Formatting for Ebook Publication

I keep getting asked about this, and I think I answered it before, but then again, the requirements keep changing, so I’ll go over it again.

Honestly, it’s getting much easier, and I fully anticipate that in a couple of years, it will be mush more plug-and-play than it is even now. Gone are the days when potential authors paid hundreds of dollars for having their books properly formatted. Now, you can do it yourself if you are internet savvy, and know how to handle your wordprocessing software. If you can’t, I would suggest seeking out your local library for adult education resources, which will help you with developing the skills you will need for this, and other important matters.

I write in Pages, on a Mac. The instructions will hold equally well for MS Word, which I have used. I have been told that from Open Office you should plan to use rtf format, but I would recommend that you not use Open Office, and certainly shouldn’t use Google Drive (which was Google Documents) for full formatting of a manuscript. There are inexpensive programs, such as Atlantis, which will help if you can’t or won’t afford a full wordprocessing suite.

As I am writing, I set my tabs to an automatic .33 in indentation at the beginning of each paragraph. I do not use the tab key, and will do a universal search and replace before submitting the document to make sure none remain in it. I select a common writing font, my current WIP is in Helvetica, and set the size to 12. The beauty of an ereader is that your readers will be able to change the font to suit them, so don’t worry about the font size you want to write in.

As I am writing, I create chapter headings and alter them from the paragraph styling to ‘heading 2’ which enables the Table of Contents to be created later on. I insert a page break between the end of one section and this heading. Occasionally I will write a manuscript without any breaks, but it’s annoying to have to go back and insert them.

I write with single line spacing, or perhaps 1.1, which is what I will use for print formatting the ms. I do not put spaces between my paragraphs. Although this is the custom for web content, it looks strange in a book, and is not necessary with the ability to change font sizes for a reader who has poor vision. I do not set headers and footers, that is a bad thing in an ebook.

When the book is complete, edited, and ready to go, I will add several things to it. First, the Front Matter, which will consist of copyright declaration, a dedication if so desired, and acknowledgements, although I’m equally likely to put that last at the end of the book. Why? Because Amazon is a clever boots, and decided that readers don’t actually want to see that stuff, which is why when you first open a book in their reading app, they skip it, and put you right at the good stuff. Unless you flip the pages backwards, you never see it as a reader.

What don’t I put in the front of the book? A table of contents. Not only is it distracting to the reader, who neither cares nor needs to know how many chapters are in their book, but Amazon gives you an active one without you having to lift a finger. Fortunately for you, because other ebook resellers don’t do this, it’s easy enough to manage on your own.

Final note on front matter, if you choose to use Smashwords as a distributor (which I have doubts about) or even just reseller, you will want to save a special copy of your ms for them, with their front matter in it. They will not accept any copyright declaration except the one they have created. Also, you will want to do this before you insert any live links into your ms, which you will be doing in the end matter of your other ms in a moment.

End Matter is of course that which comes when the reader is almost finished with the book. Hopefully, they are savoring the afterglow of your wonderful story, suffused with satisfaction, and looking forward to another ripping good read from you. Make sure they can find it. Here is where you will want to put a list of your other titles. A link to your blog is an excellent idea (waves HI! at the few readers I know have come here from my books, happy to see you!) as is a short (perhaps 100 words) author bio.

To create live links that will send your reader to the book immediately for purchase can be done, although Amazon will also provide at the end a page of books, and a place to take the reader to give a crucial review. Which is handy. I would suggest links to a buy me page on your website, rather than to Amazon or another store directly, as often this winds up creating problems in cross distribution. if you want links to a specific seller, make duplicates of your ms and save them labeled for that store (KDP, Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and so on).

In both Pages and Word, you can easily insert an active TOC (Table of Contents) by choosing where you want it (at the very end of the ms, after the bio and other titles, both of which need to have titles which were set to ‘heading 2’ like your chapters). Pull down the ‘insert’ table, and select ‘insert table of contents’ and if it gives you the option, select ‘heading 2’ for creating the TOC. Voila, and done.

Now what? Well, look at the ebook seller you plan to upload your book to. DO NOT use pdf format for your ebooks. This prevents the reader from being able to change font sizes, sometimes forces them to have to scroll as well as flip to read a single page, and is, in short, the single most annoying thing you can possibly do to your reader. Every reseller will have a little bit different requirement, but fortunately they will also tell you what you need. If you insist on using Smashwords as a seller but not distributor, save your ms as a .doc file (default for MS Word, do not ever use a .docx file, which will introduce all sorts of unfortunate errors), and then open it in the free softward Calibre, before converting it with that program to an .epub file.

For KDP, Draft2Digital, and Smashwords as a distributor (remembering to use your special ms for this), the best route is to upload a .doc file. For full KDP guidelines, click here. The Smashwords Style Guide can be found here, and yes, it can be read online, you do not have to upload it to an ereader if you do not have one. Draft2Digital has their Formatting suggestions here. I don’t bother with other venues, as I am fully distributed between those three, and feel it’s a waste of my time to upload to every one individually.

Hm? Did I miss anything? Happy formatting, and best of luck with your book!

For Print Formatting, look here. 


11 responses to “Formatting for Ebook Publication”

  1. Another for the bookmark file. Thanks.

    1. You’re welcome. This is sort of the fast and dirty approach, for two reasons. One, I’m lazy 😀 and two, there are all manner of ways to add ‘fancy bits’ to your books, and that would make it even longer than it was already. If you wind up with specific questions, ask in comments, I may be able to answer, or drag an expert into the fray.

  2. I’m surprised that you didn’t mention Calibre. I’ve used it exclusively to format my e-books, it takes an Open Office file and converts it directly into a .mobi file for Kindle or an .epub file for everyone else. And it’s free.

    1. I thought I had mentioned it. I don’t need it for Pages, but you must use it to generate an pub from MS Word, and most other programs. I usually don’t bother with this step but there are times it is necessary.

  3.  Avatar

    I don’t understand what you said about tabs. Perhaps I’m missing something obvious, but you set the tab to .33 but never use the tab key?

    Oh wait, so just the return key… duh.

    (Goes to look…) All my files are .docx which must be the Word default?


  4. Synova Avatar

    I don’t understand what you said about tabs. Perhaps I’m missing something obvious, but you set the tab to .33 but never use the tab key?

    Oh wait, so just the return key… duh.

    (Goes to look…) All my files are .docx which must be the Word default?


    (If this shows up twice, please dumb one.)

    1. Yes, just the return key, the paragraph will automatically indent on the first line.

      And docx is the new Word (2007-2013) version. I’ve had serious issues with it, not related to publishing, but it won’t open in other programs, or in older versions of Word. I believe there is a way to save your files as .doc, and you may want to save ms as an epub with Calibre if you can’t.

  5. Chuck C Avatar
    Chuck C

    FYI, I bought Trickster Noir the day it came out. I purchased through Amazon and read it on Kindle for Android. Unfortunately, there are no chapter numbers and is no table of contents. (There are both in Pixie Noir.) That also means the menu of chapters in the reader is not there. Something about how it was converted for Amazon had a problem, this time. If you already fixed this, sorry for mentioning it.

    1. Hi Chuck hope you enjoyed the book anyway. 🙂
      I know the chapters aren’t numbered, I named them in Trickster Noir rather than numbering.

      I will check on the table of contents, the book was written and uploaded in the same template as Pixie Noir. When I click on the menu button in my kindle app, I see a table of contents.

      1. Chuck C Avatar
        Chuck C

        Great enjoyment. Slower finding scenes to re-read. Do it anyway.

  6. Bookmarked!