Writing Tips – Self-Publishing a Book: Part Three – Formatting for E-Books

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Catherine LaCroix
Cat is the author of the bestselling romance novel, "The Whispers of Rings," and numerous other award winning publications. She can often be found enjoying wine and cuddling a bunny.

Now that we’ve reviewed the writing process and editing our manuscripts, we need to prepare our manuscripts for publishing.

So, today’s topic is Cat’s guide to formatting for eBooks!

Before we start, grab a drink, a snack, and tell a loved one if they hear cries of anguish to bring you more of your drink of choice. This process takes a few hours and a lot of patience.

Need more writing tips?
Want to learn how to write like a pro? Have a look at Soapbox’s articles on writing tips now!

Let’s begin.

It should be noted that while I do all of my writing in Scrivener, I format my works in Microsoft Word 2010. The same can be done in Apache Open Office, which is an open source program with many of the same characteristics of MS Word. You can find a free manuscript template for Open Office here.

One of the best free references for formatting a manuscript is the Smashwords Style Guide by Mark Coker. This guide aims to put the publication into Smashwords’ premium catalog – which is a must if you want your book to appear in places like Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Apple iBooks. Coker’s guide is also wonderful for poetry and additional ways to make hyperlinks work for you. Two things I won’t be covering in this guide.

If you’re working with a photo book or a photo-heavy manuscript, this guide is not for you. Instead, check out David Kudler’s extensive guide on preparing images and turning them into e-reader friendly material.

For everyone else, here we go!

Deleting all tabs and extra spaces
In my current manuscripts, I never press the tab button. It doesn’t translate into eBooks. Never fear, though, it’s easy to delete them all at once!

In MS Word, beneath the Home tab there’s a key in the paragraph subheading that looks like a paragraph symbol: ¶ Click that to view all formatting symbols. It should look like this:

Now we can see anywhere that tab has been pressed. Tab will look like a right-pointing arrow. To easily erase all tabs:

With the entire document highlighted

  1. Choose Paragraph from the Format menu. Or, right-click the selection and choose Paragraph from the resulting context menu.
  2. Click Tab (at the bottom-left).
  3. In the Tabs dialog box, click the Clear All button at the bottom-right.
  4. Click OK.

Now for the extra spaces!

  1. Hit CTRL+A to select all the text in the document.
  2. Hit CTRL+H to open the Find and Replace window.
  3. Type two spaces in the Find what field.
  4. Type one space in the Replace with field.
  5. Click Replace All.
  6. Type “. ^p” (that’s period, one space, ^p) into Find what.
  7. Type “.^p” into Replace with. (period, no space, ^p)
  8. Click Replace All. This is telling Word to delete any hanging spaces from your paragraphs.

If you used spaces at the beginning of each paragraph as indentations, repeat the above steps, but use the amount of spaces in the “find what” field, and leave the “replace with” field blank.

Now that that’s cleaned up, we need to set style rules so that our stories appear the same in all eBook formats, whether it’s mobi or epub.

Creating and setting styles
Creating styles for formatting is so helpful for future manuscripts. This is a step that takes some time, but once they’re set, it saves a lot of time in the future. We’ll use my styles as an example.

The first style I modified was the “normal” style. I use this for all of my story text in my manuscripts. Roger Packer has a great article on how to choose the typography for a manuscript. I use Times New Roman in all of my manuscripts without any problems. Let’s look at this step by step.

  1. Right click the Normal style box.
  2. Select modify.
  3. Select your desired font. In this case, Times New Roman size 12.
  4. Beneath the font selection, where the alignment options are, select “justify.”
  5. On the bottom, change “only in this document” to “new documents based on this template.”
  6. Below that, select Format, then Paragraph.
  7. Change the indentation to beneath Special to “First Line.”
  8. Change the indentation beneath By to 0.25″ (This creates the indents that tab usually does, but embeds them into the file)
  9. (Optional) If you want line spacing, which I had 1.0 for Resonance and 1.5 for Requiem, be sure to specify it in the paragraph menu. If you do this, stick to single or 1.5. Never double. (This can corrupt the file). Spacing is completely optional for eBook publishing, but looks much cleaner in print. I’ll show a better example when we get to formatting for printing.
  10. Hit Ok
  11. Hit Ok
  12. Highlight all text in the manuscript and select the newly created style. All text should reset according to the style settings.

Great job! You’ve created your first style! This will be what we use from here on out for our manuscripts. No tab pressing, no worrying about font inconsistencies, we’ve made a style template! Now we need to make two more!

Using the previous instructions, create a style for your chapter headings. You can align them differently, change the font, whatever you like so long as they’re all in the same format. To adjust the chapter headings if they’re already manuscript, simply highlight one and select the style from the styles heading.

The last style required is for the title/author name for the title page. I use my chapter heading style for these, but feel free to create your own! The same goes for your copyright information.

If there are letters or separate documents in the manuscript that you want to set apart from the normal text, be sure to format those using styles as well.  For example, this letter in Resonance:

At this point, take a break, drink some coffee, grab a snack, and hug your pet and/or family member. We’re almost finished, I promise. Once you do this a couple of times, you’ll have it all memorized. Alright, refreshed? Here’s some great news:

You don’t have to worry about inserting page numbers for eBook release!
You’ll thank me in the next post when we talk about publishing for print.

You also don’t have to worry about drop caps right now!
Same story as above. Most eBook formats aren’t kind to special fonts. So leave them out!

Just a few things left that we do have to worry about!

Front Matter
I’ve found that what’s included in the front matter is different for every author. The most important thing to keep in mind is all front matter will be included in the first 10% that customers see on Amazon and Smashwords. This means, if you include a long list of other works, a forward, and a special thanks that spans three pages, customers looking for an actual sample of the writing won’t be able to reach it. Especially if it’s a novella.

I like to keep mine simple: Title page with the copyright on the bottom of the page, dedication page, and a short list of other works. For Little Love, this is the only page for my front matter:

For lengthier works, some people like to add a Table of Contents that links to each chapter. I don’t usually add these to my novellas, but here’s a short guide from Office Support to add one if you’d like.

Back Matter
Similarly with front matter, there are multiple items you can add to your back matter. Have a new story coming out? Throw in the first few pages. I like to put my special thanks section, contact information, and a short blurb about myself.

Last, but absolutely not least:

Page Breaks

While the formatting marks are being displayed, if at any point there’s a page like this prior to the following chapter:

You’re gonna have a bad time. But worry not, it’s very simple to fix! Delete all of those empty paragraphs. Hit enter on the last line of text for that chapter, and then

  1. Click insert
  2. Click Page Break

Now it should look like this:

This includes the bottoms of your front matter and back matter.  The only exception to this is beginning your title pages. You CAN put spaces with paragraph breaks before the title to center it. But be sure to have a page break separating it from the next page.

Save as a doc or docx file.

That’s it! You’re done. You’re ready to upload to Amazon and Smashwords!

If this process looks like a nightmare and you’d rather pay someone else to do it, e-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll be happy to talk pricing with you.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please don’t hesitate to comment or e-mail me. Next time, we’ll go over formatting for print!

Happy writing!

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Catherine LaCroix

Catherine LaCroix

Cat is the author of the bestselling romance novel, “The Whispers of Rings,” and numerous other award winning publications. She can often be found enjoying wine and cuddling a bunny.

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