Experiments in Publishing Pt. 3: Formatting a manuscript for publication

Last time I wrote about my publishing process, I had handed over the reins to a professional designer who had agreed to format the manuscript. In the end, the designer couldn’t deliver my requirements, so it was over to me to do it all myself! It really was a steep learning curve, but I learned a lot in a short space of time. I would now like to share that learning with you, as it might be useful to anyone who is considering self-publishing a book.

E-book design

Anthropocene Hymnal
The e-book cover design

If you only plan to sell a Kindle e-book, let me save you a lot of heartache right away: format your book in MS Word. Keep the formatting as simple as possible. I spent hours on a beautifully-formatted e-book layout, featuring all kinds of fancy fonts and features, only to find out the formatting was not Kindle-friendly. The MS Word version of my manuscript, on the other hand, worked just fine.

If you take a look at any Kindle e-book, you will notice they all have similar formatting: the fonts and layout are the same whether you are reading The Complete Works of Shakespeare or James and the Giant Peach.

I still have the original e-book I made, which is in EPUB file format. This works on my Apple Books reader, and should work with all non-Kindle e-readers (Kobo, Nook, etc), however, when I tried to upload the design to sell via other retailers (such as Barnes and Noble) the conversion didn’t look right. I may sell the EPUB file privately to those who would like to have a copy in this format.

If you do plan to create an EPUB file (using software such as Adobe InDesign), you should consider whether to make the text ‘flowable’ or ‘unflowable.’ In a ‘flowable text’ format, there are no fixed pages, the text just flows throughout the document. For my e-book, which is composed of poems and graphic elements, the fixed format worked much better, but this format did not convert well when I tried to upload to various retailers. Flowable text formats are better suited to manuscripts which only contain text (a novel, for example). You can always experiment with different file formats until you find the one that works best.

Paperback design

I used InDesign for my paperback layout. This is professional software, but a worthy investment if you care about your book having a professional-looking finish, and you can afford the overheads. I didn’t have a clue how to use the software to begin with, but Adobe have lots of simple tutorials which will teach you the basics in around 1-2 hours. I was very happy with the end result, though it took a lot of time and effort to get it right. For a text-heavy book (such as a novel) you might do fine with a PDF or Word file, but for my poetry collection I believe this design software gave the manuscript a professional edge.

Cover design

In order to publish your book via major retailers, you will need to upload two documents: the manuscript (see above) and the cover. I used Adobe PhotoShop to design my covers. Again, this is a paid-for option, but the Amazon free-to-create covers could not offer me the design I was looking for. Another option would be to pay a one-time fee to a professional book designer. It all depends on what you are looking for, and whether you have an eye for design, plus the time to invest in learning new skills.

Creating the e-book cover was fairly easy in PhotoShop as Amazon specify the file size needed, and you can set up your file according to these specifications. For the paperback, I used a downloadable template from Amazon and layered my cover design on top of this.

What is an ISBN, and do I need one?

Paperback and hardback books need an ISBN. There is no requirement for e-books to have one, though you can add one if you wish. The ISBN is an International Standard Book Number, and you will need one to stock your book in physical shops and libraries. If you plan on doing this, it is a good idea to get your own ISBNs. In some countries, you can buy them from the agency responsible for creating them. In others, such as Slovenia (where I live) you have to apply to the agency, and I found I couldn’t get one as I was not an established publisher. You will also need a different ISBN for each book format (digital, paper, hardback). Amazon offer free ISBNs, but you won’t be able to use this if you go on to sell your book via B&N, for example. I opted for the Amazon free ISBN with expanded distribution, as I believe it would look unprofessional to have the same paperback for sale from different outlets with different ISBNs. I believe this is a good option for a first publication.

Anthropocene Hymnal

If you’re considering self-publishing your work, I hope you found this information useful. It is an exciting and fulfilling process, but it will take a lot of time and creative energy, so be prepared for this before you start. And after you’ve finished, remember that it won’t be time to rest on your laurels, but rather to work on your marketing strategy, as I am doing now! Don’t forget, The Anthropocene Hymnal will be published on Saturday 24 July, and the Kindle e-book is available for pre-order from Amazon. I will be donating all of my royalties to WWF.

35 thoughts on “Experiments in Publishing Pt. 3: Formatting a manuscript for publication

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  1. I love that you share this part of your publishing journey, Ingrid, especially what you used to generate your beautiful design and inner formatting. As I have never designed a book before but would like to, it was refreshing to get an idea of what to expect.

  2. A wonderfully informative article Ingrid…a suggestion .. my mentor/editor at Coffee House Writers advised me to get the Canva app (Free). [ https://www.canva.com/ ] it seems to be quite good, and I use it for my ‘photo sizing’ requiements for my magazines photos ..Cheers

      1. Haha .. I have only had it 2 days, but I’ve already worked out how to my Photo resizing .. The comes with tutorial videos ..

  3. Very thoughtful and informative of you to provide an overview and encouragement for those considering self-publishing. πŸ‘πŸΌ I am looking forward to your marketing post. 😊

  4. Great advice Ingrid. I was all set to go with my first poetry collection two years ago but unfortunately we had a family medical emergency and turned our world on end. It gave me a chance to think and I have gone in a different direction with my poetry and my idea for the book, so I am back at the drawing board. I feel your pain as I struggled with some of the formatting too. I do love Indesign which I have used a lot. I now need to find the time to do something about it 😧. I wish you every success with your book. I can’t wait to see it!

    1. Thank you so much Christine. And I’m so sorry to hear how your plans got derailed. A reminder not to take anything for granted πŸ™β€οΈ

  5. Wow… such a journey. Thanks for sharing all of the ins and outs. Although you gave us the short cut… it still looks daunting but after the first one, I expect the next one will go better.
    And you nailed it on the head……

    The fun had just begun.. πŸ€£πŸ€—πŸŒ·πŸŒ·πŸŒ·πŸŒ·πŸ‘πŸ‘
    Here’s to sales now…πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘’πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

    1. Oh I think publishing some of my own poetry will be β€˜easy’ now πŸ˜… let’s see how it goesβ€¦πŸ€žπŸ€žπŸ€žπŸ€žπŸ€ž

    1. Thank you Cheryl, I hope the book will be a success, if only to raise awareness and get people talking about these issues πŸ™

  6. This will be useful to anyone considering self-publishing. It only reinforces the fact that I don’t have either the energy or the self self-discipline. (K)

  7. Very helpful. Thanks so much for all this information. It is really appreciated. Excited to read the entire book.
    Thanks again for encouraging awareness. Hugs πŸ€— Joni

  8. really appreciate you sharing the process Ingrid … I have the intention to publish an anthology also and donating the proceeds to charity sounds like an ideal way to go!

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