Formatting an ebook in Microsoft Word or Google Docs can be easy if you make sure to follow the essential formatting guidelines. Failing to do so can result in a poorly formatted low quality book.
This blog post is a summarised version of the most essential formatting tips provided in the detailed 117 page Smashwords Style Guide.
Setting up Word for Formatting
- Create a back-up: always create a back-up of your original manuscript, so that you can revert to the original file in case of any issues during formatting
- Show/Hide Button (¶): activate to expose your hidden formatting. When clicked, it exposes your paragraph returns, extra spaces, tabs, field codes or strange formatting.
- Auto-formatting (turn off): allowing Word to apply auto-formatting (based on Word’s guesses of what you are trying to write) can lead to a lot of inconsistent styling. You need to apply formatting yourself using styles (explained below). For Word 2007 & 2010 click on the round office button > word options > proofing > uncheck most boxes under ‘autoformat as you type’ and ‘autoformat’ tabs
- Track changes (turn off): turn of track changes
- Nuclear Method: recommended method for the cleanest formats. Copy paste your entire manuscript into a pure text editor (such as Notepad) and then copy-paste (can even copy-paste-special > paste as plain text) into a newly opened Word document. This results in a completely clean text file with no formatting that you can then apply formatting to.
Using Word Styles
- Always use Paragraph styles: Paragraph styles allow you to globally control the styling of your ebook. You apply different styles (such as heading 1, heading 2, paragraph) to different elements of your book. If you then decide to change the style of an element (such as heading 1), you change it once and it automatically changes for your entire book.
- Avoid Direct formatting: with the exception of bold, underlines and italics, avoid any form of direct formatting (selecting text and directly changing the font, font-size or spacing). This may or may not convert. Always apply formatting via the styles (creating a new style if required).
- Start with Normal everywhere: Select the entire book (cntrl + A) and select the Normal paragraph style. This will apply for the body of your book.
- Apply relevant styles to relevant sections: select the text you require in a different style and the click on the style that you wish to apply.
- Modify styles: In the style box on Microsoft Word there is an option that allows you to customize that style for whatever your requirements (font sizes, fonts, colors, spacing, centering etc). You also have the option to create new styles if you require.
- 1st line indent: (a) in indentation > special > first line > by: use 0.25 – 0.3 inch (b) in spacing don’t define a before or after space
- Block paragraph: (a) no indentation (b) in spacing, apply an after spacing of between 6 pt – 10 pt
- Line spacing: (a) Line spacing should be set to single or 1.5 (b) don’t use double, exactly or at-least
- Text-justification: Left-aligned and centered work best. Justification can lead to odd looking text due to different screen sizes
Common Keyboard Strokes
- Tabs: Avoid all tabs (used by hitting the ‘tab’ key). These do not format in ebooks.
- Indents: Avoid indents (created using multiple space bar spaces or tabs)
- Using ‘find and replace’: can help you remove all special characters (including tabs and indents) that may have cropped up inadvertently. (^t is symbol of tabs)
- Paragraph returns: A paragraph return, created by hitting the “Enter” key on your keyboard, tells the reading device it’s the end of the paragraph. They look like this: “¶” when you have Show/Hide activated. Avoid using too many paragraph returns to segregate text (more than 4 is avoidable).
- Recommended fonts: Times New Roman, Garamond, Arial
- Avoid exotic fonts: Most do not convert well into ebooks
- Recommended font sizes: 11 – 12 pt is ideal / 14 pt is maximum recommended
- Drop-caps: Cannot be used in .doc files used for conversiosn. An option is to make first letter of first para slightly larger font-size & bold.
- Avoid colors: Since a lot of ebook devices are black-and-white and colors will not render (and may even make your text unreadable). Stick to the ‘automatic’ font color (remember to use automatic and not black)
- Insert image as files: Don’t copy-paste images into word. Instead you need to embed images using Insert > Picture:AS file.
- Don’t publish book as ‘plain text’: when publishing uncheck the beckbox ebook option for ‘Plain Text’
- Use styles for images as well: (a) to center images – use a custom style for centered text and apply it to the image (b) if you want a page break – use a style that defines a page break
- Resize images: outside word using an image tool. Image widths should be 500 pixels or less.
- Reducing image file size: right click on image in your file > select format picture > under picture tab you will see a link for compress. You can choose to compress all pictures in the document or only the selected picture. This will compress the image file size without visibly harming image quality
Chapter / Page / Section Breaks
- Page breaks: honored by most ebook readers, but not all. It is better to define page breaks with your heading styles.
- Chapter Heading: if you want chapters to start on a new page, choose the style you use for Chapter headings > modify style > line and page breaks > click on check box for ‘page break before’
- Section Breaks: (a) if you want each section on a new page, use the same method as chapter heading (b) otherwise modify the style used for Section headings to include a larger number of before or after spacing
Linked Table of Contents
- Use Word’s Bookmark Feature: (a) insert-bookmark: creates the destination for the hyperlink in your TOC (b) create your own bookmarks and not those automatically created by word
- Avoid Auto-TOC: this uses field-codes that can cause issues
- Remove hidden bookmarks: click insert: Bookmark > click the checkbox besides ‘hidden bookmarks’ > delete all hidden bookmarks
Text Segmentation Methods
- Tables: Ebooks don’t support tables. These can be imported as images instead.
- Columns: Not supported
- Text Boxes: Not supported
- Automatic Footnotes: Not supported
- Cover Images: Upload separately and not part of the .doc file
- Hyperlinks: right click and click on insert hyperlink. Be sure to include http:// or https://.
- Symbols & Glyphs (graphical touches): use images (using techniques mentioned in the images section above)
- Headers, Footers, Page-numbers: Remove. Not supported.
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