotic word processor, Smashwords noted the option of cutting and pasting into notepad, which will exterminate without exception all invisible format commands including the ones that do not show in word using the Paragraph codon or that can be seen but that refuse to delete.

    March 16, 2018
  8. And if you’re using Vellum, some I know do, no curly quotes. They don’t convert well. Ask me how I know. 🙂

    March 16, 2018
    • Which edition of Vellum are you using? I haven’t had any issue with them.

      March 16, 2018
      • Their print version outputs only to one size, which corresponded to exactly none of the sizes available to Lulu (and I know I’m an outlier here in that regard, so feel free to disregard anything I say about the topic) – which is something I found screamingly frustrating. Perhaps for ebooks, it’s great, but print… ugh.

        March 16, 2018
        • I am not on my Mac right now, but I could swear the last time I set up for print, I could choose the size. I’ll look in the morning and update here.

          March 16, 2018
          • Interesting. I had an update to run and did it, and now I have options. Before it would only let me output to 6×9.

            …Not that I think it helps any, given the discrepancy in size for pocketbook measurements for my preferred publisher.

            (Incidentally, Vellum DOES let you have it that every chapter begins on the right side, or left, depending on your preference.)

            March 17, 2018
  9. Uncle Lar #

    Once the manuscript is properly set up my main author sends it to a gentleman who uses InDesign to reformat for 8.5 x 5.5 trade paperback sizing. He generates a final pdf which gets sent off along with the full wrap around cover to our POD account.
    She sends me the same manuscript but with a different ISBN and the front cover graphic. I use a software program called Calibre to embed the cover in the file metadata, then generate e-book files in both mobi and epub formats. Mobi is the public version of the Amazon Kindle azw format and epub works for the B&N Nook and with iBooks on Apple devices.
    Currently we only upload e-books to Amazon and B&N as we’ve found that for us Apple and Kobo don’t produce enough sales to make it worth the bother. Depending on how B&N fares we may have to rethink that in the future.

    March 16, 2018
  10. thephantom182 #

    Currently still procrast… I mean avoidin… I mean working on the cover to Book 1. ~:D

    The editing advice is awesome, I’m doing that right away.

    Something I discovered yesterday, Calibre ebook translator has some Android aps that work with it. Specifically Calibre Companion, which allows my Android phone to connect by WiFi to my Calibre program on the PC. Now I can do conversions of my own work and have it handy on my phone for editing and finding glitches.

    [I finally settled on a Samsung Note. Blackberry is pretty much dead now, even their ap store is moribund. The Note is nice, as it has a pen and very good handwriting recognition. The screen is large enough for my stupid giant fingers too. Never a bad thing.]

    Thus I discovered that Kindle for Android does not play nicely with a lot of things. For example, it does not allow you to store things where you want them on your phone, you have to put them where it wants them. There’s no browsing for content on your SD card that I could find. (Maybe I just have to try harder? Could be.) Kindle may or may not like your Calibre-converted ePub or Mobi files, according to a few sources.

    Therefore I also downloaded Moon+ Reader. The free version has ads, the paid version doesn’t and it will read the book to you. Could be a way to edit, I plan on checking that out. So far, the paid version is working nicely.

    The thing I’d like to be sure of is that the conversion format remains the same across multiple platforms. The only way to know is to check.

    March 16, 2018
  11. c4c

    March 16, 2018
  12. mrsizer #

    I didn’t much care for your switch in perspective from Comet Fall to the Empire when you first did it. You (long ago) convinced me that it was a great idea. In the TBR pile.

    March 16, 2018
  13. I literally can’t remember how I did the formatting for my book. I think it must have involved uploading Pages ’09 files and having Kindle convert them. That is, if I didn’t just use a PDF. This has been scaring me since I am dreaming of publishing another book this summer. Maybe I’ll just start all over….

    March 16, 2018
    • KDP has changed a lot, doing a reasonable job of keeping up with tech changes and dealing with their known problems. If it’s been awhile, yeah, view it as starting from scratch. By-and-large it’s gotten a lot simpler.

      March 16, 2018
  14. If you’re just starting and you’re planning to be in Amazon’s KDP Select program, I highly recommend getting their Kindle plug-in for Microsoft Word. It helps with a lot of these tasks, and as an added bonus Amazon will convert the same Word document to both e-book and paperback. It turns out each format selectively ignores formatting done for the other format. The plug-in will also handle drop-caps if you want them.

    My additional tips and trips:

    When you’re ready for headers/footers (book title/author name at the top, page numbers at the bottom), remove *all* section breaks first, click on the button that lets KDP create the headers/footers, review your headers/footers (I usually make the font smaller and italics, verify the ‘different first page of section’ is set, and verify the first page doesn’t have any headers), then manually insert an ‘odd page section breaks’ at the beginning of each chapter. Now go back and remove headers/footers from the sections that shouldn’t have them — front matter and possibly back matter. The e-book conversion will ignore headers/footers and treat odd page section breaks as a normal section break, while the paperback will show headers/footers and start each chapter on an odd-numbered page.

    Search and replace is your friend. You can quickly remove section breaks (^b), double-spaces (just type twice in search and once in replace, then keep doing ‘replace all’ until you don’t get any matches), double-blank lines (replace ^p^p with ^p), spaces before a paragraph (replace ‘^p ‘ with ‘^p).

    March 16, 2018
    • LA May #

      Have you tried Kindle Create? I just got through cleaning up a Word doc, including adding a bookmarked-hyperlinked ToC, only to find that KDP will do all that for you, but it looks new. I figure I’ll strip all that out and give the Kindle Create app a try – I like it’s Styles choices and inserts of dropped caps and all.

      I’ve downloaded the Kindle Create Word plug-in, but I’m hesitant to set it up, only because I’m using Word 2007, and I’m worried that’s too old.

      March 18, 2018

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