Book formatting is an art. And it’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. That is, some people like to have a bit more hands-on control over their book formatting. Others just want beautiful eBooks and print books with minimal monetary and time investments.
But with all the book formatting options out there, how do you know which one is the best? Well, your friend Sam is here to help you figure that out.
Spoiler alert: Atticus is the best. It’s the cheapest, simplest, and does the most. You can look it up here.
But for those who want a more detailed breakdown: join me as I look at six different book formatting software options — both paid and free. I’ll make my own recommendation, but I will also provide you with enough information to decide on the best book formatting software for you!
We’ll take a look at the following:
- Microsoft Word
- Kindle Create
The Best Overall Book Writing and Formatting Software: Atticus
Atticus is my recommendation for the best overall formatting software. Since it also doubles as an excellent book writing tool, there’s a lot to like about this app. Atticus creator Dave Chesson set out to make an app that’s the perfect combination of Google Docs, Scrivener, and Vellum. And he did!
But since this article is about formatting, I’ll highlight those particular tools of this book writing software. It’s got a ton of features, but this doesn’t make the tool overwhelming. In fact, the simple and intuitive interface made me feel like I’d been using it for months the first time I tried it! Atticus works on all major operating systems, and it has more pre-made book template options than any other tool on this list. You can use it online or offline, and its customization options are fantastic. Plus, you can preview your book before you ever export it.
- Pre-made book formatting templates
- Pretty much everything is customizable
- Preview exactly how your book will look in print and on various devices
- Easy-to-use interface
- Reusable themes and elements
- Full bleed capabilities for pictures
- Large print options
- ProWritingAid Integration
Atticus is super easy to use. Once you upload your manuscript document, it doesn’t take long to generate your eBook or print book files. It’s intuitive and powerful without being overwhelming.
Price: Atticus is only $147 for lifetime access and unlimited book formatting!
(You can see my more in-depth Atticus review here.)
- Easy to use
- Available on PC, Mac, Linux, and Chromebook
- Use on your browser or in the app
- Cloud-based storage so you never lose your work
- Drag-and-drop chapters
- Pre-made front and back matter templates
- Lifetime access for $147
- Unlimited eBook and print book formatting
- Use online or offline
- Doubles as a word processor
- Includes goal-setting features
- Better tools for nonfiction writers
- Create box sets easily
- No editor collaboration yet (coming soon)
Most Familiar: Microsoft Word
While MS Word isn’t designed strictly for book formatting, most writers use it already, so it’s worth talking about. You can absolutely use this word processing software to format both your eBooks and print books.
However, MS Word generally takes a bit of effort to format a beautiful-looking book. The things that these other formatting tools do automatically could take some trial and error on Word if you’ve never formatted with it before.
Price: If you don’t already have Word, it costs $159.99 for lifetime access, or $6.99 a month for Microsoft 365 suite, which includes Word. You can also get an online-only version of Microsoft Office for free.
MS Word Features:
- Includes book templates you can use
- Collaboration and commenting
- Plenty of information online if you get stuck
If you already write in Microsoft Word, you may want to try formatting your book there first and see how it goes. For a great-looking book, I’d suggest finding a template that’s to your liking and using that.
Microsoft Word Pros
- A familiar book writing software
- You may already own it
- Plenty of options for customization
- Lots of free templates available online
Microsoft Word Cons
- Can be time consuming
- Not designed for book formatting
- Some print-on-demand companies won’t accept MS Word’s PDF format
- No preview option for various devices
Runner-up (MAC ONLY): Vellum
Vellum is a great formatting tool for Mac users. Although a little on the expensive side, it is the favorite of many an indie author. People like this tool because it’s designed expressly for eBook and print book formatting. It has eight pre-made templates and some customization options.
Vellum is easy to use, plus it has capabilities like parts and volumes, which allow you to make box sets. The quality of the books produced in Vellum is unparalleled by every other tool on this list, except for Atticus. You can use it for free until it comes time to export your files, then you can pay if you want to!
- Volumes and parts for box set creation
- Reusable elements
- Pre-made templates
- Preview mode
- Some design customization
If you have a Mac and you want to give Vellum a try for free, I’d say go for it! If you find that you like it, be prepared to shell out a bit of cash. In fact, it’s the most expensive option on this list!
Price: There are two price tiers with Vellum. For unlimited eBook creation only, you’ll pay $199.99. For unlimited eBook and print creation, you’ll pay $249.99.
- Great quality
- No monthly subscription required
- Easy to use
- Free trial
- Good for creating box sets
- Create eBook and print files for every platform
- Only available on Mac
- Different prices for eBook and print book creation
- Formatting only, no writing features
Ideal for Novel Writing: Scrivener
Scrivener has long been on lists of the best book writing software for its organizational powers. Those who like to take meticulous notes and outline their novels swear by this book-writing software. And while writing is where the bulk of its power lies, you can also format your books with Scrivener.
Using this tool’s Compile feature, you can export an EPUB, MOBI, or PDF file. And if you already use Scrivener for your writing, you’ll probably be comfortable using it for your formatting too! It’s not as intuitive as tools like Atticus, but it will get the job done. Luckily, there are plenty of tutorials online to guide you through the formatting process inside this powerful book-writing software.
- Customizable formatting options
- Default formatting setting
- Customization of title page, back matter, metadata, and front matter
- Formatting templates available
- Ability to export several file types
Although there’s a bit of a learning curve with Scrivener, many authors love the software. It’s available on PC, Mac, and iOS. Plus, it’s good for editing and perfecting your book layout. So if you’re a writer that doesn’t mind investing some time into learning a new tool, check Scrivener out!
Price: Scrivener is available for a one-time payment of $49 for Mac and PC. It’s only $19.99 for iOS.
- A formatting and book writing tool
- Great for outlining, organizing, and editing
- Available on Mac, PC, and iOS
- No monthly subscription required
- Comes with a significant learning curve
- Limited options for formatting
- Made for writing more than formatting
Best Free Option: Kindle Create
Kindle Create is the free formatting tool that Amazon offers for those using Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. While this is mainly a formatting tool designed for eBooks, you can also use it to format your print book files, too. However, it’s not possible to use the eBook file you create on Kindle Create with other platforms.
Since Amazon KDP is the go-to market for most indie authors, this is a minor consideration. But if you’re planning on “going wide,” you’ll need to find some other way to format your eBook files for other online stores.
Kindle Create Features:
- Format your Word document
- Create front matter, back matter, and chapters
- Move chapters
- Table of contents creation
- Choose a theme
- Preview your book
Like other free tools Amazon provides, this one is adequate but not ideal. It’s not good for formatting books with pictures, tables, or graphics. You have limited customization options, and limited themes to choose from. That said, it is free!
Kindle Create Pros
- Easy to use
- Create both print and eBooks
- Add headers and footers
- Move chapters and other elements
Kindle Create Cons
- Not ideal for all books
- Limited options
- Doesn’t produce the best-looking books
Other Formatting Options
While we’ve covered the six major book formatting options out there, they aren’t the only ones. Here are some others you can check out if none of the tools above sound good to you.
Many professional designers use this software. It’s powerful, expensive, and complicated. But if you have a flair for design and you’re somewhat familiar with the Creative Cloud suite of tools, you could give this a try!
Both PublishDrive and Draft2Digital have formatting tools you can use! These aggregators are for those “going wide” to sell their books outside of Amazon KDP. However, the formatting tools offered by these two companies are both free to use. They’re also pretty bare-bones, though!
Book Formatting vs Manuscript Formatting
Before we dive in, it’s important to talk about the different kinds of formatting. When you hear people talk about formatting, they’ll either be talking about book or manuscript formatting.
What Is Manuscript Formatting?
If you’re going to send your finished manuscript to an agent, editor, or illustrator, you’ll want to make sure it sticks to industry-standard formatting. Poor formatting can cause an agent or editor to dismiss your book even before they get a chance to be wowed by your writing.
While this is beyond the scope of this article, Kindlepreneur has a great article on manuscript formatting you can check out.
What is Book Formatting?
In the self-publishing world, book formatting is the process of turning your finished and edited Word document or manuscript into the final product that readers will see. This means formatting for eBook and print, most commonly. Each of these types comes with its own set of requirements to ensure the book looks good, is easy to read, and provides the best experience possible for the reader.
When done well, book formatting should be invisible to readers. Poor formatting will take the reader out of the story or distract them from the information you’re trying to convey, which is the last thing you want.
Traditionally published authors don’t have to worry about formatting — a designer usually does it. But if you’re self-publishing, this task falls on your shoulders.
(Of course, you can hire a professional to format your book if you want. Just know that it can be expensive!)
Okay, with that cleared up, let’s get started!
Industry-Standard Book File Formats
If you’re a new writer, you may not know the best types of eBook and print book file formats. There’s really only two that you need to worry about: EPUB and PDF.
EPUB Files for eBooks
For a while there, Amazon had to be different. They used MOBI files while the rest of the world used EPUB files. Well, they’re coming around, so you can now use EPUB files for pretty much all your eBook needs. EPUB files are re-flowable, universal, and open-source. And the format isn’t going anywhere.
PDF for Print-on-Demand
PDF files have been around for a long time. This type of print-friendly file is the standard for print-on-demand services across the independent publishing industry. So if you’re offering your book in both eBook and print format (which you totally should), then you’ll need a print-ready PDF file! You’ll also need a print-ready PDF file for your book cover, but that’s a whole other topic!
The Best Paid Book Formatting Software
While it’s not the cheapest option, Atticus is certainly the best paid book formatting software. It’s important to remember that it’s not just formatting software, though. It’s also an excellent book writing software that rivals the likes of Scrivener with its many features.
And while they’re still working on several advanced features, the one-time price of $147 will get you lifetime access and all future updates/features. Personally, I think it’s a pretty good deal.
The Best Free Book Formatting Software
The best free book formatting tool is Kindle Create. If you’re planning on going exclusive with Amazon KDP, then I would definitely take a look at it. It is much better at integrating with Amazon’s systems and making sure your ebook looks right.
That said, it’s very limited (as you might expect from a free option), and if you want to go anywhere outside of Amazon, it would be better to use Atticus instead.
Verdict: Atticus is the Best Book Formatting Software
The business of book writing isn’t over once you’ve typed your last word! Next comes editing, rewriting, proofreading, and editing again. And then formatting! Luckily, book formatting is easy these days — with the right tool.
And if you use my personal favorite tool, Atticus, you get the best novel writing software, as well. You can turn your Google Doc or Word file into a beautiful book in a matter of minutes with the Atticus app!
There are VERY few reasons why you might want something different than Atticus. It’s cheap, does everything the leading competitors do, and unlike tools like Vellum, Atticus is available on virtually every platform.
I hope this article has helped you. Thanks for reading!