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