How to Format Your Book to Streamline the Editing Process

February 27, 20216 min. Read

Did you know that your Palmetto editor is also working towards getting your book ready for formatting? The editor won’t create a print-ready layout like a graphic designer does, but does prepare your Word document so your book’s interior can be designed for print without a glitch. This involves looking at nonprinting characters (explained below) and making sure fonts, spacing, and font sizes are consistent, among other elements.

This is all part of an editor’s job, but there are also benefits to writers learning a little about how to use and simplify document formatting options. Not only can it save your editor time so we can keep our focus on your actual writing, but it also saves you time. If you’ve ever hit the space bar twenty times in order to line up your text or spent hours choosing your chapter title font, read on!

And even if you haven’t purchased editing for your book, your formatter will have to perform all the same formatting steps an editor would before your book can begin layout for print.

Familiarize yourself with these three elements to streamline your editing and formatting and how to edit a book to save yourself time and hassle!


1. Avoid Multiple Fonts and Colors

I know, I know, it can be a lot of fun to experiment with colored text, fonts, and font sizes—but we can’t translate them directly from a word processing document into your book’s interior layout. Your document has to be mostly a blank slate (other than the text, of course) before it goes to formatting with a graphic designer. This means it should all be in the same font and font size with black text color, including chapter headers.

If you’ve chosen a custom interior package, this is where you get to make decisions about fonts, for example, that will show up in your final printed book.

Also, don’t worry about formatting your title page, table of contents, or anything that isn’t in paragraph form. These will also be taken care of when graphic designers format your book’s interior. When in doubt, keep it as visually simple as possible.

2. Avoid Multiple Hard Returns and Spaces

What are these terms referring to? A hard return occurs when you push the enter or return button on your keyboard. It is a paragraph break that takes your text automatically to the next line. A hard return should be used only when you want to start a new paragraph rather than at the end of every line of text.

Occasionally, if you are indicating a new section, for example, you will need two or three hard returns in a row; otherwise, a page break should separate chapters, or any images or tables you want to appear on their own separate page, rather than multiple hard returns. You can search your word processing help to find out how to insert a page break and create a shortcut to this tool in your toolbar.

Spaces are even more familiar: pushing the space bar creates a space between words. There’s never any reason to have two or more spaces in a row. The industry standard is now to use only one space following a period, rather than two, and the space bar should not be used to move text to the middle or right margin of the page. In step 3, we’ll discuss two easy tools you can use instead.

Hard returns and spaces are called nonprinting characters, and they will not be visible in your printed book. However, you can choose to see representations of these invisible characters in your document if you turn them on. To do this, simply Google “how to turn on nonprinting characters” and the name of your word processing application (for example, Microsoft Word). You can also search your word processing help to create a shortcut for your toolbar to turn these on and off in your document.

Here is how these characters are represented:


3. Learn to Use Margin Rulers and Alignment instead of Tabs.

The tab button indents your text. Here is the nonprinting representation when you push the tab button:


Many authors use a tab to indent a new paragraph. Alternatively, you can insert an extra hard return between paragraphs. Your editors or formatters can work with both; however, we will replace both types of formatting by creating a universal indent for your document.

To do this, we will adjust the margin ruler at the top of your word processing document.


If your document doesn’t show a ruler, you can use the application help or a Google search to learn how to turn it on. We will set the indent automatically to 0.5.


It is easiest to set this indent before you begin a new document; then each time you push the hard return button, your paragraph will automatically indent. If you are applying the indent to an existing document with text, you will need to highlight all text by using Select All in order to apply it to every paragraph simultaneously.

Multiple tabs should not be used to indent text or move it to the center or right margin of the document. Instead, use your alignment tool to choose either left, center, or right justification. This simply means that your text lines up on the left or right margin of the document or is centered in the middle of the left and right margins.


Here is an example of left-aligned text

Here is an example of indented text. When you continue the paragraph, it will revert to left alignment, as you can see here.

This text is centered

And this text is right-aligned.

If you take the time to implement these three simple steps, you will find that you quickly get familiar with them and can spend more time writing! Remember, at the word processing stage, what your manuscript looks like doesn’t matter; it’s your content that is the focus!

Then, once your book has gone through the editing process, Palmetto’s graphic design team will do interior formatting, with custom and ebook options, to create a professional, print-ready interior layout for publication.

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