REPLAY 2011: A New and Improved, Even Easier Way to Format Your E-book


I’ve been using Tuesdays and Thursdays to replay some popular posts from 2011, in case some of the people who’ve discovered my blog in the meantime missed it first time round. Think of it as a “year in review” kind of thing. (Or a “I’m trying to finish the first draft of a new book and so I don’t have time to write five new blog posts a week” kind of thing…) On Thursday I’ll be revisiting some of the guest posts I hosted this year, so this is my final replay post. It was first published in September and it’s the way I format my own e-books. Since I posted it, I’ve discovered that Mac users get even better results if instead of “Normal” style, they use “Plain Text.” If publishing an e-book is in your To Do for 2012, I think this is the easiest way to do your own formatting without learning computer code… 

Last week the dreaded day came to turn Backpacked into an e-book.

I did everything I usually do (as I outlined in my How To Format Your E-book the Non-Migraine Inducing Way post) and while it converted fine for Amazon KDP, Smashwords was just not happy with it – the .epub format, i.e. most important format outside of .mobi for Kindle, was alternating fonts every other paragraph. Thinking that maybe I’d done something wrong, I started again.

And again.

And again.

And then because I knew that sometimes using MS Word for Mac can screw up things a little bit, I even tried using the archaic monster from the pre-Stone Age that is our family PC, the machine that makes the Commodore 64 look like a Cray-SV1 (I’ve been reading about super computers this weekend – long story…). But it still didn’t work.

I couldn’t understand where things had gone wrong – I’d followed all the instructions, done everything I was told to do and had pulled out everything that didn’t need to be there, even page breaks. Finally I tried pulling out enough of my hair to leave unsightly bald patches and saying bad, sweary things about Smashwords, but – surprisingly – that didn’t work either.

Which left just one, unattractive option: going nuclear.

The Smashwords Style Guide says that if things aren’t working out, there is one very extreme option – the nuclear option – that strips everything out of your text except the letters, the words they make up and the spaces and lines between them. I didn’t want to do this because I use a lot of italics, and that would mean that I’d have to go back and insert 77,000 words’ worth of them. That wasn’t going to help with the this-book-is-driving-me-crazy thing. But I really wanted to conquer this thing, so I did it.

And it worked brilliantly.

The thing is, Smashwords is not the problem. Smashwords was never the problem (and in fact, their free Style Guide is a godsend). Microsoft Word, which was invented by the devil himself and then evidently coded by horned demons, is the problem. That’s why I work with Pages, but you can’t upload anything but .doc files for e-books. Even though my paragraph style was set to Normal and was in size 10 Times New Roman on screen, it wasn’t really set to Normal and in size 10 Times New Roman. Word was just jesting. It was letting me think it was, while hiding in the corner trying to stifle its own sniggering and chucking everything but the kitchen sink into the code.

I had to go through my book again but, while I did, I was able to pick out a few more errors, clean up a few sentences and generally improve it a bit. So instead of thinking of it as formatting, I just thought of it as another go-through, another revision. Once I was done I copied and pasted that text into my CreateSpace template, which then took only half an hour to format back into a POD interior, so both editions were the same. Then I was so happy with the result I went and re-did Mousetrapped the same way and when I’ve time, I’m going to do Self-Printed as well. I also used it for a formatting client’s e-book that had images and it worked out a dream.

Better yet, once I had scrubbed the formatting from my e-book file, it was so much easier to go back and put in what was needed than the way I’ve formatted in the past. It actually simplified the process. And you can even use your POD interior file if you like – because you’re taking out all of the formatting anyway, it doesn’t matter how much has been done to your document to begin with. I’m never going to format an e-book any other way again.

So here is my new and improved, Even Easier Way to Format Your E-book the Non-Migraine Inducing Way!

Do you need reminding about how in e-books there’s no such thing as a page? Read about that on this post. Or just remember, THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A PAGE in e-books. Got it? Good.

Let’s begin.

Start by making one of these. Or five.

Step 1: Prepare Your Manuscript

Open your manuscript file, whether it be the plain old Word document you and your editor have been working from or the interior of your POD paperback, all laid out nice and stuff, and eliminate anything that just doesn’t work in an e-book. You can either let them go, or leave the pure text in there to do a little work around with it later on, e.g. take the text out of a text box, delete the text box and put the text in a paragraph in all italics instead.

The following are e-books no-nos:

  • Automatic footnotes
  • Text boxes
  • Headers and footers
  • Columns
  • Tables
  • Any other fancy word-processing stuff.

Then click Edit -> Select All -> Copy.

Use a simple text editor program, like TextEdit. 

Step 2: Go Nuclear

Now open a simple text editing program. If you have a PC, this will probably be NotePad; on Mac, it’s TextEdit. Paste your work into here. (On Mac, select “Paste and Match Style” so it matches the style of TextEdit, not the style of the text you’re pasting in as that defeats the purpose.) This will strip your work of all formatting and images. Once you’ve done that, click Edit -> Select All -> Copy. Then open a brand new MS Word document, save it as .doc (not .docx) and turn off Auto-Formatting and Auto-Correct by un-checking the boxes in Preferences. Paste the stripped text in and save.

Turn off Auto-Correct and Auto-Format by un-checking the relevant boxes in Preferences.

Step 3: Style It Up

Working now in this new, start-from-scratch MS Word document, again with all text selected, go to Format -> Style. Your style will be set to Normal, but chances are that normal won’t be what you want. (It’s that damn horned demon again.) So click Modify and make Normal Times New Roman, point 10, left-aligned and single spaced. Click Okay to modify that style and then Apply.

Modifying your Normal style in MS Word.

Keeping all the text selected, then go to Format -> Paragraph and make the settings single line spacing with no extra space before or after, left-aligned with first line indent to 0.3″. So that it looks like this:

Save your document. Switch to Draft View (View -> Draft View) and make your paragraph returns visible (click the little paragraph return symbol in the toolbar that looks like a backwards P). Your book should now be looking like this to you:

Step 4: Put What You Need Back In

Now go through your document and put back in what you need in terms of formatting. Here’s what I do as I go through the book:

  • Insert e-book appropriate front matter including license notes, centered (tip: create a new, modified style where text is not first line indented but is centered – this will keep our formatting pristine all the way through). If you don’t know what that should be, I included an example in my original how to format an e-book post.

If you need some centered text, for example for titles, don’t just click “Center.” Instead, go back to Format -> Style and create a New Style for this purpose.

  • Insert page breaks between chapters (non-fiction/not a lot of chapters) or between parts (fiction/20+ chapters). Because some formats ignore page breaks, always have a paragraph return above and below the break so that if this does happen, the text doesn’t get all squashed up. To insert a page break, select Insert –> Break -> Page Break.
  • Insert bookmarks at chapter headings (non-fiction/not a lot of chapters) or at the beginnings of sections or parts (fiction/20+ chapters) so you can create a working table of contents later, i.e. readers can click on the table of contents and be taken straight to a certain point in the book. Insert a bookmark by clicking Insert -> Bookmark and call it what it is, e.g. Chapter One, Part II, etc.

Inserting bookmarks. You can also see in this image that to start a new chapter, I simply skip a line and make my heading bold. Keep it simple!

  • Format headings. For chapter headings I just use bold + italics and for section headings I switch the text to all caps and make them bold.
  • Put back in italics and/or bold where you need them in the body text.
  • Remove the first line indent where necessary, e.g. the first lines of chapters, chapter headings, etc. (The quickest way to do this is by moving the slide rule at the top of the page, I think. Just be careful to only move the first line and not the whole paragraph.)
  • Make all URLS live, i.e. Insert -> Hyperlink.
  • Insert e-book appropriate end matter, such as links to your blog, the titles of your other books, etc. Your last line in the e-book document should be “###END###’ centered, so that the reader knows they have come to the end of the e-book.


  • Change your font size. All my e-books are now 10 point right the way through. I make text look different using only bold, italics and all capital letters.
  • Have more than four paragraph returns anywhere in your book. E-book reading devices allow readers to change their font sizes considerably and if you put too many paragraph returns, your readers will end up with blank pages at some font size settings. You really should never have more than one except for the pairs on either side of a page break, which technically aren’t together anyway.
  • Justify your paragraphs. Left-align is the only thing that really works properly across all formats.
  • Refer to retailers. Do you think Barnes and Noble is going to want a link to Amazon in your book? Hardly. I normally do two files, one for KDP (Amazon) and one for Smashwords. I keep the Smashwords file clean because it goes to so many different people, but in the KDP file I say things like, “Look out for [TITLE] in the Kindle store.”

Step 5: The Bells and Whistles

You can stop right here and skip to step 6, Upload and Check Your E-books, if you’re happy with your book as it is, or you can add in some bells and whistles, like:

The live table of contents in the e-book version of Backpacked. The links under the copyright notice/license notes link to the web, i.. my blog, Twitter account etc., but the links in the table of contents link to bookmarks, i.e. locations within the document.

A live table of contents. These are very helpful for non-fiction and reference books. The idea is that you insert a bookmark at the start of each chapter or section, go back to the start and type a table of contents and then make each entry in the table a live, working hyperlink that if clicked, will take the reader to the bookmarked location. To insert a link to a bookmark, click Insert -> Hyperlink and then in the window that appears, click “Document” for in-document links and select the appropriate bookmark.

Inserting images in e-books. 

Images. Yes, I’m talking about adding images to your e-books. Have I ingested some crazy pills? Didn’t I always say you shouldn’t put images in e-books? Didn’t I claim that trying to do it was just bringing on a world of pain? Well, when you use the nuclear option, images are easier to work with just because the body text is already behaving well. To insert an image, you must Insert -> Picture -> From File. (You cannot copy and paste.) You must ensure that the image’s layout is set to “in line with text.” To check, right-click the image and select Format Picture -> Layout. Keep the image small; I make sure mine don’t stretch further than 3 inches across the screen. Centre them for cohesiveness, and for safety, leave a page break before and after. In the image above, I created yet another style for the image caption. Don’t forget that for now, at least, most people read their e-books in black and white.

Work arounds. Everything that’s in your paperback can go in your e-book – you just have to use your imagination. Text boxes are easy: just take the text out and either give it its own paragraph with a return above and below, or just insert it like any other paragraph but in bold and/or italic. A formatting client of mine had a worksheet in her physical book – you can’t put that in an e-book (and there’s no point in doing it, anyway), so I advised her to make a PDF of it, and tell her e-book readers to go to her website to pick it up. They still get the worksheet and she gets a website visit. For footnotes, I went to the text where the footnote appeared in the physical book, went to the next paragraph return and then inserted it using square brackets (see highlighted section in the image below).

Adding footnotes manually (see highlighted section).

The only limit, really, is your imagination. For instance in my novel that’s out next month, Results Not Typical, there are several sections that are supposed to be branded literature from the company at the heart of the plot. They’re in a different font to the main text. In the paperback, those sections look like this:

But how to accomplish that in the e-book? Well, this was a true work around. I took a screen shot of the header as it appears in the MS Word document that forms the interior of my paperback book. Then I inserted that as an image into the e-book. The rest of the text, i.e. the rest of the text in each of those literature sections, will remain the same, but at least those image headers will alert readers to the fact that they’re different. So in the e-book, it looks like this:

Step 6: Upload and Check Your E-books

Checking your e-book is really easy and can be done with your Smashwords converted files. (When you upload to KDP you get to see an on-screen Kindle preview which is great but not ideal and anyway if it’s working at Smashwords, it’s definitely working over at KDP.)

Pre-nuclear: Ugh. It’s all, bad and stuff. Yuck!

Upload your file to Smashwords and while it’s converting, download Adobe Digital Editions and Amazon’s Kindle reading application (both free) to your computer. Then when your book goes live, download the .epub and .mobi (Kindle) versions from your book’s page and check them using the programs you just downloaded. If you followed the instructions above, they’ll look great. If they look anything other than great, immediately unpublish your books (click “Unpublish” on your Smashwords dashboard) and try again.

If you’re having problems, download the Smashwords Style Guide. Honestly, you don’t need anything else – if you follow its instructions, your book will look great on Smashwords and Amazon KDP. It’s where I found out everything I know about formatting, along with trial and error. And caffeine-induced epiphanies after a very long day of e-book formatting.

Post-nuclear: Oooh, look how pretty and correctly formatted and stuff! 

So that’s it, folks. If you want to have this post to hand while you format your e-book, click here to download a printable PDF. I know, I know – I’m just too, too kind. If you want to express your gratefulness, buy a copy of one of these or, alternatively, tell everyone you know about them. Every single last one. I’ll know if you leave a few people out, you know. I have ways.

Click here to find out more about Backpacked

6 thoughts on “REPLAY 2011: A New and Improved, Even Easier Way to Format Your E-book

  1. Catana says:

    An even easier way is not to use Word at all. Exactly what is easy about going back through an entire book, especially a novel with a fair amount of italics, and putting the formatting back? Why do people keep using Word even when it’s perfectly clear that it’s the source of major problems? On the Smashwords forum, questions that have to do with formatting problems almost always lead back to Word, and the “solution” is always the nuclear option. What is easy or even intelligent about continuing to use a broken tool and then having to fix what it damages?

  2. Hibiscus Moon says:

    Well, #1…so glad you did this part for me Catherine! Huge help!
    #2, so glad I did an eBook at all. Just as you said in your book, the eBook sales are now outnumbering the paperback & have actually gone bonkers. I’m also #3 in my category for Kindle books…all thanks to your sound advice!!! Thank you Catherine. ((HUGS))

  3. Marie Loughin says:

    An alternative route for those who do not fear HTML is provided by Guido Henkel, starting at Instead of stripping out all the formatting, which makes it possible to miss something when you go to put all the italics back in, he uses search/replace in Word to fix some things, then moves the manuscript to a text editor to do more search and replace. (If you’re on a Mac, you can use TextMate, which allows you to make some nifty global changes.)

    The downside to Guido’s instructions is that they are lengthy. But that’s because he explains the reasons for his various steps.

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