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Ten Tips About Formatting

July 3, 2016

 

 

 Your job as an editor and formatter of a manuscript is to make yourself invisible and redundant. The reader needs to see through your work without even noticing what you have done. Inconsistent formatting, like typographical errors, can pull a reader right out of the writing and spoil all your efforts.

 

Formatting a book is a time-consuming task but isn’t that difficult to do. It requires attention to detail but it can be done by self published authors themselves. Some studies say that 80% of self published print books and 77% of self published eBooks are formatted by the author. There are a number of relatively straightforward things you can do to save yourself time and get the job done without too much frustration.

 

1. The first tip is, if this is your first book, make it one without illustrations, tables, sidebars, fancy fonts or other design variations. Books without any of these are far easier to layout than those that have them.

 

2. You can use specialised publishing programmes especially if you intend to create a more highly designed book, but you’ll be glad to know that Mac’s Pages and most basic software is adequate these days. 

 

3. Keep things simple and uncluttered. A professional editor or typesetter will remove unwanted formatting as a first action. This includes common formatting errors such as

 

• double carriage returns between paragraphs

 

• double spaces after a full stop

 

• uneven indents

 

4. Keep your manuscript as plain as possible, with consistent font and font size for the headers as well as the body. The only special formatting should be italics

 

5. eBooks and pBooks read differently and many formatting steps won’t survive the transfer to a format like ePub, so why bother with them in the first place? The page scaling and other features of modern eReaders usually play havoc with print-formatted files. 

 

6. San Serif Fonts such as Arial are cleaner to read off a screen, while Serif Fonts such as Garamond are known to be easier to read on printed paper as the flourishes (or feet) help group the letters in words together.

 

7. Most digital self publishing sites will have style guides to help layout and format your eBooks. Try to stick to standard formats, at least until you have more experience, if only to make the printing process easier and cheaper.

 

8. The size of the final book will have an impact on the Font Size with larger format books having larger font than smaller books.

 

9. Self-publishing organisations like Lulu walk you through formatting to some degree - listen to what they have to say and stick within given parameters as much as possible.

 

10. Technical things like margins, gutters and bleed are mostly automated these days. You won’t have to worry too much about them especially if you’re writing a fairly ‘normal’ book. But here they are, defined for you:

 

• Margin refers to the space around the text and the top, bottom and outside edge of the page (away from the binding).

 

• Gutter is the interior margin on the inside edge of the page that will be part of the binding.

 

• Bleed relates to images that will be placed right up against the outside edge of the page, requiring them to extend outside the printed page by a small amount so that they can be cropped cleanly.

 

As I’ve said, a great deal of the hard work about formatting has been done for you already if you use Lulu’s process or an equivalent. You will only really strike serious barriers if you want to be complicated or different. 

 

And with formatting, that doesn’t help you become invisible or redundant.

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