Formatting Your Book Manuscript

I stayed up late last night reading the Smashwords Style Guide for formatting e-books. It’s not your grandma’s book formatting.

In the olden days (last week), book manuscripts were formatted like any other manuscript: double-spaced, indented first paragraphs, italics and other special fonts either marked for the typesetter or put in on the computer. Editing could be done online or on paper, no problem.

But now we have e-books, and they come in various formats, so we have various ways to format our manuscripts. In my role as publisher at Blue Hydrangea Productions, I recently formatted my Shoes Full of Sand manuscript for Kindle and for production as a paperback (out July 8!) The differences were maddening.

The paperback was pretty straightforward, except that it was single-spaced. I added a giant capital letter at the beginning of each section, and inserted headers and footers. I justified the whole thing with even margins on both the left and right sides. I produced it in Microsoft Word (2003 preferred by my production team) in the usual formatting.

Kindle,’s e-book reader, was a different story. All of the first-paragraph indentations had to be eliminated, along with the big capital letters, plus the footers and headers. This changed the spacing and page numbers. I went crazy redoing the table of contents, only to discover that on an e-book, page numbers are meaningless. They change according to what type of reader you’re using. It took several tries before I got it right.

Now I’m getting ready to reformat for Smashwords, a company that produces e-books in various  formats, such as Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the Sony reader, and various smartphone apps. They want the most stripped-down manuscript possible. Tabs are taboo. Instead of indenting or typing spaces in for paragraphs, they want you to go into your MS word styles and set paragraph indentations and spacing between paragraphs so that they happen automatically when you type. Double-justified margins are out. Flush left is best, the guide advises.

What this means is that I will spend some hours redoing the manuscript in yet another format so that everyone can read it. Is it worth it? Do I want everyone to read my book?

In reading the Smashwords Guide, a free e-book I read on my Kindle, I learned a lot about book formatting and also about Microsoft Word. I’ve been using that program for years, but found out several things I didn’t know before. You don’t need a Kindle to read Kindle books. You can download the free program onto your computer.

It seems that we writers can’t just write anymore. We have to be computer experts as well–or we can find someone else to do it for us. If all this formatting talk stresses you out, just write. Worry about the rest later.