Indie Publishing on a Budget, Part Two - Formatting

You’ve written a book and edited it to the eleventh degree, so now comes the next part—formatting the manuscript for publication. This is tricky because there are as many ways to format a book as there are authors. That said, I can really only describe MY way. I’ve tried many things, and I like this best because it is simple, looks nice, and is consistent—AKA, easy to replicate.

I use a PC and write on Microsoft Word (because I am old, cut me some slack), so I’m writing from that platform here. There are loads of software programs available for Mac and PC users, but I have found the following formatting options work best for me. If you are an author and use another way, feel free to contact me or leave a comment!

First, decide where you want to distribute your book (there are tons of options) and read up on their requirements. I have found most places prefer an epub and/or mobi file because that is the platform most e-readers require.

So, let’s start with e-books. Some people prefer to create specific headers for each chapter and a table of contents that links back to them (it’s also required by distributors unless you do it my way,) but that is tedious work, and I don’t have time for it.

Instead, I distribute through Draft 2 Digital and use their e-book templates that automatically insert a clickable table of contents. There are several genre-specific templates to choose from, and their system conveniently converts word documents to epub, Mobi, and pdf. I can take these files and upload them anywhere else I choose, including Amazon, EVEN if I don’t distribute through D2D. Isn’t that kind of them? Did I mention it is free? Most other programs can cost hundreds of dollars, which is really an excellent option for those on a budget.

Once I have my files, I upload them to Amazon or any other distributors not covered by Draft 2 Digital—easy as pie! Bonus, the files are easy to read on e-readers, and I don’t have to do anything except ensure my chapter titles are consistently formatted throughout my book—same font, size, color, and position on the page for each chapter title. An example from Eiagan's Winter is below. Each chapter should be formatted the same way, so the D2D program can easily identify them.

Once you have uploaded the manuscript, you will be given a chance to play around with the options. The final e-book version of Eiagan's Winter looks like this on my Kindle:

Sidenote: I always upload Amazon separately from Draft 2 Digital because Amazon is kinda rude about how they manage indie books. Basically, if I want to run sales, etc., through Amazon, the book must be uploaded through KDP. There are some other issues, but I’ll discuss those in another blog post.

Here is where things get super tricky. Most distributors that print books have their own uploading and formatting requirements. With print, you also need an ISBN (that’s the little barcode on the back,) and those can get expensive. I’ve never had a problem with my book being tied to a distributor bar code, so I usually use the “freebie” ISBNs allotted by Draft 2 Digital and Amazon (Barnes & Noble also offers free codes, but I distribute through D2D for them.) You can also buy ISBN codes, but keep in mind that you must have a different code for EVERY distributor you use for print books (you don’t need them for e-books.)

Each distributor has a step-by-step guide for formatting paperback books (and some have a hardcover.) For MOST, you must format your manuscript with specific margins—top, bottom, and outer (right) margin at 0.5, while the inner (left) margin (where the spine is) will set at 0.75. You will need to set it to mirror margins, which shifts the text to the right or left slightly to accommodate the spine binding.

The text should be 12 pt. (some can be 14 pt. depending on the font) and fit industry-standard fonts such as Times New Roman, Garamond, Baskerville, Palatino, Bembo, and Janson. A few other fonts work well in print, but remember—funky fonts are a big no. Comic Sans is great for keeping the words flowing while you write, but it is miserable to read in a print book. Also, for the love of all that is holy, DO NOT double-space your manuscript. We’re not writing research papers… so just… don’t. I set my manuscripts at “at least” and 16 pt. spacing. This allows most fonts enough space between lines for readers to see clearly, while not leaving them so spaced out they look like research papers or essays. I also set my paragraphs to justified rather than left-aligned. Always check for widowed lines, broken dashes, etc., and correct them so that your manuscript looks clean.

Once you have the format set to the distributor’s standard, the rest is up to you. Remember to insert page numbers and, if you wish, a header with the book title and author name (though I don’t do this because I find it frustrating when reading.)

You can format your chapter titles as you wish, use drop-caps on the first word, or capitalize the first few words of each new chapter, insert images… anything you like, but don’t go overboard! I learned that the hard way! I also start each chapter midway down the page. It offers a more professional and clean look. Here's a look at the print version of Eiagan's Winter:

What? I have to format for audiobook too? Yeah, you kinda do. I also learned this the hard way—books read aloud sound much different than reading on the page. When spoken, dialogue tags are crucial so the listener can tell who is speaking and when. This matters a lot less with multiple narrators, but if one narrator speaks all character parts, it can get very confusing!

Basically, ensure your book has all the needed dialogue tags to clarify who is speaking, send a pronunciation list of difficult or made-up words and names, and be sure to send a manuscript that is exactly how you want the audiobook set up.

So there you have it... the very basics of formatting on a budget. Remember, there are many ways to format, and you might find something that works better for you. My way is free, so I tend to stick with tried and true and FREE options.

Are you an author? Do you know other ways to format and want to share them? Hop on and comment, or send me a private message!