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  • Writer's pictureJohn Lim

MF 245 : Formatting your manuscript for publication

Updated: Jun 22, 2022

On this episode, we dive into taking the pieces of your manuscript and formatting it for publication. More at

Moving Forward is also available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher Radio, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Amazon Music.

Part 1: Envy and perspective

“If the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, you can bet the water bill is higher.” -Debbie Macomber (Mrs. Miracle)

Last week, I was updating a friend on what I have going on in my life – a second book in the works, a possible opportunity to revive the biotech startup (perhaps more on that in a future episode), and continuing to put myself out there with dating. He said, “Wow, you lead a pretty adventurous life!” I was taken aback by the comment as I often feel like I’m floundering; blind and running into walls. Moreover, I look at his life and sometimes envy what he has: a wife, two kids, a dog, a beautiful home and a great career to boot. As happens with these type of conversations, we both shared the reality of what’s behind the glamour, revealing that it’s not always all that it’s cracked up to be.

The conversation reminded me of the Debbie Macomber quote above. It’s part of our nature to look at others, whether it’s someone we know personally or someone we follow on social media and feel that twinge of envy. But it’s when you’re reminded that nothing’s perfect that you re-calibrate with perspective to appreciate what you have. At the same time, these moments can keep you looking ahead and moving forward towards your goals, big and small.

Part 2: Formatting your manuscript for publication

Today, we’re going to transition your manuscript to a publication format. As we’ve covered over the past few weeks, a good framework is to see your book as a series of building blocks, pieces, and components of a larger structure.

Whether you use Scrivener, Word or something else, you’ll want to start thinking about the following components as you prep your manuscript for self-publishing.


  1. Font type: When I started writing Making Fake Star Trek, I didn’t think too much about the font; using whatever the default was set to on Scrivener and later, Word. However, as we got closer to publication, we had to look at the font for the paperback. Choosing a font type is a personal decision so I encourage you to look at books on your shelf and see which fonts strike you. For ebooks, fonts won’t matter as much since most devices, including Kindle e-readers, allow the end-user to change the font type and size. In contrast, this is a permanent decision for your paperback. Generally, you should pick a font that’s clean, readable, and appealing. However, be careful when choosing newer or uncommon fonts as many of these are still under copyright protection by the designer. For guidance, take a look at KDP’s font reference guide and cross-reference with fonts that are available on Scrivener or Word.

  2. Font size: You’ll also want to choose a font size that works for your paperback. Most are set to 10 or 11-point type size so be mindful of this as you may be writing in 12-point or larger on your computer or device. For print, you’ll want to go smaller unless you’re publishing a special large type version for readers with special vision needs.

Section headers

Start looking at how your book is structured and how you want to set the headers, fonts, font types, and accents (bold, underlined, etc.) for the structure or skeleton on your book. For Making Fake Star Trek, our book breaks down as follows: Part to Chapter to sections within each chapter divided into alternating co-author voices, namely Andy and me. This overall structure dictated how we arranged the headers, breaks (page and para) for the publication format. Scrivener has a lot of options for formatting the structure of your book. You can set formats and defaults on Word to jury rig it into a book writing platform. KDP also has templates for Word.

Text justify

In addition to the font, you’ll want to make sure your text is justified. Most of us write to a default setting of justify-left. As you prepare the manuscript for publication, you’ll want to go through and justify your text so your left and right margins are straight and aligned within your book.

Best practice: keep two files (ebook and paperback)

Save separate copies of your book files for the paperback and ebook versions, assuming you’re going to publish both. The files will be virtually identical but there will be a few minor differences. For the paperback, you may add in separator pages between certain sections. Also, the Table of Contents, if you decide to use one, will be slightly different for both.

Table of Contents (TOC)

If you publish the ebook or Kindle version of your book, it will automatically add a TOC with hyperlinks to individual pages and chapters. For a paperback edition, you’ll need to compile a TOC if you decide to have one. On Scrivener, you can do this by clicking the highlighting the documents in your binder > click EDIT > click Copy Special > paste in your TOC or contents document within your front matter folder. This will compile a TOC with corresponding page numbers. Do this step last, once your manuscript is locked down because if you make any changes that affect the page count, you’ll have to recompile it from scratch as the TOC on Scrivener does not auto-update. The only other quirk I’ve noticed is that sometimes the TOC copy and paste feature doesn’t capture the header or chapter titles. For Making Fake Star Trek, I had to type these in manually for the paperback version. If anyone uses Scrivener and knows a better workaround, let me know! For Word users, Microsoft has a guide on creating a TOC.


As you wrap up your manuscript, start working ahead towards the publication format and create your publication files. Start diving into fonts, header structure and keep separate files for your ebook and paperback versions.

[NOTE: the books mentioned in this episode and in the book writing series are out of print. I am leaving these episodes mostly as is and strictly for informational and instructional purposes only. I have retracted my story from the book discussed in this episode and its sequel with full reservation of my copyright. For more, check out episode 388.]

Part 3: What I’m reading

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (****): the classic novel about an early 20th-century Chinese farmer who seeks to better his and his family’s life by building wealth through land. A sweeping tale, much like Pachinko, which spans several generations; exploring the trials and tribulations of one family. An engrossing read with beautiful descriptive prose. Highly recommend.


Scrivener (available for Mac, Win, IOS) is a book writing program that auto formats for self-publishing on Amazon’s KDP and other platforms. It’s a great tool with rich features that allow co-writers to collaborate through Dropbox. Scrivener has a bit of a learning curve but I’ve been a fan since 2017 and have talked to many authors who use it as their go-to. If you’re interested in Scrivener, you can use the coupon code MOVINGFORWARD to get 20% off your purchase (for Mac or Win). It’s a one-time license fee and available for Mac, Win, IOS.

Note: this section contains affiliate links and coupon codes for which the author may receive some compensation.

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