We have covered a lot of ground in the production process of this series, and believe it or not we are almost done. We talked about writing your book, revision and editing, the book cover, and now we are going to talk about interior design and formatting.

Don’t think this is an easy subject: I used to and then talked to a bunch of writers at a conference. Although I tend to be tech savvy, and even report on tech developments as part of my freelance writing work, many writers are not.

In fact, some of those at the table were not familiar with many of the features of Microsoft Office, let alone the fact that there were other better word processing programs for writers to use.

The truth is, many writers have difficulty even following simple instructions for Kindle or Createspace templates so they can upload a book file that works well on e-readers and other devices let alone add extra features, tables, and photos.

If you are one of them, understand there is no shame in asking for help. You are not alone, and that is the reason there are many formatters out there, including authors that do understand the process.

So what are the pros and cons of learning to do your own formatting? Well, that, as many other things in the production process, depends on you and your ability.

DIY Formatting

There are several automated programs and templates on the net that will help you format your book yourself. If you are writing fiction, have no photos or tables in your book, and want a simple ebook format, most of these will work for you.

The fonts will be simple and standard, although you can change them slightly, but your file will look good. Maybe not great, but good.

If you are accomplished with tech, familiar with Word, Scrivener, or other programs this may work well for you, at least for ebook formatting.

However, if you are not good with tech, and have issues, this may not be the answer for you, especially when it comes to print. Here are some definite don’ts when it comes to formatting.

Don’t Trust Automated File Creation: Any program that promises to automatically create a beautiful Kindle file for you probably won’t. You need to check the file yourself once it has been created and proof it to make sure it works the way you want it to and none of the formatting at chapter breaks and other places is screwed up.

I promise you that if you trust a program 100% there will be errors in your file and readers will not be pleased. Your files for fiction do not have to be fancy for the most part. In fact, I would argue that they should not be, at least for your ebook. But they do need to work efficiently on a variety of devices.

One of the best ways to ensure this is to follow the Smashwords Style Guide created by Mark Coker even if you do not publish on Smashwords with only a few modifications of text (especially to the copyright page). We’ll talk more about Smashwords and other distribution options when we get to that section of the series. This guide covers most common mistakes and makes the file you upload work for Kindle and other devices.

Never Create Your Ebook File from Your Print File: Your print and e-book files should be completely different. The reason is that they are two different media. Print files are fixed where ebook files must be flexible. The user can change font type, font size, and may be reading on screens of different size.

If you try to create your ebook from your print file, it will probably look terrible. Beware! There is a feature on Create Space for it to automatically create your Kindle file for you. Don’t even be tempted. I can tell a few pages into a book if an author has done this due to funky spacing and page issues. Most of the time, I will rapidly abandon the book and not finish reading it.

If you do not know what you are doing, or are questioning if what you’re doing is effective at all STOP. Hire someone. Don’t risk a reader’s first impression of your book be that you did not even take the time to format it professionally.

The second thing a reader sees after the cover is your interior formatting. Make sure it is done right.

Hiring a Professional Formatter

This is much like the process of hiring a cover designer: look for a formatter by word of mouth, ask for references, and look up their work. See if what they do matches what you want your book interior to look like.

Let the formatter do their job though. Just because you want something in your ebook format doesn’t mean it is possible or practical. Listen to the professional and let their experience guide you.

Remember when we discussed cover design? The cover designer is an artist, and to a lesser extent so is the formatter. The reason you are hiring a professional is that they see things you do not, and you have determined you cannot do the work yourself. Trust them.

Also, don’t ask the formatter to teach you how to do it yourself, so you won’t need them next time. That is like going to a restaurant and asking the chef to teach you the recipe for what you ordered.

First, they are too busy to teach you how they prepared your food. Second, they are teaching themselves out of work. It’s rude to do this, and many formatters will openly let you know they don’t appreciate it. Some will just never work for you again.

However you choose to format your work, do not neglect the importance of this step. The second thing a reader sees is the interior formatting of your book, and you need to make a good impression to keep them reading.

Next, we will discuss one final part of production: pulling it all together to make sure everything is right. Proofing is the final step in this section, but it is not the final step in treating your writing as a business. After that, we will look at distribution options and what they mean.

Need help with the process, editing, or formatting? You can hire me, or I can refer you to someone who can help.

Troy Lambert
Troy is a freelance writer, author, and blogger who lives, works, and plays in Boise, Idaho with the love of his life, his son, and three very talented dogs.

Passionate about writing dark psychological thrillers, he is an avid cyclist, skier, hiker, all around outdoorsman, and a terrible beginning golfer.