Formatting a Novel for Print

Printing your novel is hands-down THE most magical experience when it comes to writing. The joy I felt when my first book was delivered to my mailbox…that’s a feeling I wish everybody could experience in their life. It really makes the journey of drafting, editing, etc. worth it.

I’m not gonna lie. Formatting for print is one of the most arduous steps in the bookwriting process–but that’s only if you haven’t planned ahead. I had to learn everything the hard way…twice…and I’m putting down everything I learned so you can save yourself some headaches.

This guide touches upon steps you should take in drafting & editing to format your book before loading it into Blurb Bookwright for publishing.

I used Blurb Bookwright to publish my two for-fun novels. It’s easy to use; it works for novels, magazines, photobooks, etc; and it provides you with a free ISBN code & outlet to distribute your book. More info on Blurb in the next post.

Writing the Book: Plan Ahead!

Following these pre-steps while writing your manuscript will save you a lot of time in formatting. Plan ahead and stick to the following rules while you’re drafting and editing.

If you’ve already written your book, don’t worry–you can still go back to fix incongruences. It’s what I had to do, and while it’s time consuming, it’s 100% possible.

Remember These When Writing

  • Fiction novels are typically set at 1.15 spacing with no space after a new paragraph. (If needed, research suggestions for other genres.)
  • Fonts are flexible; find one that you like. Warning: Times New Roman can be boring. Different genres have different fitting fonts. Garamond, for example, is good for mysteries.
  • Most published works use Justified alignment to create clean lines on both sides of the page.
  • Write on a program that has a Find & Replace feature.
  • Indent every paragraph in some way. I like to use the Tab key or a double space. Whatever the case, make sure all paragraphs are indented consistently. You can change your indent style later on, all at once, with the Find & Replace tool. (The same goes for all other format details. Find & Replace was my best friend through this whole process.)
  • Use headers for titles of sections. I made the mistake of simply making new chapters boldfaced, and they ended up blending in with the rest of the words. When you create a new chapter or title, format it to Header–there’s an option to do so in the toolbar of all good writing programs. Programs like Google Docs and Microsoft Word will create outlines based on your headers, and you can click on outline items to jump immediately to headers. If you ever need to reach chapters and other sections (whether to change their alignment, font, size, or spacing), they’re just a click away!
  • That being said, make sure to format all headers the same. Don’t write “Chapter 1” and later on title something “Chapter Seven.” Either label them all with numbers (Chapter 1, Chapter 2), or label them all with words (Chapter One, Chapter Two). Even if you are giving your chapters names, it’s still a good idea to number them. (Ex. Chapter 1: Into the Unknown). You can always delete the number label after, but it’ll make things easier for finding/organizing.

**VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: A lot of books indent chapter headings vertically. See what I mean in these two different versions of The Farm Story and Lake Lelillo.

Having the title flush with the text on the next page creates a cluttered, rushed feeling.
I might have been better off putting the picture above the text and buffering the chapter header a little less. Either way, it feels less stifled than the other example.
This slight indent emphasizes the new chapter just enough.

Even the slight indent on Lake Lelillo makes the page look more professional. Symmetry between the space above and below the chapter heading is pleasing to the eye. We’ll call these blank spaces “buffers.” In your word processor, add a suitable buffer below your header. Don’t yet worry about adding a buffer above it–you can deal with top margins when you format pages individually on Bookwright. This is because pages and margins look different on your word processor than they do on Bookwright.

Note: Adding header buffers may throw off existing page breaks. No worries! Just jump to your headers and correct your wonky pages.

  • Format all text separators the same. A lot of times, when I’m switching to new scenes/installments, I’ll throw in a hasty line. It could look like —————, or ~ ~ ~, or ~~~~~~, or – – -. Stick to one style for all separators, and it’ll be a breeze to Find & Replace them all at once, whenever you want to. Randomize them, and you have to scroll through the entire book and change each one manually.
  • PAGE BREAK ALL NEW CHAPTERS. DO NOT USE SPACES OR THE ENTER KEY TO CREATE NEW PAGES. This is writing basics 101. Each writing program has a different way of dealing with blank spaces, but ALL of them know what Page Break means. You can insert page breaks from the Insert tab of most writing programs. On Mac, Command+Enter automatically makes a page break.

It’s Never Too Late to Change

If you’ve already written your manuscript and you have a lot of little details to fix, it’s not too late. I had to scroll through The Farm Story and Lake Lelillo a million times to fix headers, chapter titles & spacings, fonts, alignments, and all that good stuff. The nice part was that I gained a lot of love for my project, but the bad part was the time-consuming aspect.

Unfortunately, manual scrolling mixed with any possible opportunity to use the Find & Replace tool is the only way to fix those formatting issues. It’s not as arduous as it sounds, and once you get in the zone it’ll be over within a few hours. This is the best order to work in:

  1. Change your entire script to Justified alignment. This will uncenter your headers and section dividers, so be warned.
  2. While you do that, change your text body size, font, and line spacing. Simply select all and make necessary changes. This will affect your chapter titles, but you’re about to fix those in the next step.
  3. Scroll through and change chapter titles to Headers. You should also recenter them, correct their size, font, and so on.
  4. Scroll through and fix all section dividers.
  5. Fix all indents.
  6. Add your buffers below headers.
  7. Insert/finalize page breaks.

Before I move on to the next phase, here’s your Step 1 Checklist:

  • 1.15 spacing/congruent spacing throughout
  • Congruent paragraph alignment & congruent header/chapter alignment
  • Consistent indents on all paragraphs – EXCEPT for headers (indenting headers/chapter titles will put them off center in Bookwright).
  • Titles and chapters converted to matching Headers for easy access
  • Consistent scene separators
  • Add buffers below headings
  • Page breaks wherever necessary
  • Spellcheck & finish all necessary edits
  • **Don’t worry about creating a title page, a table of contents, a dedication page, etc. on this manuscript. Your first & last page should be the start & end of your body of text.
  • **Blurb doesn’t let you load pictures from a text file. Pictures will have to be added manually in the Bookwright formatting phase.

Preparing for Bookwright

Save your completed manuscript in Rich Text File (.rtf) format. In the upcoming guide, I’ll give you a tutorial on Bookwright. (It’s completely free to download and use–hoorah!)

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