How to format your book as a self-publisher

How to format your book as a self-publisher

Summary: If you decide not to hire a freelancer or commission formatting services, there are a number of formatting or typesetting apps and tools you can use: Scrivener, InDesign, Microsoft Word, Vellum, Book Design Templates. Top tips include using a standard font, familiarising yourself with the anatomy of books, and sticking to genre standards.

When it comes to formatting or typesetting your book, there are a variety of resources, tools and platforms at your disposal. It is important to explore the different formatting options in order to ensure a professional-looking final product. You want your manuscript to be reader friendly and readability is of the utmost importance since, as a self-publisher, you are competing with traditionally published titles.

In this article, we give you some helpful tips for formatting your book. Note that this refers to the formatting of the actual print book or e-book, the final product, so to speak. Manuscript formatting, on the other hand, is about presenting your book to potential publishers, editors and book agents. If you are interested in manuscript formatting, read this very helpful and detailed article.

In the section that follows, we look at some of the most popular formatting apps.


Popular formatting software apps


As mentioned above, there are many applications available to assist writers in their writing and self-publishing journeys. There are also specific apps that can help with formatting and typesetting. These apps differ in price, what they are capable of, and some are more user friendly than others. Reviews of applications are always subjective, and you might want to study some more consumer reviews to get a balanced view and make the right choice for your purposes.


Scrivener is popular amongst writers and is viewed as the premier book writing software. It is loved for its organisational functions and the fact that it allows you to keep track of your notes, structure and research. It also allows users to format for publishing purposes such as for Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Since formatting is only one aspect of Scrivener’s functions, it is better to try a free option or a trial. Further, Scrivener does not allow for proper collaboration, which means working with an editor, for example, might present some problems.

Google Docs

Some writers love Google Docs as it is free and easy to use. It is mostly praised for its collaboration abilities – anyone can be invited to edit a document. It is one of the most commonly used tools. Some people advise against using it for print book purposes as the final presentation leaves a lot to be desired.

Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word is one of the most widely and commonly used tools in self-publishing. However, as with Google Docs, most advise against using it for print book purposes because of presentation. As for digital purposes, Reedsy explains that Word doesn’t export EPUB files (the most common ebook format), but most digital publishers will allow you to upload .doc files, which they will then convert automatically.


InDesign from Adobe is the industry standard for professional typesetters. It is considered far superior than any other formatting tool as it has the highest number of features. However, it is expensive and hard to use and as such shouldn’t be considered if you do not have a design background.


Vellum is easy to use and has an intuitive interface. It also has beautiful formatting options and when it comes to e-books, it demonstrates how each edit will appear on a whole range of e-readers. On the downside, it is a Mac-only app and is relatively expensive.

Reedsy Book Editor

The popular blog and marketplace offer a free book production tool that is easy to use. The tool offers professionally designed templates and stores work securely on a cloud. It is also compatible with a variety of distribution platforms. The downside is that you are not able to drag and drop your book, you will have to use the book editor to write your book. Further, compared to some of the other apps, the formatting options are limited.


Book Design Templates

Book Design Templates offers a range of templates created with print and ebook industry standards in mind. It is designed to suit different genres, mediums and markets and templates can be bought for single use or for multi-use and are available for Microsoft Word, Apple pages and InDesign.


Top Tips for formatting


  1. Use a standard font. Serif fonts are the publishing standard. It is always better to go with something tried and tested, rather than a font that can possibly alienate readers.
  2. Know the anatomy of a book. You have to understand the order and presentation of the front (title pages, dedication page, copyright pages, index) and back pages (acknowledgements, about the author, copyright permissions). Have a look at this helpful article on different parts of a book.
  3. Beware of spacing. Specialist publishing software is of great help when it comes to spacing as it is all done automatically. With other tools, you have to be careful. For example, Word will automatically justify text which makes it hard to read, and a left alignment can result in too many ‘rags’ or waste space.
  4. Beware of widows and orphans. These are stray words and sentences on the bottom or top of the page.
  5. Avoid hard indents. These are indents created by the Tab key. It can result in indents that are too big. Depending on the genre, automatically set your paragraph setting in order to conform to genre standard.
  6. Only use single space after a period/full stop. Traditional publishers all now adhere to the single-space rule.
  7. Don’t use the Enter Key or paragraph breaks to start on a new page. This can cause problems with the layout later on. Rather use the page break function.
  8. Use the styles feature instead of formatting yourself. This makes navigating the book easy and allows you to automatically create a table of contents.


Many writers hire a freelance book designer or commission formatting services. The potential cost will depend on the length of the project, whether it is for an ebook or print, as well as the genre or type of manuscript. When hiring any freelancer make sure that they are a professional and will deliver your book timeously. However, if you want to do the formatting or typesetting yourself, there is more than enough information online that explain the aspects of formatting in detail. Ultimately, it is most certainly a skill you can master by using the right tools and through research and practice.


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