Formatting poetry for ebooks is simple with the right tools
Self-publishing fiction is as easy as having a Word document and then uploading.
Most publishing platforms automatically remove unwanted space and create flowing text in an ebook file, which is perfect for fiction.
For poetry, however, space is a tool. It can be very frustrating when all your poetry book formatting in Microsoft Word is stripped away when you upload for publishing.
It has been a while since I had to work on a poetry manuscript, and I’ll admit that I was becoming a little frustrated after my first couple of attempts at uploading to both Kindle and Draft2Digital (D2D).
While Kindle preserved at least some of the Word formatting, Draft2 Digital stripped almost all of it away.
I found this in D2D help, but it proved to be a hit and miss affair. Some formatting worked on some poems, but not others.
Blockquotes and Poetry
We detect blockquotes based on the margin (the distance from the right and left side of the page). You don’t need to use any particular margin, but to include a blockquote in your text, just make that block narrower than the main body text.
We can also sometimes recognize poetry formatting, as long as you place it within a blockquote. If you have a poem or song in your body text, make sure it’s tabbed in further than the body text, and there’s a chance we’ll catch it.
There had to be a better way to retain line breaks when creating an ebook of poetry.
I decided to do some digging around for articles and suggestions about formatting for a poetry book title. But most of the publishing advice I found involved editing .html and .css.
For those new to self-publishing, these are complex skills that are usually very difficult to master quickly.
In the end, I found that the easiest, quickest and most flexible means of formatting a manuscript for poetry was to use two free software tools. One for Kindle and one for Draft2Digital.
Let’s start with Kindle.
Kindle Create works perfectly for poetry
First, make sure that your Word document is formatted exactly the way you want. Check your page breaks, title page and perhaps chapters titles if you have them. These might be your individual poem titles.
If you have page numbers, they will not work with an ebook. It is better to remove these from your footer.
Make sure that you save your document in .docx format. If it is in .doc format, do a new save as and save as .docx.
Then you need to download Kindle Create from Amazon, which is available for free for both Windows and Mac.
To give you a quick step by step start, here is a short video outlining what you can do with the program.
The only slight annoyance with Kindle Create is that you need to apply any formatting changes on a chapter by chapter basis.
There are a few global templates, but making other changes to your fonts, paragraphs, spacing and alike cannot be changed globally.
However, it didn’t take me long to format the ebook I was working on, and the result was perfect. You can edit almost anything. I added tabs, fixed a few typos, added space here and there and changed fonts.
It really is an easy to use ebook editor for those with no technical knowledge of .html.
Even if you are publishing fiction, self-help, non-fiction or textbooks, Kindle Create can be a useful tool.
The end result for me after uploading via KDP was a perfectly formatted poetry ebook.
The image below is from the Kindle app after publishing. It is not possible to take a screen grab from my Kindle, but it is the same. The formatting stays exactly as I designed no matter what font or size is chosen by the reader on their reading device.
For Draft2Digital I had to use a workaround
No matter what I tried, I could not get D2D to recognise line space after a paragraph. This is, of course, an essential element for formatting poetry.
I used all the tricks I know in Word, but nothing worked 100%. I reverted to plain text to remove any extra code and reformatted again. D2D recognised some poems that were wrapped in a blockquote with a changed margin, but totally missed others.
And then when I uploaded again, I would get a completely different result.
It was time for a better solution.
The solution is to upload your ebook in .epub format. Then D2D will retain all your ebook formatting.
Calibre to the rescue!
If you are not using Calibre, you should be. It’s one of the best ebook editing tools for authors and it’s free.
So, what did I do?
Again, I had my ebook manuscript correctly formatted in Word and saved in .docx. Calibre will respect all your formatting in Word, and replicate it exactly in .epub.
Very important! Make absolutely sure that all the chapter headings or poem titles are “Heading 2” in your Word document because these are needed to create a table of contents.
Upload your .docx file to Calibre, then click on metadata to add the book cover.
The next step is how you create a table of contents for an .epub file. This is a necessity for Draft2Digital, or anywhere else you plan to publish in .epub.
Right-click on your book, and select Convert – Convert Individually.
The screen that opens is where you can adjust settings for your .epub file.
Click on Table of Contents, and then make sure that Autogenerate Table of Contents is ticked, and you have selected .epub as the output format. Most importantly, make sure you have ticked “Manually fine-tune ToC after conversion”.
Click Ok, and your ebook will start converting. Once finished, this screen will pop up. This is where you can edit your table of contents.
Once you have made any edits, your ebook is now ready in .epub format. You will find your ebook file in your Calibre library ready to upload to Draft2Digital and all your formatting will be perfect.
Even if you are not publishing poetry, these two tools can be used to give your ebooks a touch of class.
While Kindle Create is very easy to use, Calibre can take a little while to learn. But your time will be well invested.
The most important use for these tools is to give your reader the best possible reading experience. So anything you can do to achieve this aim is well worth the effort.
Related reading: How To Use The Amazon Kindle Create App For Better Ebooks