The idea of writing a book using Google Docs may sound strange. Since it's free (with a Google account), it's easy to assume that it's not up to such a monumental task. But it definitely is.
While Google Docs certainly isn't the best book writing software out there, it has all you need to get your words down, edit them (with a little help), and then decide what you want to do with your finished manuscript. That is, whether you want to self-publish it or shop it around to literary agents or publishing houses.
But let's not put the cart before the horse. The first step is writing the book you have in you. So read on to find out how to write a book using Google Docs.
- Benefits and drawbacks of using Google Docs to write your book.
- How to start writing your book using Google Docs
- What features to use for a streamlined writing experience.
- Formatting your book in Google Docs
The Best Tool for Book Writing
While Google Docs is an option for writing your book, it’s not expressly designed for it. But Atticus is. We took the best of Google Docs and combined it with awesome features from other writing tools to make Atticus.
This all-in-one writing and formatting software has a ton of features for writers of fiction and nonfiction books. Drag-and-drop chapters, ProWritingAid integration, customization options, and goal-setting tools are just a few of the features. It’s an easy-to-use word processor in addition to a professional formatting tool. It includes over a dozen pre-built templates to choose from. Or you can design your own! You can export as many EPUB and print-ready PDF files as you like. It’s all included in the one-time price.
We’re also working on a ton of new features. Soon, you’ll be able to collaborate with co-writers and editors right in the app.
If you want to learn more about Atticus, check out this article. To see how to write your book using Google Docs, just keep reading!
Pros and Cons of Writing a Book in a Google Doc
If you have a free Google account, you have access to Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, and Google Forms. These are tools that rival those of Microsoft Office — and are very similar in practice. But since we're talking about writing a book, we'll be focusing on Google Docs, which has some definite pros and cons for book writing.
- Auto-save and cloud storage so you won't lose your work.
- Free and easy to use.
- Provides basic editing tools.
- Provides a collaboration function.
- Allows you to export in multiple file formats.
- Only access your saved work when online. (Although with precautions, you can access it offline.)
- Not ideal for formatting for self-publishing.
Basics of Writing Your Book in Google Docs
When it comes to the mechanics of writing your book, there's no one right way to do it. Some people work from an outline they have in another document or file on their computer. Others never outline, letting the creative flow take them where it will. Some people open another document for notes and research, while others keep the notes in the same document in its own section.
You'll have to figure out what's right for you. But the basics of this section will be handy no matter where you keep your notes (if you even take any) or whether you work from an outline.
To start your Google Document, find your way to your Google Drive dashboard or simply go to the Google Docs home page. Once you're signed in (if you're not already), select a new blank document.
You'll see that there are some Google Docs templates available, but none of the standard ones are book templates. Besides, I don't recommend working from a book template until you know the basics of the word processor. More on whether book templates are any good later. For now, back to your new document.
In the top left corner, type in the name of your book or a placeholder title.
Now, you're ready to write! You can start getting the words down immediately or make the next few adjustments first. Either way, Google will auto-save any changes as they're made, ensuring that you don't lose any work.
Changing Font Size and Style
As you can see from the picture above, Google defaults to Arial text style and 11-point font size. Feel free to change this at any time. Times New Roman and 12-point font are standard for most manuscripts. But at this stage, choose one that you will like and that will be easy on the eyes.
If you want to change the text you've already entered, just highlight it and use the font menu to change it.
Adding Chapter Headings
When you're first starting a book in Google Docs, navigation is easy. But as the story progresses and 1,000 words turns into 10,000, you'll want an easy way to navigate through the document. That's where Chapter Headings come in handy.
To assign a chapter heading, use the Styles menu, which should default to Normal Text unless you change it. Place your cursor next to the text you want to change, and select the appropriate header from the Styles menu. I recommend using Heading 1 for chapter headings and Heading 2 for section breaks or subheadings.
Now that you know how to assign chapter headings, it's important to figure out how to open the navigation menu so you can jump from chapter to chapter. To do this, go to the View dropdown menu and select Show Outline. A document outline will pop up to the left of your article.
If you find this too distracting while you're writing, simply select the arrow at the top left corner of the document outline to collapse it. Then click on the little outline insignia when you want to view it again.
It's good to have goals as you're writing a book. Whether it's 250 words a day, or 2500, you'll need a way to keep track. So to check your word count in your Google Doc, simply click on the Tools dropdown menu at the top of your document. The second option down is Word Count. You can click on this to see the total word count of your document, or whatever section you highlight.
As you can see from the picture above, you also have the option to show the word count as you work by clicking the box at the bottom of the window.
Downloading a Word Document
While Google automatically saves your document as you make changes, you can also download your document for local storage.
I've never had any issues with auto-save in Google Docs, but I still download DOCX files every couple of days, just in case. This is helpful because I can just open the downloaded document in Microsoft Word to continue working if I don't have internet or I just want to use some of MS Word's more robust features.
You can also download other document types, such as ODT and EPUB. You can even download it as a PDF document!
Checking Spelling and Grammar
The built-in spelling and grammar checker is one of the Google Docs features that doesn't stack up well against other word processors. Microsoft Word's editing feature is much more robust and thorough. But that doesn't mean you should use this feature while writing in Google Docs.
There are a couple of different ways to access this feature. You can use the Tools dropdown menu or you can simply click the little A with the check mark next to it.
If you're the type of writer who doesn't like to be distracted by spelling and grammar corrections while you're writing, use the Tools dropdown menu to toggle these selections on and off as you see fit.
Don't forget there are plenty of great proofreading apps that integrate with Google Docs. My top recommendation is ProWritingAid, but you can see our comprehensive list of the best proofreading tools here.
Advanced Book Writing Features in Google Docs
The features outlined above are more than enough to get the writing process rolling. If you're just beginning, I'd suggest focusing on getting the words down and little else. It's really easy to get distracted by other things during the novel-writing process — until you develop a writing habit.
And since your doc is online, it's tempting to pop over to social media for a minute — which turns into an hour.
So if you don't yet have a daily or weekly writing habit, that's what you should focus on first. But if you're looking to see what else Google Docs can do for your writing process, I've included a couple more features in this section.
While not a requirement, some novel writers like to put a page break after each chapter. This will ensure each chapter starts on a fresh page. To do this, place your cursor at the end of the preceding chapter. Select the Insert dropdown menu and find the Page Break feature near the bottom. Select Page break and start your new chapter!
Google Docs defaults to 8.5 by 11 inches. However, this is large for most books. So if you'd like to make the document reflect the eventual size of your print book, you can use the Page Setup feature. Simply click the File dropdown menu and you'll see it near the bottom.
You can also change your margins here if you wish!
Accessing Your Document on Mobile
One nice thing about the Google Workspace suite is you can access it from your phone. So if you're on the bus or the train and you have a few minutes to write or edit, you can open the Google app and get some work done.
You can record the work in a dedicated writing Google sheet, and even use Google Forms to create questions for your eventual Beta Readers! Indie authors can definitely get a lot of use out of these free tools beyond writing.
Editing in Google Docs
While most editors like to work using the Track Changes feature in MS Word, you do have a similar option in Google Docs. You can share your document with someone using the blue button in the top right corner.
Then you can choose their level of access, selecting Commenting if you don't want them to be able to edit. You can also have them use Suggestion mode, where they can make changes that you can accept or reject. (It’s always a good idea to make a copy or download your document as-is before sharing it with anyone!)
Formatting in Google Docs
There are two main types of formatting. Which one you end up doing will depend on your goals as a writer. If you're going to submit your book for traditional publication, you'll want to check out this article on manuscript formatting.
If you're looking to publish your book on a platform like Kindle Direct Publishing, you'll need to do a different kind of formatting. Namely, turning your manuscript into a professional-looking EPUB file for eBook distribution and a print-ready PDF file for print distribution.
You can format for submissions in Google Docs itself (see the link above). And while it's technically possible to format for indie publishing in Google Docs, I wouldn't do it if you value your sanity.
You may be tempted to use a book template for your Google Doc, then download an EPUB and call it a day. Unfortunately, even the best book template for Google Docs (or even MS Word) won't look nearly as good as 98% of the competition.
Formatting for indie publishing is more than adding a title page, adding page numbers, and making sure your table of contents is in good shape. To succeed in the world of indie publishing, your book needs to look as good as possible. Luckily, this is easy to do.
Use a Formatting and Writing App
Google Docs is a great tool for getting the words down. But when it comes time to format your book, save yourself the time and trouble by using a formatting and writing app.
As mentioned above, we recommend Atticus because it's easy to use and you can transform your manuscript with a few clicks of your mouse. You can upload your finished manuscript, and Atticus will automatically populate a table of contents, a title page, and a copyright page. Then you can choose from over a dozen templates, and Atticus will automatically take care of the formatting so you don't have to spend hours figuring it out. Once you add a book cover, you can download a store-ready EPUB for eBooks and a print-ready PDF for your paperback or hardcover book.
But our Atticus tool isn't the only one out there. You can check out other apps, like Scrivener or Vellum. In fact, we have an article that details the best book writing software you can check out now!
Novel writers and non-fiction authors alike can get much of their work done in a simple Google document. It has all the basics to help you get the words down. You can also do some light editing and proofing before bringing on a professional editor — either inside Google Docs or by downloading a Word document.
Formatting is a bit of a different story, which you can learn more about in this article.
The bottom line: you can absolutely write a book using Google Docs. When it comes down to it, the tool you use to write doesn't really matter. Even the greatest writers of all time write their books one word at a time!