Thursday, January 24, 2013

Getting the first line right in Word 2007+

Take a look at some professionally printed books. Examine the first line after a chapter heading or after a text break. Notice how it’s not indented?

Now look at the work of many indie authors and you’ll find few use the same style. Many are not aware of this convention. Others don’t know how to implement it – especially in an ebook. It’s not something I’ve seen discussed widely and it’s not obvious how to implement it in MS Word. If you read Smashwords style guide they state it shouldn’t be done! In general Smashwords is correct – you shouldn’t use text indents and paragraph spacing but that very first line is an exception and if properly done, Smashwords will accept this.

Here’s how to do it in Word 2007/2010+

Make sure your normal style is set up correctly first. I set my normal (default) style to be:

Now create a new style ‘No Indent’ exactly the same but with no first line indent. In this style set the style for the following paragraph to be ‘Normal’ style.

Now modify your Heading 1 style (the one you should use for chapter headings) so that it’s following paragraph is set to ‘No indent’ style.

If you are producing non-fiction and use Heading 2/3 for subheadings then set their following paragraph to be ‘No indent’ in the same way.
Create a style for your text breaks if you are using them. I use the ‘Normal’ style but centred. Again, set its following paragraph style to be ‘No indent’.

And there you have it. Word will automatically follow chapter headings and other headings with a ‘No indent’ line and your next paragraph will be indented as it should be. Converting the file to Kindle format via html and the Calibre program will produce the same effect. Saving as a .doc file before sending to Smashwords will produce similar results. Your printed book and ebooks will have just that little bit extra professionalism.

Have you seen the blogs I wrote on editing and formatting?

If this post has proved useful to you would you do me a favour in return? Download a FREE copy of the book I co-author - a romantic technothriller called 'Immortality Gene'. Even if you don't read it it will help our ratings. You can get it at and if you want to read it, you can use a phone, a tablet, a computer or even a Kindle.


Tony LaRocca said...

Thank you! I don't get why Smashwords is so adamant that you NEVER EVER EVER MIX INDENTS AND NO INDENTS! Not indenting the first line of a chapter or short story looks much more professional.

John Chapman said...

Smashwords do accept the first line after a title or section break not being indented. One other thing you might try if there are problems is to have a first line indent of 0.01 cm. That's small enough not to be noticed but enough to fool e-reading devices.