There are many things you the indie author need to do before you can push the SUBMIT button to publish your book. One of which I want to discuss today, and that is: What is formatting and why is it a crucial piece to your success?

So, you’ve finished writing your novel or short story. You had someone edit it. You even went the extra mile and had someone do a content edit first. You’ve also created your sexy book cover, and now you’re ready to publish it. Right? Not so fast.

You need to have your manuscript formatted. What does that mean? The interior has to meet certain standards. Not only for the various distributors but also for your readers. It’s not enough that you’ve drawn the reader into your book. A sexy cover and cleverly written synopsis on the back only take you so far. The reader will forget about those things once inside. And if the formatting is poor, you’ll lose your readers fast. You might even motivate them to write a bad review. And you don’t want that. Not after all the money and effort that you put into making your story great.

Here are some key things you need to keep in mind when formatting your book.

1) What size is your book going to be?

If it’s an ebook, then you have nothing to think about here. It’s pretty much one size fits all. If it’s in print, then you need to look at who is the target audience for your book. Is your audience older with vision problems? Is it for kids and you want pictures inside. Do you want lots of small pages with tiny print?

Here’s something I dealt with when working on my children’s series A Tale of Hope and Adventure. I wanted each book to be a certain length. So, I padded the end of each chapter with a blank page. Might seem a bit sneaky, I admit. But it also gave the kids a page to draw and color on while helping me reach my design goal.

2) Does the formatting meet the distributor’s standards?

When I say distributor, I’m talking about online companies like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and iBooks. They all have different criteria, even for their ebooks, which still makes me shake my head.

Smashwords is a classic example of a formatters nightmare. I know authors who won’t bother publishing to that site because it’s frustratingly difficult. There are other reasons why Smashwords is annoying. I won’t get into them here because it doesn’t fit this blog post. But in case you’re interested then read this post by Allison M. Dickson or this one by M. C. A. Hogarth.

I digressed for a moment. Sorry. Back to the distributor standards.

When I published my books, I ran into issues with CreateSpace (Amazon) and NookPress (B&N). CS accepted the format of my print file (PDF) with bleeds going over the margin. But, NP wouldn’t, and I had to create a separate file just for them. It’s these little things that will drive you nuts. But don’t give up. Hire a formatter who knows the differences between the distributors. Someone who can give you many versions of your book to for uploading to the various platforms.

3) Has your cover been correctly formatted?

I remember this one time sitting in an SCBWI monthly meeting. I was talking with a husband and wife team about their children’s picture book. They had recently completed it and were very excited to submit it online for publishing. Their grandchildren were flying overseas in a couple of weeks and it was going to be a surprise gift. The surprise was one them, unfortunately. I pointed out that their book cover wasn’t likely to be appropriately sized. What does that mean? They didn’t take into account the number of pages, which determines the spine’s thickness. And they had forgotten about designing a back cover. Technically they didn’t need to design anything special. A plain color would suffice. But it’s part of the cover graphic and their artist wasn’t designing all that. The couple thought they only needed a beautiful jpeg of the front. Not so. You need to have an image that wraps around the pages. I am not sure how their book turned out. But it just goes to show you that formatting isn’t just about the printed words.

4) The little things…

What are the little things? The right font to use (print only). Is the font easy on the eyes? Should the font look scary if it’s a horror book? Or playful if it’s a children’s book. That’s the route I went with my children’s series. And how you should display each chapter heading. Meaning is there a graphic under the chapter title or not? Do you want the chapter title to be complete words like CHAPTER ONE or ONE or the number 1? What about the copyright? Should it go in the front or the back? And do you want a Dedication, or a Thank You page (I like doing this one)? You definitely want the Other Titles Available page. And don’t forget about the About the Author page. You want your fans to know how to reach you online so they can tell you how much they love your book. All these things make a big difference.

5) Order multiple proofs!

So, everything is looking spiffy. Your book has been wrung through the editing wringer. Your cover looks hot and is properly sized. You’ve got a killer synopsis, and you’ve formatted your interior like a pro. Now what?

Order a couple of proofs before you make it available to the public.

Don’t go out right away and buy a hundred copies for your friends and family. Why? Because things never look the same on screen as they do in print. You don’t need to read the books all the way through. A cursory look at the edges, alignment inside, any bleeding, etc. is enough.

Feel free to add any comments you think will help other readers. We learn by sharing.

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