Open any traditionally published book and look through the pages. You may not usually pay much attention to things like the margins or the kerning (spacing between letters) or the justification of the text, but imagine if books didn’t have neat margins or had big spaces between words. It would be awkward or even annoying to read. It takes away from a reader’s immersion in the story.
I recently read a book by a fellow self-published author, and the first thing that hit me was that the entire book was left justified. If you don’t know what that means, that’s when all the lines of the manuscript are evenly lined up on the left side only, leaving the ends of the lines on the right jagged and uneven. This is the default for any document in a word processor and is perfectly fine for the writing and editing process. But to publish it in that manner is very unprofessional and, well, lazy. It’s easy to just convert your Word document to a PDF, upload it to Amazon, and click the publish button. We’re all so eager to click that publish button, right? Hold up.
“I’ll just use ‘full justify’ on my Word document and that will be fine,” some might say. Problem is, a word processor doesn’t always space things neatly that way, especially if you don’t use hyphenation settings. This can cause you to end up with big gaping canyons between words, which I might argue is even worse than having it left justified. Imagine reading a sentence and your eyes have to skip over big blank spaces to get to the next word; it totally changes the flow of the story and interrupts the immersion. And this is the last thing you want to have happen to your reader, someone who spent money to read your work. Remember, those Amazon reviews are permanent.
This is why it is important to invest time and/or money in having your book properly formatted, even for ebooks. Though you don’t have control over font and hyphenation with ebooks because each individual device handles that, you do have control over the justification, chapter headings, page breaks, and navigation. It is possible to do it yourself if you are willing to experiment and learn. You can use Microsoft Word for creating PDFs for print, but I don’t recommend this. It is a word processor, not a layout and design program, therefore its features are lacking. Also, it’s a common joke among editors that trying to adjust things like margins or tables or anything other than simple typing in Word could summon a demon, or worse yet, ruin the whole document.
What I recommend instead if you insist on doing it yourself is Adobe InDesign. Yes it’s a bit pricey, but if you want something really nice and professional, this program has everything you need. There is quite a learning curve however, so be prepared to spend as much time learning how to use it as you will be spending doing the actual layout. For ebooks I use Jutoh, which is a pretty easy program to use and not too expensive.
Want your book to look professional but don’t have the patience to do it on your own? I can work with you on creating a beautiful and professional product that readers will think looks just like a traditionally published book. Check out my Interior Book Design service page for more details on what I offer.