The Write Stuff: Formatting and Design

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

We are on week 3 of the Write Stuff: Self-Publishing Tools series! I can say from my personal NaNoWriMo experience that it is getting tough but fingers crossed for us all. Now, that we have discussed some options in the publishing world and the audience, it seems like a good time to think about the format and design for your complete work(s) as well as compiling it. I have always been dreaming about holding the physical copy in my hand, bound beautifully and with a dynamite cover design. The actual presentation of the print OR electronic book has a lot more steps involved that we must consider. Let’s take a look at the pieces of the production of the book passed writing the last words.

As discussed in last week’s post for What Readers Want, there is a divide of readership when it comes to medium: print or electronic. It seems that most self-publishers are leaning the e-book route, BUT I wanted to provide some info that influences the formatting and design aspect in this process. For those on the print side of the house, we see the following as problematic for e-books:

  • gifts can feel less meaningful if given as an ebook voucher compared to a selected physical object
  • library loans become complicated
  • sharing good reads with friends is a problem
  • the second-hand market also has yet to be considered (Hall).
Photo by Konstantin Dyadyun on Unsplash

I definitely agree with these criticisms! And per my book review policy, you can see how I feel on that matter. On the other hand, we are seeing a shift in the power of e-books, particularly in the Amazon realm. They are “developing a lending service via subscription so you can borrow books; you can in theory lend a title to another Kindle for a certain amount of time, though it might feel cumbersome. There are also library lending services using open ebook formats. There are, therefore, technological ways around these problems, but the physicality of the print book is part of the reason why some of these issues can never be fully resolved” (Hall). Even e-book partners know the limitations to the devices, but they are taking strides to mimic the print book characteristics as much as they can. With the future of technology, who knows what may be possible! I will probably update my book review policy to reflect that! Let’s see how that affects how self-publishers go about designing, formatting, and compiling their book. 


So you completed your book and are ready to send it to the presses. STOP! You may have seen every word, chapter, and page which is great, but that also makes you biased and blinded from errors, semantics, misspellings, changing voice, etc. Peer-editing is a great resource that opens the author’s eyes to different perspectives and interpretations. Becoming a part of a writer’s group can lend itself to some great constructive criticism that will at least unearth major holes in your work (Curtis). For a more professional, hired approach, invest in a copyeditor to look at your manuscript. A reasonably priced editor and.or designer can range from $1500-$2000 (“What Every Indie Author Needs to Know About E-Books.”). This can get you an overall assessment of the work as well as an unbiased opinion! Regardless, for whomever is editing your work, ask for in-depth edits that explain why certain characters may seem flat or the story arc is not strong (Curtis).  Providing suggestions and the why behind a change will be crucial as well as make you stronger as a writer.

One of my projects for my graduate class was an independent study to showcase I knew how to use Adobe products. Obviously I chose a book-related project and recreated a book cover dust-jacket for Big Little Lies. It took me WEEKS to design including mock-ups and multiple drafts. However, I highly enjoyed the whole process. That might not be the case for authors or potentially not feeling confident in their abilities to create a cover. E-books have a completely different approach when it comes to cover design:

E-book covers need to be simplified from print book covers’…author-designed e-book covers tend to fall short in their use of typography, since it is not an easy discipline to learn, and often suffer from an author’s ‘attempt to squeeze in lots of symbolic representation of plot points or characters, and this rarely works out well (“What Every Indie Author Needs to Know About E-Books.”)

I would probably think about what one message you want to convey in that graphic. As much as we tell ourselves ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover‘, I feel that there is a natural tendency to be more attracted to some titles than others, based on first impressions of the design. This can mean using Canva or a public domain artwork that encompasses the essence of the work. Another avenue is to hire a freelance designer – something I am trying to get into 🙂 – that will be probably a shorter commitment time than a copyeditor.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash


Based on some of the data shared in the What Readers Want post from last week, I am going to spend this section discussing the e-book production process and steps to take. Being in a Digital Publishing course this semester, I never would have thought that I would feel competent about coding and using html period, let alone produce a book out of it! The mark-up and coding lingo took some to get used to as well as know how to execute in the programs downloaded to my computer. Unfortunately, I won’t be going into much detail about how to use these programs as these can be found upon downloading in addition to basic html for e-books (It is much simpler than you think and not comparable to web-coding and programming as you typically imagine it like the Matrix). I feel that it is doable for self-published authors out there that want to go the e-book route.

For those going the DIY route, the manuscript will need to be converted into three documents (assuming you are looking to publish across all major e-book platforms): A Microsoft Word document for Smashwords; a MOBI file for Amazon Kindle; and an EPUB file for other e-book retailers including Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony, and Apple iBooks” (“What Every Indie Author Needs to Know About E-Books.”)

Having these steps already done adds more validity to your work including how seriously you take what you created because you’ve invested even more of your time and resources into it. If done correctly, this helps eliminate other expenses or people from the self-publishing process, getting you closer to sharing your work with the world!

Once the book is marked-up in the programs listed above, readers need to know how to find your book. Enter Metadata! Metadata is an electronic catalog system with all the nuanced information about what you are looking at on the screen that doesn’t necessarily need to be directly in the content or the page. When searching for something of interest online, if the keywords cannot be found in the metadata published, the user may not be able to find what they are looking for. In your metadata, you “should include such key words in the book description as relevant place names, current or historical events, and best-selling books similar to the title being sold” (McCartney). When it comes to readers searching online, metadata increases the likelihood that they will come across your book! 

Photo by Clément H on Unsplash
Photo by Clément H on Unsplash

Who knew all this goes into making a book?!?! Although this may seem like a lot along with writing the book, I feel this sets writers up for success and thinking of what choices will yield the most effective in readership, messaging, etc. Maybe not what you initially signed up for in writing and publishing your own book but useful to know!

What are other formatting and design tips for self-publishers?

Next Up: Marketing

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