November 12, 2013

Lose the Spaces—and Other Book Formatting Tips

As authors, especially published authors, we all know that, number one, we must have a good story, and number two, a good cover. These are imperative. That brings us to what I consider the third most important thing—the actual book formatting. As a reader, I can attest to how annoying poor formatting can be. As authors, if we succeed in hooking a reader with our cover and premise, the last thing we want to do is annoy them with poor formatting. After all, they’ll be spending the next few hours or days in this book. Trust me, glaring formatting issues can bump you out of a story world just as fast as glaring writing issues. This applies to both paperbacks and ebooks. I’ve come across these issues enough times that it’s prompted me to share what I feel are the most critical areas of book formatting for indie authors.

First, we’ll look at important things to consider when formatting a paperback.

  1. Lose the spaces. Wide spaces between words or sentences strips the book of professional appearance. Just take a good look at a traditionally published book. Everything looks neat and tidy. There are no big gaps. What you will want to do, in whatever word processing software you format in, is learn how to condense the character spacing. In Word, this is in the Font options menu. In sentences with large gaps, this will condense the words and allow you to bring up a word from the line below that originally didn’t fit. This takes care of the ugly spaces and saves you from having to use a gazillion hyphens, which doesn’t look great either.  I use the condense tool all the time. It’s probably one of the most important things to know. A note of caution on that, don’t overdo with condensing. You don’t want your text so squished its hard to read anymore than you want the gaps. Sometimes a word just plain won’t fit on the line so hyphens will still be necessary to get rid of some gaps. Also, don’t use double spaces between sentences, i.e. you only need to use the spacebar once. We learned in school to do a double space, but that just doesn’t work in book publishing.
  2. Not only should you lose the spaces between words and sentences, but also between paragraphs. There should not be a noticeable gap between every paragraph in the same scene. This is wasted space and makes it difficult to read without the story sounding stilted in your head because you automatically have a slight pause when you reach the space.
  3. Another area that you risk having too much space is your indents. Don’t just use the Tab key’s default settings. This creates an indent that is way too big. It must be smaller to look professional. Learn how to reduce the space to match most traditionally published books.
  4. Always, ALWAYS justify your text. Never, ever have ragged right edges. Just don’t. This applies to both paperbacks and ebooks.
  5. Make sure all the formatting is consistent throughout the book. You don’t want anything to suddenly change halfway through.

Now for a few tips on formatting ebooks. They are much less complicated than paperbacks, but surprisingly, this is where I find the most formatting issues. And not just in indie books, but big name traditional publishers' too! Actually, most of these tips are the same as paperbacks and just as important.

  1. Spacing. You have no control over the gaps that will appear between words in a sentence. This is just the way ebooks are since they’re read on so many different devices, but you can help by again not using double spaces between sentences and making sure there are no gaps between paragraphs. Always preview your book before you publish it to make sure it doesn’t have these issues.
  2. Same as a paperback, always justify your text. I can’t believe how many ebooks I’ve read that have ragged right edges, and the majority have come from traditional publishers. Why this is, I’ll never understand. Please don’t fall into this category. Justified text looks so much more professional.
  3. Make sure your indents are small in ebooks as well. Large indents look just as bad in ebooks (even worse if you try to read it on a small device like an iPod) as in paperbacks.
  4. Again, consistency. I’ve read ebooks were the formatting goes from justified text to ragged right edges, and then back again within a few paragraphs. Not cool.

Sometimes I think we get so focused on a good story and cover that we forget the importance of proper formatting. This is how your story is being presented to the world. Each page is how a reader is going to dive into the story. You want to make these pages as eye pleasing and smooth to read as possible. I hope these tips can help in accomplishing that.

For more indie publishing tips, you can check out my publishing booklet, Where Do I Start? An Overview of Indie Publishing.


Morgan Elizabeth Huneke said...

The text in the Dragons of Starlight series isn't justified, and it drives me crazy. As I read it, I constantly think of how I could have formatted it better . . . and I'm pretty sure they were traditionally published.

Karylle said...

Those are really good tips. When it comes to book formatting, I recommend Adobe InDesign. With InDesign, setting up the correct page numbers and running headers without having to use section breaks is so easy and automatic. MS Word is so confusing especially when it comes to its section break features.