Should You Format Your Book While Writing It?

Formatting when writing to a small degree makes some sense. Many authors want to get a feel for what their book will look like in print. Or perhaps to get a “head start” while waiting for a proofreading to be completed, they start formatting.

Almost invariably, though, this actually creates more work.

Before formatting, you want to be absolutely done writing, fact-checking, editing and even proofreading the book. If you format in Microsoft Word and then make changes to the text, you’ll likely run into one or more of the following problems:
• Page numbers change – Book design traditionally places the first page of a chapter on the right-hand (odd-numbered) page. When text is added or deleted, this can alter the locations of headers and chapters, forcing you to add empty lines to the page or even entirely new blank pages.
• Table of contents and index change – Usually regenerating the table of contents is easy enough…but editing after page numbers have been set requires you to redo this step. With indexes, you may recheck every entry.
• Hyphenated words shift – To get wording to space properly across a line in MS Word, sometimes hyphens are manually added. Delete or add a single word, however, and usually those hyphens no longer appear at the end of a line but its middle.
 Page breaks shift – Especially with MS Word, you might place artificial breaks in the text to ensure it is justified on the page. Changing a word can result in an empty line of text or push text to the next page.
• Images and text boxes get cut off – Adding or deleting text also means that images and any text boxes (such as for drop caps or breakout boxes) will shift on the page. They may no longer appear next to an image or only parts of them may appear on the page.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t make changes to a formatted manuscript. If you notice a typo, by all means fix it. Usually a lone misspelling won’t cause major problems, as its impact on the formatted text is localized (such as throwing off hyphens within that paragraph). But the fewer typos you have to correct, the less likely corrections will mess up the formatting.

Of course, some minor formatting can begin the moment you start writing. Selecting the font, the font size, and the line spacing, as well as boldfacing the chapter titles and headers (presuming you want them boldface) makes perfect sense. But any formatting that might be impacted whenever you revise the text ought to wait.


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.