Best Book Formatting Software: 2021 [+ Format & Export Tips]

The best book formatting software on the market right now is Vellum. It’s versatile and filled to the brim with advanced features.

If you want to avoid Vellum’s high price, try Reedsy’s Book Editor for free. If you already use Scrivener or Microsoft Word, both have handy features for formatting your book. If you’re focused on how your eBook will look on Kindle devices, consider Kindle Create.

Formatting your book for printing or eBook publishing and formatting your manuscript for editors and agents is very important and must not be ignored. A poorly formatted book or eBook looks unprofessional and can lead to literary agent rejection and bad reviews from readers.

That may sound like an exaggeration, but formatting errors distract from the story and pull readers out of the book you worked so hard on.

Don’t let formatting get in the way of telling your magnificent story.

Good book formatting is an integral part of good book marketing.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. What is book formatting?
  2. Book formatting vs. manuscript formatting
  3. Best software for formatting books and eBooks
  4. Best file format for exporting your book

Links in this article may give me a small commission if you use them to purchase products. There’s NO extra cost to you, and it helps me continue to write valuable articles like this one.

What is book formatting?

Book formatting is how you enter line breaks, paragraph breaks, typefaces, spaces, indentations, and punctuation marks into your book.

Professional and attractive-looking formatting is vital for publishing a bestselling book.

Inconsistent or unprofessional formatting leads to negative book reviews and losing future readers.

You may want to use book formatting software or a professional formatting service when publishing a book. On your own, you might miss small but noticeable problems, like page numbers on blank pages, headers on chapter opening pages, or margins that are too small.

Book Formatting vs. Manuscript Formatting

Formatting your book for publishing is very different than formatting your manuscript for an editor or a literary agent.

Book formatting is traditionally handled by a professional designer or self-publishing author. When you format a book for final publishing, it needs to look professional, clean, and undistracting. If it doesn’t look professional, you will get bad reviews just for that.

Traditionally, the best format for writing a book to be published includes:

  • Black, 12-point font
  • Left justified alignment
  • Page breaks to begin a new chapter
  • A single space after periods, not two
  • 0.75” margins
  • Correctly punctuated dialogue
  • Numbered pages, starting with the page where the story actually begins (not the title page)

Manuscript formatting is about presenting your book to literary agents, editors, illustrators, and beta readers. Your font, line spacing, margins, and indentations need to look professional, or agents and editors won’t want to work with you, and beta readers won’t be able to comment on your story because they’re distracted by the formatting.

How to format a manuscript:

  • 12-point black typeface
  • Times New Roman only
  • 1” margins
  • Left justified alignment
  • Page breaks to begin a new chapter
  • A single space after periods, not two
  • Double spacing
  • Indent by 0.5” (don’t hit Tab or space-space-space-space-space)
  • Correctly punctuated dialogue
  • Numbered pages, starting with the page where the story actually begins (not the title page)

Always follow submission guidelines for individual editors, agents, publishers, etc.

Check out these 30 Publishing Companies that Accept Unagented Submissions great for indie authors.

Best Softwares for Formatting Books and eBooks

There is no shortage of software for formatting books and eBooks. But they’re not all the same.

I only want to talk about the best formatting software for you.

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What is the best software for book layout? These 5 book formatting tools offer everything you need:

  1. Vellum
  2. Kindle Create
  3. MS Word
  4. Scrivener
  5. Reedsy

Two of these are free, and one is for eBooks only. All of them have default formatting options that you can personalize.

1. Vellum

Pros
Cons
Easy to use.The initial cost is high.
No subscription fees.It’s only for Mac users.
Can create both ebooks and printed books.
Ready-made templates.
Can create boxed sets easily.
Professional-looking quality.

Vellum is a fantastic book formatting tool. This software is great for fiction and nonfiction writing, but its most powerful feature is formatting both ebooks and print books.

Read my full review of Vellum here.

I thoroughly recommend Vellum for book formatting above its software competition. It’s the best!

But if you’re publishing your first book, Vellum might not be your best choice — it’s an investment with a steep learning curve.

There are 2 significant downsides to Vellum:

  1. It’s only available for Mac computers, not Windows computers or any mobile devices
  2. It has a lofty price tag ($199.99 for eBook publishing, or $249.99 for eBook and print book publishing)

On the positive side, Vellum’s high price is offset by the money you save paying for Fiverr contracts to professionally format your book.

Its word processor is fully available during its unlimited free trial. You only need to purchase the full version of this software when you plan to format your book and/or eBook for publishing.

Vellum offers these intuitive benefits and innovative formatting options:

  • Ready-made styles that look professional and aesthetically pleasing
  • Direct access to completely customizable formatting options
  • Versatile preview mode
  • Print editions formatting
  • Title and metadata addition
  • Ability to create box sets for your books
  • Convenient compiling and uploading of your book
  • Unlimited usage for multiple books and long series

Ready to get started with my favorite book formatting software? Get Vellum today.

2. Kindle Create

Pros
Cons
FreeLimited options
Easy to useIt’s only suitable for some types of books.
Can create ebooks and printed booksThe finished product looks less professional.

Like other book formatting software, you can create your manuscript in Kindle Create before you ever need to format and publish it. However, Kindle Create is a must-have tool for publishing to Amazon’s eBook marketplace.

Download Kindle Create here.

Amazon makes it clear that Kindle Create is not great for books with images, tables, footnotes, endnotes, or customized fonts.

But for straightforward novels and essays, Kindle Create is a great tool that lets you:

  • Format your manuscript
  • Customize your headers and footers
  • Create a table of contents
  • Insert page numbers
  • Give your eBook a visual theme
  • Preview your eBook as it will appear on a tablet, phone, or e-reader
  • Format for eBook or print publishing

If you plan on publishing with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Kindle Create may be an excellent option for you. You can edit and preview your ebook to ensure your readers (especially Kindle owners) are getting the best reading experience possible.

Kindle Create screenshot of formatting options.

3. MS Word

Pros
Cons
Most people already own it.Expensive (if you don’t already have it).
It has more design options than free programs.Only for ebooks
You’re probably familiar with the formatting tools and options.Limited design options
Several of the other programs on this list require you to upload a Docx file.It’s not intended for book formatting.
You’ll end up with a less professional-looking finished product.

Microsoft Word is the gold standard for word processors. Most businesses use MS Word, and for good reason. It’s known as a “what you see is what you get” program, which is great for formatting.

Though I wouldn’t personally recommend Word for writing a book, it is very user-friendly when it comes to formatting, exporting, and publishing. Formatting your novel with Word is simple, which can’t be said for most of these formatting tools.

Remember, MS Word costs $139.99 or $6.99/month to include all Microsoft 365.

For manuscript formatting, make sure to set your line spacing to double-spaced. Stick with Times New Roman or Arial font.

For book formatting, click Layout > Size > Custom Size > 5.5”x8.5”, then go to Margins > Custom Margins and change Top, Left, Bottom, and Right margins to 0.75”.

Does Microsoft Word have a book template? Yes, Microsoft Word has several book templates already available in the software.

4. Scrivener

Pros
Cons
Great for planning and writing your book.Formatting can be finicky and cause issues when exported.
Inexpensive.It’s a writing software rather than formatting software.
No subscription fees.Limited formatting options
Can create both ebooks and printed books.It has a steeper learning curve than other programs.

Scrivener is the best book writing software — my go-to for years. I love its ready-made templates, distraction-free Composition Mode, and its emphasis on organization and having all your research files in one window.

Check out my full review on Scrivener 3. I also made a video to explain why Scrivener is better than MS Word.

Even I will admit that Scrivener’s Compile function, where you format your manuscript or final product into an EPUB, MOBI, PDF, or DOCX, has a steep learning curve. But there are free video tutorials and in-depth mastery classes available.

Scrivener is only intimidating because it’s so customizable.

In the sidebar (Binder), you can name your chapter titles, separate scenes and parts, upload your beautiful book cover, and more.

In the Compile window, you feel like a real book designer when you pull from the Binder to arrange your own DIY manuscript or professional-looking eBook.

Scrivener offers these 7 formatting benefits:

  1. Handy templates when you start a project that help with formatting down the road
  2. A helpful Default formatting setting
  3. Customizable formatting options, including for sections and headings
  4. Versatile header and footer options
  5. Control over separators and page breaks
  6. Metadata, front matter, and back matter personalization
  7. Ability to Compile (export) to EPUB, MOBI, PDF, DOCX, RTF, TXT, even HTML

How much does Scrivener cost? After the 30-working-day free trial, Scrivener costs $49 for Mac or Windows or $19.99 on iOS. There is a discount for “students and academics.”

Use my 20% off coupon code (KINDLEPRENEUR) to download Scrivener today! (If you’re upgrading to Scrivener 3, use my 50% coupon code: SCRIV3MAC.)

scrivener formatting view

5. Reedsy

Pros
Cons
FreeLimited design options
Easy to useOnly works for some types of books (novels, memoirs, etc.)
It’s a word processor and design software in one.
Pre-made templates.
Exports distribution-ready files.
Can create ebooks and printed books.

Reedsy Book Editor was made with the input of experts in book design to “meet the high standards of the industry,” according to their website. It’s free, browser-based, and easy to learn.

Like problems with Google Docs, Reedsy’s book formatter only works on a web browser, meaning it’s hampered by your internet connection and your browser’s inefficient processing speed.

That said, these are the benefits of Reedsy Book Editor for formatting your book or manuscript:

  • Ready-made professional-looking templates
  • Native compatibility with Amazon Kindle Bookstore, Kobo Store, Apple iBooks Store, IngramSpark, KDP Print, Lulu, and more
  • Exports to EPUB, MOBI, and PDF
  • It’s completely FREE
  • No previous design skills required
  • Secure storage in the cloud across unlimited devices

Reedsy automatically chooses your font, size, and spacing according to what template you’ve selected. Of course, you can highlight a passage and change these features if need be.

Other Formatting Tools

The 5 formatting tools above make up the best book formatting software available. But there are other formatting programs you may want to consider.

Adobe InDesign is the industry standard for professional formatters. However, its steep cost ($31.49/month, or $239.88/year) and massive suite of features should only be purchased and used by those with a design or formatting background.

Calibre is an awesome tool for editing, converting, and formatting your book or manuscript. It is free, open-source, and great for exporting. Like Vellum, Calibre has a learning curve, but there are plenty of YouTube videos out there that can help you figure out this handy software.

Jutoh is a book formatting tool that costs $45 for the Standard Edition. Its most useful feature is that it suggests potential formatting problems you may have missed. It allows you to format unlimited books in EPUB, MOBI, HTML, and TXT.

However, Jutoh does not export to PDF and has a very outdated website.

It’s worth mentioning that Amazon suggests (but does not endorse) the following tools to format your ebook for publishing:

Which format is best for exporting eBooks?

The best format for exporting eBooks is EPUB in almost every case. PDF is preferred for graphically detailed eBooks with unique formatting that doesn’t translate well to the responsive nature of an EPUB.

In the past, you had to export or convert from EPUB to MOBI if you waanted to publish on Amazon’s ebook marketplace. That is no longer the case. In fact, Amazon recommends EPUB, DOC/DOCX, or a Kindle Create file. MOBI files are supported but not recommended.

The most common eBook file formats are:

  • EPUB
  • PDF
  • MOBI

EPUB

An EPUB file in the standard file format for eBook formatting. EPUB stands for “electronic publication.” It is an open-source file type built with CSS and HTML.

EPUB is a universal eBook file format — every book publishing company accepts them. EPUBs are reflowable, resizable, and can contain optional digital rights management (DRM) functionalities. They even let readers highlight, bookmark, or change the background color.

Amazon used to reject EPUBs until converted to MOBIs. Now Amazon accepts EPUBs — even recommends them. (Their built-in software essentially converts EPUBs to MOBIs when a book is transferred to a Kindle.)

In almost all cases, you should export your eBook to an EPUB format.

PDF

The Portable Document File (PDF) debuted in 1993, 28 years ago. Yet, it’s still widely recognized and widely used. A PDF provides printer-friendly documents with a fixed format. There are uncommon situations when you should format your eBook as a PDF.

If your eBook contains unique formatting or is graphically detailed, you may want to consider exporting your eBook to a PDF file.

Otherwise, stick to the EPUB format. PDFs are helpful for printing, not typical eBooks.

MOBI

The MOBI file format (Mobipocket eBook format) was designed for eBooks, primarily for Amazon Kindle devices. However, the MOBI is slowly being phased out.

It used to be the only format with which you could upload your eBook to Amazon’s eBook marketplace, where 75% of eBooks are sold. Nowadays, Amazon supports MOBI but recommends EPUB, DOC/DOCX, or Kindle Create files.

MOBI’s legacy format lives on in the AZW3, the KFX, and the KPF file formats.

In 2021, there are next to no cases in which you should export your eBook to a MOBI file format. However, it is wise to view how your EPUB looks on a Kindle (when it basically turns it into a MOBI) using Kindle Previewer.

Which formatting software will you use?

You should use Vellum’s formatting software if you can afford the steep price tag. (Use Atticus when it comes out!)

If you already use Scrivener, I encourage you to take the time to learn the advanced formatting options in Scrivener’s Compile feature. Download Scrivener here, and use my 20% off coupon code: KINDLEPRENEUR.

If you already use Microsoft Word (you shouldn’t), its simple “what you see is what you get” formatting is intuitive and better than its word processor.

If you’re looking for an inexpensive option, Reedsy Book Editor is a free, user-friendly book formatting tool and browser-based word processor.

Of course, if you’re focusing on Amazon’s eBook marketplace, you may want to consider Kindle Create. It lets you view how it will look on a Kindle device. The app is still clunky, but it will improve over time.



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2 thoughts on “Best Book Formatting Software: 2021 [+ Format & Export Tips]

Comments
  1. Jeff

    Great information. I was unaware that Amazon is phasing out MOBI. Thanks.

    1. Dave Chesson

      Yup – end of June.

Comments are closed.

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