World War Word: A Book Formatting Story

by Joel Friedlander on July 12, 2013 · 48 comments

Post image for World War Word: A Book Formatting Story

by Tina Chan

Many authors have wrestled with Microsoft Word over the years attempting to format their books in the software they already own and know how to use. This is not an easy task, because Word wasn’t really designed for it. Although I’ve never attempted this myself (because I’ve always had some pro tools available) it’s the major reason that I created the BookDesignTemplates site, and the templates there have saved authors literally thousands of hours of frustration. In this article, author and book reviewer Tina Chan describes her own journey through the thickets of Word formatting. Enjoy!

Note: This post is about the fight I had with Microsoft Word in order to format a presentable looking book interior. I highly recommend you to either have a professional interior designer layout your book or purchase a premade book design template. Seriously. Save yourself the hassle.

It’s official. I have officially declared War with Word—a four hour-long war to be exact. I didn’t want anything fancy or over-the-top—all I wanted was an interior that looked presentable and hopefully not too amateurish. Turns out manipulating Microsoft Word to give me results I wanted was harder than I thought—it was possible, but it wasn’t easy.

So I decided to share my story of blood, sweat and tears with the public, particularly indie authors that would like to know more about the interior design of books. Read on!

Note: before you begin to format your document, please save a backup copy!

Stage One: I’m looking at my Word document and realize something. The font. It’s awful! I have nothing against Times New Roman, but it really shouldn’t be used as the body font for any book. Take a look at any non-self published book. Do they use Times New Roman? I didn’t think so. So I think to myself: “Oh well, I’ll just select/highlight my entire document and change the font to something more bookish, like Constantia. Easy, right?”

WRONG! If you plan on using more than one font (which I did, since there was a lot of text messaging going on in my novel; I used Bank Gothic for all of those text messages), selecting your entire document and changing the old font to the new one will result in losing whatever other non-Times New Roman fonts you had used. And trust me, it’s a huge pain to comb through all 300 pages of your manuscript just to find all those letters/emails/texts/notes to convert to that special font you had saved for them.

Stage Two: I thought everything should be easy-breezy at this point. I should’ve known better. Take a look at the next paperback book you see. Is it printed on an 8.5 X 11 paper? Yeah, your manuscript can’t be in an 8.5 X 11 format either if you plan on uploading to CreateSpace like I was.

Fortunately, solving this problem was a lot less time consuming then solving my font problem. I just clicked on “format” (located near the top of your screen), then selected “document” before clicking on “page setup”. This should bring you to a window that looks like this:

Book design templates

Select “paper size” and then “manage custom size”. At this point I was able to set the dimensions to 5.5 X 8.5 inches. Crisis solved.

Stage Three: The standard Word document is set to 1” margins all around. Be sure to readjust the margins to suit your needs! You will need wider inner margins (also known as the gutter) if your book is thicker.

Stage Four: Next, I highlighted my entire document and fully justified it to get rid of the ragged edges. What this does is basically space out your words so that all the text is more or less evenly distributed. A ragged edge makes the novel look sloppy. Also, be sure to enable hyphenation to reduce the chance of having huge areas of blank space. However, be warned that sometimes full justification can backfire like this:

Book Design Templates

Yeah, that is simply unacceptable. I fix this problem by highlight that one last line and right justified it. I usually find such problems at the end of chapters. Here’s how it looks now that I have right justified it:

Book Design Templates

Stage Five: So now I’m looking at this lovely, 5.5 X 8.5, non-Times New Roman, fully justified manuscript on my computer screen. What to do next? Make the chapter headings look pretty, of course. Your chapter headings are an important tool; they help set the tone of the book. Here’s eventually how I formatted mine:

Book Design Templates

Note how I left some space near the top of the page. I will be honest now; I really don’t know why most publishers leave space at the beginning of each chapter. I personally think it mentally prepares the reader that they are about to start a new scene/part of the book. Also, it gives the eyes a nice break from blocks and blocks of text.

Be sure that your chapter title spacing, font and size remain consistent all the way through. (Did you start out by writing out “Chapter One” but switched to “Chapter 12” halfway through? Check and make sure you didn’t!)

Stage Six: Okay, so I had a halfway decent looking chapter opening page; but something seemed lacking. I fixed the problem by inserting a drop cap at the beginning of each chapter. I didn’t use drop caps before each scene break though (more on that later). I found the three-line drop cap to be too big for my liking, so I switched it to two-lines and liked it much better.

Book Design Templates

Another option to jazz up your novel is to have the first line/few words in all-caps. Make sure the size of all-caps words is relatively the same size as the lowercase font. In other words, set the selected words to “small caps” by highlighting the words you would like to format, clicking on “format”, then “font” and finally, “small caps”. Here’s what I mean:

Book Design Templates

Do NOT do this—do not use the “all caps” option!

Book Design Templates

Book Design Templates

Stage Seven: Chapter opening page taken care of, my next plan of attack was checking to make sure all of my scene breaks were good-to-go. A scene break is usually denoted by a *** and/or an extra line of space. Don’t indent you’re the first line of your scene break—that’s what lets readers know they are switching scenes.

Book Design Templates

Stage Eight: Up next: the Battle of Headers and Footers. You know those words found on the top and bottom of most book pages? They’re called header and footers. Usually, the title of the book and author/chapter title go in the header. Page number goes in the footer.

Of course this is not true for every book, but that’s how I decided to format mine. Make sure there are no headers/footers on your chapter-opening page. To get rid of them, insert a page break before each chapter-opening page.

The book title usually goes on the right page and the author/chapter name goes on the left. However, because page one of a book starts on the right side and page one of a Word doc (when viewing it on a 2 page spread) starts on the left side, the book title is going to look like it’s on the left side and same goes for the author/chapter name.

Book Design Templates

In conclusion: Okay, so I tried my best not to miss any of parts of my War with Word. But knowing I’m the forgetful person I am, I admit that I might have. Let me know if I missed a step in the comments!

Tina ChanTina Chan is an avid reader and writer. She runs a book review blog that offers free reviews for authors and publishers alike. She currently lives in New England. When Tina isn’t writing or reading, she is probably running, playing racquetball or listening to music. Visit her at The Book Landers.


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    { 43 comments… read them below or add one }

    Max October 8, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    You really need to look into LaTeX.


    Robert Anton July 15, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    Please note the following restrictions/corrections with respect to the use of the “small caps” feature in Word. Tina’s advice to use the feature as a means to ‘jazz’ things up is not without some serious problems and considerations. For example, punctuation marks are unaffected by small-caps. What this means is that any line that contains such marks will be a jumbled mess of different font sizes and look weird at best, and like the author didn’t have a clue at worst. Why Word does this (or doesn’t) is both a mystery and sadly unfortunate. There is no friendly work-around that I have found. Secondly, there is another feature in Word that does work extremely well, yet it is relatively unknown. Despite Amazon’s admonition not to insert large image files into one’s eBook (Kindle) document, such as a .tif file, and to use .jpg or .png formats instead, the guideline is unnecessary (misleading and confusing also) because Word automatically converts image files into both, regardless of the files’ original format, file extension, and size in terms of memory. Word does this without notification or permission whenever a native document is converted into an HTML webfile. Which is a normal requirement and process for Kindle conversion. Unfortunately there is no brief way to discuss this and some may already be confused as to what I’m even talking about. Let me know if you want more info and I would be happy to reveal all.


    Briar Kit July 15, 2013 at 11:58 am

    The problem Tina mentions about justified text being stretched on the last line of a section is usually down to manual line breaks. If the manual line breaks are replaced with regular paragraph returns, Word is able to justify correctly.

    Turn on view invisibles to see what’s happening and use search and replace (search for manual line breaks and replace with paragraph returns) to get rid of them.

    I am so glad that I no longer have to use Word.


    Katy Pye July 14, 2013 at 9:44 am

    This was great. Reassuring post (and comments). I started in early February with CS’ paid Interior Design program. Seemed like the best of both worlds. They have the technical expertise and I’d have almost full control of the finished product. My MG, debut novel is straight-forward with only a few dingbats as time breaks and chapter ends. Waste of 4 months. Nice folks, but they never did get it right, despite detailed, written instructions/corrections and its own pre-formatting. In June I switched to CS’ do-it-yourself mode and purchased one of Joel’s templates. I still had wonky patches, even though I’d spent a lot of time making the ms “clean,” I didn’t get what was making them happen, so I got some outside help to fix them. Then more excellent help from Tracy at Joel’s Template Support on line-break issues.

    Even with all the expert advice and tools at my disposal, I had a very (underlined) steep learning curve. I appreciate your pain, Tina. I didn’t know how to use Styles and wish I’d known about the quality of the Smashwords guide. There is so much information out there that gathering and culling was a major nightmare. I was trying to cover all the distribution channel formatting at once (having rejected Smashwords and Lightening Source as channels) for an unrealisic, self-imposed deadline. Joel’s said it before about a marketing plan, which I think applies to the package of writer generated book & marketing plan–start a year ahead. I gave myself 4 months. It took me 6. None of this may apply to others, but I wanted to reinforce giving yourself enough time, and if you’re untrained, short-cutting Word as a formatting tool, once you get the manuscript perfect.

    Bottom line, it’s the journey I chose. My 6-year writing project baby, Elizabeth’s Landing, is up at the usual online places and through indie bookstores. I had a fabulously fun launch at my local indie store June 30th, and this pooped puppy’s grateful to a lot of folks. And a whole lot wiser.


    wabi sabi – “nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”


    Michael W. Perry July 13, 2013 at 8:25 am

    I tried Word when I first got into publishing in the late 1990s and gave up in disgust. It’s not designed for creating books. It’s a bit like using a hammer as a screwdriver. You pound and pound and the result still looks awful.

    My workflow is an uncomplicated, two-step process.

    First, I write in Scrivener, concentrating exclusively on getting the content right. For that, it is marvelously, infinitely better than Word. There’s already versions for Macs and Windows and one for iOS is in the works.

    Second, once the content seems stable, particularly in its organization, I move the text into InDesign. There I lay it out to look good and do all the final editing and proofing. Most of the time, I simply place the text into an existing template, so I’m not starting from scratch each time.

    Tech writing taught me to never have multiple versions of a document. Once I move to InDesign, I put the Scrivener version out of my mind. And once the text is final, I use InDesign to create the print (pdfs to CreateSpace and LSI), Amazon, iBookstore, and Smashwords versions.

    Amazon gets the version created by their own Kindle plug-in. Apple gets an ePub 3 export and Smashwords gets an ePub 2 export. All versions are generated by the same text, so there’s no danger that corrections made to one won’t get made to the others.

    I’m quite aware that InDesign is a very complicated tool and isn’t for everyone. I use it, in part, because I can earn enough laying out books for other publishers to earn more than enough to cover the cost of it or, more recently, the cost of a Creative Cloud subscription. But ID is wonderfully powerful for laying out books and, from ID 6.0 on, for creating multiple print and digital versions from one text. If it’s power saves you more than a few hours in a month, then that $50/month charge more than pays for itself. Good tools are worth paying for.

    Keep in mind that InDesign does things that other apps don’t do. It can use the print-version index to generate a linked digital version. For books that must have indexes (i.e. biographies) that makes it worth its weight in gold. And hopefully soon ID will also generate pop-up notes. For digital books, that’s a far better approach that clumsily copying printed footnotes or endnotes. They’re so handy, I suspect fiction authors will soon be using them.


    Joel Friedlander July 13, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Michael, thanks for your detailed and helpful comment. For authors who want truly professional results, InDesign is the best choice at the moment, and what I use for all the books I do for my clients. In fact, tomorrow I’ll be making available a new service to make these kinds of professional interiors available to even more indie authors.


    diana kimpton July 14, 2013 at 3:25 am

    I use Serif PagePlusX6 for interior book layout as well as creating covers, adverts, bookmarks, flyers and everything else I need. It’s a fraction of the price of Indesign and very powerful.


    Steve Gray July 13, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Hello Michael-
    I’m using Word, for better or worse, to write a 1300-page encyclopedia. Word has advantages and disadvantages. I haven’t used anything else so I can’t compare it with other tools. It is also a very complicated tool, but I don’t think it’s more complicated than it needs to be given the huge amount of things it can do. My book has footnotes, endnotes, several indexes, several tables of contents, page headers, bookmarks and cross-references, tables with or without numbered paragraphs, styles, and other things that I haven”t used yet. So far, good. The problems are: 1) I often have to be ingenious and figure out how to get around certain problems; 2) It has quite a few bugs, none unsolvable so far; 3) many of its features are very hard to find; 4) MS does not document it well.

    I have finally solved all the technical issues and can concentrate on contents and appearance. I have no complaints about the latter. It’s taken me quite a while to learn its features (there are still ones I don’t know about) and I would not want to start using a new tool at this point.

    Steve Gray


    Tina Chan July 13, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for sharing all of these options to format a book with us.


    Paul Salvette July 12, 2013 at 10:21 pm

    Thanks, Tina, for sharing your frustrating experience. To get rid of those pesky white space rivers in Stage Four, you can leave the paragraph full justified, but you need to make sure there is a paragraph character at the end (looks like this “¶” when you turn on paragraph marks in the ribbon on Word) which is added by pressing enter after the character. If you have a manual line break (entered by pressing shift+enter and sometimes added gratuitously when copying text from other word processing programs), you get those justification problems. Hope that helps.

    Look forward to hearing about headers and footers—not a fun task in Word.


    Tina Chan July 13, 2013 at 5:13 am

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for sharing–good to know :-)


    Frances Caballo July 12, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    Another awesome post, Joel. I don’t know how you keep doing it but I’m glad you do! Now I can hardly wait to read your posts next week!


    Joel Friedlander July 13, 2013 at 11:31 am

    Thanks, Frances, the way I do it is by featuring guest authors like Tina and Joanna Penn, whose article appeared on Wednesday. Networking and content creation all rolled into one!


    Andrew Claymore July 12, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    Joel, on the question of font assignment – what fonts can an author legally use in a paperback or eBook? If, for example, you want to use something other than the standard kindle font for an eBook, can you assign and embed arial bold for use in raised caps or headers without paying a licensing fee?


    Joel Friedlander July 12, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    There’s no licensing required to use Arial, or any of the other fonts that come installed as “system” fonts on most PCs.


    Laura July 12, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I would add one more step. When you are finished make sure to embed your fonts. You do that through options under the file tab. Embedding fonts ensures the print engine, whatever that might be, can print your book block as you intend it. Per-press will often do that for you (for a fee) if you’re printing with a book printer and not CreateSpace or LighteningSource, etc.

    I think you post is a good one!


    Tina Chan July 13, 2013 at 5:11 am

    Hi Laura

    That’s a very good point to remember! Word of caution to Mac users though: you can *not* embed fonts on Macs if you’re using Word. I spent a good couple of hours trying to figure out how until I looked it up and found out that’s not possible.


    Michael July 27, 2013 at 12:55 am

    Hi Tina,
    Instead of using Word’s built-in export to PDF option, have you tried printing to PDF instead? From the Print dialog, choose Save as PDF, and Word will ‘print’ your file to PDF, with all fonts embedded (provided you’re using fonts which don’t have embedding disabled).


    Michael July 27, 2013 at 12:58 am

    ^ Forgot to mention, that should work in nearly any application which has a Print option, as the Save to PDF option is handled by OSX.


    Rochelle July 12, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    Thanks Tina! By the way, loved your joke – bagels! I have a question. You used Word to format your book, obviously. I am writing mine in Scrivener and am unsure how I will publish it when it comes time (still researching). I know Joel has great templates to use as well. If I am using Scrivener do I still use the templates or transfer to Word for the formatting? Or will I be using other places formatting, like Smashwords?


    Joel Friedlander July 12, 2013 at 4:43 pm


    Your best bet is to move your manuscript to Word for output, because you can then use Word’s Styles feature to control the formatting of all elements in the book. Styles are required by Smashwords’ formatting guidelines, by our own template formatting instructions, and for reliably converting your book to ebook formats.


    Rochelle July 12, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    Thank you so much Joel.


    Tina Chan July 12, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    Hi Rochelle,

    What Joel said, lol :-) Glad you liked the joke


    Rochelle July 12, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    You too, Tina! ;)


    Steve Gray July 12, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Hello Tina,

    It’s easy to replace all the text in one specific font with the same text in another specific font. In the Navigatioin pane (Word 2010) click the absurdly tiny down arrow at the right of the search box. Select Replace. You will see two blank boxes. Click Find What and leave it blank and then click the Format button. Choose Font and specify the font you are trying to change. Then click Replace With, leave it blank and choose Format again. Specify the new font. Then do Replace All. It will not affect any other original font, just the one you want to change.

    If you think you’re having format problems, you should see what I”m doing: managing a 1300-page encyclopedia with hundreds of tables in dozens of different formats. I spent months alone on format issues. I think I finally have them under control but it’s been extremely difficult.

    Steve Gray


    Joel Friedlander July 12, 2013 at 11:52 am

    Steve, I don’t know what tools you’re using to manage your encyclopedia, but I hope it’s not Word. Your project sounds like a great opportunity for database publishing, where all the entries would be stored in a database, which allows virtually automatic formatting once the data is processed into a coded text file which is then imported into a proper layout program.


    Steve Gray October 8, 2013 at 11:19 pm

    Joel, thanks for the advice and sorry it’s taken so long to reply. I am indeed using Word. It has given me some very specific problems, all but one of which I have solved or gotten around. It’s way too late for me to learn a new complex program, because I’m 95% finishe, and I don’t know what “database publishing” is. The format is something I designed myself. It’s complicated only where it needs to be, but the table formats change sometimes without my doing anything. I used styles as much as I could. (Now I’m up to 1400 pages.)
    Major complaint about Word: it needs to handle displaying/hiding fields completely differently. Having the pagination change when you show or hide the fields is extremely annoying to deal with. Whoever made that decision should be fired. They should display fields out to the side like Review comments.


    Tina Chan July 12, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    Hi Steve,

    Good to know! Thanks for sharing–this will definitely make my life easier :-)
    Good luck with your encyclopedia


    Wendi Sotis July 12, 2013 at 8:19 am

    About the extra spaces on the last line of a paragraph in full justification, half the times I’ve tried to left justify that last line, the entire paragraph becomes left justified. I don’t even try this anymore.

    On lines where this happens, if you click the Show/Hide option (backwards P on the Paragraph section of the Home ribbon) you’ll see there’s a soft return (don’t ask me how it gets there when I never put it there!)

    Just put in a hard return at the end of the line and delete the soft return. (In other words, hit enter and delete the arrow while in Show/Hide.) That always fixes it for me.


    Tina Chan July 12, 2013 at 8:44 am

    That’s good to know. Thanks for sharing.


    Diane Tibert July 12, 2013 at 4:28 am

    I don’t mean to be cruel, but I will be blunt. This is the wrong way to format a manuscript in Word. Okay, not so much the wrong way as it is the long way.

    Since you were creating a book for CreateSpace, the easiest thing to do is download the free formatted file that fits your book size from their website. Now 80% of the work is done. You need only copy and paste your words into the right sections. You will need to tweak here and there, but for the most part, everything falls into place, including that last justified line in a paragraph (if you don’t accidentally erase the code placed at the end of the paragraph).

    A generic font size and type are used in the pre-formatted file, but if you know anything about Styles–and you should; it makes like a whole lot simpler–you need only go in and modify the particular style and everything in the whole document with that style is changed to what you want. Three days later if you believe another font will look better as a chapter heading, you can change them all in three seconds by just going into that style setting and modifying it.

    Headers and footers can be a little trickier, but I’ve learned to fix those quickly too. As for images, I could never get them to stay where I wanted them, so now when I’m finished with the Word document, I save it in PDF and that seals the positions. Remember to embed the fonts before saving.

    I never format straight from a clean document. I always copy and paste my novels into a pre-formatted document. It saves a ton of time, and any changes that are needed can be done in seconds.


    Tina Chan July 12, 2013 at 6:19 am

    Hi Diane,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. I suppose this article is just me sharing my experience with formatting a book from a blank document :-)


    Diane Tibert July 12, 2013 at 10:55 am

    If you download the free formatting manual offered by Smashwords it will show you how to use Styles. That’s where I learned. I went from WordPerfect 1998 to MS Word 2010 in 2010 with ease because of that manual. It is very straight forward and easy to understand. I highly recommend it. Even if you never publish to Smashwords, the information gained from the manual will help format your manuscript for other venues.

    I’m all for sharing an experience, but I wouldn’t recommend anyone use your formatting method to create a file for publishing. It’s more difficult than it has to be.


    Joel Friedlander July 12, 2013 at 11:54 am

    Hi Diane,

    Thanks for your helpful comment. The Smashwords formatting guide is a great resource for DIY authors and I regularly recommend it (along with our own Formatting Guide that’s specific to our Word templates).

    I don’t think Tina was recommending that other authors do what she did, I see this as more of a cautionary tale, and I think that’s why she made sure there was a clear disclaimer at the very beginning.


    Rochelle July 12, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    After all, it was titled World War Word.

    Colin Dunbar July 12, 2013 at 1:21 am

    Hello Tina
    Nice, to-the-point article on the basics of formatting in Word. Just one thing I would have suggested… to use Styles. Joel actually has an article on that (makes life a lot easier).


    Tina Chan July 12, 2013 at 4:16 am

    Hi Colin,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts…unfortunately I am somewhat technologically challenged, lol, and have absolutely no idea how to use Styles. (Took me ages to even learn how to use the most basic functions on a program as simple as Excel!)


    Colin Dunbar July 12, 2013 at 8:35 am

    Tina, for someone who is “technologically challenged” you did a great job formatting your novel for hared copy printing. Hats off to you.


    Tina Chan July 12, 2013 at 8:43 am

    Thank you :-)


    Andrew Claymore July 12, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    Your experiences with Word certainly serve as a cautionary tale. Any author who was thinking of tackling this on their own (without a firm understanding of how Word works) would do well to consider the cost in time vs. using a proper template.
    I’ve been through the grind myself. If I knew in advance, I might have gone shopping for a pre formatted file and spent the three days outlining a new story!

    Bruce Arthurs July 12, 2013 at 12:53 am

    In Stage Four, I think you meant “left-justified” where you wrote “right-justified”.

    In Stage Eight, I don’t think title/author/chapter headers are essential in every case, particularly for fiction books. With non-fiction, a chapter header may be useful in designating the subject of the chapter.


    Tina Chan July 12, 2013 at 4:13 am

    Hi Bruce,

    Yes, I totally meant left justified! I also agree that headers aren’t as important in fiction as with nonfiction, but I think they’re still nice to have (you know, sometimes when you want to recommend an author to a friend and maybe just maybe you remember the name of the author because you’ve glanced up at the header a few times when reading the book)

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


    Liana Mir December 30, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    Obviously, this is an old post, but that is a bad way to correct that issue as it may create new ones.

    The underlying issue is either the formatting of your break or that you have a nonbreaking line instead of a paragraph mark. The correct way to fix this issue is to view the formatting marks and correct the break to a standard break. If it is simply the end of a chapter being formatted as your header in the next section, then insert an extra paragraph by clicking enter. That keeps the break’s formatting separate from your text.


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