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5 ways to prepare a manuscript for formatting

Since the self publishing revolution began over a decade ago, indie authors have continually raised their standards. They know that a self published book is a permanent asset. Readers have high expectations and the relationship between an indie author and their readers is an important one. A sub-par product is simply not an option.

Therefore, indie authors invest heavily in their books. Quality, well-written (and professionally edited and proofread) fiction or nonfiction content is accompanied by a professional, genre-relevant cover, alongside a smart-looking (and as error-free as possible) interior. Indie authors cannot overlook these stages if they want to give their book its best chance of success. Therefore, this blog focuses on getting a book ready for that last stage (after proofreading) by outlining 5 ways to prepare a manuscript for Vellum formatting.

What is book formatting?

Formatting transforms the final, Word draft of a manuscript (as one complete document) into attractive, professional, reader-friendly, ready-to-publish EPUB and PDF files. (EPUB and PDF files are fully compatible with Amazon KDP.)

How does an indie author prepare a book for formatting?

There are 5 ways to prepare a manuscript for formatting that makes the process much quicker and easier for both the author and the formatter. This means pre-order or preferred publication deadlines can be met, or that an author can choose to publish within a short time frame without a set deadline.

5 ways to prepare a manuscript for formatting

The 5 preparations are as follows:

1. Inserting page breaks between parts and/or chapters (and including ornamental breaks)

Inserting page breaks between parts and/or chapters throughout your Word document enables the software to recognise where new parts and/or chapters begin. A table of contents is then automatically created. If page breaks are not inserted, the formatter has to manually create separate parts and/or chapters then transfer the correct content to the correct part/chapter. This takes extra time, which may incur an extra cost or cause a delay in the process.

Using an ornamental break to signify a change of location, time, or narrator also helps. Vellum software has its own inbuilt options for these. In the Word manuscript, as long as ornamental breaks are shown as three asterisks (***), the software will recognise them. They can then easily be changed to the author’s preference during the formatting stage.

2. Not indenting/specific margins/spacing/page numbers

Vellum software has its own inbuilt options for indenting body text, increasing or deceasing margins, and positioning of page numbers. Therefore, there is no need for any of those things to be done throughout the Word manuscript. This not only saves the author time, but also saves them any potential self formatting headaches beforehand. Inserting page breaks between parts and/or chapters (as explained above) is the only essential formatting choice required.

3. Including front and back matter

As well as the fiction or nonfiction content itself, a formatting service also includes adding front and back matter content.

Front matter often includes a selection (or all) of the following:

  • Preface
  • Epigraph
  • Foreword
  • Dedication
  • Copyright page
  • About the author
  • Table of contents

Back matter often includes a selection (or all) of the following:

  • Author acknowledgements (author thanks/reflections on writing the book)
  • About the Author page (a short biography and/or list of other published, or soon to be published books)
  • References/bibliography (essential to credit any original sources used when writing the book, especially in nonfiction)
  • First chapter of another published (or soon to be published) book, especially the next instalment in a series
  • Social media links (extremely useful for directing readers to external platforms and building on the author-reader relationship)

One of the major benefits of self publishing is that authors can personalise their front and back matter to their preferences. They can also amend them for the life of the book. An author can either add their front and back matter to the Word manuscript, or send it to the formatter separately (clearly labelled and proofread!).

4. Ensuring images/graphics/illustrations are ready and compatible

Many indie authors choose to include images/graphics/illustrations in their self published books, for example, chapter heading images, their publisher’s logo, or original illustrations. These can usually all be accommodated during the formatting stage (providing the images/graphics/illustrations are the desired size and format for the software and there are no other restrictions). Vellum accepts JPEG, TIFF, PNG or PDF as its preferred formats.

However, the software doesn’t recognise Word boxes or tables, so they won’t transfer into the formatted files. One way authors can remedy this is to create boxes/tables as graphics (Canva is excellent for this). They can then be imported as images. Alternatively, the contents can be reformatted into lists or aligned sections etc. within the software.

Ideally, authors should liaise with their formatter before the formatting process to ensure their images/graphics/illustrations are compatible with the software. Once the images/graphics/illustrations are ready, they should be sent to the formatter as separate attachments rather than being embedded into the Word manuscript. This will save the author and the formatter a lot of time!

5. Ensuring the digital version cover is ready and compatible

If an author plans to make their book available as a digital download (either just as a standalone ebook, or alongside a print version), the 2D cover should be sent to the formatter at the same time as the Word manuscript (and any other images/graphics/illustrations). Again, to save time, authors should liaise with their formatter before/during the formatting process to ensure their cover is going to be the right size and in the right format. Vellum accepts JPEG, TIFF, PNG or PDF as its preferred formats.

The wraparound cover for the print version of a book does not need to go to the formatter. However, after formatting, the formatter will be able to confirm how many pages are in the final version of the book so that the author’s cover designer can calculate its spine width.

Once all these preparation have been done, the author can then send their (thoroughly proofread!) Word manuscript to their formatter.


If you are an indie author who needs your fiction manuscript formatting, please contact me to ask any questions or to book a formatting slot. Formatting prices begin from just £69.

If you have found 5 ways to prepare a manuscript for formatting helpful, check out these other writing/self publishing related blogs:

What book styles does Vellum offer?

Penning and Planning – The Formatting Process

What are the pros and cons of Vellum formatting?

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