This is a short step by step guide to formatting an ebook in a Microsoft Word document
One of the common questions authors ask me is about 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 so it will 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 their one proprietary format, and so long as it fits on the screen, you pass.
The problem with this, though, is that bad 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.
It is extremely annoying when fonts change, line spacing, and paragraph formatting changes, and page breaks create unwanted blank pages, or the table of contents is incorrect.
You can avoid these problems by formatting your ebook correctly before uploading and publishing.
When 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.
I now have the habit of preparing a new book for Smashwords first and then publishing the file to KDP, so I know 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 published 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 should be applied to 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. Ebooks use flowing text, so there are no page numbers, only percentage progression.
Don’t include your book cover in your Word document. It needs to be a separate file.
Now for the common formatting issues, you need to address.
1. There are font sizes larger than 18pt
This problem is usually on the book title page or line spaces after the title.
Remember that a blank line still carries font properties. So just because you can’t see a line in 24pt doesn’t mean it’s not there. Reduce all large-sized fonts to a maximum of 18pt.
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 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.
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.
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 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, 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
You should avoid line breaks, but you can add breaks between chapters.
Inserting page breaks will start each chapter on a new page.
The best approach I have found is to take what Smashwords calls the ‘Nuclear‘ approach.
That means to convert your whole Microsoft Word file to plain text and then copy it back into a new Word file and start the entire formatting process from scratch.
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