Tips for Indie Authors – Flinch-Free Formatting

Indie authors are amazing. Right?  Of course, they are.
And so many of them are tackling the task of publishing their work on incredibly low or almost non-existent budgets. There is a natural reluctance to pouring lots of your hard-earned money into that pet project – your novel.  As a result, many writers opt to go the Do It Yourself (DIY) route.

In actuality, DIY formatting in Microsoft Word is easy – if you know what to do and what not to do. Nonetheless, in recent months, I have found myself flinching in the face of messy formatting in some of the books I have picked up.  In this post, I’d like to offer my fellow indie authors a few pointers on preparing their masterpieces for publication as e-books.

First of all, a few words about Print vs. Kindle formats.  When you are finalizing your print layout (usually creating a PDF), the what-you-see-is-what-you-get-rule applies.  With ebooks this is not true. Ebook formats magically repaginate the flow of text on the screen for different device sizes (margins and page lengths vary) and according to the reader’s viewing preferences.

I recommend the following best practices to ensure smooth flow of text regardless of screen size, font size, and line spacing choices:

Take advantage of the Styles feature in Word. For most fiction books, you only need to use a few styles. Normal for your regular text paragraphs and Heading 1 for your chapter starts. Maybe something special for the inside cover, and a couple more depending on specific content.

First Line Indents

To indent or  not to indent?  I am not going to address that question – there is no one correct answer. But if you want to indent the first line of each paragraph, please do not hit the space bar multiple times or hit the Tab key.  Set up your Normal style to include that indent.

  1. Select a paragraph to create a sample that looks the way you want it to. Right-click the paragraph and select ParagraphCapture2
  2. On the Indents and Spacing tab, in the Indentation area, select First line from the Special dropdown menu.  Then set the amount of the indent.  In the example shown the indent was set to 0.31″.
  3. Click OK.
  4. Now, to apply the characteristics of that paragraph throughout your document, right-click the Normal button in the Styles section on the ribbon and select Update Normal to Match Selection.
    Word does its magic and all the “Normal” text in your doc looks the same  (indent, font type and size, and line spacing too).

Chapter Headings and Page Breaks

I prefer to start  each chapter on a new page (or screen). This is best done using a defined style like Heading 1 – it should not be done by inserting blank lines.

  1. To start each chapter on a new page, right-click a chapter name and select Paragraph. On the Line and Page Breaks tab, select Line break before. Then click OK.
  2.  If you don’t like the look of the Heading 1 that is in your default Word template, you can change it using the font, size, and centering options on the ribbon.
  3. Now, to apply these characteristics throughout your document, right-click the Heading 1 button in the Styles section on the ribbon and select Update Normal to Match Selection. Word does its magic and all the “Heading 1” text in your doc looks and behaves the same way.

Line Spacing and Pagination

Do not insert blank lines to make things move things to the next page or to keep things together on the same page. (Yes, I said it already. It’s important enough to repeat. Those blank lines will come back to haunt you.)

  • To keep paragraph A on same page as the paragraph that follows, right-click paragraph A, select Paragraph and then select Keep with next.
  • To make a line/paragraph start at the top of a page, right-click it, select Paragraph and then select Page break before.

Note: Changes made to a specific paragraph do not affect other instances where the style is applied unless you then select that paragraph and update the style defintion to match (as explained above).

That’s all for today, folks!