Books by Melissa Bowersock

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Formatting for Self-Publishing: Part II

I think we’re all agreed that MS Word is not the most author-friendly software for formatting long manuscripts. It tries, it really does, but sometimes the “automatic” frills create more problems than they solve. However, that said, there are ways to use Word to get the results that you want. I am using Word 2010, which is quite different from the earlier versions, so if your screen doesn't look like the screenshots below, you probably have an earlier version.

Please keep in mind that this is a bare-bones, no-frills walk-through of formatting. Word has a lot more features than I am discussing here, so you can get pretty fancy with it, but for those who are relative newbies to Word or are not terribly computer-literate, this should give you some basic options for making your book look professionally typeset. For basic formatting of your page size, see my earlier blog. Once you have the page format set up, you can attend to the details here.

One thing to remember, though, is that there are no hard and fast rules about a book’s format, and much of it is largely personal choice. If you doubt that, go through a shelf of your own library and check the books there for page number locations, footers, headers, font, chapter titles, etc. You’ll probably find a wide variation. If you see a format that you like, it’s easy enough to use that for your guide and make your book look similar.

That said, please remember also that―as with all things computer―there are 10 ways to do anything. I’ve learned to do these things my way; that doesn’t mean it’s any better than any other, it’s just the way I learned it. Some people are better with keyboard shortcuts or have other ways to do the same thing. All these processes are just options, not the only way.

Page Numbers: There are several ways of showing page numbers. The very simplest is to center your page number in the footer at the bottom of the page. A second, slightly more complex way is to put your page numbers in the header with the odd page numbers (right-handed page) right justified to the outside of the page and the even page numbers (left-handed page) left justified to the outside of those pages. I’ll address that style of page numbers in the section on Headers, below.

To put your page numbers at the bottom of the page, click on your Insert button on the top tab menu (see above), then go to Page Number in the Header & Footer section just below the ribbon menu. You’ll see a small down arrow indicating a dropdown box. Click on that arrow and you’ll get several options for placement: Top of Page, Bottom of Page, and some other items. If you simply move your mouse so it sits on Bottom of Page, another dropdown menu will appear. There you’ll see, under Simple, Plain Number 1, Plain Number 2 and Plain Number 3. These will insert the page number into the footer at left edge (#1), center (#2) or right edge (#3) respectively. By Simple, it just means the page number and nothing more. Below the Simple options you’ll see Page X options, which is just another type of format, i.e. Page | 1 or 1| Page, each with 2 placements, left or right.  See below.

One you have your page number inserted in the place you want it, you can then highlight the page number, click on the Home tab of the top menu and change your page number’s font style and size, if desired. Changing the size or style of the first page number will cause all the page numbers throughout the document to change as well.

Headers: The headers of most fiction books contain either the title of the book and/or the name of the author. You can get more detailed and perhaps show the chapter title or discussion subject, but that sort of thing is more often done in non-fiction or academic works.

Double-click in the area of your header, in the white space above the top line of the page. When you do that, all the text in the main body of your page grays out and you’ll see dotted blue lines that delineate the header (and footer) area for you (see below). Simply click your cursor in the header area to anchor it, then type in the title of your book. If your cursor was not already centered, you can center it by clicking on the center button at the top of the window under the Home tab and in the Paragraph section.

If you want the book title in the header on the right-hand pages and your name in the header on the left-hand pages, that’s easy enough to do. Click on the Page Layout tab on the ribbon index at the top of the window. In the section titled Page Setup, you will see a small arrow in the lower right-hand corner of the section. Click on that arrow to get more options (see below). A dropdown box will appear with 3 tabs. Click on the Layout tab and you will see an area for Headers and Footers, just beneath the Section area. Click on the box next to Different Odd and Even. You may also click the box next to Different First Page and that will remove the header from the first page of your document.

Now that you’ve told Word you want different headers on odd and even pages, you may click on OK and get rid of the dropdown box, returning to your document. Go to the header section of your second page (probably page 2 and a left-hand page of the open book) and type your name in the center of the header. Your entire book will now have the book title on every odd (right-hand) page and your name on every even (left-hand) page.

If you want to have the page numbers in the header as well, you can put them on the outside edge of the respective pages. Using the Insert tab of the top ribbon menu, select Page Number and choose either the left justified or right justified, whichever works for the page you’re on (right justified for the even pages, left justified for the odd). This may wipe out your book title or author name that you’ve already put in, but not a problem. Just move your cursor back to the center of the header area and then type in your book name or author name. As before with the page number at the bottom, you can change the size or font style of your book name, author name or top page numbers simply by highlighting them and choosing different options in the Home menus. Now your document should look something like this:

Footers: Unless you’re going to have a lot of footnotes or references, the footer will primarily be used for the page number, if at all. See Page Numbers, above.

Font: Fonts are styles of type and can range from very simple and straightforward to wildly expressive. There are two basic types, footed and non-footed. Footed means letters with the small jutting edges at the base, like this type (Times New Roman). Non-footed means type without those little additions, like this type (Arial).  It’s generally thought that footed fonts help the eye to flow along the text, those little edges leading the eye from one letter to the next. Again, however, it comes down to personal preference and there are no hard rules about it. You will also notice that, although both the samples above are size 12 type, the Arial looks larger and is easier to read because the height of the lower case letters is taller. As you can see, there are a lot of variables about type. Try several and see how you like them. Below are a few samples of the most widely used.

Times New Roman                                                                 Arial
Garamond                                                                               Verdana
Cambria                                                                                  Trebuchet
Courier                                                                               Calibri

Chapter titles: To number or not to number? The simplest way to title chapters is by far just to number them: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. It’s your choice if you use Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.) or Roman numerals (I, II, III, IV, etc.), or spell out the number (Chapter One, Chapter Two, etc.). Other methods for titling chapters are to give them a brief description (Time Goes On, Murder at Midnight, etc.). I’ve also used dates for chapter titles when the action is continuous and the story unfolds in real time with no large gaps.

Chapter position: Looking back through the books in your own library, take a look at how the chapters start. Do they start at the top of the page? Maybe a quarter of the way down the page? Or halfway down? This is again purely personal preference. I like to start mine about one third of the way down from the top. I think it gives it a cleaner look and for anyone who is flipping through the book looking for the last chapter they read, it’s easy to identify the chapter beginnings quickly.

Drop Caps: Drop caps are usually large, sometimes decorative first letters of a chapter.  (See above.) As with the chapter title, they identify the beginning of the next phase of action and can give the page an elegant look. To add a drop cap, simply highlight the first letter of the sentence, then go to the Insert tab on your top ribbon menu and click on the small arrow beside Drop Cap in the Text section of the menu. You’ll get three options: None, Dropped, or In Margin. Dropped is what you see in the sample above. In Margin means the large capital is not indented as above, but is actually placed in the margin to the left of the rest of the text. If you choose this, you should remember that physical books require a gutter, a bit more white space in the inside margin closest to the spine to make sure the text is still readable where the pages are attached to the spine.

Once you’ve chosen your drop cap, you can then highlight the single letter and change the size, color or font style as you like.

Blank pages: Some books will be formatted so the chapters always start on an odd (right-handed) page. Others will start a new chapter on the immediate page following the last page of the last chapter. I’ve also seen chapters start just a few lines after the ending of the last one (even in the middle of the page), as well. Again, it’s all personal preference, or perhaps in this case, it could be a matter of page count. If you’re trying to keep the page count down, you can opt for one of the space-saving options. If you definitely want your chapters to start on an odd page, you will often need a blank page before it if the last chapter ended on an odd page.

Sections: Sections can be confusing, but they can also be very helpful. In Word, you can create a section in a document anywhere you want, of any length and over any number of pages. Why would you want to do that? There could be several reasons. Your story might be one that combines two narratives, say from two different characters, and you might want to visually show the difference between the two. You could set up different sections for each, with different margins, different fonts, different size type. It would be immediately visible that the story-telling was different from one section to another. Another use is to set your chapters up as different sections in order to take advantage of what we learned above about headers. Setting your chapters as separate sections means that the first page of each section (chapter) will now have the Different First Page option in the Header layout and your chapter pages will not have the header information that the other pages do. This keeps all the chapter pages clean, not just the first one.

To create a section (just one of many ways), go to the last line of your first chapter. Place your cursor beyond the last period of the last line, then go to the Page Layout tab of the top ribbon menu. You’ll see a menu item in the Page Setup section that says Breaks with a small down arrow next to it. Click on the down arrow and you will see a dropdown box of options (see below). The first three options are Page Breaks; the second four are Section Breaks. I’ve found it easiest to choose the Next Page option, starting the new section at the top of the next page (which will be the beginning of your next chapter). This action also combines a Page Break into the mix, which means that if you should happen to reformat your document and choose different margins that lengthen or shorten the page count, the chapter page will always be on a separate page from this last page where you started. I find this keeps the book clean and organized.

Now, after you’ve created the new section, place your cursor inside the new section and anchor it there with a click (doesn’t matter where). Now go to the Page Layout tab of the top menu and click on the little arrow to the right of Page Setup. You’ll get that same dropdown box with the three tabs; click on layout as before and click the box next to Different First Page (and Different Odd and Even if you’re doing that format in your header). Now go to the bottom of the layout box and you’ll see an entry that says Apply to: and has a dropdown box there. Click on the arrow and choose This Point Forward. This is what tells Word that you want this page to be the first page of the new section and therefore the header/footer will be different than the rest, i.e. no header/footer on this page as on the others.

We’ve covered a lot of details here so I hope it hasn’t been too overwhelming. If you have any questions about any of this, leave me a comment and I’ll answer to the best of my knowledge. If you find Word confusing or frustrating, there are a lot of good help forums online and a lot of good after-market books that can walk you through the features. Once you bug out your particular layout issue once, it gets easier next time around.

Happy formatting!


  1. Melissa, this post has been super helpful! Thanks so much!

  2. Glad it was helpful. No sense in each one of us re-inventing the wheel!