Today’s Writing Tip

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As you’ve probably noticed if you’re a regular reader of these short blogs, poor formatting is one of my pet peeves. This is one I consider a fairly minor faux pas, but shows a bit of savvy when employed. You may have never noticed; I didn’t until I had to format my first book. Like most formatting conventions, it’s noted in reliable sources, but can be easily overlooked or missed.

In traditional fiction publishing, the first paragraph in a chapter or section is not indented, but flush with the margin. What’s the point? There are two main ones. First, it helps set the stage, even subconsciously, that what follows is not a direct continuation of the previous scene, but something new. Second, if only spaces are used to show section breaks, this may be the only clue that a new section has begun. This is particularly true for ebooks, where extra spaces are often lost.

This is not a “big deal” as some formatting issues goes. However, it is one more way to show consideration to your reader by including subtle clues to what’s going on with your story.

Today’s Writing Tip

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This is something I’ve mentioned before, but it can make the difference between a professionally formatted work and one that screams, “Amateur!” Have you ever noticed that formatting for fiction is different than nonfiction? Fiction typically has indented paragraphs, nonfiction has block paragraphs. If you don’t believe me, go into a bookstore (or your own bookshelf) some time to see for yourself.

I don’t know why this convention evolved but I’m sure there’s a reason. I suspect that perhaps block paragraphs make it easier for the reader to grasp nonfiction concepts in small bites whereas a novel should flow more easily.

I remember the first time I sat down to format a book I realized I’d never paid much attention to such things. When you become an Indie Author it becomes your business to know. Other details, such as headers, footers, pagination, chapter headings, and so forth are more negotiable.

The next time you read, pay attention to the formatting. It can provide various do’s and don’t’s for your own.

Today’s Writing Tip

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The trade paperback size 6 x 9 is popular, but not necessarily the most appropriate, depending of which genre you’re targeting and the length of your story. In some cases, it will appear more professional if you use a different size. If you’re not sure what commercial publishers use, check several titles in your genre at your local bookstore.

There’s a lot of competition out there these days with the indie publishing boom, so every action you take to make your book appear more professional will work in your favor.

Today’s Writing Tip

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If your book is fiction, the print version can do without a table of contents. Since it’s more difficult to find your way around an ebook, however, a table of contents is not only helpful but required by some ebook distributors.

Generating it through Microsoft Word, however, is not going to work properly. Per the Smashwords Style Guide, you should bookmark each chapter heading, which is then connected via hyperlink to the table of contents. This works nicely for the Kindle version as well.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Page numbers are required in your book, but other headers or footers are optional. Make sure they contribute in a positive way, not serve as a distraction. Use a smaller, unobtrusive font with adequate space separating them from the text.

Including the author’s name on one side and the book’s title on the other are common headers. They tend to look best when justified to the outer margins. Setting them up to behave properly in Microsoft Word can be a challenge, however.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Enhance the professional appearance of your book’s interior by using a glyph that relates to your story instead of asterisks for section breaks. There are many options in unicode and wingding fonts which are easier to use overall than a jpg file.

For example, multiple jpg files can be a nuisance for some print on demand establishments such as Ingram, where the pdf file needs to be distilled. Creating a pdf from a MS Word file reduces their resolution, so each one has to be replaced manually. If every section break is a jpg this would be a major pain!

Today’s Writing Tip

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Your book’s interior should be formatted for readability. Both Create Space and Smashwords have “How To” documents you should read and follow. Poorly formatted books lose readers and mark indie writers as unprofessional. Learn how to do it correctly or hire someone to do it for you. Your readers will appreciate it.

The Importance of Formatting


Typos, grammar and such are an amazingly common complaint in reviews, something which many indy authors encounter at some point. However, there’s another issue that can get you a bad rapp (or rep, as the case may be) that you may not even be aware of–formatting.

The guidelines for a printed book with an interior that looks professionally done are substantially different than those for an ebook. Considering how there’s a good chance most of your readers are going to opt for the electronic version, it’s in your best interest to make sure that it looks professional as well, not like an afterthought.

I suspect that numerous indy authors, after getting their book set up on Create Space, simply hit that button on the last screen to publish their book in Kindle format. This is all well and good, but don’t trust that automated process to produce an electronic version that looks anything like the printed one. At the very least, check it yourself, especially if your printed version has dropped caps at the beginning of each chapter.

The first thing you need to do is save a second copy of your book to use for the electronic version prior to formatting it for print. Then you can add headers, footers, chapter headings, dropped caps and so forth to the printed version without introducing potential corruption into the electronic version. If you’ve already done the formatting, then obviously when you save that second copy it will be to remove such things. typewriterEither way, it’s a lot easier than the old days, when authors wrote on a device like the one shown to the right. Those of you who haven’t had that experience don’t even want to know what it was like handling simple revisions that changed the pagination. Gives me a panic attack just thinking about it.

If you want to produce a professionally formatted ebook, the best guide for doing so is the Smashwords Style Guide, which you can download for free from their website here.

Even if you don’t use Smashwords’ service (perhaps because you’ve opted into Kindle Unlimited, which requires giving Amazon exclusive rights to sell your work), the instructions will enable you to format a clean version that won’t aggravate readers enough to blast you with a bad review. It takes a little extra work, but it’s worth it.

Writing a book entails a lot of hard work, but that’s just the beginning. If you want it to be well-received by readers, it also needs to provide a comfortable reading experience. It’s not difficult to do and will be worth it. If it’s not something you care to tackle, then check into some of the services that will do so for a reasonable price, such as

Showing respect and appreciation to your audience starts with clean copy. Getting yanked out of a story by errors of any type, whether they’re typos, incorrect spelling, punctuation problems or formatting in nature, is not only distracting, but annoying. Some readers are more forgiving than others in overlooking such things, but sure as death and taxes, sooner or later, a reviewer will say so.

After all the time, sweat and blood you’ve put into your story, don’t let its message be diluted or even lost due to careless formatting. Take care of your readers and they’ll take care of you.

5 Quick Tips for Indie Writers: Formatting


One complaint I’ve heard about Indie novels is lack of proper formatting. While this is usually one of the services provided by a publisher, when you’re an Indie you’re on your own unless you want to hire someone to do it for you.  Otherwise such oversights, ignorance or perhaps laziness contribute to a poor reputation which hurts everyone. Here are a few simple formatting tips which will help your work shine:

  1. The first paragraph of a new chapter typically begins with a letter that is larger than the others and called a “dropped cap.” This gives it a more professional appearance. This does not necessarily work for some formats, however, where this larger letter will increase the leading (e. spacing) between the lines. For print format, however, this is the convention.
  2. The first paragraph of a chapter is flush with the left margin; it is NOT indented. This is also true for each new section and provides a stronger visual clue than doubled spacing, which is sometimes inadvertently introduced into ebooks by a page break in the original file that doesn’t necessarily indicate a new scene or viewpoint has begun.
  3. Along these same lines, it’s easier on the reader if you demarcate the end of a section with some sort of indicator whether it’s a few asterisks or some other design.
  4. Speaking of section breaks, when you change viewpoint from one character to another or start a new scene you should start a new section unless the entire book is written in omniscient point of view that switches from one person to the next continually. Remember, however, that you don’t necessarily have to get into everyone’s head to know what they’re thinking. Describing a character’s expression or body language can convey what they’re thinking or feeling just like it does in real life. Clearly is you’re writing in first person you can’t read another person’s thoughts directly and would use visual clues.
  5. Book design refers to the fonts used for chapter headings and text, your paragraph indentation style, line spacing, page number and heading placement, and so forth. Paying attention to these details gives your book a more professional appearance. For ebooks these details don’t show up but if you’re publishing in a print copy they make a tremendous difference as far as presenting your work as that of a professional.