Friday, October 19, 2012

Tidying Your Manuscript's Formatting

I finished proofreading Screwing Up Babylon.* Now I have a friend giving it a once over to catch anything I missed.

In the meantime, I’ve begun formatting the manuscript for Kindle. A lot of authors don’t  consider formatting, especially if they aren’t considering self-publishing. But think about this.  Most likely, any agent considering your manuscript will probably read it on a Kindle (though a few use Nooks). And after all the work that you’ve put into the book, don’t you want them to have a great reading experience?

Now obviously, if you’re not at the point where you’re publishing to Kindle, you don’t need a linked table of contents, a copyright page, conversion to html, etc. But if you’re using “returns” instead of “page breaks” at the end of chapters to force a new page, “tabs” to indent paragraphs instead of the using the margins function, or randomly hitting too many spaces in your text, your book may look wonky on a Kindle. And, though I’m sure many agents are used to formatting wonkiness, putting your best book forward can only help.

The good news is that it’s all easy to fix. Amazon has a free e-book called Building Your Book for Kindle that can take you through the step-by-step tidying. (It’s a great “hand-holder” if you’re pubbing to Kindle, even for non-techies.)

Ironically, even though the book is great, it’s formatted very poorly. The font is miniscule, which I had to adjust by several stages because even with my reading glasses I couldn’t read it, and I have yet to find a table of contents page, though I may have missed it. I guess this is a case of “do what I say and not what I do.”

Product DetailsIf you’re only tidying your book’s formatting, focus on using page breaks not “returns” at the end of chapters, using the ruler at the header on top of the Word file to set your indent instead of tabs or five spaces on the space bar, and make sure you don’t have random “returns” or “spaces” scattered throughout the novel. To see where they are, all you have to do is click the paragraph icon in the “paragraph” box and you’ll see all the hidden formatting. Unclick it when you’re done and the marks will hide themselves again. (This is in the 2007 version of Word—it’s there in earlier versions too, just look for it.)

Otherwise, you can Google “formatting for Kindle.” The better news is that the only formatting changes you need to do don’t force you to do anything weird with your text. And, of course, you don’t need to put your novel into html or add headings, etc., since you’re not pubbing, just tidying. So everything stays in a nice MS word document.

And for those of you who are self-pubbing, formatting your novel isn’t that hard. If you’ve learned to use a word processor, you can do this. Just bring your patience and a willingness to learn to the table. And if you don’t understand how to do something, Google it—more than likely there’s a YouTube video that you can stream where someone will show you how to format.

*In case you missed it, I posted the first chapter of Screwing Up Babylon on my book blog. Click here to read it.


  1. the more you work on different computers when you write, the greater the chance of wonky formatting becoming introduced.

    BTW, I tagged you in the "Look Challege for Writers" over on my blog. Hope you'll play along.

  2. Thanks for the tips on formatting. Not planning to format for Kindle anytime soon, but these points are good to know.

  3. I'm so intimidated by the idea of formatting. It's good to know it's so doable. :)

  4. I can not thank you adequately for the posts on your web site. I know you'd put a lot of time and effort into them and hope you know how much I appreciate it. I hope I'll do exactly the same for someone else at some point.

  5. Formatting in word is such a pain! I hate when I have to copy/paste an excerpt into an e-mail and a random piece of it comes out different from what I intended. :-/

  6. Thank you for this! Formatting scares me but having a how-to book out there for kindle makes me feel a little better. I can follow directions, at least:)