How to Format a Book: Formatting Snags and How to Fix Them

Self publication is experiencing an increase: It’s easy to do, and it gives authors more control over their work and when and how it sees the light of publication. Formatting isn’t hard, but if you’ve never done it before, there might be some unseen snags that can cost you a lot of time – and get in the way of how soon you can publish your book.

Here are some of the most common snags that you might come across while learning how to format a book and how you can fix it.

Start Formatting with a Clean Slate

If you’ve made a fatal formatting mistake or you need to start formatting your manuscript from the ground up, select all of the text in the existing manuscript and use Paste > Special > Paste Unformatted Text.

Now, your text is pasted into the document without most of the potential formatting snags and you can start from scratch. It’s an easy way to start formatting when you want to be sure that you don’t copy any formatting settings in from a previous document by accident.

Weird Spacing

Sometimes word processors create weird spacing issues where it insists on double-entering when you only need one. When you’re busy with a book in its final formatting stages, this can be extremely annoying. A quick way to fix this while writing and formatting is to press SHIFT+ENTER instead of just using the enter key. Didn’t know that? Well, now you do!

New Pages

Instead of pressing the enter key until you’ve reached the end of a page, formatting guidelines usually advise you to insert a Page Break where new pages start. (This is one way in which formatting software tells the difference between pages and chapters.)

The keyboard shortcut for quickly entering new page breaks is CTRL+ENTER. Learn keyboard shortcuts like these early on when formatting your first book and you can save yourself a lot of time and effort in the future!

Compatibility Problems

Save your document in the newest format that’s available to you – usually, this is .docx or .doc. The individual formatting guidelines for your publisher will tell you which formats are best for uploading – sometimes you have to convert the document to the right format in order to do this.

Compatibility problems can sometimes arise. Use Save As on your word processor or a reliable converter that keeps the format more or less the same – where this doesn’t work, you might have to go over the book’s formatting from the start.

In rare cases, some documents will refuse to open on certain word processors. For this, LibreOffice and OpenOffice both have built-in software to handle compatibility issues like this – and both allow for saving documents directly in PDF format. (If you’re having issues, it’s likely that you’re making use of Microsoft Word versus other word processors).

If you’re taking files from Mac over to Windows, compatibility issues (and the need for re-formatting work) can also be common.

Unreadable Fonts

Sometimes you’ll notice font issues when uploading your manuscript. These font issues might even appear as late as when you’re seeing the proof copy for the first time. Most of these font issues will be due to choosing the wrong font for your manuscript – and subsequently, the conversion software will have issues when it comes to printing, formatting or converting your book for print.

Where this happens, no matter at which point in the process, change your font. The individual publisher’s guidelines will usually tell you which fonts are known to work well versus which fonts have displayed issues as e-books or print books.