How to format main text for your book

Once you’ve got your book with the front and back matter completed, the next step is to place all of that text into a form that can be uploaded and printing. Essentially, you’re creating on file on the computer that looks exactly like how the book will appear when printed. This is called formatting.

You can hire someone else to do your formatting, whether it be a freelancer or the self-publishing company itself. This will get expensive, however, and may not always yield the results you want, delaying the publication process. You can do it yourself as well, though you may need software programs, such as InDesign, for this effort. Unless purchased used, InDesign will be more expensive than hiring a freelancer or going with the self-publishing company. There’s also the added problem of learning how to use such software, and you want to be a writer, not a designer. Still, if you plan to write a series of books that will involve pictures, tables, charts, illustrations and so forth in them, then purchasing a software program and taking some time to learn the program (There are plenty of books and online tutorials about how to do this.) in the long run is well worth the trouble.

If use just plain text (such as a novel) or a book with only a few photos, or are purely writing an ebook, your formatting can be done in Microsoft Word. Be forewarned, however – and this comes from someone who knows how to use design software – formatting a printed book in Word will be an extremely difficult and frustrating project. In addition, if not done correctly, the tracking (or spacing between letters and words on a single line of type) can look unprofessional.

The first rule of formatting is keep the entire book is one document. So if you’ve got the table of contents, preface, main body text and index all in different files, it’s time to cut and paste them into one file. Create a backup of this file so that you have an original to refer to and just in case the file you’re formatting gets all messed up.

Then establish the answers to a number of important decisions that will be necessary to formatting the book:
• What will the book’s size be (its width and height)?
• How many pages will the book be?
• What will be the style (typeface and point size) for the text, headers, subheads and section heads, sidebars and breakout boxes (hopefully you’ve already established this)?
• What will be the style for the page numbers/book title/author’s name that typically appears on each page?

We’ll discuss each of these topics in upcoming entries.

If you need a professional designer, be sure to address each of these issues with her. You can find designers and have them bid on your project simply be typing “freelance book designer” into a search engine. Specific sites where you can post your project and have designers try to solicit the job include, and


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.