Discover the magic of formatting with Microsoft Word styles
Plus writing, grammar, and Word tips
Disclaimer: I have no financial arrangement with Pubslush.com. Rather I have a passion to help writers create the finest books possible, and Pubslush is providing me a platform in its blog to let me encourage writers. All opinions, instructions, and errors are mine and mine alone. (I am republishing it on my site.) Judy Vorfeld, May 2014.
Who’s The Boss: You or Microsoft Word?
Did you know that the way you format your upcoming ebook makes a huge difference in terms of time and money saved? Huge. Of course, good writing is critical, but poorly formatted good writing can create a collage of confusion.
If you’re ready to begin typing your ebook, perhaps I can help. With a strong formatting foundation, you’re well on your way to getting that ebook out to the public.
Note: if you have chosen one publisher (like Kindle) and do not plan to go with any others, then you may not want to learn the style tips I’ve included. However, you’ll find good ebook and writing tips, along with bonus formatting ideas, so it may be worth your time to sift through these posts.
If you want to format an existing book, you may still enjoy this series, but in this series I’m targeting people who are preparing to write an ebook.
And to help you move along so your ebook can be published, I’ll use Microsoft Word. It’s the primary software of choice with publishers. While there are differences between Microsoft Office for Windows and for the Mac, many tips will be similar. I’ll avoid mentioning any specific version of Word, since there are so many. I’ll try to make it easy regardless of which version you use.
We’ll mainly focus on how to format your upcoming book using Word’s “Normal” style as your slave, not your master. For just this one document, you want to set up a Word style guide, and you can always refer to it when you write other books. You modify the styles right in your document. Since you are modifying a document, not a template, all style modifications are just for this document.
Note: Almost everything I say is a generalization. Rules change. Procedures change. Software changes. Even ebooks change. I read using Kindle, and sometimes get notices that one of the ebooks in my Kindle library has been updated. This is a Good Thing. Kindle authors can make changes to their books at any time.
But why plan on that ahead of time? You want the best for your upcoming book! Writers were created for a purpose. So were editors, proofers, and formatters. So was Pubslush. Now you can raise funds for your book and hire a team to help make your book sing!
Try to get a referral for an editor. While I’m an editor, I edit a limited amount of books. People like me do not have competition. We have colleagues. There are many, many excellent proofers and editors available to help authors with their nonfiction, fiction, and ghostwriting.
In order to understand the level of editing you might need, take a look at one of the nation’s finest editors’ organizations, Bay Area Editors’ Forum. Just tuck this information in the back of your mind for later, because it’s time to get started.
Getting Ready to Write
You may be tempted to start out with bells and whistles as you go along … colored text headings, fun fonts of all sizes, and all kinds of exciting, creative things. But why not consider the real reason you are here: your words. Your storytelling. Or your informational work. Focus on essentials.
Consider starting with the basics and think about making things pretty later. You may decide to let someone else do design features, and will have saved yourself a lot of time. Time when you could be thinking up ideas for another book or ways to market this one. Plus, all ebook publishers have their own rules for formatting.
You’ll want simplicity in typing your ebook, so that regardless of which company you use to self-publish, including aggregators, you will already have done the most important basic formatting. This is not the time for publishing glitz, unless your publisher says so.
If you enjoy having your brain spinning with information, visit “Comparison of e-book readers.” Lots of different formats for ebooks. Choose from the publishers that will provide the best opportunities for promoting your book, which include: Amazon.com, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, BookBaby, Lulu, and Smashwords. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a powerful tip.
And remember, if you use Pubslush to help raise funds for your book, they will also promote your book for you. Even while you’re raising funds.
Every space in every Word document is part of a Word style. And in most ebooks, you will want to limit those styles so your editor/proofer/formatter isn’t faced with hours of unnecessary corrections. If you take some time to learn what works best so that basic formatting is your standard (next to superb writing, of course) … your holy grail … you’ll be ahead of the game. That’s why I’m here.
You won’t use many of Word’s existing styles, but you will create your own Word styles. I’ll show you how. I want you to be able to go to sleep at night without despising Microsoft Word and its creators.
Learn how to modify an existing style and how to change parts of a sentence (for example) without modifying a style. In Microsoft Word, Modifying means you change every instance throughout the document. But you can change text here and there without fear of changing an important style.
Because most publishers don’t want a lot of extra paragraph spaces (think hard returns), they encourage authors to create styles that work nicely with a minimum of hard returns.
The best part of this is that once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to create even better documents like proposals, letters, etc. And if someone asks you to review a document, you’ll know that you can figure out certain things by the styles that were used in that document.
How to Talk to Google About Word
Meet another best friend: Google. When you want to know something about Microsoft Word, go directly to Google.
Write something like “Word 2007 delete page breaks” — you’ll get pages of links, and most often you’ll choose a Microsoft link. But it’s so much faster than sifting through Microsoft’s Help pages. (Because you specified a version, 2007, you don’t need to type out “Microsoft.” Google is that smart!)
Example: You may have accidentally checked a box under Word Options, and now the top margin is missing. Officially, you have deleted the white space between pages. If you Google “Word 2003 top margin missing,” you’ll get a quick resolution.
Example: You have just created a long list and realize it would look better alphabetized. Google “Word 2003 sort list alphabetically” and you’ll find many helpful links.
Okay, that’s the principle. Talking to Google saves time and stress. Guaranteed.
Avoid publication sludge. Think generic. Even boring. And above all: flowing text. It must be resizable. Your publisher wants your words to flow in specific devices, which means there are some actions you don’t take in Word, and others that are necessary to change according to the device reading it.
The key to having a good manuscript for your proofer, editor, or formatter is to keep your styles simple. Remember, you are in control. Plain and ordinary is beautiful in the eyes of an ebook proofer/formatter.
However, if you use the space bar at the beginning of each paragraph to indent paragraphs, and mix all kinds of fonts and font sizes throughout your book … your proofer or editor might just say, “Aw, Snap!”
We’re getting close to the nitty gritty. Start your book with one inch margins (Page Layout). But before we go further (Oh no, another delay!), take a look at what to avoid and what may be okay when creating your ebook. These will vary between publishers, so I’m being general, but leaning toward picky publishers. And trust me: you want a picky publisher that insists on showing off your work in its best form.
Things to Avoid When Creating an Ebook
- Blank pages
- Changing character spacing
- Colored text
- Fancy fonts (fine for brief titles & headlines in some documents, but not for ebooks)
- Headers/footers and page numbers
- More than two fonts (you might choose from Arial, Times New Roman, Garamond, Georgia, Helvetica, Verdana…test them out first to see the differences in height, width, and readability)
- Readability trumps everything. Your reader is your main marketing tool.
- Symbols, wingdings, special characters (they may not convert properly in publisher’s final version)
- Tables (okay in Kindle and while typing your book, but you may need someone to convert each to a graphic before submission. I change my document to a PDF, then use a screen capture and create it as a graphic. Plan to do this yourself or include in your budget and hire it done later.)
- Tabs (instead, format by indenting in your book’s Normal style … see Paragraph Styles below)
- Text box (okay while typing your book, but you may need someone to convert each to a graphic before submission. I change my document to a PDF, then use a screen capture and create it as a graphic. Plan to do this yourself or include in your budget and hire it done later.)
- Underlining: These days it’s rarely necessary except in scholarly or scientific articles: bold, italics, font size, and font color take care of essential text formatting, and people expect underlined text to be a live hyperlink. Plus, it’s kind of ugly. (I give it five non-stars)
Things it’s Usually Okay to Include
- Bookmarks (but if you’ve never used them, it may be best to let someone else create them, like your editor/formatter. To get everything right is complicated.)
- Bullets and Numbering: it’s “iffy.” Some publishers now allow them.
- Graphics (you can compress them in Word, which may or may not look good. You can also find someone who uses a program like Picasa, PaintShopPro, or Photoshop to make images smaller without losing clarity, 96 ppi [pixels per inch] is good for Window,s and 72 ppi for the Mac). Most publishers have a strict limit as to the file size of their ebook.
- Hyperlinks (if you know what you’re doing, otherwise best to put the web address in parentheses right next to the name of the website, highlight it, and let someone else, like an editor/formatter, handle the hyperlinking.)
- Page breaks (but good proofers/formatters can create a readable ebook without them)
Usually there are two major Normal paragraph styles for ebooks (excluding children’s books, coffee table books, recipe books, and other specialty books): authors generally use paragraph indent style for fiction and block paragraph style for non-fiction. In this post, we’ll look at these two. Keep in mind that if you write fiction and like block style, that’s your choice!
Note: if you want to create a third style that wastes space and isn’t necessary, you’ll create a paragraph style that has first-line indent and also uses two spaces (hard returns) between paragraphs. Example: FormatNormalStyleFiction-NFiction
Normal Style Paragraph Indent: Fiction
Find your Styles area
Right-click on Normal
Click on “Modify” and then “Modify Styles Box” appears
Choose “Add to Quick Style List”
Choose “Only in this Document”
Move down and click on “Format” then “Paragraph”
Line Spacing: single spacing
Choose 0 Before and 0 After
Choose Indentation/Special/First Line no more than 0.5” or 0.3”
Normal Block Style Paragraph: Non-Fiction
Find your Styles area
Right-click on “Normal”
Click on “Modify” and then “Modify Styles Box” appears
Choose “Add to Quick Style List”
Choose “Only in this Document”
Move down and click on “Format” then “Paragraph”
Line Spacing: single spacing
Choose 0 Before and 12pt After
With the extra hard return eliminated after each paragraph, you’re following the rules of some of the biggest publishers and saving yourself a lot of keystrokes.
Just so you understand, you may need to create your own heading style for chapter and other headings (Acknowledgements, Foreword, About the Author, etc.).
Heading 2 is a good one to modify. Some publishers only allow one heading style per document. This is true of Smashwords, and if you use more than one heading style, its Meatgrinder will spit it out. More time wasted. So just use one heading style for all similar headings, and you’ll be fine. DocumentMiniExample
Grammar Tip: You’ll notice I just used the word “its” with no apostrophe. In this case, its is a possessive, and one of the few possessives in English that does not use an apostrophe. “It’s” (with an apostrophe) means “it is” or “it has.” “Its” (without an apostrophe) means ownership.
Immediately below, you’ll see a sample style for headings.
Now, when you click the little pilcrow that reveals all codes, you’ll see a little square in the extreme left-hand margin that tells the publisher you have a heading style on that line. This is a Good Thing.
Every time you want a chapter title in your new style, just highlight it (select) and click Heading 2 on the ribbon below the Menu Bar (or Styles/Heading 2).
Now you have the two main styles needed to complete the body of the book in a style that will please most publishers.
Changing Styles by Modifying
Once you’ve established your styles, and are well into the book, you may realize that you want to change something in your Heading 2 style: perhaps the spacing below the title. When you click Heading 2/Modify and make the change and then click OK, all the existing Headings in your document that are already in that style will change. Same with any feature within any Word style.
Changing Text Without Modifying a Style
The only time you do a “global” style change in your document’s style is when you click on the style and then click “modify.”
However, you should be able to make many changes, without an impact on any other words or styles, just by highlighting the words and using the buttons on the ribbon. Think bold, italics, aligning a section of text, etc.
If you just can’t manage using styles, all I can ask is that you follow the other guidelines I’ve given you, and keep things simple in terms of formatting. Save all your artistic creativity for your writing so your editor — proofer — formatter can whip right through each designated task. This will ensure your ebook is published more rapidly.
Actually, I will ask you to do something else: hire an editor if you’ve been unsure. Why? Not so I can get business, but so you can conduct your writing process as a real business and recognize the need to have your book carefully reviewed-proofed-edited before publication. So you can take more pride in your work. So you can grow in your professionalism.
Since I not only edit and format books, but am an avid reader, I am well aware of the number of potentially great books out there that have been published before the pregnancy was over. Oh, the errors in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, usage, and formatting! There are reasons that this process takes time.
But I also understand budgets. My sister writes mystery series for kids, and one of her biggest challenges is to find the funds to pay an editor and a graphic designer (for her amazing book covers). I have always had author-clients who battle with budgets, and now they have another option. Crowdfunding for books at .
Yes, authors have raised funds on sites like Kickstarter, which is great, but others have not met their goals on such sites, and it’s understandable. I believe that Pubslush came along at the right time, and by focusing only on raising funds for books, will help authors get a more selective, understanding audience.
But whether you need funds or not, I want to see you rise to the top by recognizing and handling your future book as an unpolished gem worth the trouble it takes to shape and polish it. Please don’t ask your next-door neighbor or best friend to proof it in their spare time. Unless they are professional editors. And if they are, appreciate their value by paying them.
Glossary + Word & Writing Tips
- Back matter: There’s usually an “About the Author” area, and it’s also a good place to invite people to meet you on social media sites. Give your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. addresses. Plus website address and list of other (or future) books. This is where you put your marketing savvy to work.
- Backup: In addition to using Word’s back-up at File/Save, a good way to back up your book is to save it in the cloud. You can do this free by signing up with a company like Evernote.com. Every time you shut down your book file, go to Windows Start and find your file. Right click on the file. Choose “Send to” and choose Evernote.com. There’s a little learning curve, but you can put Evernote on all your devices and access it from any of them, and you don’t have to worry about the integrity of a thumb/flash drive (although there’s nothing wrong with backing up to a thumb drive. Just do both. Your words are worth it).
- Body Text Style: Two Basic Formats (See PDF attachment “Formatting Word Normal Paragraph Styles for Most Fiction and Non-fiction” to see how they look.)
- Bullets: Some publishers, including Smashwords, allow bulleted items, but try to use Word’s bullet styles rather than creating your own.
- Chapter Title Length, and Linking: Many authors prefer having a Table of Contents (TOC). And each publisher has specifications for how to format the chapter title length (if it is lengthy). Some publishers prefer that you link all your chapters to the TOC and the TOC to the chapter titles, but if you’re not experienced at bookmarking and hyperlinking, save this for a professional. Otherwise someone, at some point, may have to undo your efforts. It’s complicated.
- Columns: Most ebook publishers don’t allow columns.
- Copyright Wording: Wait until you’ve chosen a publisher; every publisher has a slightly different format. Sure, make a place for it, but don’t worry about exact wording until later.
- Ebook Readers: Here’s an eye-opener: “Comparison of e-book readers.” Lots of different formats for ebooks. You’ll want to choose from the publishers that will provide the best opportunities for promoting your book, which include Amazon.com, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, BookBaby, Lulu, and Smashwords. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a powerful tip.
- Ellipses: Avoid using Word’s ellipses (three tiny periods crunched together). Instead use Space-Dot-Space-Dot-Space-Dot-Space. This allows for a better-looking break at/near the end of a line without forcing text.
- Figures of Speech: Using Quotation Marks: (FYI: a figure of speech is a word or phrase such as a metaphor, simile, hyperbole, or personification that goes beyond its literal meaning.) Most style guides say quotation marks are rarely needed for common expressions. The only time we need to use them might be for phrases borrowed verbatim from another context (environment, setting) or for terms used ironically. Writers often use “scare quotes” to let the reader know that a term is used in a nonstandard or special sense. But “overuse” can “irritate” the reader, so “watch out!”
- Fonts: Try using only two at the most. Some people will use a serif (squiggly) font like Times New Roman or Garamond for body text and a sans serif (non-squiggly) font like Arial or Helvetica for chapter headings, title, etc.
- Footnotes: Can be complex. Check your chosen publisher’s instructions carefully so they don’t have to be redone by your editor or formatter.
- Foreword vs Preface: The foreward is usually written by someone other than the author and is always signed. The preface, written by the author, talks about the reasons for writing the book, the scope of the book and research involved, and often includes thanks for various types of help in getting the book to the publishing stage.
- Formatting: Bold and italics are fine, but please avoid any underlining unless necessary.
- Front Matter: Kindle says front matter may include “Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication, Preface, and Prologue” — and recommends a title page at a minimum. This is an exhaustive list of front matter, although it is intended more for hard copy books.
- Global Change: When you want to change every use of a word, phrase, punctuation mark, etc., using Search and Replace. You can also do global style changes by modifying an existing Word style.
- Graphics: Most publishers have strict limits as to the file size of their ebook. For this reason, compress your graphics in Word, which may or may not look good. Or find someone who uses a program like Picasa, PaintShopPro, or Photoshop to make images smaller without losing clarity … 96 ppi (pixels per inch) is good for Windows and 72 ppi for the Mac. You’re probably safe to center your graphic, then right click on the graphic, choose “Text Wrapping/Tight.”
- Headers/Footers: since ebooks have no pages, do not use headers or footers. Word has a feature to delete headers and footers.
- Hyperlinks: Some writers understand HTML and enjoy hyperlinking. Most, however, stress out when they think about creating them. If you are at all uneasy, save it for your editor/formatter. In the meantime, temporarily highlight the word/s you want linked and put the URL/Full web address to the right of the word/s and enclose in parentheses.
- Icon Meaning: If, when you’re in the Formatting section (or any section), you don’t know a button’s function, hover your mouse cursor over it and you’ll see an explanation.
- Justification: While Kindle does full justification, many publishers prefer left, so unless you’re planning on just using Kindle, it might be best to start with left (it’s also referred to as ragged right). Example: Smashwords formats for a number of popular readers, including Kindle, and its style guide says it only accepts left justification. Go figure.
- Layout While Typing: Most writers use the View/Print Layout for typing their books. Just remember your book will end up without pages. Here’s a way to keep track of where you and your proofer are: you can temporarily number every line, quick as a wink, and then remove them with one click after editing is done. Use Page Layout/Line Numbers/Continuous, and when done, use Page Layout/Line Numbers/None. Voila!
- Lingo: If trying to understand Internet Lingo stresses you out, bookmark NetLingo.
- Pages in an Ebook: There aren’t any. Think in terms of chapters.
- Page Breaks: Most publishers allow them. Check first.
- Page Layout: Margins of one inch on letter-sized paper.
- Page Numbers: While print books always use page numbering, ebooks do not, since the key word in an ebook is “flow.” They constantly resize as they are read on various-sized devices from iPods and smartphones to desktop personal computers.
- Pilcrow: You click on this icon to choose Word’s Reveal Codes section.
- Quotation Mark Placement: In American English, we end a quotation with punctuation INSIDE the quotation marks. “Like this.” And we only use double quotation marks. In British English, quotation marks are called inverted commas, and they use the single inverted commas more often. A quotation also has punctuation OUTSIDE the quotation marks. ‘Like this’.
- Sorting — Alphabetical: To alphabetize content in your book, highlight the words (each word on a separate line), click Home/Paragraph/Sort/Ascending. Sometimes there’s an AZ icon with a down arrow.
- Spacebar: Fine for moving between sentences, but not for use to create tabs or other indents.
- Style Guide for your Book: Journalists use style guides all the time: Associated Press, The New York Times, etc. It all depends on the audience. Most magazines and journals have specific style guides. Most authors use (or should use) a style guide so they can be consistent throughout the book in terms of capitalization, punctuation, usage, formatting, graphics, protocol, spelling, etc. Consider using Gregg Reference Manual, unless you’re writing something technical, educational, or scientific (such publications have their own style guides). When you’re ready for editing, tell your proofer/editor that you used Gregg (or whatever guide) and need them to edit according to that guide. Or create your own.
- Symbols, Wingdings, Special Characters: Usually not a good idea. Too often they can be misinterpreted during the publication process.
- Table of Contents: Okay to make a place for it immediately before the first chapter: just don’t hyperlink it for now.
- Tables: Often not allowed (Kindle is an exception). You’ll need to convert to a PDF, then screen capture as a graphic. You need someone who works with graphics to help.
- Tabs: Usually not allowed: format paragraphs w/first line indent instead.
- Text Boxes: Probably not allowed. You’ll need to convert to a PDF, then screen capture as a graphic. You need someone who works with graphics to help.
- Text Color: Usually all black is required.
- Text Size: Usually 12 pt for body text, with no more than 18 pt for the book title. Create styles for book title, headings, and body text.
- Typing shortcuts: avoid typing same words/phrases: If you’re going to use the same words and phrases repeatedly in an article or book, consider using Microsoft Word’s Auto Correct feature. Word makes it easy. Example: if you’re going to have Mandy as a key character, assign her name letters or numbers that, when typed, will bring up her name. If you have a lot of busy characters in a novel, you might assign them 111, 222, 333, etc., if you won’t be using numbers a great deal in your book. Type out a little table/form with who belongs to what code and tape it to your monitor.
- Version of Word to Save In: Find Word Options/Advanced/Lay out this document as if created in … gives a number of choices, including Word versions, Word for Macintosh, and some WordPerfect releases. It may be best to save as a Word.doc rather than Word.docx. At this point, some publishers prefer Save As Word ‘97 – 2003.
- White Space is beautiful! As Wikipedia says, “A page crammed full of text or graphics with very little white space runs the risk of appearing busy or cluttered, and is typically difficult to read.” Avoid large, clunky paragraphs or anything else that clutters the reading process.
- White Space Missing Between Pages/Top Margin: If white space is missing between top and bottom page margins in Print Layout View, go to Office Button/Word Options/Display/Show.