Formatting Books with Word

There’s an old and not too funny joke that revolves around a dog that walks on two legs. The punch line I recall is something about the dog managing to walk on two legs at all even if not very well.

I have the same attitude toward Microsoft Word. I’m amazed that people attempt to layout books with it and even more amazed that they get any sort of tolerable result. Those who do that might want to read this article at The Book Designer:

She offers her problems and solutions. Her war with Word would have gone easier if she’d planned the appearance from the start and used paragraph styles. Unfortunately, post 5.1 versions of Word makes is such a pain to use styles, that few people even know they exist.

Also, keep in mind that, while publishers may insist that books be submitted in Word according to their dictates, they’re not foolishly using it to layout their books. They’re using the right tools: InDesign or perhaps Quark. And ebook distributors such as Smashwords are using Word at the input for their own formatting software.

Note too the comments area where others make suggestions.

–Michael W. Perry

I’ve used Word to prepare a few books that I’ve done in LuLu (vanity publishing). As they were gifts and not for sale or general consumption, Word was fine (if frustrating).

I used to use the old Ventura Publisher (ah, the good old days) and really missed the DTP features, but found that if I prepared the stylesheet in Word properly I could get a reasonable result. I totally agree with Michael, the trap with Word is to not use styles but to “see a problem and just adjust the font/spacing” or whatever. This works fine until your paragraph is no longer in the same context and then you have to change it again. Endlessly.

The biggest issue I found was with headers & footers due to the bizarre way that breaks are done in Word and how it just randomly “forgets” where it was. Grrrr.

Having said all that, I think if I had to format the books now using Word with “the ribbon”, I’d give up. I’d like to slap whoever came up with that little gem.

I think that the ribbon is a huge improvement for using styles because of the large clicking areas. The way to invoke style sheets and customize them from the ribbon is also good. Now, they made the feature much more accessible, but I wish they could make style changes behave in consistent and predictable ways…

I have been a Word user since 1990, an expert and taught others. But the change to the ribbon in 2007 (Windows side) was a good point for me to step away from it. I had already moved away from it for major projects three years prior. In 2005 I self-published a book 235 pages with 50+ photos. While I had written the first two chapters in Word, it began choking. So I wrote in Mellel, but at that time it didn’t handle photos as well as I needed. When it came time to do the final work I used Papyrus. It handled everything without a hiccup, styles, outlines, chapter headings, captions for photos, instantaneous changes reflected everywhere. I produced camera ready PDFs that the printer used directly (except for one very old photo).

Sadly, Papyrus (a German product) was upgraded in 2008, but the English version has never been produced, despite promises from 2009 onward. And English v. 12.5 (which I used) would not work with 10.6 – 10.8. Had it been available immediately in 2008, or even 2010!, I would have continued using it. Now even if it is available it may not work when Mavericks appears. Too bad, because it was an excellent program.

I think it comes from Samuel Johnson, quoted by Boswell, a comment on women preaching: “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.” The line later was applied to women novelists.

I admired Papyrus — one of the first “writing tools” I encountered when I switched to OSX — admired but could not quite justify buying (current price: $99.) And I dropped all thoughts of it when it went Deutsch-only. (Two years stationed in Germany taught me enough to order a beer and a cheese sandwich, but not enough to organize a book.)

Fortunately, I discovered Scr, which handles all formatting needed for the work I do.

And just out of curiosity, is there any drive in MS to use plain text + markdown for writers? I see all sorts of ideas about it, but they seem centered on OSX.


The problem Tina mentions about justified text being stretched on the last line of a section is usually down to manual line breaks. If the manual line breaks are replaced with regular paragraph returns, Word is able to justify correctly.

Turn on view invisibles to see what’s happening and use search and replace (search for manual line breaks and replace with paragraph returns) to get rid of them.

I am so glad that I no longer have to use Word.