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What Is Formatting? Common Misconceptions and Mistakes To Avoid

Updated: 17 hours ago


What is Formatting?  Common Misconceptions and Mistakes To Avoid

Formatting is one of those publishing terms that can cause confusion, especially for new authors.  When it comes up in conversation, I often find myself wondering… “Are we talking about the same thing?”


In this post, we’ll discuss what formatting is, and some common misconceptions that new authors often have about it.  


There are two different types of formatting. 


When a client asks, “How do I format a picture book?” I have to stop and clarify which type of formatting they’re talking about.  


Manuscript formatting refers to the settings and layout of a word processing document when you’re writing a story.  Picture book manuscripts, for example, should be written in 12 pt. Times New Roman font and double-spaced.  The text of a picture book shouldn’t be broken up into 32 pages until after the manuscript is complete, so it should flow across 2-3 pages like any normal document.  Make sure you have a title, your name, and the word count listed at the top.  Art notes should be in brackets and italics.  


Formatting a book for print is different.  This type of formatting happens at the end of the publishing process, and involves combining the fully-edited text with the completed illustrations to create print-ready files.  It’s a graphic design skill.


Obviously, these are two very different things! So, it’s important to know which type of formatting you’re talking about.  For the purposes of the rest of this post, we’ll be talking about formatting a book for print.


When does formatting happen?


Formatting happens after both editing and illustrations have been completed, and after a printer and trim size have been selected. 


gif of a book being formatted on screen

This is because, as we mentioned above, formatting is the process of combining the manuscript text and the illustrations into a print ready file. And that can’t be done without a fully edited manuscript, finished illustrations, and printer specifications.  


Note:

If you are submitting your book to traditional publishers, you'll never have to worry about formatting your book for print. Traditional publishers take care of everything from editing to illustrations to formatting. But, if you're planning to self-publish...read on!


Who DOESN’T do formatting? 


Editors


Many self-publishing authors seem to think that their editor will know how to format their book for print, or that a book formatter will correct all the spelling and punctuation errors of a manuscript as they put the book together.  That’s just not how it works!  Editing and formatting are two very different and highly specialized skills.  (And editing is WAY more than just fixing spelling and punctuation errors!)


(Some) Illustrators


Some illustrators do know how to format, but some don’t!  Illustrating is art, and formatting is graphic design, and not all illustrators know how to format.  When hiring an illustrator, this is something you definitely want to ask about.  


Printers


Printers - especially print-on-demand services like KDP and IngramSpark - typically don’t provide formatting services.  You can’t send them your illustrations and text and expect them to put the book together for you.  They simply provide the specifications your formatter will need and expect you to upload print-ready files.  If you choose to do an offset print run, the printer MAY offer formatting services, or they may be able to recommend a formatter.  But it will be a separate cost.  


You…in Canva


The number of people who think they can just throw their files into Canva and “format” them for print, truly boggles my mind!  Formatting a picture book for print is much more specialized than that, and trying to cut corners in a program like Canva is not going to get you a high quality product.  



So who DOES do formatting?


A Formatter (Duh!)


Formatting is a specialized skill, so who does formatting?  A book formatter! Specifically, a book formatter who specializes in children’s picture books. Picture books require an ability to see how text and pictures interact on a page to create a great reading experience. It's very different from formatting a novel. So choosing someone who's experienced with children's books is a must.


A Book Designer


A book designer is a formatter on steroids!  They do the formatting of your files, but, if you hire them early enough in the publishing process, they can also work with your illustrator, in the storyboarding phase, to enhance the overall design of your book.  


Think of it like this…A book formatter is like the painter you hire to paint your living room.  They know their stuff, can recommend colors and finishes, and have all the professional skills and tools to get the job done right.  


A book designer is like an interior designer.  They know how to paint the walls, and can definitely do that for you.  But they can also help you make sure the paint job works with the rug and the furniture arrangement, and will even help you choose artwork for the walls when the paint dries.  


Not sure who to trust? Check out our free list of recommended formatters!



Save Yourself From The Stress


Formatting is that critical, and often overlooked link, between authors and illustrators and their printers.  By understanding the importance of hiring a professional formatter and planning ahead, you can make sure your book uploads easily when the time comes.  



Need help publishing your children's book? Join our coaching program!


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