If you’re self-publishing, Microsoft Word is good enough.
Whether you’re publishing a print-on-demand paperback through CreateSpace or an e-book through Kindle Direct Publishing, for example, it’s possible to create a well-formatted book using Microsoft Word.
Of course, it’s also possible to create a document that looks rather unprofessional, but that’s possible with any software. Word can produce excellent results, but it’s necessary to first learn how to make Word do this.
Some ‘experts’ like to advertise that Word isn’t good enough. There are a few simple explanations for this:
- They may not be aware of all the little tricks that are possible in Word (like kerning and tracking, or how to prevent Word from compressing your images). Once somebody prefers different software over Word, there is no longer any incentive to master Word. So why should people who prefer other software become and remain up-to-date on all the little tricks that Word can do?
- They may not be aware that each version of Microsoft Word has become more compatible with Kindle and CreateSpace, for example (partly from improvements in Word and partly from improvements from the publishing platforms). When Word 2007 first came out, .docx files led to formatting issues compared to .doc, but now .docx files from 2010 or 2013 in many cases work better than .doc files. Those who learned to prefer .doc in the early days may have not continued to test .docx over the years.
- They may have an ulterior motive. Somebody who earns a living formatting books might want to advertise that Word is unsatisfactory. Some people may have a financial interest in another software program.
- Authors or publishers who don’t use Word may wish to sell the brand that their books are better. A professional looking book does have better formatting, but all that matters is how it looks to the customer, not the process by which it was created. The truth is that if you master Word formatting, you can produce excellent formatting with it.
- A couple of features are more convenient in other software programs, like creating different headers or page numbers in different sections. There is a straightforward way to do this in Word, but it just doesn’t seem straightforward until you learn how to do it. On the other hand, sometimes other tools that should be easy to use in other software programs don’t seem intuitive.
- There are a couple of subtle improvements that can be made by using other software programs. For example, you can gain better control of images and you can work with em’s or percentages instead of pts in an e-book by working with HTML. If these subtleties are important to you, it doesn’t mean that you must work with different software. For example, you can save a Word file as a filtered webpage and then make these subtle improvements directly. Similarly, if you need a PDF file for your print-on-demand paperback, you can find a Word to PDF converter and print to PDF (using the convenient Save As PDF option leads to images with less than 200 DPI—but this is just one of several steps needed to avoid images with less than 300 DPI).
Microsoft Word doesn’t make formatting foolproof. For example, if you use tabs, your e-book could be a disaster (but if you simply learn how to use First Line Indent instead, and research other ways to produce good formatting—or avoid poor formatting—this won’t be a problem).
But it does provide a convenient method of formatting self-published books, and it can lead to good formatting for those who learn how to use it well.
There are many points in its favor:
- fairly economical
- very accessible
- easy to get help (free tutorials from Microsoft, numerous online tutorials on Google, knowledgeable Word users on author community forums, etc.)
- excellent formatting is possible (doesn’t matter that it was really designed as a word processor, it has grown to include the features needed to format a book quite well)
- most features are very intuitive (and it’s easy to find helpful tutorials for anything that isn’t)
- flexible for self-publishing as it serves as a great starting point for both print and e-book publishing
- use of the built-in styles on the top of the Home ribbon make it easy to convert from print to e-book or vice-versa (those styles are also imperative if you want to achieve reliable e-book formatting from Word)
There are good alternatives to Word for those who prefer something else.
For print publishing, Adobe InDesign is considered by most to be top of the line. It’s not nearly as intuitive as Microsoft Word, but if you take the time to learn it, this will only be an issue for your first book. Serif Page Plus and Scribus are two other publishing software programs. Open Office is a free open-source alternative to Word.
There are a variety of alternatives for e-books, such as Jutoh, Atlantis, Calibre, and Sigil. Many of the alternatives are actually begun in Word using the styles and then improved with other software programs, even by some experts who are in the habit of faulting Word.
Imagine a Black Friday type of event just for book lovers.
You don’t have to imagine it. It’s called Read Tuesday, and it’s free: www.readtuesday.com.
Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers
- Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
- Volume 2 on marketability and marketing
- Boxed set (of 4 books for the price of 2) now available for both Kindle and paperback
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