5 Manuscript Formatting Secrets to Win a Reader’s Love

5 Manuscript Formatting Secrets to Win a Reader’s Love
October 19, 2017 No Comments » For Authors, Writing Advice Heidi Angell

Hello Lovely Our Write Siders,

So you have finished your novel, and you decided to self-publish. Everyone’s doing it, so why shouldn’t you? After having your book edited, and getting the book cover designed, you are ready to throw it up on the Zon, or wherever, and sell some copies, right?

Oh… formatting. A very important step that people forget. Formatting is to the inside of your book, as a good cover design is to the outside. In other words, it’s really important. But many authors don’t think about it. They are just so excited to get their book out there that they don’t consider the final polish their book needs to be really successful. And you know why? Because so few people talk about it.

Which is a shame. Because there are quite a few indie published books that I had to set aside because I just couldn’t get past the poor formatting.

Don’t let that be you.

Here are five formatting secrets that will set you in good standing with readers.

Warning, this is A LOT to consider. If you find it too daunting, don’t give up on your dream of self-publishing. You can hire a professional typographer, like the team at OWS Chrysalis, to do your formatting for you. But if you are on a tight budget, these tips will help you up your publishing game.

  1. Formatting for E-book

This is actually really easy, because in the case of e-book, the LESS formatting, the better. Wait, what? It’s true. Fancy formatting in e-books actually often leads to a poor reader experience. Every e-reader is a different size, and many readers like to customize to their reading needs by enlarging the print for the visually impaired and changing the font color or format for those with sensitivities. With e-books it is best to keep to simple and common fonts (Most e-readers will not have Stonehenge, no matter how cool the font looks to you. It will end up being changed by the e-reader, which could mess with the overall layout, so it’s best to avoid it.)

Stick with common fonts such as Arial, Times New Roman, or Garamond (the font for choice with book publishers.)  

Be sure to include a linked title page to each new chapter, even if you aren’t using clever chapter names. Many e-readers will save the reader’s place, but if it kicks it out, this saves the reader having to scroll and scroll and scroll.

In your title page, include your front matter and back matter. The great Zon, tends to skip those bits, and boots up on the “first page” but if you include the acknowledgments on your title page, then that is the page the e-reader will start at.

E-readers scroll wonderfully, so remove all page splits and only place that at the end of each chapter. It saves the reader from blank gaps in your book in weird and unexpected places. At the end of your last chapter, add a reminder asking them to read and review. Many readers don’t go to the back matter. This small reminder before the “end” of the book will encourage them to leave a review and we all know how important reviews are!

If you REALLY want to add a bit of fanciness to your e-book, then check out Smashwords great free Style guide. They cover everything from adding images to bullet points, how to get poetry to play nice, and more. I use it for all of my books and have never had a complaint about formatting.

2. Getting the Right Set Up

I love that CreateSpace gives us options. Really, I do. But they don’t give us any guidelines with those options. So here you go, and you’re welcome.

  1. First, you get to choose the size of your book. They say that 6X9 is the most common choice, but what they really mean is that it’s the cheapest. Why? Because they are taking a full sheet and folding it in half. No cutting required. Unfortunately, if your book is less than 75K words, this could leave you with a “thin looking book” even if it’s the right word count for your genre. Let’s be honest, before you became an author did you know the word count for your genre? Probably not. But we all know that thinner books look more like a YA read than an adult read. So if you print your 60K thriller on a 6X9, it will only come out to around 150 pages. Go look at thrillers in B & N. They are almost always on 5X8. Makes the reader not feel bad about paying $12.99 for them. Ah, sneaky, sneaky. But it works. So how do you decide what size to go with? Well, the lazy way would be to go with the rule of smaller word count equals smaller book size, but the safer bet is to go to B & N and discreetly measure the size of the covers in your genre. This works.
  2. I love that they give you the choice of cream or white paper, but at the same time, I HATE when an author sends me a fiction book on white paper. White is for non-fiction, cream is for fiction. Standard rules. Why? Honestly, I’m not really sure. I think it has to do with white is easy for highlighting and cream is easier on the eyes. Fiction readers want to read straight through, no stopping to “think,” just absorbing. It is so hard to do that on white paper (as one who suffers regular migraines can attest.)
  3. Book cover, matte or glossy. I know, glossy sounds so PRETTY! But it isn’t for fiction. It is a hot fingerprinty mess and I HATE it for any genre, even non-fiction. But you do have the choice. So let me give you some reasons why I think you should opt for the matte. Firstly, no fingerprints smudging it before you even have it leave the sales table. “But I’m only doing POD,” you might argue. “It doesn’t matter to me.”  Second point, gloss is really hard to get a good picture of. I am a book reviewer who loves Instagram, trust me. Glossy sucks. And thirdly, in that same vein, if a booktuber wants to share your cover, it is sooo hard to do. You just limited your promotional opportunities right there, because most of us won’t even try. We know better. But it’s your book, and the joy of self-publishing is that you get to choose. Choose wisely.

Paperback Styling- General Guidelines

Paperbacks are a no-brainer when The Pew Research Center is reporting that 65% of Americans read paperbacks in 2016, compared to 28% reading e-books. And, at least for this reader, a huge part of that is due to the design. But many self-published authors completely miss this part, or they do it badly. They don’t know about widows and orphans, they don’t know about using block formatting, they don’t think about the importance of each chapter starting on the right-hand page. And when their book comes out it is a hot mess.

Don’t feel bad if you never considered these issues. Most readers don’t consciously consider them either. But when a book isn’t formatted the way they are expecting they notice it. They may not be able to say why, but they notice.  If you aren’t sure about formatting for size of book, etc, it is best to use a createspace formatted template or you can follow the steps offered by self-published author Craig E. Price here. These are great because they already figure out the hard crappy part of margins, page thickness, page numbering, etc. But if you take one of those and simply copy and paste, some of the important pieces (like what page each chapter should start on) gets lost in the process. So be sure to go through and set each chapter on the right hand page, and create a “headline” format in the style box on your home page in Word. That way you can automatically add it as you work through your book, instead of guessing or hoping you remembered. A good rule of thumb for chapter headings is at least 2 sizes larger than your paragraph text and bold. When setting up your chapter headings, it is tempting (especially if you write sci-fi or fantasy) to do a fancy text. If you do this, make it an image because Createspace distributors don’t have a wide selection of fonts and if they don’t have Skriller, they will do an approximate match. But if you do it in a jpeg then you can customize to your heart’s content and not worry about them changing your font.  

Now, let’s talk about the nitty gritty that Createspace doesn’t address in their formatted templates. Block text.

Most of us don’t think about it as we are typing away in our happy little work in progress, but Word automatically formats to the left.

Pick up any paperback you got from a traditional publisher and you will notice that the format is in a block text with a first paragraph indent for fiction, meaning that other than the indent on the left, the font all lines up neatly on the left, and also lines up neatly on the right.

See how much prettier that text looks? It’s subtle, I know. But it is such an easy fix. Look at your formatting ribbon (where you change your text size and font style.) There is a group of lines. One shows them all to the left. One shows centered text, and one shows formatted to the left. And then there’s the block text. Highlight your whole document and change that setting.

Alas, we aren’t done. Now, the tricky bit to block text is dealing with widows, orphans, and spacing.

4. Widows, Orphans, and Spacing

No, that is not the title of a book. Those are typography terms. A widow is a weird break in the text at the top or bottom of a page. Either the first line or last line of a paragraph that just doesn’t sit nicely. An orphan is a single word at the end of a paragraph that falls alone in the line. See the example below.

The simple fix is to add spaces to bump the text to where it should be. At the end of a page, if there is a paragraph that bleeds over, then it should have two lines of text at least to fix a widow. Orphans should have at least two words on that line.

But thanks to Word’s auto-formatting, when you do that sometimes it will leave the words oddly spaced on the line, or leave a wide gap at the bottom of the page. These are relatively easy to fix. For word spacing, change one of the words in that line to make it longer. For the gap at the bottom, add 1 more space at the top of the page. It is subtle enough that it should not cause a problem for the average reader.

5. Prettifying By Genre

Ok, I can’t go into a ton of detail here, because there are something like over 100 genres and subgenres to consider and this is already a pretty long article. But you can look at your genre and see the types of prettifying (Yes, that’s a word, because I am an author, and am allowed to make up words. ) that you can do/ is expected for your genre. This is where typographofiles (It’s a word, see the above) really shine. But there are a few key points to consider before you go hog wild.

1. Is it appropriate for my genre? As much as you love the filigre fonts often used in fantasy chapter headings, crime thrillers generally don’t leave room for pretty fun fonts like that. Adult fiction books generally do not include chapter pictures. Police procedurals don’t typically use decorative elements to indicate a scene break, despite The Book Designers neat recommendations, it saddens me that they did not address genre appropriateness. 

2. When is too much too much? Yes, there is such a thing as too much, and again, this will vary to some degree from genre to genre. But a good rule of thumb is no more than three elements per page. That means your chapter title, your “regular” font for the book, and your extra frills. Keep in mind, that includes using italics as well as filigrees.

You don’t want to wear your readers out.

True story, I started a book that I found at B2B CyCon a few years ago. It had a great premise, it sounded like a fun fantasy read. In the first page, the author chose an interesting way to tell their story. Each character’s viewpoint was in a different color and font from the other. 5 fonts on the first page. 5 different colors! I didn’t make it to page three, and I LOVE typography!

So do a bit of research before you go crazy. After you do the research, keep something from the e-book example in mind. Not all printers will have all your fun fonts. I learned that the hard way when I did a fun drop case font at the start of each of my chapters in the first run of Elements of a Broken Mind. The proof came back perfect. I LOVED it.

Then I ordered 50 books and they came to me looking like this:

WHERE did the S in Seargent go? That printer who was contracted to do the run apparently didn’t have that font style. And it’s a pretty common font style too. If you decide to do special fonts for the chapter titles or a cool drop down like I did, save yourself the heartache, and just make them into an image. That way, no matter who your printer is, you won’t get missing fonts. Unlike e-readers, they won’t “adjust” for you.

There you go, five formatting tips to bring your published book to the next level. Feeling overwhelmed? You can ask us a question in the comments below. Don’t want to do your own formatting? Contact OWS Chrysalis for a quote today.

Heidi Angell is a bibliophile, lexicomaniac, and wordsmith. When she isn’t writing or reading, she enjoys helping fellow authors on their writing adventures. Learn more about Heidi at www.heidiangell.com

Heidi Angell Heidi Angell is a bibliophile, lexicomaniac and wordsmith. She is the author of The Hunters Series, The Clear Angel Chronicles, and The Hell School Series. She also created Royal Prince Vince, and Creative Exercises to Inspire. When she is not reading and writing, she can be found spending quality time with her lovely family camping, hiking, swimming, or watching movies.

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