Word formatting tips

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If you plan to publish your book electronically as well as in print, make sure you read the section on e-book formatting below as early as possible.

E-book formatting tips

How you format your Word document is crucial if you plan to publish an e-book. To understand why, I’d recommend that you read the Smashwords Style Guide as soon as you can. Implementing the formatting set out in here from the outset will save you time and a lot of headaches when you come to convert the file – and money if you opt to use a freelance conversion specialist.

If your manuscript is complete, there are instructions on how to fix the entire document.  If you are still writing and have some way to go, I’d say the sooner you can backtrack and ‘fix’ the better, as you will then carry the new formatting with you as you continue to write.

For the record, these formatting techniques are not crucial if you are only planning a print copy – but they still represent good practice.

I shall be adding some additional tips here shortly (beyond what’s covered in the Smashwords Style Guide) that I gleaned from various forums when preparing my Kindle file. In the meantime, here are a couple of telling quotes from two different e-book conversion specialists.

“Authors are usually shocked when I explain to them that they have several thousand extra spaces and weird characters in their books that I have to remove to create a “perfect” document… In subsequent books I find that most of them, after I explain how to turn on hidden characters, produce much cleaner documents that take less time to convert, saving me time and them money.”

“The conversion of Word to HTML is easy/automated, so the word/character count is not a direct factor in cost calculation like it is in physical page layout – but the amount of clean-up required has a huge impact on price (and typically, the longer the document, the more clean-up it needs – so word count is an indirect factor). A document….requiring lots of manual clean-up (such as removing improper formatting, deleting repeated space characters, omitting tabs, etc.) might [double or sometimes treble the cost*]. Most DIY authors don’t see/realize how much hidden junk there is in their docment files – and a Kindle version that’s made without cleaning all that out can be ugly at best, and nearly unreadable in some places at worst.”

[*bracketed text is an abridged version of the point that was made here]

Print books formatting tips

The tips below relate to problems I ran into – and solved – while preparing The Secret Lake interior file for print.  They all relate to avoiding or solving spacing problems in your final print-ready document.

The instructions are based on Word 2003, but should be similar in later versions.

Before you paste your Word document into your interior template

(i) First, run a ‘find and replace’ to remove any extra spaces after your full stops. You only want one space after your full stops – not two – yet Word sometimes inserts these extra spaces automatically (it did in my case).

Where these extra spaces occur between two sentences in the same paragraph they add to the word spacing problems that inevitably occur when you fully justify your book in the interior template. You want to do all you can to minimise these problems in advance because correcting ugly spacing in your final manuscript requires manual intervention (covered in the next section).

To remove rogue second spaces after full stops:

  • Go to Edit>Find
  • In the ‘Find what’ field enter a full stop and then two spaces
  • Click on ‘Replace’ and enter a full stop with one space after it
  • To make one change at a time, click on ‘Find next’ and then ‘Replace’ or
  • To make the changes automatically, click on ‘Replace all’. If using this method, keep doing ‘Replace all’ until it returns 0 results.

(ii) Next, run a ‘find a replace’ exercise to identify and remove any extra spaces before full stops. You may not find any (for the record, I did!) but it’s worth doing as it will save proofing corrections later on. Where they occur is usually when you have done some last minute editing to text and may have inadvertently not paid attention to spacing at the end of the sentence.

To remove rogue spaces before full stops:

  • Go to Edit>Find
  • In the ‘Find what’ field enter a space and then a full stop
  • Click on ‘Replace’ and enter a full stop with no space before or after it (beware: if you include a space after the full stop in the instruction, you will end up adding extra spaces that you don’t want between sentences…and this has knock-on for word spacing – as described in the previous section)
  • To make one change at a time Click on ‘Find next’ and then ‘Replace’ or
  • To make the changes automatically, click on ‘Replace all’. If using this method, keep doing ‘Replace all’ until it returns 0 results.

After you have dropped your manuscript into the Word template

(i) Trouble-shooting justified text spacing problems

In most cases (but not all – eg younger chapter books with black and white interior illustrations) your fiction book will require fully justified text which creates a neat straight line down both sides of the page.

Unless you are very lucky, when you come to drop your manuscript into the template that fits your required book trim, you will find some spacing issues, such as seen here:

Problematic spacing example with justified textHaving read around on this (unless I’ve missed something) I came to the conclusion that the only thing to do to manage this is to read through and adjust any such spacing issues one by one using a simple tool in Word.  The time this takes goes some way to explain why paid-for book formatting services can be so expensive! (And why, if you are given a cheap quote, you should beware.)

Take a look at one my ‘before’ and ‘after’ screenshots below. Underneath you’ll find how to adjust the spacing.


Problematic spacing example with justified textAfter

Example of spacing fixed using condense function in Word

How to do it

Screenshot of how to condense spacing using Word 2003

  1. Select the problematic text in your Word document – see screenshot above
  2. Select Format > Font > Character spacing (this based on Word 2003 – later versions will be similar)
  3. Under the Spacing drop-down, select ‘Condensed’ (it’s normally set to ‘Normal’)
  4. In the box to the right use the up arrow to reduce the point space between the words: a preview box below shows you how it will look as you click on the different point sizes – my own experience was that, in all instances, I needed to condense by 0.3 pt to see the subtle spacing change I needed

You can use the approach above to increase space between words – though I didn’t need to do this.

(ii) Making subtle adjustments to line-spacing

When I first dropped my Word manuscript into the template for its correct trim size I couldn’t put my finger on why I didn’t really like what I saw – despite being happy with the font size and style. So I went and picked up a few children’s books aimed at the same age group and quickly realised that some looked more ‘readable’ than others due to a subtle difference in the line spacing.

My book was formatted as single line spacing – but it just looked too dense.  The books I liked the look of had line spacing that was subtly wider. Here’s a simple method within Word that allows you to make subtle line spacing adjustments (one of those Word features that I had previously seen, but never understood…)

How to adjust line spacing to more than single but less than 1.5:

  • Choose ‘Edit>select all’ (or select a single paragraph as a test)
  • Select ‘Format>paragraph’
  • On the ‘Indents and spacing’ tab find ‘Line spacing’
  • Choose the option that says ‘Multiply’
  • In the field to the right, enter a decimal fraction somewhere between 1 and 1.5 and see how it looks on the text in the preview window.  In my case I found 1.2 worked best.
  • Choose save
  • If you change your mind when you see the final document (or test paragraph) you can undo it straight away via ‘Edit>undo paragraph formatting’

I’ve quoted spaces around the 1 to 1.5 line spacing distances above. Of course, this feature can be used to set distances much wider than this should they be needed.

To revert to your original line spacing setting at any time you can, of course, ‘select all’ and re-enter the original setting.

Finalising your line spacing needs to be done as early as possible as it affects:

  • your page count – which in turn affects the production cost
  • the flow of your book (where chapters start and end, widows and orphans etc – there’s no point dealing with these before you’ve decided on your line spacing)
  • the position of your interior images/drawings – I’ve wasted time positioning images in my next book based on single line spacing; I now know that I will have to re-do this once I adjust the line spacing…

Formatting services

This extremely short list (which is by no means exhaustive, of course…) is very much aimed at the DIYer who may want to call in freelance help along the way…

Lighthouse24 (Texas, USA)

Doug Heatherly at Lighthouse24 will format for print or for Kindle – or run checks on your files you’ve formatted yourself. For my print version of The Secret Lake I formatted the Word file myself and saved it to PDF, and used an illustrator for the front cover which was also saved as PDF. I then asked Doug to check both PDF files before upload to CreateSpace as I wasn’t fully confident about the ‘distilling’ process and didn’t want the files rejected. As it turned, out there was a minor formatting issue with the interior file, which Doug quickly fixed.  Subsequently I’ve used Doug to edit and re-distill the PDF following late proofing corrections. I would highly recommend Lighthouse 24. Doug is thorough, courteous, prompt to reply and very reasonably priced. Moreover, he has the rare gift of being able to explain technical jargon in plain English (or American!).

Erika Stokes (New Hampshire, USA)

For Kindle and e-book formatting. Erika did a great job sorting out the final formatting of my Kindle file when I ran into trouble with it . She has also created ePub versions of The Secret Lake for other distribution channels which I hope to be able to upload shortly to the different online stores. I should add that Erika did these conversions in return for using my book as a guinea pig to road test Word conversion software that she is developing. As a result, I can’t speak as a ‘typical client’ regards costs and timings – but I can say that Erika certainly knows her stuff. Erika is a very busy lady so if you’re on a deadline be sure to let her know so that she can tell you whether or not she can fit you in!

eBookarchitects (Texas, USA)

I’ve not used these but have seen them recommended and their prices look reasonable.

Catherine Howard print and e-book formatting services (Cork, Ireland)

As above, I can’t recommend, but the offer looks clear, the prices transparent and she’s done it all herself before.

Smashwords will provide a list of freelance conversion specialists if you email list@smashwords.com and request Mark’s List. According to Smashwords, these providers’ fees start at around $25.00/hr for formatting. Smashwords does not earn a commission or referral fee – your relationship is with the provider.

Please feel free to suggest further additions to this list…

22 Responses to Word formatting tips

  1. Thanks for posting these tips. I hadn’t thought about how much work would go into this before, but I’ll be thinkin gabout it now!

  2. kareninglis says:

    My pleasure! One other thing – if you’re planning a book that will have any picture/image inserts within the chapters you’ll need to get those positioned before trying to sort out word spacing or widows/orphans, of course!

  3. Jasmin says:

    Thanks for the wonderful tips, Karen.

  4. Very good tips, Karen. Thanks for posting them. I’m going to try to link to them from a discussion we’re having elsewhere about the difference between typing and typesetting.

  5. kareninglis says:

    Glad to share them, Betsy. And I’m so glad I stopped and made those screenshots on how to condense problematic spacing for print when I first began to tackle this issue, as I’d probably have forgotten how to do it by the time I came to write this!

  6. Very useful Karen, thanks! I’m going to pass this one to all our authors — and I’ll make use of some of these tips myself!

  7. How very generous of you to share this expertise. Thank you very much. I think maybe I’ll have to get a specialist in! Best wishes.

  8. kareninglis says:

    My pleasure. I just wanted to help ease some of the pain that I went through for others. E-book formatting is especially tricky and not for the faint of heart!

  9. Mark Parish says:

    Hi Karen
    We are in the final stages of producing our first children’s picture book and have found your site a fantastic resource (we wish we had found it months ago). We have a great illustrator and graphic designer but still need someone to pull the book together into the correct format. Could you please advise how much we should expect to pay to have a 36 page book formatted for perfect binding with 8.5 x 8.5 dimensions. We are very new to the industry and are literally feeling our way around at the moment.

    your help and guidance would be much appreciated.

    Kind regards

    Mark Parish
    Pugalugs Limited

    • kareninglis says:

      Hi Mark – it’s hard to say really. It will depend on how clear you are about the layout already. For example I was very clear about mine and so supplied my formatter, Doug, with a Word document which pretty much showed all the images in situ (crudely pasted in) and the text in place to show where I wanted it to appear in relation to the image. So from his perspective the main work was to advise me on whether the font size would fit and then to resize the original artwork jpegs I supplied to him to fit the book size and then create a print-ready document. But it was all so long ago (I’ve done the app since!) that I can’t off the top of my head recall what I paid. I assume this is for a print picture book? If so why not contact Doug at Lighthouse24.com and ask for a quote? At least one other of my followers here has used him for her picture book layout and was really pleased with him. Like me she is based in the UK while Doug is in Texas. But that’s not an issue. Please let him know that I sent you – even if you’re just getting a quote. I would emphasize that Doug isn’t a designer – rather he has years and years of experience in prepping files for print output….but he can use that experience to point out where any of your design ideas may run into problems. BTW you book is a litte longer than the norm, I’m sure you know – most picture books are 24 or 32 pages… Make sure you have allowed for the end pages (title page etc) in your page count… Best of luck with it! Doug’s site is http://www.lighthouse24.com – don’t be put off by the fact that the site itself is not very ‘designed’! He is really good and very clear in his emails…

    • kareninglis says:

      PS – Mark I assume you saw my post on self-publishing a picture book – I’m sure you did but pointing it out just in case not!

  10. peace82short says:

    Hi Karen

    Many thanks for your reply – it is much appreciated. Our book is very structured and we know exactly what we want and where. the bulk of the work will have been done by our illustrator and graphic designer. I have since discussed things with them and they are confident that they can format the book into a printable PDF so fingers crossed…. we will give Doug a shout if we run into difficulty so thanks for the lead (we will be sure to mention your name if we do).

    Our book is 32 pages of illustrations and text but have needed the extra pages to ensure a multiple of 4 for printing and for the copyright notice etc so have used the extra space with some additional fun illustrations. I have thoroughly read all pages on your site (which is excellent!) and will probably be referring to it regularly until I am able to take the arm bands off so to speak!!

    Once again thanks for taking the time to respond 🙂

    Best wishes


  11. Wonderful to find your website, it has been a great help already. I have converted my manuscript successfully to MOBI and downloaded it to my Kindle to view it. The only unsolvable problem I have is an extra Acknowledgements page generated by Kindle after the Kindle contents page. Any ideas how to get rid of it? (I already have an acknowledgements page at the end of the manuscript which appears as it should).

  12. methventales says:

    Hi Karen
    Great information. Thanks
    I tried downloading the Smashwords Style guide without success. Registered on their site & they sent me an attachment of the guide but it won’t open.
    Any thoughts?

  13. Ron Chambers says:

    I had no problem getting my eBook published on KDP, but as a first-time author, I faced many new problems going to Paperback. I found a reference to Lighthouse24 and had a delightful experience working with Doug Heatherly,Ph.D. He is great to work with, getting my manuscript into the right format, getting the cover properly redone, and providing very clear step-by-step instructions on how to present the book to Amazon. If I were to write a second book, I would still use his services because it would be so quickly and properly done — and reasonably priced.

    • kareninglis says:

      Hi Ron — so glad you found Doug’s services useful. I certainly did in my early days and always recommend him for those struggling with print formatting. Wishing you the best of luck with your book! Karen

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