Self-Publishing FAQ: How to Use ChatGPT to Format References & Citations

Citations and formatting just got a whole lot easier...

Self-Publishing FAQ: How to Use ChatGPT to Format References & Citations
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Struggling with the nitty-gritty of citations and formatting for your self-published masterpiece? ChatGPT is your new secret weapon. 

Simply provide it with the details of your references, specify your preferred citation style—APA, MLA, or Chicago—and watch the magic happen. Suddenly, you've got perfectly formatted citations without breaking a sweat.

This tool can save you a TON of time and effort, which means you can get your book out that much faster and officially call yourself a publisher!

Should I Be Using ChatGPT? Is ChatGPT Worth It? 

Imagine a robot that eats, sleeps, and breathes nothing but writing and research. Actually, it doesn’t need to sleep or eat at all—it’s always ready to lend a helping hand. 

We’re talking about ChatGPT!

ChatGPT is an AI model developed by OpenAI that’s designed to interact with its users in a conversational way. You send it “prompts” the same way you’d send a friend or family member a text. 

By digesting heaps of text data, it learns to predict words and form human-like responses. It can even answer follow-up questions and admit to its mistakes. 

The company behind ChatGPT currently offers two plans: the free version and the pro plan at $20/month. The pro version is quicker and includes DALL-E integration, which lets you generate images for book covers or the book’s interior. 

There’s no harm in playing around with the free version first to see if it meets your needs. You can always upgrade later. 

How ChatGPT Can Make Your Writing Shine

  • Professional Editor and Sidekick: Get round-the-clock support for a fraction of the price.
  • Stuck on Words? ChatGPT can craft sentences that fit with the voice and tone of your existing text.
  • No Memorization Needed: Forget the stress of remembering every citation or formatting rule—just ask ChatGPT.

Sample AI Prompts for Publishers

  • "You are an expert publishing coach. I am writing a book about [TOPIC]. Here’s what I have so far for Chapter [NUMBER]. Any ideas for the rest?"
  • "You are an expert publishing coach. I am writing a book about [TOPIC]. Can you help me make this paragraph more [ADJECTIVE]? [PASTE PARAGRAPH HERE]"
  • "You are an expert publishing coach. I am writing a book about [TOPIC]. I’m currently stuck on a paragraph about [SUBTOPIC]. Any content ideas? I’d like the tone to be [DESCRIPTION]."
  • "You are an expert researcher. Can you review my [APA/MLA/CHICAGO] citations and give me feedback?"

Embarking on the Formatting Odyssey & Getting Organized

Poor citations can make a good book fall apart (hence the crumbling tower of blocks above). On the flip side, good citations can make a book look way more professional. 

Let’s walk through the formatting steps together to help you get started on a solid foundation! 

Deciding on a Citation Style 

Here’s why you might choose one citation style over another:

APA (American Psychological Association):

  • Best for: Social sciences, psychology, education.
  • Example genres: Research, academia, self-help. 

MLA (Modern Language Association):

  • Best for: Humanities, literature, cultural studies.
  • Example genres: Literary analysis, art history, essays, most non-fiction.

Chicago (Chicago Manual of Style):

  • Best for: History, business, fine arts.
  • Example genres: Historical books, academic journals, dissertations.

Harvard (Not As Common):

  • Best for: Multi-disciplinary, academic, and scientific works.
  • Example genres: Scientific papers, journal articles.

Structuring Your References

Making a reference page used to take hours of manual work, but that’s no longer the case thanks to AI tools and the internet. 

Here’s how it all comes together: 

Building Your Bibliography:

  • Step 1: Collect all the necessary details for each source (author, title, publication date, etc.).
  • Step 2: Input these details into ChatGPT or another citation system. 
  • Step 3: ChatGPT will instantly generate the citation in the correct style. 

Structuring In-Text Citations:

  • Consistency: Make sure in-text citations match the format of your bibliography.
  • Placement: Position citations correctly within your text. 
  • Ask Chat GPT for Help: Get a second set of eyes if you’re not sure about something. 

Spacing and Indentation:

  • Double-Spacing: Make sure the entire reference list is double-spaced.
  • Hanging Indent: Apply a hanging indent for each reference entry.

Uniformity and Clarity:

  • Pick one citation style and stick to it
  • Use consistent fonts, spacing, and indentation throughout the entire book.

The bottom line? ChatGPT simplifies the citation process, so you can focus on your next bestseller! It’s not always going to be perfect, but it comes pretty dang close. 

What About Footnotes & Paraphrasing? 

A simple reference page and in-text citations are usually enough for most self-publishers, but if you really want to “wow” your readers, you might also want to consider using footnotes—especially if you’re writing non-fiction. 

What Are Footnotes?

Footnotes are notes placed at the bottom of a page. Authors use “superscripts” or “subscripts,” the tiny numbers that look like this¹ or this₁ to draw attention to them. 

Why Use Footnotes?

Footnotes include additional information or context without disrupting the flow of your writing, which makes for a better overall reading experience. 

(A better reading experience usually leads to better reviews and more book sales, just saying.) 

What is Paraphrasing? 

Paraphrasing involves rewording information from another source in your own words. 

How to Do In-Text Citations: 

When you paraphrase, you still need to credit the original source. In-text citations provide this credit within the main text, often including the author's name and publication year (e.g., Smith, 2020).

A Little Help from Your Friends & Other AI Tools 

Need some extra help with your writing? These handy tools are here to make your life easier:

  • Grammarly: Grammarly acts like your personal grammar guru. It catches typos, fixes grammar mistakes, and helps improve your writing style. It's like having an editor who’s always on call.
  • Scribbr: Perfect for academic writing, Scribbr polishes your text and helps with citations. 
  • Purdue Owl Writing Lab: This comprehensive resource offers detailed guides on all the citation styles, writing tips, and research assistance. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Citations & Formatting 

What if I forget a citation? 

Don’t worry! You can use ChatGPT or another citation tool to generate the missing reference in an instant. 

Giving proper credit is non-negotiable for avoiding plagiarism and citations are necessary for any ideas that aren’t your own, but you can easily update your book through the Amazon KDP portal if you find something is missing. 

How do I handle multiple sources from the same author? 

If you’re citing multiple works by the same author in MLA style, you’ll need to include a shortened title of the work to distinguish between them. 

Example: (Smith, 2020, Study on AI) and (Smith, 2020, AI in Education).

If you’re citing multiple works by the same author in APA style, you’ll need to use lowercase letters to differentiate between them. 

Example: Smith, J. (2021a). Title of the first source. Journal of XYZ, 10(2), 123-145.

Example: Smith, J. (2021b). Title of the second source. Journal of ABC, 15(4), 678-689.

You can always use the official MLA, APA, and Chicago Reference Guides if you want to manually make sure you’re doing it correctly. Just beware that these guides can be super technical, super long, and aren’t the most fun to read. 

How do I format long quotations? 

For long quotations (usually over 40 words), use a block quote format. 

This means indenting the entire quote from the left margin and omitting quotation marks. Make sure to still include the proper citation at the end of the quote, too. 

What’s the best way to organize my reference list? 

Organize your reference list alphabetically by the author’s last name. 

For multiple works by the same author, arrange them by publication date, with the earliest work listed first. This helps readers find sources quickly and more easily.

How do I cite a source with multiple authors? 

For sources with multiple authors, list up to the first three authors, followed by “et al.” if there are more than that. 

For example: (Jones, Smith, & Doe, 2021) or (Jones et al., 2021) for four or more authors.

Don't Let Formatting Troubles Stop You from Self-Publishing!

Most of us in the publishing industry have faced formatting trouble at some point, and it’s easy to get discouraged in these moments. 

Don’t let it stop you from sharing your amazing story with the world. 


  • Embrace the Challenge: Think of formatting like a puzzle. Each piece you put together brings you closer to a polished book.
  • Use Your Tools: Tools like ChatGPT, Grammarly, and Scribbr are your new best friends. Let them handle the nitty-gritty details.
  • Stay Focused. Keep your eye on the prize—getting your book out there. The more you practice, the easier it will become.

Your book deserves to be read, and you have the power to make it happen!

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