Holiday Replay | The Easy Way to Format Your E-Book

(I am currently on holidays and so am re-playing some posts. This one originally appeared only the week before last, but since it’s one of my most popular ever, I thought I’d give it another run.)

While I’ve already blogged about publishing my e-books, I kinda skimmed over the nuts and bolts of formatting. But as I’m in a generous mood this morning and I feel your continued e-book formatting pain, here by popular demand is a more detailed post about how to format your e-book like I did.

If you haven’t yet dipped a toe into the wonderful world of e-book self-publishing or you don’t plan to, you might still have heard a whisper about how UTTERLY ANNOYING AND STRESSFUL it is to format your MS Word manuscript in preparation for upload to Smashwords or Amazon’s Digital Text Platform. (It might have been more of a blood-curdling scream, if you’ve been reading about my e-book experiences.) And if you have dipped a toe or even a leg into it, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

The thing is there is easy money to be made in e-books, if you can stomach the crappy bit at the beginning where you actually have to make the thing. One author I read about recently, Joe Konrath, is making around $500 a day – a DAY! – selling e-books, and it’s such a versatile market (you can sell full-length books, novellas, short stories, even your blog) that it would be a shame if something like paragraph indents put you off getting involved. And if even if you have no interest in making money [kindly picture me looking very skeptical indeed] just think of all the readers you can potentially reach.

A disclaimer before we begin: this is just what I did to format my e-book. It was simple and it worked. But my book was also simple: just text, no fancy photos or graphs. I even scrapped my table of contents. If you have fancy photos or graphs then… well, good luck with that. The rest of you, carry on.

There’s No Page

If you learn one thing from this entire post, let it be this: in e-books, there is no page. This is the hardest thing for would-be e-book publishers to get their heads around, and I understand. It was hard for me too. Back when I worked in OfficeLand, seeing as much as a one sentence business letter go in the post incorrectly formatted made me come out in hives (and don’t even get me started on badly addressed envelopes) and dismantling all my careful print edition formatting didn’t feel any better. But once you make your peace with it, this whole process becomes a lot easier.

In the words of’s Style Guide:

“Ebooks are different from print books, so do not attempt to make your ebook look like an exact facsimile of print book, otherwise you’ll only frustrate yourself by creating a poorly formatted, unreadable ebook. With print, you control the layout.  The words appear on the printed page exactly where you want them to appear. With ebooks, there is no “page.”  By giving up the control of the printed page, you and your readers gain much more in return. Page numbers are irrelevant.  Your book will look different on every e-reading device.  Your text will shape shift and reflow. Most e-reading devices and e-reading applications allow your reader to customize the fonts, font sizes and line spacing. Your customers will modify how your book looks on-screen to suit their personal reading preference and environment. By transforming your books into digital form, you open up exciting possibilities for how readers can enjoy them. At Smashwords, our motto is “your book, your way,” and this means a reader should be able to consume your book however works best for them, even if that means they like to read 18 point Helvetica with blue fonts, lime background color, and triple spaced lines.”

By way of demonstration:

A word about page breaks: use them if you absolutely must, but why do you need to? A chapter heading will let the reader know they’ve started a new one, and the rest of your text doesn’t need them because the “page” on your reader’s e-reading device will have nothing in common with your “page”. It’ll just end up looking messy and filled with blank space. The key to this is the word flow. Let your text flow.

Step 1: Get Rid of the ‘X’

Smashwords only supports MS Word files that end in .doc. If you have a newer version of MS Word, your file will end in .docx by default, but you can change that. When using the ‘Save As’ function, hit the drop down menu labelled ‘Format’ and select ‘Word 97-2004 .doc.’ Continue to save as normal. I recommend you work from a copy and not your original, in case anything goes wrong. Don’t say you weren’t warned…

Step 2: Prepare Your Manuscript

I’m going to assume that you’re working either from a manuscript you intended to submit (double-spaced, new chapters starting on their own page, Courier or Times New Roman) or from the interior file of your POD book (fancy font, chapter headings, blank pages). Whatever you’re working from, you need to prepare it now for its life as a e-book.

Get rid of all the front and back matter: title pages, copyright notice, table of contents, chapter title pages, index – anything that isn’t the actual text of your book or a chapter heading. Lose the page numbers. Next, close it all up so that there’s no blank pages, and new chapters start right below the previous one.

Finally, select all text (Edit -> Select All) and change it to:

  • ‘Normal’ paragraph style
  • Left-aligned
  • Pt 12 sized text
  • Single line spacing
  • A simple font, like Times New Roman, Arial or Book Antiqua.

Forget about having tables, columns, text boxes or footnotes. If you have these in your book you’re going to need to figure something else out, or spend a week studying Smashwords’ Style Guide and following every one of its recommendations.

It will be easier to envision what your e-book will look like if you set your MS Word ‘View’ to something like ‘Web’ or ‘Outline.’ DO NOT view it in ‘Print Layout’ as this will mess with your head and confuse you with the idea of actual pages.

Step 3: Activate Show/Hide and Go Tab Hunting

It is extremely important the you do NOT use tabs to delineate the beginning of your paragraphs. Instead, use the automatic paragraph indent feature as shown in the image below.

Word’s Show/Hide feature is designated by the “¶” mark in the toolbar. Click it. If you’ve correctly used indents, the beginning of your paragraphs will be marked with nothing and the end of them by one of these “¶” marks. If you’ve used a tab, it’ll show an arrow pointing right at the start. Go through your document until you have eliminated ALL tabs/arrows indicating such.

Step 4: Really Close It Up

In Step 2 we closed everything up so that we had removed all blank pages and had each chapter starting on the same page as the one before it had ended. But now we’re going to really close it up.

Listen to me VERY carefully: under no circumstances should you have more than 3-4 empty lines anywhere in your e-book. Did you listen? Trust me, this will be difficult to implement. You’ll really, really, really want to leave some after your copyright notice, or after the last line of each chapter, but you need to be strong! Don’t do it. When you press Return to make a blank line, you’ll get a little “¶” mark as you do at the end of each paragraph. Make sure you have no more than 4 of these together anywhere in your book.

Step 5: Make Chapter Headings

Once you’ve done this, make your chapter headings. KEEP IT SIMPLE. I made mine all caps and in bold. Do not use a different font or a different font size if you can resist it. Remember: the simpler the better.

This is what the bit in between your chapters should look like:

This is what the bit in between your chapters should NOT look like:

Step 6: Add Your Sparkly New Front Matter

What goes at the front of your e-book is not the same as what goes at the front of your print edition. You should have the title, your name and then your copyright notice. We’re going to use a Smashwords copyright notice and license note for this example but you can just modify as need be. NB: This is required for Smashwords upload, and it’s the only thing I’ll let you centre.

by Soon To Famous Author, i.e. Me
Smashwords Edition | Copyright 2010 My Name

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only.  This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people.  If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient.  If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to and purchase your own copy.  Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Step 7: Add Your Sparkly New End Matter

Smashwords recommends that you type ‘###’ and centre it beneath your last line to mark the end of your book. You can leave it like this if you like, but it’s a wasted opportunity. Instead, write a little author bio for yourself and list your website or blog, Twitter username, Facebook page and whatever else you want. And remember – this is an e-book; you can insert hyperlinks. (Use Word’s Insert -> Hyperlinks function.) Then if someone is reading your book on, say, an iPad, they can click onto your blog immediately after finishing your book to see what else you got.

And they all lived happily ever after.
About the Author
Up until recently, E-Book Author was drinking copious amounts of coffee and working on her second novel. However after spending a weekend attempting to format this e-book correctly, she had to be transferred to a secure mental health facility for the safety of people around her. She’s currently considering embellishing her experiences there á la James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces. Her agent thinks she’s onto something… Oh, wait. That should have been on something.
Find out more on

Step 8: Upload Your Book

Follow instructions on your chosen e-book publisher website to complete this step.

I recommend that you publish your e-book on BOTH Smashwords and Amazon’s Digital Text Platform, to cover all bases and thus take best advantage of the e-book market. (Remember to set the same price on both.) If you do this your book will be available on Amazon Kindle store (US and UK), Apple iBooks, Barnes and Noble’s e-book store, Sony E-Reader store and others.

Step 9: Upload Your Cover Image

Smashwords offers a lot of technical information about the required size, shape and quality of your cover image; I say ignore it. (I had to, as I didn’t have a clue what they were on about anyway.) Instead, follow Catherine’s Hit and Miss But Ultimately Simpler Way of Uploading Your Cover Image:

  1. Get a JPEG of your book cover
  2. Upload it
  3. If it doesn’t upload, re-size it and try again
  4. Repeat as required.

If you don’t already have a print edition, chances are you won’t have a cover image. (Unless you’ve been doing some serious visualization/vision board work.) Covers are just as important to e-books as they are to print editions; they give you a big clue about what level of quality you can expect to get in the book behind them. If all else fails, consider making something in MS Word or whatever word processing program you use, then save that as a PDF, then save the PDF as a JPEG. It won’t be a high resolution and it’s really the poor man’s way of doing things, but it’s better than nothing.

Step 10: Check Your Book

DO NOT skip this step. I did and I paid dearly for it, first time round.

First, download Abobe Digital Editions – it’s free – and then your own book in EPUB format from Smashwords. Study every page to make sure everything is okay. Then download the free Kindle application (click here for PC or here for Mac) and the appropriate version, and study that too. Only when you’re sure everything is a-okay should you start to publicize the fact that you have an e-book for sale. But once you do…

CONGRATS! You have an e-book for sale.


According to Smashwords, the top 5 formatting errors are:

  1. Improper indents. Don’t use tabs.
  2. Repeating paragraph returns. No more than four empty lines together, and as few as possible.
  3. Improper paragraph separation. I haven’t mentioned using the block paragraph style here because as a reader it makes my blood boil, but use either it OR first line indent. Using both equals disaster.
  4. Font and style mistakes. Use the same, simple font throughout, no more than 2 or 3 font sizes and nothing bigger than pt 16.
  5. Copyright notice mistakes. Don’t forget to include it, as above.

It took me a few tries to get my e-book right, and I found that the mistakes I was making included:

  • Using page breaks. Be ruthless; get rid of them
  • Using font sizes that were too large for chapter headings
  • Not having all my text set to ‘Normal’ paragraph style.

I also experienced a bug that is associated with MS Word for Mac that inserted a paragraph break after each period. If this happens to you, send yourself the document by email, open and re-save it on a PC and upload again from that PC.

If All Else Fails…

You may not even want to attempt to do the steps above, or maybe you want more advanced formatting like a linked table of contents or embedded images, but you don’t have the patience for it. In that case, consider contacting Smashwords founder Mark Croker (via the website) who has a list of Smashwords users willing to format your e-book for you for around $25 per hour.

Remember: this is a very basic approach to formatting your e-book. For more advanced formatting, study the Style Guide. And prepare for some migraines…

Click to buy my e-book Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida on Amazon Kindle (US), Amazon Kindle (UK) or Prices start at $2.39.

If you live in or around Dublin and you’re interested in hearing more about e-books from me and some people who actually know what they’re talking about, click here.

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