book formatting

Book Formatting Mistakes

Ann O'Brien

November 7, 2022

Getting every detail of your book just right will make it look great so your readers can focus on the compelling characters you have created, the creative details that make your novel stand out, the skilled way you turn a phrase, or the gorgeous photography included in your nonfiction book. The way your book looks, also called the book formatting, is something that should not draw your reader’s attention to it so they will focus on the book’s contents. But authors often make noticeable book formatting mistakes that readers will notice, taking attention away from the book itself. So let’s look at the 10 most common book formatting mistakes to avoid while writing your next book along with easy ways to fix each one.

Why Book Formatting Correctly Matters

While books do not have to share an identical format, there are some formatting issues that cause readers to pause a little bit while others make the editing and revising process more challenging for the author. Most authors would agree that they don’t want any aspect of a book’s formatting to take the spotlight off of the book itself. So tweaking the format to match reader expectations is reasonable as long as it doesn’t impact the actual contents of the book.

But writers may balk at a perceived formatting change that might affect their own editing and revising process, because that’s what revising is for, right? Wrong. Seasoned writers, and especially self-published authors, will tell you that small adjustments you can make while you write that save time during the polishing phase of your book will be worth the effort. Not only will they allow you to move more quickly into the publishing phase, but they will also make the revising and formatting of your book much simpler (see reason #4).

1. Apostrophe Misuse

Punctuation mistakes are not something you want to slip by during the editing process, but authors who make this all-too-common writing error can quickly lose credibility with their readers. Knowing the rules about when to use this tricky punctuation will make the editing process go much more smoothly.

  • To Show Possession
    Sample Sentence: The little boy’s hair ruffled in the wind.
    Rule Explanation: hair belongs to the boy
  • To Indicate a Contraction
    Sample Sentence: She decided to go to the movies tonight because she couldn’t go tomorrow.
    Rule Explanation: combined could and not so apostrophe takes the place of the missing letter “o
  • Its vs It’s
    Sample Sentence: It’s wonderful to see the restaurant filling its tables every night with excited customers.
    Rule Explanation: It + is = contraction; its shows possession without an apostrophe as an exception to the rule

2. Confusing Blocked and Indented

The paragraphs in books can be formatted one of two ways: using an indentation or space at the beginning of each paragraph or with a paragraph that begins directly at the left margin and uses a horizontal blank line as a break between paragraphs.

When to Use Blocked Paragraphs

Blocked paragraphs are typically used with nonfiction books. The thinking behind using blocked paragraphs is to provide a visual and mental space between content-heavy sentences. Since the purpose of nonfiction books is to impart information to the reader, the blocked style that necessarily includes this horizontal blank line between each paragraph provides the reader a little mental breathing room between ideas.

When to Use Indented Paragraphs

Novels and nonfiction books that are told in a narrative style, like memoirs or historical fiction, utilize indented paragraphs. An indent is simply five blank spaces placed before the first word of a paragraph. And, books using indentations do not need additional spacing of blank lines between paragraphs since the indentation is meant to simply indicate a new idea is forthcoming without interrupting the flow of the story.

3. Forgetting about Cover Formatting

An author’s creativity may extend beyond the book’s contents to the cover of the book. But the cover should follow the general guidelines for that specific genre so potential readers will know what to expect with a glance at the cover. Using a cover design expert can help authors make sure that not only their book reflects their genre and themes correctly but also that the cover includes critical elements like an ISBN number or bar code that will help retailers sell the book.

4. Hitting the Enter Key Too Often

One of the common book formatting mistakes is simply when an author uses the Enter key too often in the writing process. Using this keyboard staple will move the cursor to the next line on the page, but when it is used to create blank lines when you want a new page, you will be creating a bigger headache for yourself later. Using the Enter key repeatedly will place blank spaces on that page that will remain when you are editing your manuscript. These spaces can be problematic when you are adding or subtracting content or pages or creating chapter elements.

What To Do Instead: Use the Page Break function to end a page and begin at the start of a new page.

  • On Microsoft Word: either press Control + Enter or use the dropdown menu at Insert>Page Break
  • On Mac: press Command + Enter
  • On Google: use the dropdown menu at Insert > Break > Page Break

5. Incorrectly Formatting Titles

Some authors attempt to quickly format titles and subtitles for their novels or nonfiction books by simply switching to a larger or smaller font or font size for the additional words. But this strategy results in difficulty in finding those chapter title pages when the book’s contents swell to 20,000 or more words.

What To Do Instead: Use the Styles feature of your word processing program to create the title as a header1 or header2 for subtitles and then highlight them to assist in quickly finding them later. Putting the chapter titles and subtitles into header format also allows you to gather them quickly into a file of chapter names for a Table of Contents page.

  • On Microsoft Word: “Styles” under the “Home” tab
  • On Mac: “Styles” under the “Home” tab
  • On Google: In the “Text” box, between font and zoom

6. Over Hyphenating

Another punctuation misstep that authors often make is with the hyphen. Writers sometimes mistakenly use an unnecessary hyphen to join two words that together have a distinct meaning. For example, toothpaste does not require a hyphen. The rules regarding when to use a hyphen are easier to remember.

  • Use a hyphen with numbers: twenty-nine and ninety-two
  • Use a hyphen with adjectives (words that describe a noun): pinkish-red shirt or under-reported news
  • Use a hyphen to join multiple words that make one idea: over-the-top or empty-handed

7. Using Quotation Marks

While many writers choose to use their own impactful writing style, books that overuse quotation marks can make an author appear immature or worse, their use may confuse the reader. Common expressions do not need quotes. As an option, some authors may choose to place a word or phrase in italics instead. Use quotation marks when:

  • You use the exact wording of another person or another text (and don’t forget to credit the person or text!)
  • To set off an ironic phrase so that the reader will catch the tone and intended meaning

8. Using the Tab Key to Indent

Using this built-in function creates too-large paragraph indentations that throw off the overall book formatting and can needlessly add extra lines and pages to your book. Instead, use the Paragraphs setting on your page format on both Windows and Mac by going to Home/Layout >Indents and Spacing>First Line. Choose a size of the indent for your page by experimenting with sizes or even copying the look of a book you like.

Fixing an Already-Tabbed Format in Windows and Mac:

  1. Open up the Find and Replace feature
  2. Insert ^t in the Find search area to locate every instance of tabbing
  3. Leave the Replace search area blank
  4. Hit Find/Next until each is completed (double check them as you go in case other uses of the tab key pop up)

9. Using Too Much Spacing

Modern typesetting only uses one space after a period. Remove the double space after a period in the same way that you removed tabbed formatting.

10. Doing it All Yourself

New authors don’t have to go it alone! You can use free or paid formatting software to help you avoid these common book formatting mistakes to save you stress and editing time later on.

Self-Publishing Your Book

When your book is beautifully formatted, it’s time to partner with a trusted printing professional like Publishing Xpress. Authors who print their books with Publishing Xpress can use their design experts to craft the perfect cover so their book will be ready to sell as soon as your books arrive. Because becoming a self-published author is not just about telling your story, it’s also about making sure you get the books into the right reader’s hands.

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