Carla Acheson

Historical Fiction Author

You’ve finished your book and you’re ready to self-publish it.

Are you sure that the layout is up to a reasonably professional standard? I mean really sure?

Did you know that you NEVER indent the first paragraph of a chapter?

“Professionally printed material typically does not indent the first paragraph, but indents those that follow.”

Well, that one tiny detail, (plus quite a few others) let down a lot of self-published authors.

And mainly its because they ‘re never told, or they don’t know. Editors won’t tell you that. It’s the secrets to their job! 

So I decided to share a few tips about this important topic because the subject of professionally formatted manuscripts came up in a thread I was recently engaged in.

I’ve heard self-published authors say, “I wasn’t sure if my formatting efforts were completely up to scratch but I couldn’t afford a proper editor.” Well that’s true, many of us can’t afford the high prices of professional editors but that doesn’t mean you should make a half-hearted attempt. The appearance of your text and layout is massively important and if you can’t afford or somehow connect with a professional editor or reliable freelancer (without breaking the bank,) you need to sit up and pay attention .

Here are some of my tips. (And make a note of them when you do get to this particular stage,) because believe me, even if you have the most amazing book cover or story in the world, a badly formatted e-book, and God forbid – printed book – is going to make your reader blow steam out of his ears.

  1. For print books, get familiar with and compare the different layouts and sizes, here are some good book layout tips.
  2. Check out recommended fonts/most commonly used fonts for both e-book and print book formats. (Find out what the best fonts to use are, and don’t veer too far from this with some fancy whim of being different or unique.) Certain fonts are best for reading in print and others good for reading online. Font choice is a big deal either way to professional editors and they aren’t all free to use. Get some advice here on picking fonts for your book.
  3.  Some editors like to lead the first chapter in with one capitalised letter in a stylised font. Many publishers have a stylistic preference and the style is usually consistent over the entire manuscript, but when editors (and critical readers) open your book and see that your first paragraph of your first chapter is indented; they cringe.
  4. Get out of editing mode and slip on your formatting-research head. This is when you stop actually reading the words but pay attention to how they look. It’s another hat to wear I know. There’s a lot to consider and learn, especially if you want the style and text in your book to reflect your story well.  There are some tips here on Typography, which is the visual style and appearance of your text. Formatting text is something of a huge industry all on its own, and it’s deep.

There are many tell-tale signs whether or not a self-published author has done his or her homework. None of us are experts and we all make mistakes, but surely it’s worth gaining some knowledge in this area if you aren’t going to enlist professional services. You want your book to appear its best right? Don’t feel daunted, you’ll feel empowered by how much you’ve learned during this process, and like me, you can pass on your experience and advice to others.

Remember, many readers can spot amateur mistakes too, and if they can’t easily recognise them they won’t be impressed by some weird looking design.

Have you any formatting tips that you can share here with us?

Here’s some further reading on the subject.

4 Top Formatting mistakes to avoid – The Book Designer

Using fonts legally – Read this if you want to know more about the legalities of using commercial fonts and copyright issues.

The duties of editors – A blog post on the different types of editors within a publishing house and their varying roles.

Preparing your manuscript – An article on the various formatting and design elements.


Carla is a successful historical fiction writer and workshop leader. When her fingers aren’t tapping on piano keys, she’s relentlessly guiding ambitious new writers to the finish line with heaps of inspiring advice and motivational techniques.


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