Updated December 14, 2023

Formatting your book is a necessary evil. It can be a big undertaking, but it’s a vital part of your publishing journey. There are some important things to know about formatting your book that will make your formatting journey less tedious. For instance, did you know that you’ll likely have to format your book at least five times? This includes formatting for critique partners, beta readers, editors, advanced review copies (ARCs), and your final formatting for publication. Read on to find out more information about formatting.

What you’ll learn in this post

In this post, you’ll learn:

  • What document formatting standards to follow
  • What are the different manuscript formatting phases
  • Can you do it all in MS Word
  • What fonts, headers, line spacing, etc. to follow
  • What editors want
  • What to do if you got lots of paragraphs and font styles
  • How to start planning your book production journey

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.

For more information on how to use templates and styles to save time on formatting, read this post.

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 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 and no. Google Docs is not a good book formatting tool but the others are fine. If your book is simple, and you’re not going to get fancy with formatting, you can do it all in Word or these other equivalent programs.

Better though, are programs like Vellum (for the Mac) and Atticus (browser based). So consider investing a couple hundred dollars in those programs instead.

Don’t format your book until it has been copyedited, proofread, and is final. Use Word or your other programs – your editor will probably need it in Word, anyway.

Then make your decision. Vellum, Atticus, or InDesign? If you’re getting super-fancy with formatting, you’ll need to 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)

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!

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