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Formatting Text Files

Text files from Gutenberg are not in a print-ready format, but don't let that stop you from using them. It's really easy to reformat them. (Even I figured it out!) Below you'll find some basic info on formatting books, as well as specific step-by-step instructions for making books print-ready in Microsoft Word, Corel WordPerfect, and Open Office.
If you'd like, you can see my Printable Books and Covers page for free downloadable books I've formatted using the methods described below.

    - About Gutenberg Texts (Why they need reformatting, about italics, etc.)
    - Basic Book Setup (margins, binding allowance, fonts, etc.)
    - What's a Macro?
    - Formatting in Microsoft Word (link to the printable page)
    - Formatting in Corel Word Perfect (link to the printable page)
    - Formatting in Open Office (link to the printable page)

You could, technically, print a text file straight from Gutenberg. It would even be readable. But if you want to save a bunch of paper and make it look more like a real book, then read on.

How much paper can you save? After removing Gutenberg's license agreement, I pasted a number of different books into a wordprocessor and used the formatting directions below. Each time I was able to cut the number of pages approximately in half, or more, but it does vary from book to book. (The results were similar using half or full size paper.)

Gutenberg texts are purposely put into the simplest format so they are (and will continue to be) readable by computers and people, even as technology changes. Because of the simplicity of the format, things like indentation, bold face and italics are not available. However, you can easily make parts of the text bold, and instructions for indentation are in the formatting directions. Fixing italics is not difficult, or you can just leave them the way they are.

Fixing italics: (This is completely optional - it's just a matter of aesthetics.) If the original book had italics, the text file will reflect this in some way. One way is to put the italicized portions in ALL CAPS. The second way is with an underscore (one of these: _ ) on either side of the text _like this_. If you want to fix these you can use the "find" function in your word processor to look for an underscore. When you find one, italicize the text inside the underscores, then delete the underscores. I don't know a way to easily search for all the caps, so unless you want to skim through the entire book (not likely), you can just leave them as they are. [If anyone does know how, I'd be glad to post it here.]

Extra Hard Returns: Texts from Project Gutenberg have a word wrap of about 60-72 words per line, with a hard return at the end of each. (A "hard return" is the same has hitting the enter key.) This means that when you print, the words won't go to the edge of the page. They'll go to where the hard return is, and you end up with a lot of white space on each page. To make this look normal, and go to the edge of the page, you'll want to replace each hard return with a space. Using the find and replace function in your wordprocessor you can do this in a matter of seconds. (See formatting directions for your wordprocessor to learn how.)

Also, there is a blank line between every paragraph. The blank line is good for text files (because there's no indentation to distinguish a new paragraph), but a big waste of paper in a book. Following the formatting directions below will easily get rid of these blank lines, and instead make the first line of each paragraph indented, just like in a "real" book. There is only rarely a blank line between paragraphs in a professionally printed book. If this is the case, it is shown by a line of asterisks * * * in the text file. If those aren't there, you can assume that there is not meant to be a blank line between the paragraphs.

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BASIC BOOK SETUP (See pictures of the inside of a book formatted in a wordprocessor, before and after printing.)
Here are a few basics to remember if you want your book to look like one that was professionally printed. Font and margin sizes vary from book to book. The following information most closely duplicates mass-market paperbacks.

  • Numbers - Even numbered pages are always on the left, odds on the right.

  • Margins - Text should be 0.5" from the edges of the paper. (I also set it at 0.5" for the top and bottom.)

  • Binding Allowance (gutters) - The binding allowance is set in addition to the margins.
    For 3 hole punching, set binding allowance to 0.5".
    For comb binder punching, set binding allowance to 0.25".

  • Indentation - The first line of each paragraph should be indented anywhere from 1/8" to 1/4" (or 0.125" - 0.25"). Both are common indentation sizes in professionally published books. Chose whichever you prefer.

  • Font Face - Times New Roman, or another serif font, is best for reading printed pages. It's much easier and faster to read, or so the research says. (Save the sans serif fonts, like Arial, for the computer screen.)

  • Font Size - 11 point Times New Roman is about the same as what's used in most professionally printed paperbacks. (It's actually a tiny bit smaller, but still larger than 10 point.) Of course, you have the option of using larger fonts for those just beginning to read.

  • Line Spacing - If you use Times New Roman 11, a line spacing of 1.0 or 1.1 is about the same as professionally printed paperbacks. (It's somewhere in between, and either one's fine.)

  • Chapters - You don't have to start each chapter on a new page. I have numerous books that have chapters starting partway through a page. If it's good enough for a professionally printed Jane Austen book, it's good enough for me. (And it saves a lot of paper, and eventually shelf space, too.)
    I leave 2 blank lines after the end of the previous chapter, make the chapter title bold, and then leave either 1 or 0 blank lines between the chapter title and the first paragraph.

    Time-saving tip: Try setting up a blank page with your preferred paper size, margins, binding allowance, and indentation. [Do the other changes later.] Then save it as a file called "BookTemplate". Later you can open it and paste in your book without having to set up the page each time.
    Here's my WordPerfect Book Template to download and use, if you'd like.

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    A macro is a tool used in a wordprocessor that will do a list of pre-defined steps in just one step.
    To record a macro, click "Tools/Macro" and then click "record". Some programs have you type in the macro's name now, and some after you're done recording. Whenever's the right time, type in a name for your macro (like "bookformat"). Do all the steps you want to save (like indenting, changing font size, etc), then click stop. Next time you want to do all those same steps again, you can just have your macro do it.
    To play a macro you've recorded, click "Tools/Macro" and click "play" or "run". Select the macro you made (you'll recognize the name you typed before), and it will play. (These macro instructions, with more detail, are included in the formatting directions found below.)

    When I first heard of macros I thought "I can't do that, it's too hard!" and I kept formatting books the long way. Then one day I got tired of that, and tried a macro. Wow! It was so easy and it saves me a lot of time each time I use it. If I can do it, you can. I wrote some "idiot's guide" type steps below that hopefully should work for anyone. So give it a try!

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    Click here for printable Word directions (in html) or a pdf version.

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    Click here for printable WordPerfect directions (in html) or a pdf version.

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    Click here for printable Open Office directions (in html) or a pdf version.

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