Skipping that last step of properly formatting your book can undermine the professionalism of an otherwise polished work. Whether your manuscript is destined for an agent's or editor's desk, heading to a designer to be made into a print book, or preparing for e-book coversion, seemingly simple elements like clean and even spacing and consistent font use can have a big impact on ensuring that the path forward for your book remains smooth.
Some distributors, including Smashwords and Kindle Direct Publishing, offer various tools (some free and some for a fee) for manuscript formatting and file conversion (from Microsoft Word to EPUB or MOBI, for example). A popular, well-designed, inexpensive option is Joel Friedlander’s book design templates, which you can find at bookdesigntemplates.com, for both print and e-books. All conversion and formatting needs are coded into the predesigned templates.
Author Guido Henkel offers an in-depth, free formatting guide on his blog (GuidoHenkel.com). He also has an expanded version, Zen of eBook Formatting, available for sale. Henkel explains: “One of the biggest challenges is to make sure your e-book displays correctly on all platforms. A lot of authors simply export their manuscripts from Word and then publish the resulting e-book file. The problem with that approach is that all word processors hide a lot of formatting specifics in order to create their WYSIWYG environment.”
Formatting one’s book, rather than simply exporting it, gives the author much more control over the final product. “It allows you to create a much cleaner e-book, but you can also make sure it is structurally sound, and you can make sure your implementation is rock solid, avoiding or working around known device glitches and problems, creating e-books that will display nicely on any device in the market,” says Henkel.
If you'd like to try learning to format yourself, you can create text and character styles in Microsoft Word. This process not only makes e-book file conversion cleaner, it can save you time and frustration while preparing your manuscript. Word styles allow you to set the font, font size, line spacing, and any special styling (like bold or italics) for each type of text in your manuscript. Then anytime you encounter that type of text, you just click to apply the preset style. Microsoft offers a great overview of the process on their support site.
So how is this helpful?
Say you're writing a Regency romance novel and you want the chapter titles to be in a pretty script font. You create a Chapter Heading style and choose Edwardian Script as your font type; then you apply it to all your chapter titles. The next day, you show your finished manuscript to your critique group and one of your friends complains that the font is too hard to read and distracting. You return to your manuscript file, open the Styles pane, select Modify for your Chapter Heading style, and then choose a different pretty font. Since the Chapter Heading style is already applied to all your chapter-opening pages, Word automatically updates the font on all text with that style. And you can change your preset style as many times as you want—trying on different fonts and sizes, bolding and italicizing until it's just the way you want it. That's a real time saver, because you don't have to revisit each individual page with a chapter heading on it—and you don't run the risk of missing one.
Learning how to style is a onetime effort investment: it takes a few hours to learn the basics, but once you get the hang of it, it's easy and even fun.
Cinderella in Rags
We can understand the temptation to fire off or upload your book as soon as the text is finalized, but taking the time to format your manuscript—or getting help from someone who knows how—is a bit like playing fairy godmother. She wouldn't let lovely Cinderella out of the house in rags because she knew how important it was for her to look the part of a princess. And the same holds true for your manuscript. It doesn't need the glass slipper, but it does need to turn heads—for all the right reasons.