Your Book’s Formatting Lifecycle

Book Formatting from Draft to Published

I've seen what a big, distracting, pain in the butt formatting is for authors in their journey to finishing and publishing your book. This post and the forthcoming posts in this book formatting series will help you understand how to format your book at each stage:

Nobody has mentioned that you're going to have to format your book at least 5 times, right?

  • Critique Partners
  • Beta Readers
  • Editors
  • Advanced Review Copies (ARCs)
  • Final for Publication

Follow document formatting standards

Document formatting just means making your document pretty and accessible, so you can easily share it and get feedback. This means double spacing, font sizes, headers and footers, etc.

Manuscript formatting phases

There are several times you'll need feedback. Each time you submit your manuscript for feedback you'll need to make sure your document is cleanly formatted. 

  1. Your first level of feedback will come from critique partners. This may be a couple of other authors you find who are also writing books like yours, or from members of a writing group. In my critique groups we format our stories, chapters, or entire manuscripts in Word, then copy them to Google Docs so all the feedback is consolidated.
  2. Once you get feedback from critique partners, you'll start sharing your work with as many early readers as you can. These are also called beta readers. (This is where you start quietly building your book marketing street team.) If you have a cleanly formatted Word doc you can make PDF, EPUB, and MOBI files and share them with readers using using BookFunnel, StoryOrigin, or ProlificWorks.
  3. Once you incorporate feedback from your beta readers, you're ready to hire a copy editor. Editors want a totally stripped-down Word doc.
  4. Your editor will fix a lot of things but also may have suggestions. So you'll work in Word to create your final draft, and then it's time to send it for proofreading.
  5. Now it's time to make it a book. Authors with simple books often do it themselves using a Word template but you can hire a professional book designer to create it in InDesign.

Can I do it all in MS Word?

... or Apple Pages or Open Office, or Google Docs? Yes. If your book is simple, and you're not going to get fancy with formatting, you can do it all in Word or the other programs I mentioned.

If you do want to get fancy with formatting, you don't have to do it until the end. Then you can hire out a high-quality final-for-publication version created in InDesign. That's the last step though, so do everything in a Word doc first, then get the final design done in InDesign.

Fonts, headers and footers, line spacing, and other basics

When you share your writing, make sure critique partners, editors, and beta readers can easily read it and make notes on it for you.

  • no headers and footers except for pagination
  • double-spaced (or 1.5 spaced at the very least)
  • a nice, round, easy-to-read serif font like Georgia
  • 12-14 point text
  • no styling or consistent styling ("normal" for text and "heading" for chapters)
MS Word Doc Formatting

Double-Spaced, No Headers, Serif Font

What editors want

Editors regularly strip out all formatting before they can start editing, so it's better you do it unless you don't mind paying them to do it. If you've got any styling at all, you're going to want to do it right before you send it to the editor, because it can take them a while to figure out what your formatting is all about. 

Got lots of paragraph and font styles?

If you've incorporated special styling for text messages, pull quotes or italics, it's critical that you use styles to create them instead of ad-hoc formatting. Get my free booklet What Every Author Needs to Know About MS Word Styles or just use Word "help" to figure it out.

Start planning your book production journey now

Book formatting is part of your book production and book marketing journey. I recommend this erasable wall calendar to track tasks. Get an academic calendar and start right away. One side is vertical and the other horizontal, and it comes with a dry-erase marker. Want to start in January with an annual calendar? Here you go!

Book Launch Calendar

Use a big annual calendar to plan out your book launch journey

Next steps

Okay, now you've learned the basics about formatting through the lifecycle of your book. Over the next weeks, I'll provide details on the following: 

  • How to format your manuscript and share it with critique partners
  • How to format your manuscript and share it with editors
  • How to format and deliver your manuscript to beta readers
  • How to format and deliver your Advanced Review Copies (ARCs) to get book reviews
  • How to format your manuscript for publication

Done for you formatting

I can help you get your manuscript formatted for one or all the phases. Check out my book formatting service for the entire lifecycle of your book from draft to critique partners, beta readers, ARC, editing, and final publication to Amazon, IngramSpark, Smashwords, and other platforms. Find out more.
Book Formatting Servicee

Got a different question? 

Got a different question about self-publishing?  Ask here.
Ask Your Self-Publishing Question

Never miss a blog post

Want more essential information about how to publish and market your book? Never miss a blog post, and get freebies and special promotions on books, courses, and events you need to finish, market, and publish your book. Sign up here:

Carla King

Carla King is a travel and technology writer turned author and self-publishing expert. She started self-publishing in 1995 and founded the Self-Pub Boot Camp series of educational books, workshops, and online courses in 2010. She runs the self-publishing and technology track at the San Francisco Writers Conference and a series of online courses at www.selfpubbootcampcourses.com.