Formatting isn’t something most new authors give a lot of thought to. At least not until they come up against the formatting roadblock and are forced to take a detour.
I mean, sure, as you’re writing or editing your manuscript, you try to keep things looking good. You use chapter headings and don’t hit the spacebar a bunch of times to start a new paragraph. But, unfortunately, formatting a book for both ebook and print can be quite the detour if you don’t know what you’re doing. It can cost time that is better spent on writing and money that is better spent on book marketing.
So the obvious solution is to hire someone to do it. And depending on your circumstances, that could be the way to go. But we’ll discuss other options in this article as we answer the question: Should you hire a book formatter?
What is Book Formatting?
There are different types of book formatting, including the kind you do to make your manuscript look good for submission (manuscript formatting). But the kind I’m talking about in this article is turning your Microsoft Word document (the industry-standard .docx) into an EPUB for ebooks and a print-ready PDF for print books.
This entails a range of factors from picking a font, picking chapter titles and subtitles, making sure the correct pages are numbered (you don’t have a page number on the first page of a chapter), dealing with widows and orphans, ensuring the line spacing and margins are correct, and several more.
Essentially, book formatting is ensuring that you present the reader with the best book possible. Plus, you need to meet the standards of whatever publishing platform you choose to use to get your book out into the world.
And you have two options for this: hiring someone else or doing it yourself. Let’s take a look at both!
A Note About Image-Heavy Books
Before we go much further, I’d like to say that there’s a big difference between formatting a text-heavy book—like a novel, memoir, or self-help book—and formatting a book with lots of images. The options explored below are more geared toward text-heavy books.
If you’re writing a children’s book or one with lots of tables and charts in it, then you may want to hire a professional to help you do it right. Your other option is to set aside significant time to learn how to format these kinds of books yourself using a tool like Adobe InDesign or something similar.
Okay, with that caveat out of the way, let’s get to it, y’all!
Hiring a Formatting Designer
Hiring a professional book formatter to handle the book’s interior design is an attractive prospect for many authors. There are certainly many benefits to this route. But there are also some drawbacks that may not be readily apparent at the outset. Let’s go over them.
Hiring a Formatter Pros
- It frees up your time and mental bandwidth for other things.
- It reduces the stress in your life. (We could all use a little less stress!)
- You can rest easy knowing it’s in good hands.
Hiring a Formatter Cons
- It can be expensive – as much as $300 in some cases.
- It prevents you from learning a skill that you can use for future books.
- You give up control to make your book look exactly how you want it.
- Depending on the designer’s workload, it can take a long time.
The biggest issue with using a professional for interior formatting is the fact that making changes or corrections in your book becomes not only more difficult, but also expensive.
Say you find a typo or you simply want to change your book’s back matter to reflect the newest book in the series. In order to make these small changes, you’d have to have your formatter do them for you—or learn to do it yourself, anyway. And if you’re going to do that, you might as well learn the whole process.
Luckily, with the tools available today, the DIY route is pretty easy. But more on that in the next section.
What if you want to use a professional to format your manuscript? Where do you find one?
Professional Book Formatting Services
You can find these services in several places:
- Ebook Launch
- Elite Authors
Many of these companies, like Reedsy and Ebook Launch, offer other services. So if you’re looking to get a round of developmental editing done, it could be a time-saver to just book both services at once—if that’s the route you want to go.
Professional formatting costs can vary widely depending on the kind of book. If it has a lot of images, then the cost will likely go up. You can find a freelancer on Fiverr or Upwork for as little as $20 or $30. However, you’ll want to make sure that the freelancer has good reviews and knows what they’re doing when it comes to print and ebook formatting.
Doing the Formatting Yourself
There are a number of formatting tools available these days. And to make things easier for self-published authors, many of these tools are extremely easy to use. So how much time you spend on the DIY method depends largely on the tool you use. With that in mind, let’s explore the pros and cons of skipping the formatting service and getting this done yourself!
DIY Formatting Pros
- It’s usually cheaper—the tools out there often cost less for unlimited book formatting than hiring a professional book formatting service for one book.
- It gives you total control.
- If you pick the right tool, you don’t need anything more than basic technological proficiency.
- It allows you to make changes to your books without having to hire a formatter every time.
DIY Formatting Cons
- It can be stressful to learn.
- It takes some upfront time and money to learn a new tool.
- It’s likely you’ll make a mistake or two the first time around.
While it’s possible to format a book in MS Word, it’s certainly not easy. If you go this route, then it could take you many hours to format your book manuscript. This is why, if you decide to go with the DIY formatting option, it’s important to choose the right tool for your level of comfort with technology. Luckily, there are several to choose from for all different comfort levels.
Book Formatting Tools
These are the most popular tools available at the time of this writing, along with a little bit about each to help you decide if this is the right route for you.
Atticus – Easy to Use
This all-in-one writing and formatting tool is one I’ve mentioned before in other blog posts. And that’s because I really like it! Atticus is the brainchild of Dave Chesson from Kindlepreneur and Publisher Rocket. He set out to make a simple and powerful tool for formatting, writing, and editing. Formatting is super simple once you get the hang of the tool, which doesn’t take long. If you know your way around Microsoft Word, you’ll be able to learn how to use Atticus.
They have plenty of pre-made formatting options that allow you to format your entire book with just a few clicks. Plus, you can see what the finished product will look like without having to download the files.
Atticus Cost: $147 for lifetime use—unlimited ebook and print book formatting.
Scrivener – Medium Ease of Use
Scrivener is a popular book formatting tool you may have heard of. Many authors use it and swear by it. It has limited capability, which means you have to surrender some control. But for some authors, that is perfectly fine. It’s more of a writing tool than a formatting tool, but at least you have the option!
Scrivener Cost: $49 for Windows or Mac, $19.99 for iOS.
Vellum – Easy to Use
If you have a Mac and some money to spare, Vellum could be a good option for you. There’s no version that works on PC, iOS, or Android, so that’s a big downside to this tool. However, it does make very pretty books, and it’s easy to use. Of course, it is one of the more expensive options on this list. Luckily, it has a free trial you can use until you want to export a finished book, at which point you have to pay.
Vellum Cost: $199.99 – ebook only. $249.99 – ebook and print books.
Adobe InDesign – Difficult to Use
If you really want to learn the ins and outs of book formatting, then Adobe InDesign is a good option. You can do pretty much anything with this tool. And bonus points for this option if you already have experience with any of Adobe’s tools. But if you’re just looking for a simple tool to get professional-quality interior book design without the hassle, I’d say skip this one.
Adobe InDesign Cost: $20.99 a month.
Kindle Create – Easy to Use
Brought to you by Kindle Direct Publishing, Kindle Create is a free tool you can use to format your book. While it’s easy to use and gets the job done, it pretty much does the bare minimum to meet KDP’s standards. If you want more control and a tool that will really make your ebook shine, there are better options on this list. Plus, you can’t use it to create a print-ready PDF. This means you’ll need a different tool for print books—or you’ll need to hire a formatter.
Kindle Create Price: Free.
Reedsy Book Editor – Easy to Use
With a free Reedsy account, you can make use of their free book editor/formatter. This is as basic as it gets, with only three template options to choose from and a couple of other very basic functions. But it’s free, and you can use it as many times as you like.
Reedsy Book Editor Cost: Free
Note: For a more in-depth look at these formatting tools, check out my best formatting tool article.
Should You Hire a Book Formatter? Final Answer
There are certain parts of self-publishing that you should really hire a professional for. Professional book editing and professional book cover design can help you publish the best book possible. Fortunately, you don’t need to hire a professional formatter to get a professional-quality product. And if you’re making a go of this self-publishing thing, using a tool like Atticus can not only save you money, but it can give you the control that is so important to a self-published author’s career.