Book Design with Microsoft Word: The Art of Moriah Jovan

by | Sep 14, 2010

I bet, like me, you’ve been using Microsoft Word for years.

One of the most common complaints you hear from professional book designers, cover designers, typographers, and some self-publishers is that you can’t create a “real” book in a word processing program like Microsoft Word. I’ve taken a few of those shots myself.

There is another camp of do-it-yourself self publishers who wouldn’t use anything else. Either Word or the open source program Open Office are their preferred tools.

They eliminate book designers and typographic design because they view them as unnecessary expenses. These publishers are in the information publishing business as far as they’re concerned. Their readers want the information, they’ll get it without the need for ligatures, Adobe fonts, or page layout programs.

I think some of these publishers go overboard. It’s almost as if they want to create books that don’t look like any book you’ve ever seen, just to show they can do it.

But quietly, under the radar, at least one author who uses Word but also loves typography was out there. Someone who can make Word jump through hoops I didn’t even suspect were there.

Today you’re going to meet her, Elizabeth Beeton of B10Mediaworx, who writes and publishes under the name Moriah Jovan.

Beeton/Jovan (Jovan from here on out), who is active in the Mormon writer scene, uses B10Mediaworx to publish her own books of genre romance and to provide ebook conversion services to other publishers. And she does her own design and typesetting.

The Design Review of “Stay”

I met Moriah on Twitter, and when I started reviewing self-published and largely self-designed books for Self-Publishing Review, Moriah was one of the first to send me a book, which I dutifully reviewed.

book design in microsoft word

Click to enlarge. Notice how in this elegant spread from Stay, although there is no hyphenation, Moriah has eliminated the usual rivers of word-space gaps typical of word processor typography.

I was surprised at how good the book looked, since I’ve seen a lot of DIY self publishing. Moriah’s book was elegant, the typography was carefully done and sensitive. The few minor quibbles I had with the design did nothing to detract from the lovely look and feel of the book.

Later, I was surprised again to find out that Moriah had done the whole book in Word, and it made me start to question my assumption about the capabilities of the word processor.

Just because everyone else using Word was turning out pages in Times Roman or Palatino that looked primitive to my eyes, that didn’t mean you couldn’t do better.

A Whole New Look for Microsoft Word Typography

I asked Moriah to send me some screen shots of her work. Here’s a spread from Out of the Mount, a collection of 19 plays by a variety of authors:

book design in microsoft word

Click to enlarge.

This is a pretty sophisticated piece of typography. Note the small cap lead ins for the dialogue, and the effective artwork and layout of the display page. Does this look like something you’ve ever seen in Microsoft Word? No, it didn’t look that way to me, either. But there was more to come.

The FOB Bible

Then I got to look at The FOB Bible, and I was really blown away. This book, the work of eight authors, is described as:

The Old Testament re-imagined through poetry, verse, closet drama, e-mail, and short story. At once irreverent, whimsical, sexy, feminist, and poignant.

Here’s a spread in the book shown in Microsoft Word 2000 for Windows. This is Moriah’s preferred platform, and she has the program highly optimized for the kind of work she does in typography and ebook conversions. (She’s still using this program that’s almost 10 years old because her customizations can’t be ported to newer versions.)

book design in Microsoft Word

Click to enlarge. Note the Word codes and page structure in this view.

Here’s another page I want you to see. Here Moriah is constructing a 2-column spread in Word:

book design in Microsoft Word

Click to enlarge.

Once again she’s left the codes and page structure showing in this Word view. Here’s a detail:

book design with Microsoft Word

Click to enlarge. Note Moriah's use of Word Customization

And finally, here’s the page as it looks in the reproduction-quality PDF:

book design with Microsoft Word

Click to enlarge

The typography is clean and appropriate, there’s an adept use of white space, and a lovely balance on the page. But not only that. These narrow columns are challenging for any typographer. Here she’s managed to get pretty good spacing and tone without the fine tuning and advanced handling of fonts available in InDesign.

Okay, before I stop, here’s one more spread from The FOB Bible, more multi-column goodness from Word:

book design in Microsoft Word

Click to enlarge

Sure, if you look closely you’ll see lines that are too loose, that would not happen in InDesign or a similar typographic program. But when I look at these pages, I constantly have to remind myself they are from Word.

What Word Can’t Do

Despite Moriah’s artistry, there are still things a word processor can’t do as well as layout software.

  • you cannot get the typographic functions of a program like Adobe InDesign in Word
  • it’s much harder to get the same effect in Word than it is in InDesign
  • you can’t use Word as an output engine in the same way you can use InDesign for reproduction
  • no matter how good you get, you’re still using a tool designed for one purpose to do something different

Would I want to do a book design in Word? No, thanks. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

A Few Tips from Moriah

I asked Moriah what tips she would share with other people trying to create great looking books in Word or Open Office. This is what she had to say:

  1. Styles: Using styles makes your work consistent. Assigning hotkeys and/or building a tool bar to assist you is imperative in streamlining the process. This takes time to set up, but you’ll find the end result a) saves you time and b) saves you grief.
  2. Macros: If you find yourself doing the same things over and over again, record a macro. Again, this is to streamline your process and to make everything consistent across the text. Assign hotkeys and/or build a tool bar.
  3. Hidden characters: Watching spaces, tabs, hard returns, soft returns, line breaks, section breaks lets you know why Word won’t let you do certain things and/or how to fix something. At first you will find it disorienting, but once you get used to it, you won’t work without it. Part of this is to use page view with margin lines on.
  4. Page breaks: Learn how to use section breaks properly. It saves you time and makes running headers much easier to deal with and it will help you not get lost as to which pages are even and odd.

To me, one thing Moriah’s work proves is that the books we see that look bad, only look that way because the author couldn’t work out how to make it look the way it ought to, or wasn’t as persistent as Moriah Jovan, or didn’t know any better. It isn’t because of the tool that was used the create them.

I called this article The Art of Moriah Jovan for a reason: she is a true typographic artist, no matter what tool she’s using. So when people tell you that you can’t make a good-looking book in Word, now you know the truth: you just can’t say that any more.

You can find out more about B10Mediaworx and Moriah Jovan’s books at and you can connect with Moriah on Twitter at @MoriahJovan

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    I just read this article and it’s really exciting and fun too

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  3. Paul Brookes

    I think Moriah’s done an impressive job here — my only issue is that it needs an advanced knowledge of Word that most people don’t have. And Moriah obviously has design ability. I’ve done it myself and Word can drive you mad.

    I’m personally quite a fan of LyX, a free and open-source program that typesets using Latex ( It can be a bit fiddly to set up, but the PDF output is very nice. I think it’s worth considering, especially for a typical novel.

    On my website, I’ve pasted the first two chapters of Emma into LyX at a typical paperback size and posted the PDF:

  4. Michelle

    Great article. Jovan is quite talented. I actually used iWork Pages for quite a while for simple typography. I found I could achieve most of what I needed to do (since most of our books are digital only). As we took on more complex works, we knew we needed something more powerful and now use InDesign 5.5. I often wonder how I made out without it. But for the average self publisher, this is great advice.

  5. Derek Murphy

    Crap, I hadn’t even thought of using InDesign. Guess I better figure it out quick.

  6. mike.smith

    I designed some ebooks in Microsoft Word and that was quite easy job.

    But I must say that I would not dare to use it for a book that is to be printed. But to be honest, everything is easy, if you know how to do it. :-)

    Thanks for nice tutorial and broadening my horizonts. :-)

  7. bowerbird

    first of all, joel, i’m glad you’ve changed your tune on this.
    for the self-publishers who don’t want to deal with indesign
    — which is very expensive, and has a steep learning curve —
    ms-word will work just fine to create a nice-looking book…

    any good designer can use ms-word, and do a great job…

    what you still fail to make clear, though, is that _anyone_
    who cares to take the time to learn how to do it, can do it.
    you don’t need any special talent, not to make a decent book.

    as i told people when you blogged about this back in january,
    aaron shepard has written extensively on how to use ms-word
    to create books that are well-done from the book-design view.
    indeed, as the saying goes, he literally wrote the book on it…

    here, let me google it for you. the book is called “perfect pages”,
    and it’s been out since 2003; here’s aaron’s webpage on the book:

    here’s another page from aaron’s site where he excerpts the book:

    the blurbs on aaron’s site extend all the way through this year,
    so i’m guessing that the book has aged fairly well. check it out.


    • Joel Friedlander

      Hey Bower, thanks for your thoughts. I think my aversion to books done in Word arose from the examples I had seen. But I’ve met a lot more DIY self-publishers the last few months, and learned a lot.

      Moriah is certainly the most skilled of those, but many turn out books that are very readable, even if they can’t compare typographically to books done in a more capable software environment.

      • bowerbird

        joel said:
        > I think my aversion to books done in Word
        > arose from the examples I had seen.

        i can understand that! :+)

        but only a bad carpenter blames the tools… ;+)

        > Moriah is certainly the most skilled of those

        i can understand that too! :+)

        personally, i often find that things like ornate drop-caps
        and 2-column pages are backward-looking affectations,
        but i understand why traditional book-designers like ’em.

        > even if they can’t compare typographically
        > to books done in a more capable software environment.

        you’re backsliding again. but i will forgive you… ;+)


  8. Keri Ford

    You are awesome, Moriah. That is all. Just awesome.

  9. Moriah Jovan

    Joel, thanks so much! I finished a monster project at 3:00 a.m. and was feeling very sorry for myself (that happens at 3:00 a.m.), and then I saw this and it was wonderful to go to bed with that ending my day.

    Thank you!!!

    • Joel Friedlander

      3:00 a.m.?? I remember those days, but not fondly I’m afraid.

      It was a pleasure to showcase your work, Moriah, and I hope it’s an inspiration to people who want to do their own books. Although I make my living from people who don’t want to be book designers, I celebrate the ingenuity and creativity of DIY self-publishers and enjoy their books. So thanks to you.

  10. Lovelyn

    Thanks for the post. Jovan’s work is really beautiful. It helps me see what’s possible with Word. I formatted my novel in Open Office. The learning curve was pretty big for me, but after a while I was able to figure out how to format the book the way I wanted. Jovan’s work makes me want to learn how to do more.

    • Moriah Jovan

      Thanks, Lovelyn! I don’t use OO because it doesn’t play well with others on my computer, but I know other people who use it (for setting type) and love it.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Lovelyn, I was also inspired by Moriah’s artistic typography. Certainly the time and effort needed to get this result is not what every author wants to do, but I applaud your persistence and know that the more you do this kind of work, the better your books will look. Thanks for stopping by.

  11. Michael N. Marcus

    WOW! It’s strange, pleasing and encouraging to see you acknowledge the bookmaking possibilities of MS Word.

    I’ve formatted ten books with Word and have just started to “play with” InDesign — the adult software — and may use it for #11.

    My books don’t approach the beauty of Moriah’s work, but I don’t do my own formatting because I think I’m better than the pros, or because I want to save money (I glady pay book cover artists and editors).

    I want control.

    I want to be the person who makes the changes to my text to eliminate rivers, widows and orphans, to make words flow better around a photograph, to eliminate a page with one sentence, etc. I don’t want someone else to make those decisions for me. I don’t want to deal with endless dialog and sending text back and forth: “In the second sentence in the third graf on pg 22, pls change William to Bill.”

    Although I’m not perfect, I am very picky, and getting pickier as I learn more. I use kerning. I use tracking. I use ligatures in large faces. I experiment with different breaks in chapter names and subheads. I recently experimented with small caps for abbreviations and acronyms –and rejected them. I’ve rejected proofs with errors or bad decisions that I’m sure no one else would notice or care about.

    Sometimes I’ll try a dozen variations of just one page (or paragraph!) to make it right (or, at least, right to me), and I doubt that another formatter would tolerate my way of working.

    When I was a reporter on my college newspaper, I became copyeditor and then got a job as a proofreader at the printer so I could maintain complete control over my words. While I know that it’s no good for a writer to be his only editor, I like having control over both the content and appearance of my books.

    When I was an advertising copywriter, I worked very closely with the art directors who determined the appearance of the ads I wrote. With a magazine ad, if you have too many words to fit on a page, you can’t just flow onto another page as with a book. The words must fit in the space that the client is willing to pay for. Back then, I learned to substitute “group” or “club” for “organization” to improve appearance or eliminate a page. I’ve seen DIY books that have pages with ONE SENTENCE on them. No writer with experience in advertising would allow that to happen.

    One book I wrote that was published by a trade publisher years ago was so unlike the original concept, that I refused to allow my name to appear on it. I can accept the blame for my own bad decisions, but I don’t want my name on a crappy book that was made that way because of someone else’s decisions.

    Some self-pubbers merely dump text onto the page, but some of us carefully examine every line of type to make it as good as we possibly can — even with Word. There are always compromises in typesetting, but I like to decide on the compromises myself.

    Michael N. Marcus
    Silver Sands Books
    — “Become a Real Self-Publisher: Don’t be a Victim of a Vanity Press,”
    — “Get the Most out of a Self-Publishing Company: Make a better deal. Make a better book,”
    — “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),”

    • Joel Friedlander

      Michael, you might think about hiring a designer to create a basic layout for your books that you could then tweak, since it would give your books a consistent and professional look across the whole line. You obviously have the patience that’s needed for the detail work of book typography, and you might be surprised at the improvement in the way your books look. Thanks for a nice story, too!

      • Michael N. Marcus

        >>think about hiring a designer to create a basic layout for your books that you could then tweak,<<

        Actually I've thought about that, but didn't think a designer would sell just a design without formatting services. There are freebie page templates online, but the ones I've seen are either unsuitable or worse than I can do myself.

        I have no illusions about my artistic ability — which is why I don't do covers — but I want to remain in control of the interior pages.

        I'll send you an email.

        • Joel Friedlander

          The online templates I’ve seen are almost useless. I sell custom templates regularly, and some publishers specifically hire me to create a “house style” for their books, which they then go off and produce themselves. I bet other designers would do something similar.



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