More Tips for Formatting Your Word Doc to Self-Publish

A lot of people think self-publishing is simply a matter of writing and editing something in word and then throwing it on Smashwords, iBooks, or Kindle Bookstore and calling it good.  Not quite.  Word is definitely good for, well, putting some words together, but it wasn’t created specifically for making eBooks. For that particular task Word ranges from ‘terrible’ to ‘okay if you know what you’re doing’ depending on who you ask.

But don’t worry. It isn’t even that hard to introduce a handful of elements that will dramatically improve your book’s quality.

First of all, if you already have a fairly complete manuscript in word, I recommend Kindle Create, which just launched in beta form this week. Kindle Create is good for taking a polished manuscript and adding the elements that turn it into a good ebook file in simple one-click steps as opposed to multi-click formatting in Word. It has it’s own user guide so I won’t delve into it here.

For those of you with a blank word document, or a moderately complete manuscript, read on.

Don’t Do Things Manually

I think where Word gets into trouble is it tries to have it both ways, doing some things automatically and requiring changes to setting for others. How often have you argued with Word over an indent you didn’t want? The first thing I do when I open Word to begin writing is to set up all the automatic styling I want.

Paragraph Formatting

You need to have some way of indicating paragraph breaks. Traditionally this is done through indents, though more and more places are using line breaks. Either one is fine (everywhere I publish), but you need to pick at least one. No one wants to read a two-hundred page book that is formatted into one paragraph. It will likely fail a quality test and may not even pass upload.

If you want to use line breaks between paragraphs, you can set that with one click via the blue button above. You can choose to add a space before a paragraph, after a paragraph, or both.

You can set your indents by clicking the little box with an arrow outlined in red below. Yes, that’s a thing that you can click!

Under Special I usually choose First Line, and indent by 0.3″. The default is 0.5″ but this always feels like too much for me. If a better indent setting works for you, feel free to play around until you get what you like. The important thing here is to let Word do your indenting for you. DO NOT HIT THE TAB KEY.

You can also use the Line and Page Breaks tab to insert line breaks before or after sections of text or keep text together – if concurrent lines fall on different pages and need to be kept together, the ‘keep with next’ or ‘keep lines together’ settings will ensure this always happens.

Why are these things important? Because reflowable books, by definition, allow the user to adjust the font, font size, and other text settings depending on the device being used. Setting up line spacing and/or indents at the beginning is the easiest way to ensure that your book is formatted properly regardless of reader settings with the least amount of work on your part.

But our work here isn’t done. You’ll also need to clearly indicate chapter breaks and provide the basis for Word to build a table of contents.

Using the Styles Menu

Aka the menu that makes your text all wonky when you accidentally mouse over it.

Here you can set the font settings for whatever elements might be in your book. You’re probably wondering why these don’t look like Word’s defaults. If you right-click on an individual style, you can select modify to change each particular style. For all of these I have chosen the font Arial and added additional styling at my whim. I have used the following for the screenshot above.

Chapter 1 – Heading 1 style (I also usually apply a ‘page-break-before’ modifier so each chapter begins on a new page. You can do this by selecting Format > Paragraph when modifying the style attributes. I highly recommend this for any eBook.)

The Chapter to Begin All Chapters – Heading 2 style (Most would probably use a subtitle style here, but I like to see my chapter titles in the navigation bar on the left (open with Ctrl-F and select Headings).

Body text… – Normal style

Quote… – Quote style

Ensuring your chapters appear in the navigation bar is important for two reasons. One, it allows you to more easily move back and forth through a long manuscript. Two, it allows most ePublishing sites to automatically create a table of contents when you upload your book. Using Kindle Previewer 3, this is how that formatting would look on a device.


Want to import styles to a new document if you’re going to use the same ones over and over? Luckily someone already wrote that guide. I tend to have subtle changes in styles depending on the book so I don’t usually do this.

Miscellaneous Tips

If you can do something manually (for example hitting the return key a bunch of times to get a page-break) odds are it’s better to set it up automatically. Your 14 returns might be a single page break on word, but it might be four page breaks when someone reads your book on a phone with large font settings. That’s really the refrain here. You don’t know what device or what settings a user is going to use. These guidelines will make sure your book looks good across them.


About Alex

I am awesome.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: