Formatting Your Novel

Formatting seems very challenging at first. It’s not. It’s a craft, with rules that are based on experience. Amazon is happy to take your manuscript and publish it for you, because if your work sells they make money. They’re happy to inform you about formatting and they even make simple guidelines available. I suggest you read them. In the meantime, this is how I do it:
I write on a Mac. Others use Windows based computers and some even write novels on their smartphone. If that’s your gig, knock yourself out! But I don’t have time to do things the hard way.
My Mac is a Mini that’s packed with as much memory as possible. I use three programs for the most part; I write on the industry standard, MS Word, and process for publication using Calibre, a free formatting program. But before I run it through Calibre, I format using Word and now I choose a format that I can send to CreateSpace.
If you’re not familiar with CS, it’s Amazon’s print-on-demand division. Don’t expect to make a lot of money from the print edition. I never have; truth to tell, paying to have my book formatted cost more than I’ve made back in sales.
So why do it? Because when I visit my local library, I can look my own name up in their circulation base and find the book I donated. They want the other books in that series too, and eventually I’ll give them copies of all my books. That’s a business expense, but it’s also advertising. Some readers may want their own copies.
This essay isn’t about creating a cover, and there’s a reason. My graphics talent is non-existent. This is one of those times when I’ll rely on someone else for that part of my book.
On to formatting, and again this is Mac-specific but with a bit of work you can use your Windows or other operating system to do the same thing.
I use 6 x 9 custom formatting. Word doesn’t have that size in their list of templates, but the printer software does.
Under File, drop down to Page Setup. That will bring up a dialog page. Under Paper Sizes, choose Manage Custom Sizes. I prefer 6×9, because it’s a common size and it looks right to me.
So far, your document looks pretty skinny; it’s time to fix that. On the top line, to the right of where it says Word, find Format. Click on that and select Format Document.
Go back to Word’s main page. I use .75 for the top and left margins, .86 for the bottom and 1″ for the right margin. That leaves room for binding the book. There are other options for gutter and top/bottom that I don’t use. Not so far, at least, so I set them to zero.
I modify Word’s default settings slightly, using the Format Style dialogue under Format. This allows me to set up the elements of my manuscript. I modify the Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedications, Chapter Title, and Paragraph styles, using elements that fall within guidelines (See Amazon’s guides, found on your Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing page. If you don’t already have an account, open one now and look at what’s available). I don’t get ‘style happy’; I prefer to keep things simple and have them happen automatically as much as possible. I’ll reserve my creativity for the manuscript. My preferred font is Times New Roman, 12 point, for paragraphs. Chapter Titles are Garamond 14pt, Centered. Having formatted the elements the way I want them, I customize my keyboard. Pressing F1 now automatically selects ‘Normal’, my paragraph setting. F2 centers the text (I use # for an action break) and F3 selects my Chapter Title Setting.
I’ve used these settings to format my novel, Wizard at Work, for print. I’ve checked, and running the above through Calibre to convert the manuscript to Amazon’s .mobi format isn’t a problem.
The only change is that for print, I won’t use hotlinked chapter titles in the Table of Contents. Instead, I choose a version of Heading 1 (under Document Elements, part of Word’s expanded Toolbar) where Heading 1 looks blue. That’s the indicator that it’s interactive and will remain so after converting to .mobi.
At this point, your novel is ready to convert to mobi (I do that to retain control of what the finished ebook will look like). Next step, submit it to Amazon.
If you have specific questions or comments after reading this, I’ll be happy to answer them.

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