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Shipping Books from Home – Tips to Alleviate Postal Headaches

Shipping books from home: avoiding the headaches at the post office

Many authors have a love-hate relationship with shipping books from home. They love getting the instant income, they hate trekking to the post office, waiting in line, having to painstakingly write out all the different addresses. But you can have your cake and eat it too–just set up an in-home mailing system. In many cases, your postal carrier might be able to pluck the envelopes out of your mailbox, saving you time and stress. To get started shipping books from home, check out our five things you absolutely need:

Boxes and Padded Envelopes

When you ship books from home, it can feel like Oprah giving away carsThis one goes without saying. You can buy shipping material in bulk from Amazon, which will make those big shipments a breeze. We like to keep a variety on hand, including padded mailers for paperbacks and slightly larger ones for hardcovers, and boxes for bigger shipments. Make sure you grab some good, strong tape, too.

Take stock of the size of your books (height, width, spine), then calculate how big your shipping materials should be. Here are the sizes we use for our 6×9 books:

(Note: While there are boxes that  measure 6×9, we’ve found they’re almost a little too tight for your books. Better to size up an inch or two)

Postal Weigher

Media Mail is the cheapest shipping option for books, but you’ll need to know the weight of your package. You can buy a postal weigher from Amazon for about $16. Make sure you get a big enough one to handle those larger shipments, as books run about 1-1.5lb each.

Account to Purchase Postage

When you sell books from your website, you make more money. Find out our best tips for shipping books from homeDepending on how you’ve set up your online store, you might be able to do everything without having to access PayPal. WooCommerce for WordPress lets you do it all-in-one, provided you give them a credit card. We prefer the security of PayPal, and can access our customers’ shipping information fairly easily. There, it’s one-two-three clicks to having a perfectly sized label for US Orders.

However, we noticed a price discrepancy on PayPal vs USPS for international orders. To prevent those $25-$50 shipments from coming back, we go direct to the source.

Peel and Stick Labels

You can print off your labels on regular paper, but it’s much easier to use Peel and Stick Labels, already custom formatted for PayPal or USPS. Then it’s as easy as, well, peel and stick!

Swag and Add-Ins

One of the benefits from buying directly from the author is that the author can add additional swag into the bag. Maybe a bookmark with a coupon for free shipping, or a rubber bracelet with your website on it. Your customer will enjoy the extra stuff!

But above all else, don’t forget to sign it!

Things you need to know when shipping books from home


 

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Managing a Reviewer Mailing List

Reviewer mailing list: maintaining your own list of avid readers

We’ve spent a few blog posts talking about newsletters, book reviewers, and street teams. Today, we’d like to talk about a combination of both of them–your reviewer mailing list. For self-publishers looking to make a bigger splash on release day, having one is key.

Why Build a List?

Your reviewer mailing list is simply a group on your regular author newsletter profile dedicated solely to handing out review copies of your books. You can set aside a different brand for this list, or keep it the same as the rest of your newsletter. (We recommend the former) Every time you get a book ready for review, you’ll send it out to your list. We’ll talk technical how-to a little further down.

Why should you maintain your own list of reviewers? First of all, if you find a reviewer who likes what you put out, why not keep that resource nearby? Given enough releases, and enough reviewers, you could have a robust list of hundreds of loyal followers. Also, as any author will tell you, reviews are very hard to come by. Asking people to jot down a few thoughts can sometimes feel like pulling teeth. Growing a big list is part of that numbers game–the more folks who have review copies, the more reviews you’ll get.

Clean Regularly

There are always readers who like getting free books for nothing in return. Therefore, keep good records of your book reviewers, including who’s leaving reviews on big box sites. If you find you’ve sent a book to someone and they haven’t ever posted a review, yank ’em off your list.

Keep in mind, however, that not all reviewers like the same books. Especially if you write in different genres, a young adult fantasy might be better received than an adult space opera. Segmenting your reviewer mailing list into which genres they like can also help cut down on sending books to the wrong folks–and give you better metrics on how well your list is performing.

How to Deliver a Review Copy

There are several different options for you. The first, and easiest, is to use a third party solution like Instafreebie, BookFunnel, or BookSprout. There, you’ll be able to upload your ARC and make it available to just your reviewers list (or even to others, if you so choose). There’s a fee associated with some of the programs, but you won’t have to deal with uploading and managing ARCs.

If you’re a little more technically savvy, you may want to consider adding your ARCs to your website and using a plug-in. We prefer to use Delightful Downloads here at SGR-Pub, combined with a MailerLite automation. Users sign up for our reviewer mailing list, they receive a welcome email with a link to review plus a password. We add links to all three formats (Kindle, ePub, PDF) to keep our reviewers happy.

How to manage your reviewer mailing list

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Newsletter Swaps: An Easy, Free* Way To Market Your Book

Newsletter swaps: a great, free* way to market your book

In 2018, one of the hot, new ways to market your book is by building your newsletter email lists. The idea being email is far from dead, and is in fact one of the most effective ways to market. And many authors have banded together to do what’s known as a newsletter swap. In short, it is what it sounds like: you promote theirs, they promote yours, everybody wins. But how does one go about getting into these things?

Step 1: Set Up a Newsletter

Newsletter swaps are a great way to expand your reachOkay, this is where that free* part comes in. The very first step to a newsletter swap is to make sure you have a list to swap with in the first place. So you’ll want to take some time to build your author newsletter. But of course, you’re already doing that, right?

MailChimp and MailerLite are both excellent options (we use the latter). Both do offer free plans, however, you’re limited in the number of subscribers you can have. So you may have to pay a little bit in order to get to the higher numbers.

Step 2: Grow Your Subscribers

If you’ve got ten folks on your newsletters, sorry to say that probably nobody’s going to want to promote your book on their list of 10,000. Where’s the benefit to them, right?

Once you’ve got a baseline newsletter, grow your subscribers. You should take care to grow smartly; after all, ten thousand email subscribers who don’t buy anything isn’t worth much, right? The best way to grow your subscriber base is to give away a free eBook in exchange for a newsletter. Instafreebie is a great source, as is Bookfunnel. Or, for a cheaper option, you can set up a download plug-in on your wordpress site and send people there via your mailing list landing page. (Don’t know how to do that? Contact us for a quote!)

Step 3: Join an Author Groups

Get all the newsletter swaps!Most authors these days find swaps via Facebook Groups. Nowadays, there’s a group for every genre and niche out there. Get a feel for what the list sizes are for authors and what they’re looking for in response. Where you can fit in, offer to swap.

Step 4: Schedule Your Own Promotion

It’s a good idea to figure out a system to manage promotions so you don’t forget anyone. We’re big fans of Google Docs and Forms as an entry form. Just make sure you keep track of who’s supposed to share what on what day, and the same for your own.

Step 5: Keep Growing

Post a link to your free book in your book’s back matter. Sign up for newsletter builders with other authors. Keep growing your list with avid readers who want what you’re putting out there. Not only will you continue to qualify for larger swaps, but you’ll be cultivating a list of readers that you own, and you won’t have to pay one red cent to access them.

 


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Conventions, Events, and Sales Tax

Sales tax for authors

We consider ourselves old pros at attending conventions. We can schpiel with the best of them, schmooze and deal, and have big book-carrying muscles. While we’ve got a really great blog post on conventions, today, we’re going to focus on the less-sexy aspects of events: sales tax and other business legal stuff.

Disclaimer: Not lawyers or financial advisors.

Sales Tax is A PITA

Sales Tax is one of those things that most authors don’t think about until they’re signing up for a convention and there’s a paragraph about them having to manage their own number. So how does one go about doing that?

Just like every state has their own sales tax rate, every state has a different process for granting a license for selling. In most cases, the convention will provide paperwork for you to apply for a temporary license or a special event license. For that, you’ll need your business’s EIN number and enough time to get your certificate in the mail.

But for other states, like the great state of Texas, you have to actually set up your business in the state. That means every quarter, you’re logging into the website and telling them how much money you made. Yes, even if you aren’t a Texas resident. Yes, even if you made zero dollars.

Do You Have To?

A lot of authors see all this work and ask themselves, “Yeah, but do I really have to?” Some conventions won’t let you register for a show unless you have a state-provided ID #. Others, they post a warning that state tax auditors are wandering around and will want to see your certificate. And the wonderful state of Louisiana will show up at your table at 2pm in the afternoon on Sunday and ask for a check.

What happens if you don’t submit your stuff? Well, you’ll be hit with a fine (it’s not too much, maybe $10, depending on the state). Or they could bar you from selling in the state again.

Bottom line: Ignore Sales Tax at your own risk.

What About Online Sales?

This is the source of a lot of confusion for US-based authors. Here’s the bottom line: For online sales, you pay sales tax for customers who reside in your state. 

So if you’re based in Florida, all Florida sales will be charged a sales tax. If you live in Florida and your customer lives in Alabama, then no sales tax is necessary. This law is constantly being deliberated, but as of right now, this is the way it is.


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Becoming an Authorprenuer

Many self-published authors are perfectly content uploading their book, doing a little promotion, getting a few bucks, and that’s that. But for the rest of us, we find ourselves becoming business owners. And while we don’t recommend starting your own Zazzle store and spending all your profits on snuggies and coffee mugs (*ahem*), we do have a couple tips for the brand new authorprenuer.

Disclaimer: We aren’t lawyers and none of this is legal advice or tax advice. 

Start an LLC

The very best bit of advice we ever received was to incorporate a sole proprietorship LLC before we really got rolling with the business. An LLC gives you a couple of things that help with your business life. First, with an employee identification number (EIN), you can establish business checking accounts. This will allow you to separate your business income from your personal income, which is always a smart idea. If you’re planning on doing any kind of convention or show, you’ll need an EIN to apply for sales tax licenses in many states.

Come tax time, you’ll be able to funnel all your income and, more importantly, losses, through your LLC. You can only write off business expenses if you have a business, so if you’re planning on spending a lot, it might be worth it to get one started. Drove to a far-flung city for a convention? Write off the mileage. Had lunch with a beta reader? Write off the non-alcoholic expenses.

Separate and Keep Track of Your Expenses

Speaking of expenses, if you’re planning on having a lot of them, it might be a good idea to get a separate account for your bookish stuff. Amazon deposits our royalties into the business bank account, and we use those royalties to pay for eBook ads, editing, and more (like a real business!). If you’ve got your business income separate, you’ll be less likely to overspend on coffee mugs and snuggies.

As well, if you keep track of your expenses all year long, you should categorize them into the major tax categories. Then, when April rolls around, you’ll be able to assemble everything quickly. (Need help? We’ve got a great custom system we can build for you)

Experiment, but Don’t Go Crazy

Essentially, you want to get to the point where profits exceed expenses. But the old adage “you have to spend money to make money” remains true. You’ll need to invest in a cover designer or at the very least an editor. You may want to spend money on advertising, like newsletters or Amazon ads. The key here is to experiment, but as with everything else, keep good records. If you’re using the same Facebook ad set over and over again, and finding absolutely no return on investment, why continue?


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Running a Book Kickstarter – Tips For Success

In January 2016, we ran our very first Kickstarter to fund the publication of the first book in our fantasy romance. Where we expected a meager $400, we ended up with $1600! Along the way, we learned a few things, and that’s what we’ll talk about today. As always, your mileage may vary. Genre, audience, and many other factors can play into success. But generally, here are some tips to follow when running your first book Kickstarter.

Why Are You Doing It?

While it’s entirely possible to create and spit out a Kickstarter (or any other crowdfunding campaign) in an hour, it’s not recommended. You should give as much thought and effort into your crowdfunding campaign as you do your final release date of the book. That means, you guessed it, a project plan.

First, figure out what you want to do. Are you just trying to get early copies out to your readers? (In which case, Kickstarter might not be the best idea, but we’ll hit that in another post). Are you trying to offset the cost of cover and editing? Or are you just testing this new thing out to see how it improves your bottom line?

For the purposes of this blog, we’ll say you’re going with #2: offsetting publication costs.

How Much Do You Need?

To calculate this, you’ll need to know a few things. Obviously, how much are you planning to pay your cover artist and editor. If you’re going to seek them out after the Kickstarter, then get some estimates and timelines. Then, take your (already complete) manuscript and figure out how many pages you’ve got. You can use a tool like IngramSpark’s Print and Ship Calculator to then estimate how much it’ll cost to print your books. This is very important, as it might be a lot more than you think (especially if you’ve never published a book before). Are you including any swag like bookmarks, buttons, or tote bags? Add that in there, too.

Now that you’ve got all your costs, it’s time to figure out how much you’ll need. This is a bit of a give-and-take process, as you won’t know how many books you’ll need to buy until the end of the Kickstarter. But you can make an educated guess, based on where your audience numbers are right now. Basically, you’ll be taking the amount of money you need for your publication costs (the reason for the Kickstarter) and compare it with the profits you’ll make from your rewards, and come up with the minimum.

For example:

Paperback rewards: $10 each / Cost to print book: $6.50 per book = Profit: $3.50 per book

Editing Costs: $500 + Cover Design: $500 = Total cost: $1,000

$1000 / $3.50 = 286 books at $10 each to cover the cost, so a total goal ~$2860 (Rounding up to $3,000 for Kickstarter Fees)

(Keep in mind this doesn’t take into account rewards with swag or people donating more than the cost of the reward, but it’s a good place to start)

Set Your Goals High, But Reasonable

One of the big risks you take with Kickstarter is that if you don’t make your goal, then you don’t get a thing. So while you could absolutely set a goal of $3,000 or $5,000, do you have a current audience base that would support 300 individual orders? If not, it may be wise to lower your goals to something more achievable. If it’s your first book and Kickstarter, a lower goal like $500 might be a better place to start. You can always go over, and set up stretch goals to keep momentum moving.

As far as timeline, remember the idea of marketing momentum. You will most likely have a flurry of activity at the beginning of your Kickstarter and at the end, and the middle is what’s known as “soggy.” But keeping your schedule open for at least two weeks means you’ll be able to capture sales from folks on a biweekly pay period, and you’ll have a wider net to capture more potential backers.

Ten Tips For A Successful Kickstarter

We’ve put together the below infographic to help guide your planning. If you still need more help, then use our contact form at the bottom of the post to let us know how we can help you!

 

10 tips for a successful book kickstarter


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Common Book Formatting Issues

Book Formatting

Having formatted a number of books (and published a number more), we’ve seen a lot of book formatting issues along the way. Sometimes, it’s a simple derp error on our part, other times it’s a bit more complex. Many times, we forgot to check a button. But our derp is your gain. Here, we’ve listed some of the most common errors we get while formatting:

Kindle Look Inside Feature

This one is a sneaky one, and one that trips up a lot of authors if they aren’t paying attention. If you visit Amazon’s Look Inside feature, you might find your book formatting is completely different than expected. This is due to the Look Inside feature using a different software than the Kindle. In layman’s terms, Look Inside strips out a lot of the coding that makes a Kindle look pretty. This is most often the case when a user is using Scrivener 2.0 to format their books.

The best and most easy fix to this is to upload an ePub file to KDP. Or, if you have updated to Scrivener 3.0, they have fixed this issue with .Mobi files. If you’re using Vellum, they’ve also resolved this issue as well. The best course of action is always to check your file after it goes live to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.

Smashwords Autovetter Errors

Smashwords is notorious for throwing all kinds of errors at people. From images to text to Tables of Contents, you can find reams of complaints about people fighting with it. Happily, there’s a real easy solution to this problem: If you direct upload an ePub file (vice a Word document), you won’t have to submit to the Meatgrinder.

Keep in mind that per Smashword’s own data, Kindle is the most-often downloaded format, and if you only upload an ePub file, you won’t get that .Mobi file for users of the Smashwords store. We wrote a whole blog on Smashwords, if you think you want to upload a Word doc instead.

CreateSpace and Ingram Errors

If you’re using CreateSpace and IngramSpark to publish your book, generally if one accepts your book format, the other will as well. The normal errors we get from IngramSpark relate to the color schema (as Scrivener exports PDFs in a different schema) and, on occasion, if we save the cover under the wrong Photoshop setting. Both of these issues are “non-blocking,” that is, Ingram will fix them for you. With CreateSpace, our most common error is the autovetter stalling when we upload the interior. CreateSpace will review the document and allow you to view the online version to check for any issues.

Any Other Errors

Do you have any errors popping up when you format? Something just not working? Sound off in the comments!


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Formatting with Scrivener 3.0

Murphy’s Law says that when we went live with our Scrivener blog series, the folks over at Literature and Latte would release 3.0. And they did! But we’re ga-ga over the changes, so we’re not complaining too much. Today we’d like to share a few changes that we’ve noticed (and we’re sure we’ll find more) formatting with Scrivener 3.0. As with most things, change is change, but we think it’s for the better (mostly).

Back Matter joins Front Matter

We loved that we could change front matter in Scrivener 2.0 with a dropdown menu, but didn’t like that we had to select and unselect back matter. Happily, Scrivener has fixed that problem for us.

As you’ll see at the bottom of the right-most pane, you can add front matter from a drop-down menu, and also add back matter. Since we usually have multiple books in a single Scrivener file, we name the folders with the book name and format, just to make sure we’re using the right one. (Note: Our Kindle files and Smashwords files use two different front matters, but the same back matter).

Section Types Make Life Easier

One of the biggest complaints about Scrivener 2.0 was the lack of customization on scenes at the same level. So if you had two scenes with two different fonts, you had to manually adjust them. This was particularly bothersome in front and back matter. But now, Scrivener allows users to create project formats and specify different scene types per project. One thing to note is you have to create Section Types before you can assign them layouts (see our tutorial below).

To add a new section type, navigate to Project -> Project Settings, then add new section types. Please note, these are simply labels; you’ll have to set the layouts via the tutorial below.

 

Assigning Section Layouts to Section Types

As we said above, Section Types are merely labels. You’ve got to assign the layouts to the types, and it’s a little confusing the first few times you do it. So we’ve put together a tutorial to walk you through the process:

1On the Compile screen, find the gear on the lower left, and select “Edit format” (or add a new format by clicking the + button)
2Here is where you’ll find most of the formatting options that previously were under the main compile screen.

Within the Section Layouts pane, you’ll have Folders and Text, but you can add your own layouts here. We suggest having a chapter (folder) setting, a setting for back matter (eBook and print), one for as-is, one for front matter, and one for your actual book text. Depending on the type of book you have, you may add additional layouts.

3Formatting in Scrivener 3.0In the Formatting pane of the Section Layout, you can see how your text will look in the book. Here you can set the font for the title and/or text.
4To add an image above or below the folder title (or to add Chapter and autonumber), click on the Title Options pane.
5To set the number of lines above the title page, click on the New Pages pane (still in Section Layout). You can also set your chapter to begin on a recto (right) or a verso (left) page.
6You can also select different formats within the project pre-set, such as .Mobi, .ePub, .doc, and .PDF. Changing a style on a different format will not change on others. (Which is a good thing). Find this menu on the left side of the screen, at the top above Section Layouts.
7Once you’ve created your styles, you then need to assign them to the specific Section Types. Click on the button called “Assign Section Types” in the central pane.
8Here’s where it gets a little confusing. You have to create section types (the categorization of the scenes themselves) AND section layouts (how a scene is formatted). Then you have to assign the layout to the type. In other words, you have to assign your Folders formatting to your Folders type. Select the Section Type on the left pane, then locate the correct formatting on the right pane.
9Make sure your scenes have the right section type assigned, then press compile! Also, if you aren’t ready to compile, but want to save your settings, hold down the Option key to save settings.

One other neat new feature: Scrivener now opens your compiled file after it’s created.

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Formatting Books with Vellum

Many authors find themselves ready to format books, and then cross-eyed. If our blog series on Scrivener and Word doesn’t help, you might try a more all-in-one solution, one that will help with version control and pretty-pretties. That solution might be Vellum. Many of our fellow authors swear by the solution. For our money, we’re not impressed with the program’s lack of customization. See below to decide for yourself!

Vellum: The Good

What most authors love about Vellum is the user-friendly interface. You import your book and Vellum will automatically break up chapters and scenes. You then format with a series of pre-selected templates, generate a print book and an eBook, and poof! Formatted book.

Vellum exports to ePub, mobi, and PDF. They also have pre-set sizing for the most common book sizes and provide a preview of how the book will look formatted.

What’s not to love? Well, a lot.

Where’s the Customization?

When we first heard about Vellum, it was “shut up and take our money.” But as formatters for others, we quickly ran into major issues. For one, there’s no way to re-size the font on the interior of the book in one section. For example, if you’ve got a lot of text for the copyright page (as we sometimes do with our clients), you can’t set the size small enough to fit on one page.

For another, although there are many different formatting options, you can’t add your own images as scene breaks–or your own fonts. So if you’ve got a particular font in mind to match your cover, you’re out of luck. Same goes for creating a custom title page.

While some of the “auto-formatted” sections are great, sometimes they can be a little to clunky.

Should You Invest?

Vellum starts at $200 for the eBook version, and $250 for the eBook and print version. That’s pretty pricy for a lot of authors, especially considering that the going rate for formatters is less than that. (Might we suggest using our services instead and save yourself a hundred dollars?)

If you’re publishing several books, then you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons. The pros are that, if you’re happy with Vellum’s formatting, you can easily recreate it for subsequent books in the series. We also hear that authors are able to add multiple books into a single file (much as you can with Scrivener), to help with keeping your information together.

The biggest con that we see is that with the lack of customization for images and fonts, it’s pretty easy to tell when a book has been formatted with Vellum. They all look the same. For some folks, that’s not a big deal. But at SGR-Pub, we like our books to be as unique as the stories they tell.

We still have high hopes for Vellum, and will be watching for some of our concerns to be mitigated in future iterations.


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How to Format a Book in Word (Simply)

Book formatting is probably the easiest part of the self-publishing process. Even still, for those who haven’t used Microsoft Word’s formatting features, it can be daunting to figure out how it all works. We’ve listed the top few tricks for how to format a book in Word. Note: This merely scratches the surface of book formatting. There’s much more to consider, from interior scene breaks to font choice, to

Looking for Scrivener formatting? Check out our Scrivener formatting series.

1. Paragraph Settings

How to format a book in word: Use paragraph settings instead of manually adjusting the textFirst and foremost, on behalf of anyone who’s ever formatted a book, let us tell you: when you’re writing, you do not need to manually add spaces in front of every paragraph. You also don’t need to add a tab or anything other than a carriage return (also known as pressing the enter button).

Instead, you can set your first line indention, spacing, justification, and everything else using the Paragraph Settings in Word. This serves two purposes: First, if you decide to use a formatter, they’ll be able to import your book without having to fix every paragraph. And second, if you decide to format yourself, you won’t have to fix every paragraph, either.

Very important: When you’re ready to export, you must make sure the text is justified. It’s a real bummer when we pick up a good-looking book to read and find the manuscript is left-aligned.

2. Chapter Headings

How to format a book in word: don't forget to justify your interior textOne of the cooler, bookish features of Microsoft Word is the Headings feature. A heading is simply a reusable formatting set, like font size, type, and spacing, that you can re-use across your manuscript. So, for example, if you’ve got letters in your manuscript, and you’d like them to be formatted in Comic Sans 14pt (don’t do this), you can set up a heading for letters.

When it comes to Chapter Headings, the benefit is twofold. First, as we said, it will format your chapter headings the same across the board. But more importantly, when you set all your chapters as “Heading 1,” you’ll then be able to put an automatic table of contents at the front of the book. No more scrolling through your book to find page numbers.

3. Page Size and Margins

Most self-publishers use either 6×9, 5.5×8.5, or 5×8 for their paperbacks. Luckily CreateSpace offers templates for you to use to help make those sizings correct. But if you’ve already got a formatted manuscript, you can simply copy those parameters. Here’s a handy step-by-step guide to help you.

Now, depending on certain factors like book length, print pricing, etc., you may want to make your margins a little bigger or smaller. As long as they meet the minimum requirement, there shouldn’t be an issue uploading to Ingram or CreateSpace.

Continue reading How to Format a Book in Word (Simply)