If you’re thinking of writing a book, there’s one thing you can’t do without: a word processor. Or, alternatively, a time machine that allows you to travel back to an age where publishers still accepted manuscripts written in beautiful copperplate handwriting and bound in waxed canvas.

You decided on the word processing software? Good choice…

There are too many word processors out there for me to describe in detail, so I’ll stick with the one I use: Microsoft Word 2000 (yes, you read right, 2000. I love it, that’s why I’m hanging on to it tooth and nail.) But don’t worry if you’re using something different: all modern word processors should have something similar in place.

When you use a word processor, there are a few common pitfalls to watch out for. They may not trip you up if you submit your manuscript to a publisher. They may not even trip you up if you want to convert your document to a PDF file for self-publishing a printed book. But I guarantee you, they will trip you up if you want to create an eBook. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the reviews of Kindle books at Amazon. A lot of the 1 star reviews will say something along the lines of: “nice story, shame about the abysmal layout.”

Do not let that happen to you.

There are two main culprits there: using tabs and multiple returns. A lot of people use a tab to indent the first line of a paragraph and a double return to create a space in between two paragraphs. In a basic eBook, tabs will simply be ignored. Multiple returns will create huge spaces in between paragraphs. Plus, if you ever want to change your manuscript to have a different first line indent or a larger or smaller gap between paragraphs – you’ll have to go through the whole thing and change every single one by hand! I don’t know about you, but I can think of better ways to spend an afternoon.

Using styles is a much better way to make sure that your document has a consistent look to it, even if you do decide to change things. Changing a style will automatically update every paragraph in your document that uses it – the work of an afternoon (or possibly days) done in five minutes.

Coming up next: finding, modifying and applying styles…

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