Typesetting aka Formatting aka Look Pretty

What is typesetting?

Typesetting is also known as formatting. People and some programs take your completed story and handle the layout. This could be for submissions to magazines, agents, publishers, or as many do, for self-publications in e-Book and print.

What formatters don’t do.

They aren’t editors, though I know some editors who also do formatting. They don’t read your story. They don’t offer opinions on your story. They don’t fix misspelled words or rearrange paragraphs or things for you. All of that stuff should be handled before the story even makes it to your formatter.

If they don’t read it, how do they format it?

Like most things, a properly edited book displays a certain layout. Example: Scene breaks are usually *** or # centered on a line by themselves. The same goes for communications, quotes, a standard paragraph even has a design that makes it different than the other parts.

Why should I hire a formatter with programs like Draft2Digital and Amazon take my Word doc?

If you don’t understand how to format properly, auto conversions can only do so much. Sure, Draft2Digital has embellished layouts and tries to compensate for the lack of precision, but it can’t tweak things, bringing a certain flair to the files. Though, D2D’s files are a great resource for ARC files and proofreaders.

Maybe you have images, spells, handwritten letters, you want specific fonts, etc. There are a million things you could want, but auto converters aren’t designed to do much more than the most basic of formatting.

If this is your first time publishing, do you have all the information in the book that is supposed to be there? Do you have the ISBN? Is the front matter arranged correctly? Did you embed the links correctly? Did you know that some distributions won’t accept a book if there is a competitor link? There are a dozen extra steps that most people don’t think about that a formatter knows.

Another difference is that an auto converter can’t make your files as small as possible. A human typesetter can decrease your file size which results in better royalty return for you. Companies like Amazon charge a delivery fee for books priced $2.99 or higher, and if your book is heavy in fat (code bloat), you’re losing money. It’s hard to see the savings when you’re only selling a book a day, but one day you might sell hundreds of copies a day, and those few pennies add up.

Just like an editor differs from Grammarly and ProwriterAid, a formatter differs from the auto programs of companies like Amazon and Draft2Digital.

Unlike with editing, you can learn to format. It boils down to one thing. How much is your time worth?

Is it worth paying a formatter $100 to have your book done in eBook and print and have it back to you in a few days while you spend that time working on booking promos, newsletter swaps, talking with your cover designer, etc, or are you going to fight for days, discovering with each new upload that something else was wrong? Instead of an enjoyable release, are you going to stress yourself out before you even get it uploaded the way you want?

What’s the dos and don’ts before approaching a formatter.

Have your manuscript edited and proofed before you send it. This includes track changes. These glossed over parts eat into your time and the time of others. This is akin to standing in a checkout line. The lady in front of you goes to walk away and they realize they forgot to get a pack of gum. It’s a small purchase. She doesn’t get back into line. It’s one little purchase, no big deal. But what if every time the cashier went to scan your stuff, the lady kept coming back with just one more thing? She hasn’t fully left the register, she’s interrupting the work flow, and she didn’t double check she had everything before handing her basket it over.

Clients like that have lead formatters to having revision fees.

Arrange the front and back matter. Formatters don’t know what books you’ve been in, what your website or social media URLs are. They can’t write your dedication or your author’s notes—and both are commonly asked questions. If you don’t know what to put in front of back matter, contact your formatter. They might have resources to help you figure it out.

KH Formatting has been formatting since 2017, and has a check list for clients. You can find it here or under the menu of this site.


Formatters like editors have a constant rotation of clients. Some are booked a month or longer out. Contact them around the time you send your MS to the editor, let them know when you expect your manuscript back from the editor and an approximate window when you’ll be ready to send it to them. This is even more important for the holiday season. This isn’t just Christmas. From mid October through December (Black Friday/new kindle owners/Christmas), mid Januaray to February (Valentine’s Day), and the month of May (summer reads), writers aim to capitalize on the peak seasons of book sales.


Don’t assume that the photos you put in the document will work. Place them in the document if you want or use something like [image name], but send the photos separately too. Label each picture without spaces (AuthorLogo instead of Author Logo). However you label things, make sure it is clear to the formatter.


If you want something that isn’t a standard font (Times New Roman, Garamond, Bookman), get the font files yourself and send with the document. This solves a few issues such as do you have the legal rights to use those fonts commercially, you have the fonts if you change formatters, and you have the fonts for promos.

Scene Breaks

The photo and font points work for scene breaks as well. If you’re wanting an emblem, a unique font, or a simple decorative line, have them in the folder you send to the formatter and labelled appropriately. If you don’t know what you want there, talk to your formatter. They may have a selection or a series of websites you can visit to find your own. Do not wait until they are formatting to go “Hey, I want this really complex thing.”


Links are tricky. Some people know how to embed clean links while others embed a link that never functions away from that particular computer.

Each formatter works in different ways. Some will walk you through the process, holding your hand and asking questions to clarify things and others will do the job and not speak a single word to you, assuming you know what you want and that you didn’t goof in the process. But the above checklist is a good starting point as you’re finding the typesetter you want to work with.

When should I approach a formatter?

I would recommend when you send your work to the editor. That gives you a clear window of “you should have edits back by this date,” and you know how long it takes you to handle edits. That rough time frame is enough information to start talking to typesetters.

How do I vet a formatter and how private is my work?

Ask for recommendations.

Before I started formatting, I never understood why some used “mock” images of what they did. Now that I have been typesetting for a few years, I understand that mock setups are part of the territory. They serve a purpose of keeping clients works private.

Confidentiality is what we do, similar to editors. We don’t have the right to share the things we format without the author’s permission. We put the trimmings on it, but the intellectual property isn’t ours to share. The pages we might have pulled from actual manuscripts to showcase the things we could do could have been a spoiler, a key point, or those books might not be released yet, and the author should get to dictate when their work is seen in any part.

What information do I need to know when I talk to my formatter?

  • Trim size
  • The expected earliest date the file will be ready to send to them
  • Expected publishing date. Do you have a preorder already set up?
  • Length of manuscript and genre

Here’s your send to formatter checklist:

  • Final Document—edited and proofread.
  • Any specialty fonts?
  • Photos labeled
  • Front matter and back matter including ISBN if applicable
  • Clean Links

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This post was edited/proofed by ProWritingAid.

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