5 Easy Steps to Formatting your Manuscript

By Samantha Stroh Bailey

Anyone reading this post who knows me is probably rolling on the floor right now, holding their sides because they’re laughing so hard. I am a recovering technophobe and still freeze when I have to download something. Right click? Left click? Double click? So, when I had to format my manuscript for my debut novel, Finding Lucas, to upload it to Kobo, I was petrified. Enter my ex Starbucks barista and my husband. I didn’t even know what formatting meant when I started this journey. But, now I realize that it’s not nearly as hard as it sounds and it’s something even a former Luddite like me can learn in 5 easy steps.

So, you have your manuscript open and your hands are shaking because you’re preparing it for publication. And isn’t it incredible that soon, with the click of the “Publish” button, your dream of becoming an author will actually come true? Well, here we go. An ePub or Mobi file are very different from the manuscript you have been working on for months, years or maybe even decades. I strongly suggest that you grab yourself a Kobo (you’ll want one anyway to check your own book, and I swear this is not a product placement) and download a few books in your genre to see how they’re formatted, what you like and don’t like.

Before I published Finding Lucas, I thought I’d really like double spacing between paragraphs, but after reading a few books from some of my fellow indie chick lit authors, I realized that I loved their tighter spacing because the story flowed better.

Step One:

Set your chapter titles to the same HEADINGS. You can choose whichever one appeals to you from the top bar of your computer; this way, all of your chapter titles will have a uniform look. Luckily, Kobo automatically generates a table of contents so you don’t have to add this yourself. Yes, breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Step Two:

Next, you want to make sure that you have PAGE BREAKS after every chapter. Simply go to “Insert—Page Breaks” and voila, you now have a nice clean divide between every chapter. Otherwise, your chapters will run together or you might have blank pages. In sum, it’s a total nightmare.

Okay, are you ready for step 3, 4 and 5? Too fast? Well, now’s the time to choose your TABS, LINE SPACING and MARGINS. The standard 5 space indent doesn’t translate well to an ebook so you’ll want to find an indent that looks good for your book. For Finding Lucas, I set the tabs to 0.1. Again, this is all personal preference and by reading a few books, you’ll find how much of an indent you want on yours.

Because the space is small on a Kobo, you won’t want a lot of extra space on the page. I set Finding Lucas to 1.2 spaces between paragraphs.

For the lines to go to the end of the page and not appear slightly vertical down the centre, be sure to justify the margins.

Now, you might want to pay someone to do the formatting for you, and you can find reasonably priced services. But, hopefully, these quick tips will show you that though scary, it’s totally possible to get your manuscript ready for uploading and you really can do it yourself. Well, maybe with someone holding your hand.



Samantha Stroh Bailey is a published author and former English teacher with over 15 years of writing and editing experience. Her website, Perfect Pen Communications, offers full service writing, proofreading and editing.

Check out Samantha’s book, Finding Lucas, on Kobo!

Critique groups and writing buddies: a quick guide

Unless you’re collaborating with others, the act of writing is, by its nature, a rather solitary activity. But the actual process of writing a story is only the first of many steps. The next step – revision – needs others. Whether it’s a professional editor, a beta reader, a friend whose opinion you value, or an anonymous stranger on the other side of the internet, finding and using a writing buddy who can tell you when you’re on track and when you need to put in a little more work is a necessary part of getting your manuscript ready to be seen by the general public.

The local critique group

Founding a local writer’s critique group is both challenging and rewarding. It can be difficult to find other local writers who are dedicated enough to their craft to continue with an organized group on an ongoing basis, and who all get along well and have something to offer each other.

One of the best bets for finding local, dedicated writers who might be interested in an ongoing critique group is to join a writing course at your local college or community center. You might not feel like you need the instruction, but making contact with fellow dedicated writers is often worth the price of admission.

Alternately, you could advertise in local listings (Kijji, Craigslist, meetup.com) to find others who are interested in the same thing you are. It might take some time to find the right group of people with whom you really mesh well, but the rewards are well worth it.

Even online writers groups can help you find local writers with whom to meet face-to-face. When you sign up for the yearly writer’s challenge National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo), you can join localized message forums and join in local write-ins and meet-ups.

Another great way to find fellow writers is to attend conferences for and about writers. These conferences can pull people from far and wide, so although you might not find local writers, you may make enough connections that you can organize an online writer’s group of your very own.  Here are a few ideas to get you started:


Ottawa Writer’s Festival – October, Ottawa, ON

Saskatchewan Festival of Words – July, Moose Jaw, SK

The Vancouver Writer’s Fest – October, Vancouver, BC


San Francisco Writers Conference – February, San Francisco, CA

Self-Publishing Book Expo – October, New York City, NY


Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival – July, Harrogate, UK

The Winchester Writers Conference – June, Winchester, UK


Perth Writers Festival – February, Perth, AU

Sydney Writers Festival – May, Sydney, AU

Emerging Writers Festival – May, Melbourne, AU

The online critique group

If you’re a little nervous about meeting other people in person, or if you’re in a small or remote community where other writers are thin on the ground, then an online critique group might be the best way to go for you. There are dozens of great critiquing sites available. Here is just a brief cross-section of websites to help get you started:

Critique Circle: When you sign up, you can add your story to the newbies queue for free; thereafter, in order to earn credits for the critiques of others, you have to offer critiques of your own. This is a great system to ensure full participation, and you’ll get a lot of thoughtful reviews and critiques. Don’t see critiquing the works of others as a chore: it’s actually a great way to hone your own reviewing skills.

Fan Story: All writing and all genres are welcome: poetry, prose, or scripts, partial or complete. Offer critiques and receive critiques on everything you post.  Take advantage of the vibrant community, participate in monthly contests, or take an online writing course.

Writing.com: Keep an online portfolio, get critiques on your work, and gain access to valuable tools and contests to keep you growing, reviewing, and improving.

There are even sites to help those writers who are true hermits – the AutoCrit Editing Wizard doesn’t require contact with another human being at all. Simply upload your chapter or section, click the “Analyze” button, and the automated editor will alert you to overused words, clichés, missing dialog tags, and more.

No matter where you find them, your writing buddies are an invaluable part of the writing process. We spend so much time with our own words, it really does help to have a second (or third, or fifteenth) pair of eyes on it to point out to us the missteps that we’ve become inured to.  Revision is much easier with a buddy or two, and their objectivity is crucial to getting our manuscripts in the best shape possible.

6 expert tips on designing a great book cover

By Scarlett Rugers

Yes people do judge books by their covers, and when your cover is the size of a postage stamp, as is the case in search results for eBooks, you need a clear message for maximum impact.

Coming up with the right high-voltage look can be tricky, but don’t be deterred. Here are some quick pointers to help with the process, specifically for authors with little to no design experience, and want to give it a shot:

Have a clear idea of what message you want to convey.

You can only make a first impression once.  Instead of three or four story lines, two characters, eighteen scenes and one plot twist clamoring for attention, pick one strong theme for the cover. What is the one constant in your story, from start to finish? What is the value, the lesson, the message you are passing onto your reader? For example:

  • A love story across the planet
  • An adventure in western times
  • Mysterious beings haunting a forest
  • Two animals who are close friends
  • A tough guy who won’t take no for an answer

Choose the main element you want to convey about your book and select your cover image to reflect it.

Use other book covers to guide you.

Search for books with the same theme you’re looking for and see how they lay out the text and images. You don’t have to try and know everything at once; learn how others have done it in the past.

Use simple typefaces and layout.

No matter how beautiful your cover image is, your book cover fails if the typeface is poor.  Type is often the element that is overlooked, and always the deal breaker. I have written a post about classic typefaces you can rely on, no matter the genre of your book. Decorative fonts run the risk of being outdated. And keep it to two fonts max – you want something stylish for your title, and something simple for your author name and tag line. Too many typefaces means too many people are at the party.

Seek Feedback.

Search out communities and forums involved in self-publishing and ask for feedback. Not from your family and friends who will always love what you create, but people who will give you an honest, constructive critique. My ego definitely gets too big when I feel like I’ve done a great job, and accepting criticism forces me to continue to be better, be open, and to recognize there will always be things that others can see that I can’t.

Keep it simple.

You don’t have to go overboard with design. Good design is all about balance, and ensuring your message gets across. You don’t need to combine four different images to tell your reader that it’s a sci-fi, romance with a lot of death and machine guns. You need one message, one that doesn’t have to be literal, and you need to tell it visually. To convey royalty we use a crown, for slavery we go with chains, for love we have hearts.

Have bold, easy-to-see visuals.

You may be ready to get really creative in Gimp or Photoshop, but remember that a lot of your readers are only going to see your cover in black and white on your Kobo. Did you know that pink comes up pretty poor on a Kobo?

Maintain clean lines and use images that are easy to distinguish if you’re going to blend them. If you have a Kobo then upload your cover and open it up to see how it looks! You don’t want to have done all that work only to find the name is barely visible because it blends into the background hue.

A lot of info? Let’s chunk it down:

A checklist for good cover design:

  1. Does your cover say what you want it to? Does it convey the genre, and theme?
  2. Is your text easy to read?
  3. Are you using a maximum of two font faces, one decorative (or maybe simple if you wish), and the other a classic type face?
  4. Do you have a simple image, or do you have a collection of images fighting for attention?
  5. Is the cover easy to view on Kobo?

If you are covering these points then you’re well on your way to having a good cover! I always encourage authors to hire a professional but sometimes, for whatever reason, it’s time to do it yourself.  And the beauty of eBooks is, book covers can be easily changed – you can keep experimenting. Be brave, be bold! Take risks! And above all have fun!


scarlett rutgersScarlett Rugers’ job is a book cover designer and a Publishing Identity Consultant. Her purpose is to empower you to be the best author you can be, and collaborate with you to improve the quality of the book industry. She is constantly working to inspire, strengthen and pursue the perception that self-publishing is professional publishing.

For an experience that will make you feel traditionally published you can email her at: contact (at) scarlettrugers (dot) com or visit her website and see her work. She is also on twitter at @thebookdesignr.

Scarlett Rugers is also offering a 10% discount on her design services to all Kobo Writing Life authors! Visit her site for further information about her services.

Racy Writing – Dos and Don’ts with Kelly Favor

So you’ve decided to try your hand at writing erotica—why not? It’s a very popular genre right now, and selling like hotcakes. Bestselling novelist Kelly Favor, author of the wildly popular For His Pleasure series, took the time to share some thoughts, answer some questions, and provide a few Dos and Don’ts for the beginning writer.


Start fast, and stay in the “now.” Open with a scene that grabs readers’ attention and establishes the main character, and also establishes the “sexiness” of the story.

That doesn’t mean you need to start with a sex scene, but it means that you want to foreshadow or in some way indicate that there is some racy content to come. However, it’s important to also establish character at the same time—make certain you’ve instantly made the reader feel that they want to know more about this person and this situation.

From there, it’s all about developing plot and character, as any writing in any genre must do. Keeping the pace fast and the plot moving is really important for beginning writers, since many struggle when the plot isn’t moving. Newer writers have trouble writing sharp dialogue and sometimes their scenes will ramble and become dull if they don’t have plot points moving things forward.

There aren’t really tricks per se; they’re more conventions or “notes” that one must hit in order for the writing to appeal. It’s like being a musician—you have to understand the music you’re playing and you must hit those notes and stay on beat. If you go off rhythm or you start to hit the wrong notes, it becomes a mess.

However, if you know your own limitations, then you can write a very simple story with simple characters and still create something exciting and highly palatable for reader, just like a musician might play a very simple song that still pleases the ear.


The Don’ts are sort of the reverse of the Dos. Don’t start slow. Don’t start with tons of backstory. Don’t “info dump”, which is when a writer needs to get information about a character out and they just dump it wholesale on the reader. Backstory and the like should be interspersed throughout a scene or multiple scenes, broken by dialogue and action, so that the information doesn’t bog down the flow of the story.

I find that beginning writers struggle a great deal with writing naturally. Many of them overwrite, using “big words” in order to sound more literary, or because they feel it makes the prose more interesting.

I tell writers that if you would never speak this way in real life, don’t write it. Good writing is conversational, easy, and mostly simple. Yes, there are writers who have a more complex style, but they tend to develop that over time and usually they have a very strong vision.

Most writers—myself included—benefit from keeping things simple.

What distinguishes a great racy read from a dud?

It’s the same in any genre. A great read holds your attention, and makes you care about the characters. A dud tends to be dull, unoriginal, and lacking imagination and risk. Good writing, in the end, always involves some level of risk.

Every great story needs to have some element that stands out. Some great stories have great dialogue, some have great characters, some have exciting plots with twists and turns. You don’t need every element to be great. However, a great story has at least one element that soars, and typically more than one element that soars.

What would you want would-be writers to know?

Writing is really a craft, and that it’s not as mysterious and serious as many would have them believe.  You need to work hard and study books and become excited and passionate about writing, but you don’t need to be snooty and you don’t need to be perfect with your prose. You need to learn to be a good storyteller, because that’s what writing is.

I think there is an overemphasis on trying to “great,” and trying to be a genius where every sentence is perfection. Readers don’t really care about perfection. They just want to be entertained and transported. Learn to do that and you’ve got the essence of it.

Also remember that things will continue to get tougher and more competitive, but good writers can succeed. It’s important to understand, however, that being an indie writer means also being a good businessperson. Many writers seem to be struggling, in my opinion, to be both good writers and good businesspeople.

Check out Kelly Favor’s books on Kobo!

Enter now! The Jeffrey Archer Short Story Challenge closes tonight!

If you’re in the process of writing a novel, write us a 100-word story and you could win a place in an upcoming UK Curtis Brown Creative online novel-writing course!

Submit by midnight Eastern Standard Time on February 15th (tonight!) to qualify.

Submit here!

See the full Terms & Conditions for details.

Check out this post for great questions & answers.

Less than 12 hours left! Get writing!

My Writing Life – Patricia McLinn

patricia mclinnPatricia McLinn is the author of the award-winning and bestselling Wyoming Wildflowers series, on top of non-fiction, women’s fiction, western historical romance, contemporary fiction, and mysteries (the latter as P. A. McLinn).


When did you first discover a love of writing? Is there a particular book that made you want to become a writer?

Writing stemmed from a love or reading, and reading started very young out of self-defense. I’m a good chunk younger than my siblings, who kept secrets from me by spelling them. I had no choice but to learn the alphabet, spelling, and reading to keep up. Once I started reading, my older sister would sneak me into areas of the Helen M. Plum Memorial Library in Lombard, Ill., that were considered beyond my kiddie ability to select books, then she would check them out for me.

Charles Dickens has a lot to do with my becoming a writer. He used the word unctuous to describe Uriah Heep. Unctuous. Doesn’t it make you shiver? Me, too. Realizing words were so powerful ignited my desire to sink my hands into them, pour them over my head and let them stream all around me.


Where do you get your story ideas?

Daydreaming, eavesdropping (just a little), newspaper articles, people watching … everything and anything.


What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

It’s the first thing I tell students now when I teach writing — there is no one right way. All the advice and how-to’s are a buffet. You can pick and choose what you want to try. Sample a bit of this, experiment with a bit of that. If you like something you can go back for seconds. If you don’t care for the taste, leave it on your plate. Be open to trying new things, and recognize that on the next trip to the buffet something entirely different might suit your appetite.


What made you decide to self-publish?

The belief that it’s a great way to connect with readers who want to read what I want to write (which is also what I want to read.) I love that it’s a more direct relationship between the writer and the reader.


Do you believe in writer’s block?

What? You want the writing gods to curse me for denying belief in on their manifestations? No way.


If there were one writer (alive or dead) whom you would love to meet, who would it be?

You need to get over this “one” fixation. A partial list would include Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, T.H. White, Robert Frost, Josephine Tey, Georgette Heyer, John McPhee.


What’s your favourite literary genre? Any guilty pleasures?

No guilt over my reading pleasures! I like books that delve into how people interact, particularly with a bit of wry humor. And I want books that show flawed human beings trying to be better. No passive misery, please. Also don’t care for style flourishes for the sake of flourishes. I tend to gravitate toward classic mysteries, women’s fiction/romances and historicals. But any genre can deliver that satisfying read.


If a reader came upon your eBooks for the first time, which of your titles would you recommend?

Anyone who’s strictly a mystery reader should go directly to Sign Off, written as P.A. McLinn. Top TV reporter E.M. Danniher finds herself at the bottom of the career heap after divorcing her network exec husband. While she’s trying to figure out how to rebuild her life in rustic Sherman, Wyoming, she keeps encountering dead bodies and the stories behind them in the “Caught Dead in Wyoming” series. “Crackles with wit,” said one brilliant reviewer.

Any reader should try Almost a Bride because it’s free. That way, if the reader likes my writing style, s/he can look for more, and if s/he doesn’t, there shouldn’t be any hard feelings. Almost a Bride is a contemporary western romance about first love getting a second chance and has character-driven dry humor.


What’s the biggest lesson about reading you’ve learned as a writer?

That reading is interactive. Each reader has a different experience from any other reader reading that book. In fact, each reader will have a different experience each time s/he re-reads a book.

Writers can control what they put down on paper, and need to make their writing as clear as possible. Yet, each reader will pick up something different from the words we put down. That’s maddening to the megalomaniac that occupies at least a corner of every writer … and at the same time is part of the marvel of reading.


Check out Patricia McLinn’s books on Kobo!

Writing memoir

Everyone has a life, and maybe everyone has a compelling life story. Here’s how to turn memories into memoir:

 WritingLifeStories  Writing Life Stories, Bill Roorbach. From drawing a map of a remembered neighborhood to signing a form releasing yourself to take risks in your work, Roorbach offers innovative techniques that will trigger ideas for all writers.
 61ZfJlnbpUL._SL500_AA300_  How to Write your Life Story, Ralph Fletcher. Although written for young people, this little book is packed with great instructions on everything needed to start writing. 
 memoir-pagepic  Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art, Judith Barrington. A practical guide to the craft, the personal challenges, and ethical dilemmas of writing your true stories. 
 Inventing-the-Truth  Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, William Zinsser. Zinsser is author of the inspiring writers’ bible, On Writing Well. Here he digs into the craft of telling your own story.
 9780312382926_p0_v1_s260x420  Shimmering Images: A Handy Little Guide to Writing Memoir, by Lisa Dale Norton. A compact little book that shows how to use “shimmering images”–those memory pictures we can’t get out of our heads–as a starting point.



Memoir has become one of the hottest genres in books, and within that genre there are genres. Here’s a brief list of some notable examples of the various ways to tell a life story.

The Misery Memoir

The start of the flood of these woeful yet utterly compelling tales that demonstrate mother was right “it could always be worse” can likely be traced to Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt and Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs.

The Addiction Memoir

The most famous of these isn’t actually a memoir as it turns out, but a great fraud on readers. We mention A Million Little Pieces by James Frey anyway.

As for a real memoir of this type, we suggest Drinking, A Love Story by Caroline Knapp, Dry by Augusten Burroughs, and More, Now, Again by Elizabeth Wurtzel who also wrote Prozac Nation, a game changer in itself.

The Rock Star Memoir

Closely related to the addiction memoir is the rock star memoir. There’s Life, by the amazingly-not-dead-given-the-drugs-he’s-taken Keith Richards; the surprise hit Does the Noise in My Head Bother You by Steven Tyler,  and of course Neil Young’s Waging Heavy Peace.

The one we love and the one that really got the ball rolling by giving the rock memoir a gravitas we might have missed is Patti Smith’s Just Kids. And, while not a rock star but a star nonetheless, there is the utterly compelling Open by Andre Agassi.

The Crazy Childhood Memoir

People who grew up where most of us didn’t have great stories to tell. Check out The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls (growing up in extreme poverty, seeing your mom dumpster-diving as you’re driving by in a cab on 5th Avenue) or Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight and Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, both by Alexandra Fuller, stories of growing up with eccentric parents in tumultuous Africa.

The Crazy Memoir

Madness makes many a plot thicken. Prozac Nation was among the first to be forthright about being a little off; or maybe it was Girl, Interrupted.

The nerd in a cool world memoir

While David Sedaris’ hilarious books could fall into a number of these categories, at the end of the day he’s a fish out of water and so are the rest of the writers in these examples. Try absolutely anything by Sedaris for a good laugh and a good read, but maybe begin with Me Talk Pretty One Day. Then there is Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess and her wonderful Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, or Tina Fey’s Bossypants.

The realign, readjust, rediscover memoir

Maybe the short form is “middle age crazy” – the memoir about realizing that your life is living you and it’s time to get it back on track. The triple whammy of this genre includes the mega hit Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert; Wild by Cheryl Strayed, also known and loved as Dear Sugar, and Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood by Melissa Hart.


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