Self-Publishing is it for you? Part 4: Formatting

This is an ongoing series of self publishing tips. Click here to view part three: Covers.

Okay I have discussed the exterior of your book and how a cover is the most important toll to sell your book. I have shared that you can make your book shine by hiring a freelance editor to flush out any of the grammar and story problems. Now I am going to discuss the other thing you can do to make your book stand out from the other self-published books. Just as your exterior makes your book sell your interior will make your readers want to read. I’m talking about formatting.

080308_14_s_0403“What!? You mean I can’t just upload my Word file to Createspace and click: publish?”

Well, you can switch your Word file to a PDF and submit it that way, but I wouldn’t recommend it. There are things you should know about formatting that will set your book apart from the others. Once again you don’t have to do this on your own. You can outsource to a freelance formatter or copy writer. They have the skills and know how to make your book look like all the other professional books on the market. Look to spend anywhere from $100 and up for a good formatter depending on the size of your book. I’m not just talking about someone to format your book into an eBook, I’m talking about formatting your book for print. Look to spend about $80 and upwards to have your eBook formatted. You can use programs such as Scrivener to help you format your eBook yourself but I always recommend outsourcing so you can focus on writing. Like editors and cover designers, you ask around to find these people. Get feedback on their services and check out the books they’ve done. How does the finished product compare to other professional quality books? Createspace and Lightning Source both offer a formatting service starting at $250. Believe me they will do a good job, but you will pay for it to happen. Freelancers are more affordable and give excellent work.

Maybe you are like most beginning authors and can’t afford to toss money at an editor, a cover artist, and now a formatter. That’s okay. I’m going to give you a few tips on how you can make your book shine on your own. Be prepared though—formatting takes time, and lots of it. You may even hate your book when you are done. I certainly didn’t want to see my first book after the week of fixing and re-fixing formatting issues. Once you’ve done a few rounds of it, you start to learn the ins and outs of the process and you’ll make your book shine. Here are a few tips on formatting your self-published book:

Templates: There are loads of templates on Createspace and Lightning Source that are already formatted for you. All you need to do is download the right size book and then it’s a copy and paste thing. Be cautious when doing this that you choose the correct file for your book or you’ll have to start over. Also these are not super high tech files and you can easily mess up everything. Make sure you are carefully checking each chapter as you paste your files into it. You don’t want your chapter page messed up by inserting a header in the wrong spot. I suggest playing around with things until you get the right feel for it. It will take a bit to get down but once you do you’ll find it easy enough to do on your own. Createspace Template link: Lightning Source Template link:

Fonts: There are some terrific fonts and some not so terrific. You want to make sure that all the fonts you choose in your text are embedded into your PDF when you submit them. This means that some of the bizarre and fancy fonts you find free online, might not work. They must be embedded to guarantee the text you see on your computer is the text that will appear in your book. If it’s not embedded, the system will automatically choose a like default font and replace it, which may screw up the whole look of your book. To check if a font is embedded publish a page of text from your Word document as a PDF. Then open it in Adobe Reader. Click File, then Properties, and then Fonts. If your font is listed and has (embedded subset) next it, then its embedded. If not, then you need a new font. Also you want your text to be readable. While something may look cool, some fonts hurt your eyes after a while and readers will put down the book and give you a review about the headache you gave them. Some of the best fonts to use, or the fonts that I like to use are: Book Antiqua. Bookman Old Style, Caslon, Adobe Garamond (My personal favorite, because it is so easy to read), Adobe Janson Text, Minion, Palatino, and Times New Roman.

The Text: Make sure that all your text in the book is justified to full. Do not leave it aligned to the left. That staggers the lines on the right and makes it look like you just printed the book from your computer—tacky. When using the justification, make sure you go through and fix any line that look funny. If you have extra spaces between your words that can also throw thing off. Always double check your work after you’ve completed to fix any mistakes.

Headers: It looks professional to have a header on each page of text NOT including the first page of each chapter. You can do your headers in several ways. You can have each chapter have its own header with the chapter title as the header. You can have the right header be the title of the book and the left be the author’s name. Bottom line is to have them. They make your book look clean and organized, just make sure you do them well. The Createspace and Lightning Source templates do have headers embedded for you, just make sure you use them correctly.

Chapters: There are many different ways to make your chapters stand out. One is to make the first letter of the first paragraph large and the surrounding text boxing it in. This is called a “drop cap” and can be found in the insert tab in Word. Other ways is to have a graphic or illustrated piece as your chapter header. Make sure you have the rights to use the graphic and make sure it’s specified in the font matter (on the copyright page). Lots of middle-grade books have illustrated chapter headers. To find the style you like look at a bunch of your favorite books and see what choices the publisher made in creating those.

Front Matter: The front matter refers to everything that is in the front of your book, before you get to the actual story. This is just a list of the things you should find in the font matter: Title page, ISBN and copyright info, Dedication page, Acknowledgement page (this can also be at the end of the book if you prefer, I like it at the front), and table of contents. Do Plan on having a table of contents because you will need one anyway when you turn your book into an eBook. All eBooks require one and Amazon will actually remove it if it doesn’t.

Back Matter: The back matter refers to everything that comes after your story has ended. This is just a list of the things you should include: About the author (a brief bio written in 3rd person. Make it fun and interesting. Include your website.), an invitation for reviews (this can be done in several ways: a note from the author, a fun illustrated page, or just a short reminder; you just want remind them if they liked the book to give a review at: and list where to go.), and a list of your other books and where to find them.

The best way for you to understand what is expected in formatting your book is to go and look at some traditionally published books. I say the traditional ones, because so many first time indie authors don’t do it right. One common mistake indies make is the page numbers. The odd pages should always be on the right—not the left. So the first page of the book (Page 1) should be on the left.  Check the established forms of traditional

Photo by thebrooklinelibrary on Flickr

publishers. See what the publishers did with text and layout. If you see an indie book that has done it right, see who the formatting was done by. If it’s not stated, give the author a tweet or email; ask them who did their formatting. Bottom line is: do your homework! Just like you do when wanting to write a good thriller, you read great thrillers, if you want to know how to format a good book, you study the formatting on great books. Good luck in everything formatting and happy writing! CLICK HERE TO VIEW PART FIVE.

Mikey Brooks

About Mikey Brooks

Mikey Brooks is a small child masquerading as an adult. On occasion you’ll catch him dancing the funky chicken, singing like a banshee, and pretending to have never grown up. He is an award winning author of the middle-grade fantasy adventure series The Dream Keeper Chronicles. His other middle-grade books include: The Gates of Atlantis: Battle for Acropolis and The Stone of Valhalla. His picture books include the best-selling ABC Adventures: Magical Creatures, Trouble with Bernie, and Bean’s Dragons. Mikey has a BS degree in English from Utah State University and works fulltime as a freelance illustrator, cover designer, and author. His art can be seen in many forms from picture books to full room murals. He loves to daydream with his three daughters and explore the worlds that only the imagination of children can create. As a member of the Emblazoners, he is one of many authors devoted to ‘writing stories on the hearts of children’ ( You can find more about him and his books at: