Publishing Your Prose with Blurb BookSmart®, Part I

Share the Blurb:
pin it button Publishing Your Prose with Blurb BookSmart®, Part I

Are you writing a novel, a memoir, or maybe a volume of poetry? You may have wondered how Blurb’s bookmaking tools can help you get your raw words into a finished book. Making that leap can be intimidating, but we’re here to tell you that yes, you can produce a beautiful text-based book in BookSmart as easily as you can create a gorgeous photo book.

In this series of posts, Blurb content manager (and novelist) Forrest Bryant will walk you through the entire process, from your unformatted Word manuscript all the way to your finished and bound Blurb book. This series is adapted from Forrest’s recent webinar on the same subject, which will be available for viewing on later this month.

booksmart text book Publishing Your Prose with Blurb BookSmart®, Part I

The Right Tool for the Job


For this tutorial, we’re going to assume you already have the latest version of Blurb BookSmart, our desktop software for Mac or PC. BookSmart is free to download and use, but you’ll need to register for a Blurb account first. You’ll also need that login info when it’s time to upload and order your book.

Many authors just starting out with Blurb wonder if our PDF to Book workflow would be a better option than BookSmart. PDF to Book is a very powerful tool, but it’s intended for design professionals who are proficient with a page layout tool like Adobe® InDesign® or QuarkXPress. PDF to Book is ideal for complex layouts, but the typical novel or poetry book really doesn’t need that much detail.

For the majority of us who are not InDesign whizzes, BookSmart is the way to go. It has more than enough features to produce a good-looking text book, but you don’t need to go back to school to learn to use it. BookSmart can import your manuscript directly from Microsoft® Word, lay out your pages and cover, and even upload your finished book to Blurb.

Before You Begin


OK, so you’ve typed up your manuscript in your favorite word processor and you’re ready to dive in, right? Not so fast. Before you open up BookSmart, there are some important things you should do to make sure you’re ready to go.

First and most importantly, proofread your manuscript. Do it twice. And get a friend with a good eye for grammar to look it over, too. The important thing is to get your text as close to final as possible before you import it. This can save you a lot of work later on.

Save Your Files in .DOC Format


Now that your text is fully edited and squeaky clean, it’s time to prepare the actual files.

To use BookSmart’s text import feature, your files have to be in Microsoft Word’s .doc format. Take a look at your files and check the extension on the filenames. If they end with .doc, you should be good to go. If they’re .docx files, you’ll need to re-save them in .doc format before you go any further.

Note: Do not just change the file name! The differences between .doc and .docx files go a lot deeper than their names. You need to actually convert the files in Word so BookSmart can read them.

To do this, go to the “File” menu in Word and choose “Save As.” When you are asked to choose the format, look for the .doc option. This will say something like “Word 97-2003” on a PC, or “Word 97-2004” on a Mac.

save as doc Publishing Your Prose with Blurb BookSmart®, Part I

If your manuscript was written in another Word processor, that’s fine too.™, Google Docs, Apple Pages, and most other modern word processors can all save files in .doc format. And even if your favorite tool isn’t compatible with Word, you can always copy-and-paste your text into BookSmart manually.

Break Up Your Manuscript


The next tip is to break up your manuscript. If your book has chapters or other section dividers (like “Part 1” and “Part 2”), it’s a good idea to save each one in its own file rather than have the whole book in one file.

one doc Publishing Your Prose with Blurb BookSmart®, Part I

If you have only one file, then BookSmart sees your entire book as one long document, like a single giant chapter. But if you use a separate file for each chapter, then BookSmart knows where each one starts and ends:

multi docs Publishing Your Prose with Blurb BookSmart®, Part I

When you import your files, BookSmart will automatically put a page break before each new chapter, and the first page of each chapter will have a special layout with a chapter title. This saves you a lot of time, since otherwise you’d have to insert those page breaks and layout changes yourself.

This also helps to limit the problem known as reflow. If you import a single document that takes up 100 pages, and then you make a lot of changes to it, the revised book might be longer or shorter than the one you started with. That could impact your page count, table of contents, chapter breaks, and page formatting. Using one file for each chapter can limit the problem, because each chapter becomes its own unit in the book. If you add a bunch of words to a chapter, that chapter will reflow and you might have to fiddle with how it looks. But the other chapters stay intact. Your page numbers may still change, but you won’t have to worry about changes in one chapter messing up the text in another chapter.

Just the Text, Please


One more very important thing: before you go any further, be sure to strip out any special formatting elements — such as images or tables — so your documents are just text. Don’t worry, you’ll be able to add those images back in later.

More File Prep Tips


We’ve covered the big tips for getting your files ready for BookSmart, but there’s more you can do to streamline the process. Try doing these things now, in your word processor, before you start importing files.

File Names
When you save your individual chapter files, I recommend using both the chapter number and title right in the file name. For example, if your book starts with “Chapter 1: The Beginning,” go ahead and call the file “Chapter 1 The Beginning.doc” When you do the import, BookSmart will use this file name as the heading for the chapter.

Think about the fonts you want to use in your final book. The right font can make your text look beautiful, inviting, and easy to read. A weak font can look boring, unprofessional, or even confusing. BookSmart can use pretty much any font you have installed on your computer, and whatever font and font size you set in your Word files will be imported along with the text. If your manuscript is typed in 12-point Times New Roman, BookSmart will lay out your book in 12-point Times New Roman.

See my previous blog post on “Eight Guidelines for Choosing Type” for more thoughts on selecting the best fonts for your book.

Justify Your Text
Here’s a small change that makes a big difference. If you’ve used a word processor for any length of time, you know you can change the text alignment: you can align to the left margin, to the right margin, center, or justify. Justifying text means that the lines go all the way flush against the right and left margins.

Usually when we write, we align our text to the left – at least in western languages. Sometimes we center. But we rarely justify. One of the biggest mistakes rookie self-publishers make is leaving their text left-aligned in their finished books. But if you look at almost any professional publication – whether it’s a novel, a school textbook, a magazine, or anything else – the text is almost always justified. There’s a reason for this. When we look at very large blocks of unbroken text, page after page of it, the straight, even edges of justified text help remove visual clutter that would otherwise distract us. It helps our eyes focus on the words rather than the page. In a nutshell, we recommend that you justify your text.

If you’re working on a poetry book, then the situation is different. Poetry almost never needs justification (pun intended). Most poetry is aligned left. I’ve noticed that Haiku writers tend to align center. And some poets like to play with indents and alignments on a line-by-line basis, making it part of their art. Really, it’s up to you.

All this and we haven’t even started up BookSmart yet! Hey, nobody said writing a novel was easy. But if you take the time to proofread and edit your manuscript, format and save your files, and choose your fonts carefully right off the bat, you’ll actually save yourself a lot of time and effort.

In Part II, we’ll (finally!) open BookSmart and create a new book project, looking at book sizes, the document importer, and more. Until then, happy editing!

Share the Blurb:
pin it button Publishing Your Prose with Blurb BookSmart®, Part I


  1. This is very helpful information. One thing I didn’t realize or hadn’t ever noticed is that the text is justified in professionally written books. I will make that improvement to my next book.

    By Christine Buch Pocza
      May 14, 2011 – 5:27 am   Permalink
  2. Where is part 2 of this? Links to it say “not found”

    By Bob B
      August 5, 2011 – 9:17 am   Permalink
  3. Hey Bob,

    Thanks for letting us know that was broken. Here’s Part II:



    By Kent
      August 5, 2011 – 9:37 am   Permalink
  4. May I suggest that whether to ‘justify’ is not an automatic decision. If the type size is relatively large for the line length it can lead to unsightly gaps between words.

    In larger format picture-based books ‘ranged left’ is also often a less fussy and more relaxed approach.

    It can also be a matter of taste and style. Dare I say that US graphic design can be a little . . . retro?

    For text-based, ‘trade’ or ‘paperback’ octavo etc sizes, however, I agree that justified is usually the way to go.

    By A J King
      December 12, 2012 – 7:01 am   Permalink
  5. Thanks for the comment! I agree about using ranged left for image-based books. But for prose (particularly in our Trade of Pocket books), I think most people do like the justified.

    By Kent
      December 12, 2012 – 2:02 pm   Permalink
  6. I’m typing my book using MS Word 2010, which gives it the default file extension .docx. But I do save it as .doc. I’m experimenting with format right now and when I create the “book” in BookSmart, the pages don’t reflect certain formatting from the original document. It doesn’t indent paragraphs, it doesn’t indent subparagraphs, em dashes aren’t reflected properly, among others, and the pages aren’t justified as they would be in the finished book. The BookSmart book style I used is “Trade.”
    Please advise.
    Thank you.

    By Frog
      January 2, 2013 – 6:38 pm   Permalink
  7. Hey Frog,

    I’m not sure about that. Go ahead and contact our Support Team. They’ll be happy to help you out with this:



    By Kent
      January 3, 2013 – 3:00 pm   Permalink
  8. Speech marks converted to letters; line breaks ignored so two lines of poetry run together; additioal empty lines – the Blurb book we had back had SO MANY errors I wanted to shoot myself. Or someone.
    We did NOT up-load these errors – they were generated in the machine.
    So much work – this is the second set of proof copies – hourse, days wasted….

    By patricia Baker-Cassi
      March 21, 2013 – 4:11 pm   Permalink
  9. Hey Patricia,

    I’m sorry to hear you had trouble. Did you contact our Support Team?



    By Kent
      March 22, 2013 – 11:22 am   Permalink
  10. Hoping you can help me with a problem and question I have please.

    I have a large, text-only Word document that I am publishing into a book (no images or anything fancy). I divided it up into chapters following this page’s guidance (, and when ready to import, followed the instructions by selecting each of the 6 finished chapters all at once. The 7th chapter will be imported at a later time as I am still making edits to that; however I want to get started.

    I added each of the individual word documents (.doc), at once, and when finished, although the book came out with the chapter heading layout I selected, the text of the chapters was wrong and only had 3 pages or so of each chapter. Chapters 1-6 appeared but text was missing throughout. Not good. So, I tried importing only one chapter, Chapter 1 to see what would happen (planning on importing the others, one after the other). When I did this, the Chapter layout was wrong. I would have to select the page and change the chapter layout maually even though I selected a specific chapter layout directly after the import. This would be a good alternate way to import text to include all text in each chapter, except I cannot find anywhere the function to import the other word documents into the already opened book.

    I did not find a tutorial or forum that answered this question specifically.

    Can you please help?

    Thank you!

    By Miss.cary
      September 29, 2013 – 7:35 am   Permalink
  11. Hello Miss.cary,

    Sounds like you’ve done everything right. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what the issue could be. It looks like you’re already in contact with our Support Team. They should be able to help you out.



    By Kent
      October 30, 2013 – 11:04 am   Permalink

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

(required, not published)