How to Format a Book Using Microsoft Word; 11 Actionable Steps

by | Jul 1, 2022

This is a guest post

Self-publishing a book on Amazon, as has been pointed out before, is a great way to build up passive income and support your business.

However, there are several steps that need to be followed in order to have a professional product. Chief among these is book formatting.

There are many ways to format your book, from paid programs to free programs, and even Microsoft Word.

In this article, we will discuss how to format your book in Microsoft Word, either from scratch or from a template, so you can understand all the important elements of a well-formatted book and why they matter.

Format from Scratch or Get a Template?

I’ll be honest with you. Formatting a book in Microsoft Word is a bit hard. Yes, it’s an inexpensive way to go, especially if you already have access to Microsoft Word, which most writers do.

For that reason, a template might be a good place to start, and then you can modify it from there.

See this tool to get a sampling of free templates for Microsoft Word, allowing you to choose between fiction and nonfiction, as well as the many different trim sizes.

how to format a book - templates

Armed with a free template, you’ll find that the below steps are much easier to do, and can build out an even more professional looking book with minimal effort.

But if you need to start from scratch, or your formatting needs are different from the templates listed above, don’t despair. You can do it with a little know-how and the right mindset.

The Difference between Ebooks and Print Formatting

When it comes to formatting a book, it’s a lot different from formatting an essay or blog post. You’re probably going to want to have an eBook and a Print book. For ebook, the file format you will most likely need is an Epub. These files are universally accepted by all markets and are the best file to target.

To format an ePub file, you won’t have to worry about trim size, margins, and font. You do, however, have to worry about linking your table of contents, providing links to anything else that you want in your book, as well as making sure your chapter headings are correct, your images show up right, etc. Later on, I’ll discuss some of the free software that will turn your Word doc into a proper ePub file.

For a print book, you’ll need to take many steps in order to properly format a PDF for printing presses. You’ll need to select your trim size and properly adjust margins and more.

So, in order to ensure you’ve properly formatted your word for PDF export, let’s dive into some of those steps now.

Book Formatting Requirements in Microsoft Word

Most of these requirements relate to the print book, but a few are important to keep in mind for the ebook as well.

Trim Size

The trim size refers to the literal height and width of your book. There are a few standard trim sizes, such as 5” x 8”, 5.5 x 8.5”, and 6” x 9”. However, Microsoft Word will let you set the trim size wherever you need it.

To change the trim size in Microsoft Word, go to the layout tab, click on the size option, and select more paper sizes at the bottom, as seen here:

trim size

Margins

Next, you have your margins on all four sides of your paper.

These can be adjusted from the layout toolbar. You’ll want to look up Amazon’s margin suggestions for your trim size, as it can change.

how to format a book - setting margins

The Gutter Margin

When formatting a printed book, it is especially important to note the Gutter margin.

This is the margin that exists on the inside of your book, closest to the spine, that is a little larger than the other three margins. It is often easy to miss because it alternates from one page to the other, but thankfully Word has a setting for this.

Font

picking out fonts

To start with, pick a standard font and style, such as a 12-point font, and an open source font such as Open Sans or Garamond.

Note: make sure you have the rights to the font you use, as many fonts are actually restricted for commercial use.

Paragraph Settings

how to format a book - paragraph settings

The paragraph settings relate to your indentations, spaces between paragraphs, making sure the lines are not too close together, etc.

This is more of a stylistic choice, but you want to make sure your text is not too dense on the page, and that it is not too sparse either.

Also consider the genre of what you are writing. For example, nonfiction books sometimes put spaces between their paragraphs, whereas fiction never does this. Additionally, books for younger readers tend to have larger fonts and line heights.

Chapter Headings

chapter headings

There are a few things you need to pay attention to when formatting your chapter headings. First, make sure you use a page break after the end of the last chapter, so that your new chapter starts on the next page.

Next, make sure you are using headings rather than just larger fonts. This will help Microsoft Word to know how to structure your table of contents.

And speaking of which…

Table of Contents

how to format a book - table of contents

Once you have all of your chapter headings ready to go, it’s time to develop your table of contents.

You will then need to navigate to the references tab and click on table of contents. Run through the settings there until you get a style that you like.

Table of contents can be a little tricky, especially if you want page numbers for them, but if you have done your headings right, half the work is already done.

Headers and Footers

headers & footers

To insert your headers and footers, go to the Insert tab and look for a section that says “Header”. Click on that and you will see a drop-down that lets you choose the header style.

For the footer, you only need page numbers. But this is complicated by the fact that you don’t need page numbers on your title page, table of contents, etc.

To do this properly, go to the first page of your actual novel, after all of the front matter, then go to the Layout toolbar and find the Brakes tab. Here you can find a “Section Break” which is different from a page break. Add this after the last page of your front matter, and before the first page of your novel.

how to format a book - section breaks

Next, go to the first page of your actual book, where you want the page numbers to start, and double-click on the bottom margin.

You should then find the page number button, which will give you another drop-down menu. You can then select whatever style you like.

Front and Back Matter

Every book usually has front and back matter, these include things like the copyright page, the table of contents, an afterword by the author, and an “Also by” page.

There can be different requirements for each of these, so it’s important to understand each of the different parts of a book before you start. I recommend this article.

Check Your Work

I cannot stress enough how important it is to double and triple check your work before you create the final versions of your formatted book.

This isn’t just regular grammar and spelling issues, but instead, is about things that might have happened to your book after formatting the above. Taking some of the steps we discussed, things could shift around. Therefore, it is important to check your book and ensure it looks good, both grammatically and visually.

Here are some of the common issues you should look for when doing a final check of your work:

  1. Look for widows and orphans: this is where a stray line in a paragraph starts the first page, or the first line of a paragraph starts at the end of a page. To learn more about them, check here.
  2. Check for properly formatted dialogue: There are many rules to formatting dialogue and you need to check that each is followed in case your book has it.
  3. Check Hyphenation: Sometimes words might not be hyphenated and this can throw off the look of a paragraph or drag on, in case the program didn’t catch it.
  4. Shift in Point of View: In fiction, this can be the mistake of writing the wrong tense or style and the Character’s point of view, or POV, shifts from a single, to second and or third POV. To learn more about that, check here.

Convert to the Appropriate Files

Like I discussed above, if you are converting to an ebook, you’re going to want an EPUB file.

If you are formatting for print, you will want a PDF file. Thankfully, Microsoft Word makes it very easy to export to a PDF.

However, to convert to an ebook, you will need an external program. You can find these online or use a program like Calibre or Kindle Create to convert it to an EPUB.

But if you want to make it even easier, you can use a designated formatting software designed for this, which should automatically generate the appropriate files.

So let us discuss a few of those.

The Best Book Formatting Alternatives

While Microsoft Word is a powerful program, and can absolutely format a book, there are other programs designed to make this much‌ easier.

For example, Microsoft Word does not export to ebook formats, lacks any kind of automation for trim size, margins, headers, page numbers, etc., and it is next to impossible (requiring highly advanced skills) to add full-bleed images. And that’s just a sample.

Other programs are designed to make this easy, especially the paid options. For example…

The best paid alternative: Atticus

how to format a book - atticus

Atticus is an all-in-one writing and formatting tool that will not only automatically take care of everything I’ve listed above, but will also generate all the files you need to publish your book on Amazon or elsewhere. Plus it’s available on all platforms, including Mac, Windows, Chromebook, and Linux.

It only costs $147, and while there are other options out there, they can run closer to $250.

Pros of Atticus:

  • Trim size, margins, headers, page numbers, etc. are all automated and can be changed with the click of a button (without having to look up all of Amazon’s requirements
  • It has a robust chapter theme creator, allowing you to customize titles, subtitles, chapter numbers, images, and even full-page image spreads
  • It supports embedded images and full-bleed images easily
  • It is a multi-functional tool that lets you write a book as well as format it
  • Extremely easy to use
  • Available online and offline
  • Available on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Chromebook
  • Affordable pricing compared to competitors
  • Can create ebook and printed books

Cons of Atticus:

  • Not built for more complex layouts like magazines (for which you’d need Adobe InDesign)
  • Still working on some features

The best free alternative: Kindle Create

kindle create

There are few good formatting programs that are free, but if we could pick one, it would be Kindle Create.

Kindle Create was developed by Amazon itself, and while it is severely lacking in advanced features that you can get with Microsoft Word or Atticus, it can do a basic job, and will output the files you need. As long as you don’t have any fancy requirements for your book, you can get by with this program.

Pros of Kindle Create:

  • Free
  • Easy to use
  • Can create ebook and printed books

Cons of Kindle Create:

  • Doesn’t have a chapter theme builder
  • Only exports in Amazon-compatible files
  • The finished look seems cheap
  • Only suitable for extremely simple books
  • Limited customizable options
  • Only works well with Amazon

A Little Effort Goes a Long Way

Formatting is one of those things that few people think about, but everyone notices when it’s bad.

For that reason, putting in a little effort to get the formatting right is important.

The easiest and most economical way of doing it is to get a dedicated formatting program, but you can absolutely do it with Microsoft Word, and doing it there will actually educate you in all the best practices for formatting, knowledge that will come in handy no matter what book and business ideas you have.

But whatever you do, be sure to check your work, and don’t cut corners. Even a small mistake can pull the reader out of your book.

Dave Chesson is the creator of Kindlepreneur.com, a website devoted to teaching advanced book Marketing which even Amazon KDP acknowledge as one of the best by telling users to “Gain insight from Kindlepreneur on how you can optimize marketing for your books.” Having worked with such authors as Orson Scott Card, Ted Dekker and more, his tactics help both Fiction and Nonfiction authors of all levels get their books discovered by the right readers. He’s also the founder of Publisher Rocket, a book marketing software, and Atticus.io, a book writing and formatting software.

Please share with anyone you think this might benefit. Thank you 🙂

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