How To Format An Ebook For Self-Publishing Using Microsoft Word

Format an Ebook

This is a short step by step guide on how to format an ebook in Microsoft Word.

One of the common questions authors ask me is how to get the right formatting for an ebook for Kindle, Smashwords, or Draft2Digital.

While many authors might think that it is difficult or even tiresome trying to get a manuscript passed by Smashwords, the truth is that it is very easy.

You only need to understand that you should format your ebook to be easy to read in any ebook file format.

Ebook file formats

For authors who are used to using Kindle Direct Publishing, it often comes as a surprise that the file you uploaded to KDP is unsuitable for other formats. The reason is simple.

Kindle converts your file to its proprietary ebook format, and as long as your text fits on the screen, you will pass.

The problem with this is that any poor formatting that is inherent in your document will affect the quality of your ebook.

I have read many Kindle ebooks that have suffered from this problem.

It is extremely annoying when fonts, line spacing, and paragraph formatting change, and page breaks create unwanted blank pages, or the table of contents is incorrect.

You can avoid all of these problems by formatting your ebook correctly before you start uploading and publishing.

ebook file typesWhen publishing with Smashwords, your ebook file needs to be suitable for nine different ebook formats, not just one.

It is why you need to change your thinking from merely producing a Word document to producing an ebook file.

A well-formatted ebook file will appear exactly the same in any ebook format, including Kindle, RTF, and epub files.

I now have the habit of preparing a new book for Smashwords first and then publishing it to KDP. Then I can be sure that the ebook will be perfect on Kindle as well.


How to format an ebook correctly

Firstly, read the free Smashwords Style Guide. It’s the best reference book around for a new ebook publisher to help understand how to format an ebook.

I usually discover that authors who are having problems and asking me questions haven’t read it. You know the expression, if all else fails, read the instructions.

However, there are just a couple of points that are worth making that are common causes of problems with getting an ebook approved by Smashwords.

These are guidelines that you should apply when you are preparing Kindle ebooks as well.


Key points for formatting your manuscript In Word

The following tips will work with any version of Word.

Apart from the specific publishing advice below, there are some basics.

When you are formatting in Word, remove all page numbers from the header and footer.

Ebooks use flowing text, so there are no page numbers, only percentage progression.

You should have no other text in your headers, such as chapter titles and author names.

Don’t include your book cover in your Word document. It needs to be in a separate file.

Always save your manuscript in Word .docx format. The old .doc format is not supported on most online self-publishing services any longer.

Now for the common formatting issues you need to address.


1. There are font sizes larger than 24pt

This problem is usually on the book title page or line spaces after the title.

Remember that a blank line still carries font properties.

Just because you can’t see a line in 24pt doesn’t mean it’s not there.

You can use 24pt for your book title. But reduce any large-sized fonts to a maximum of 18pt within your manuscript.


2. Styles are in every line of your document

Too many styles with too many attributes will cause problems and inconsistency in your text.

It can lead to your text formating and fonts changing size or position in your ebook. Styles in Word help you easily solve this common problem.

If you don’t understand how styles work in Microsoft Word, you need to do some reading.

It is the area that causes the most errors in a document. This help page from Microsoft gives a useful basic guide to using styles.

My advice is to use only a few styles. Stick to the basic ones such as Normal, Heading 1, and Heading 2.

You would use Normal for your body text and Heading 2 for your chapter titles. You should only use Heading1 for your book title.

But make sure all of them are using the same font. New Times Roman is a good choice for ebooks.

Word Styles
Style Box

3. Paragraphs cause many problems

An ebook needs to be flexible with text, line length, and paragraphs.

Just think about what happens when you read an ebook in landscape or portrait mode and how the text changes and flows.

Paragraph Settings

Also, reading an ebook on different screen sizes from a smartphone to a tablet needs fluid text. The best method to achieve this is to eliminate paragraph and line breaks.

I know many authors who get a little upset about not having a line space between paragraphs, but this is an ebook and not a book.

Books do not change size and shape, but ebooks do. So leave the thought of beautiful typography out of your thinking.

In the image above, you can see that first line indent is used to create paragraphs with no line spacing before and after a line.

It is the ideal setting for an ebook file.

The most important point about creating an ebook file in Word is maintaining consistency throughout the whole document.

The fact that a book takes a long time to write creates most of the problems. You pay little attention to formatting when you are in the process of writing.

4. Formatting chapters

When formatting chapters, you should avoid line breaks in your text, but you can add page breaks between chapters.

Inserting page breaks will start each chapter on a new page.


Go nuclear!

The best approach I have found is to take what Smashwords calls the ‘Nuclear‘ approach.

It means that you copy and convert your whole Microsoft Word doc file to plain text. You can do this by using Notepad for PC and Textedit for Mac.

You then copy it back into a new Word file and start the entire formatting process from scratch using Word styles.

Then you will find that getting your ebook approved is easy.

We now also have a video guide to help you to format your ebooks for Kindle or Smashwords.


Related reading: How To Use The Amazon Kindle Create App To Format Ebooks

Derek Haines

A Cambridge CELTA English teacher and author with a passion for writing and all forms of publishing. My days are spent writing and blogging, as well as testing and taming new technology.

Avatar for Derek Haines

7 thoughts on “How To Format An Ebook For Self-Publishing Using Microsoft Word

  • Avatar for Dan
    July 15, 2020 at 8:54 pm

    Most of the advice I have found for formatting recommends as little formatting as possible. But how does this work with poetry where the formatting is part of the reading experience? Is there a guide on how to format stanzas? Or how to format when certain lines within the stanza are indented while others aren’t (without doing tabs, which a different guide I read said not to do…). Are soft linebreaks okay or will the ebook format not know what to do with them?

  • Avatar for Derek Haines
    February 15, 2018 at 3:10 pm

    The author name and book title are usually added by the ebook publisher. eg, Kindle or Apple. Anything in the headers and footers is usually ignored.

  • Avatar for Derek Haines
    February 15, 2018 at 2:37 pm

    All sounds fine Jina, except for the page numbers. Ebooks don’t use page numbers so I would delete them.

    • Avatar for Jina
      February 15, 2018 at 2:48 pm

      oh? the indents are all consistent, like, the beginnin of a paragraph and everything goes straight down.
      and the page number, can i delete that and just leave the author/book name?

  • Avatar for Jina
    February 15, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    so, i have no line breaks, but i do have page breaks. and the chapter header is about 14pt with times new roman font, size 12 for normal text.
    all the indents are consistent, though and the text justified.
    there are page numbers + author/book name at the top of each page. but all this was done in a word doc.
    now i’m worried. as i’m blind, i can’t really tell how the format looks on kindle.


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