The Word on Formatting

Using Microsoft Word to prepare your book for publication

Gill Fernley

If you don’t have the budget to hire a formatter, but you’re still dying to get your book out there, the good news is that you can do it yourself. And you’ve probably already got the program we’re going to focus on.

Microsoft Word. Most of us have it, and are used to using it. Many of us, however, have discovered how frustrating it is to try and make Word behave itself. You’ll know about the formatting options that you can see in Word on the buttons on the ribbon to add underline, bullet points, colors, and so on. But, Word also has hidden formatting that can play havoc with your beautifully formatted book.

Years ago, I was a technical writer, and the company didn’t have documentation software. All they had was Word. Over years of copying old operating manuals again and again to create new ones for the next job, some extremely odd formatting had crept in. Tables wouldn’t stay on the page we’d put them on, instead sliding halfway down the next. Page numbering would start and stop randomly, and practically needed a preparation month of meditation, or most of a bottle of vodka afterwards. There were random page breaks and section breaks, fonts and formatting that changed from computer to computer, and a host of other problems designed to drive us crazy.

The Show/Hide button? It pretty much shrugged its shoulders and said, “I got nothing.”

If you’ve ever tried to format a book in a standard Word document, I’m sure you can relate to the formatting-induced rage.

Breathe! It’s okay. We’ve got this.

The solution to this nightmare was simply to use a properly put-together template. Once we set up specific templates for the manuals, the time spent completing an operating manual dropped from around three and a half hours to about an hour, with the record coming in at just twenty minutes. That’s the difference a good template can make to your book formatting.

With a ready-made template, such as the ones available from Joel Friedlander’s Book Design Templates (https://www.bookdesigntemplates.com/), it’s simple. Instead of having to change each heading or paragraph individually, if you need to change the font, the size, or any attributes, it’s a case of updating the style once and everything that’s using that style will change across the document.

And if you’re pasting your words into the template and the formatting doesn’t automatically change to fit, press the ‘Paragraph style’ and your words will be neatly justified, in the right font, with a 0.5” first line indent, and 1.5 line spacing, or whatever you need, with just one click.

Your margins will be done for you, the book size is set up, and all you need to do is paste your words in and select ‘Use Destination Formatting.’

Magic? Miracles? No. Just good setup.

Of course, there is a cost with buying a ready-made template, so instead, check out our super cool template creation tutorial here, and find out how to make your own. And if you don’t fancy creating your own, go look anyway, because you can download your very own IAM book formatting template that’s already set up for you.

Once you’ve got busy and finished (or downloaded) your template, start pasting in your book. You can do full chapters at once, but not the whole book as there are different sections set up for front matter, the body of the book, etc., with different formatting.

As you paste each section into your template, select ‘Use Destination Formatting,’ and it should use these styles automatically. If not, just highlight your text, go to ‘Styles’ and click once on the style you want.

If you need to add a new chapter, simply turn on ‘Show/Hide,’ so you can see what you’re doing. Copy and paste your previous chapter’s header, any spacing to keep it the same, and the first couple of paragraphs of sample text, then change the chapter number, right click to paste your book chapter in and click ‘Use Destination Formatting.’ You may need to use your First Paragraph style to make sure the first paragraph isn’t indented, but the rest should drop in nicely. If not, just highlight it and click your Standard Paragraph style. Then at the end of your new chapter, insert another ‘Odd Page Section Break.’

If your page numbers disappear or go out of whack, then go to your headers and footers in the new chapter and make sure ‘Link to Previous’ is selected on the new chapter pages. To add more chapters, do the same again until you’re done.

When you’ve finished pasting your book in, run over the headers and footers in the front and back matter and make sure no header text or page numbers have been added back in. If they have, make sure ‘Link to Previous’ isn’t active in any of their headers and footers, then delete the header text and page numbers.

Also, from this point on, forget that there are any formatting options on the ribbon. Just use your created styles or you’ll end up with a host of styles that haven’t been properly set up, ready to confuse you and add in that dodgy formatting you’ve worked so hard to get rid of.

Pro Tip: Keep ‘Show/Hide’ on. It looks messy at first, but you’ll get used to it, and it will show you if there’s anything there that shouldn’t be, like extra spaces at the end of lines, or extra hard returns and page breaks you don’t need.

Once you’ve pasted your book into the template, go to the Table of Contents page and update the table so it shows all your chapters and sections.

A couple of final tips: If you write your book in your book template, you won’t need to format it later as you’ll easily be able to format as you go. Another thing that’s helpful when writing your book in your book template, is ‘Outline’ view. When you switch to this view, each chapter heading has a plus sign next to it, and every paragraph a circle. If you want to move a chapter to a different place, you can click on the plus sign to highlight the whole chapter, then just pick it up and move it where you want it in the outline. You’ll need to manually change the chapter numbers but that’s all. You can also do the same with paragraphs by clicking on the circle and dragging your paragraph to its new place. Then go back to ‘Print Layout’ view. Everything has been moved to where you want it, and you can carry on writing.

If Word isn’t your strong suit, I hear you. Luckily, you have options: Derek Murphy of CreativIndie has a variety of free, ready-made book formatting templates you can use. Get your hands on them here: https://diybookformats.com/how-to-format-your-book-with-free-templates/. Or, don’t forget, you can download your very own ready-formatted IAM book template here.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

If you’ve ever been involved in a theatre production on the lighting side, you’ll likely have heard the following: “If your audience is looking at the lighting and not the show, there’s something wrong.” And it’s just the same with book formatting.

“The job of the formatting is to disappear and use convention to present the story in a format readers recognize and expect, so they can get right into it without getting pulled out of the story by distracting elements,” says Derek Murphy.

With so many design programs that can create twiddly bits and flourishes, it’s really tempting to use all the things! But with formatting, less really is more. And with a great template and a little patience, it really is possible to do it yourself.

Ready for the big guns on your book formatting adventures? Check out our advanced article on using InDesign or Affinity to format your books, or get in the know with our article on formatting with Vellum.

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