Do’s & Don’ts of eBook Formatting

Do's & Don'ts of eBook FormattingWhen I receive manuscripts from authors there is usually some strange formatting going on.  I have noticed that the authors I work with the most, take the time to look at what I do when I format their eBooks and try and get the original manuscript over to me in a better state.  

I thought it might be useful for me to go over a few things I immediately change when I format eBooks, so if you want to format your own eBook, or even get someone else to do it for you, you will know what to avoid.

Don’t

Press enter at the end of each line

This isn’t necessary at all, when I see documents I like this I wonder whether the writer is still using a typewriter. In all word processing software you can continue writing and only press enter at the end of a paragraph.

Use a lot of bullet points or numbered lists

Bullet points and numbered lists don’t convert well into an eBook.  I have found if you do use them then to keep the points short, long sentences are usually justified when converted and the bullet points or numbers just don’t line up nicely.

Use different fonts

By all means use different fonts for the titles or chapter headings, but within the body of the text you must use the same font and size otherwise the end document will again just look ugly after conversion.

Use the spacebar or tabs to create indents

There is a correct way to create indents as you type, and to save me explaining it here, check out this blog post – eBook Formatting: How to Properly Indent Paragraphs.  It also explains how to remove all the tabs in your document if you have used tabs. You can also see how to remove these and spaces in my post 5 Little-Known Tips to Improve your eBook Formatting.

Use paragraph returns to create space between paragraphs

As above, you don’t need to use returns to create space between paragraphs.  When you open up the paragraph dialog box as above, instead of creating an indent, add space after returns (at the bottom), I tend to use 12pt. Don’t use Multiple, Exactly or At Least – they won’t convert well!

Use more than 3 paragraph returns in succession

According to the Smashwords Style Guide, 3 paragraph returns is the maximum you should use in succession, this creates space, but should not create blank pages and ugly white space.

Do

Edit and proofread your work before formatting

It’s far easier to format a manuscript for eBook when it has been thoroughly edited and proofread.  To format the eBook and then have to make changes is not especially difficult, but if you have converted the eBook to ePub or some other version it creates more work to go back and do this again.

Use page breaks

This is really important, if you want your chapters to start on a new page then you need to add a page break at the end of your chapters.  Don’t use any other breaks in an eBook though as these won’t convert.

Use styles

Again this is important, if you want something centered, bold, or italic, such as for chapter headings, then create a style.  This is explained really well in the Smashwords Style Guide.

Use a standard font such as Times New Roman

Standard fonts such as this convert nicely into eBook, if you use fancy fonts then they may be unreadable or may not even convert at all.  I have just started using Garamond as an alternative to TNR and it works really well, and looks more professional in my opinion.

Use curly quotes

I guess this is just personal preference, but why use straight quotes when the curly quotes convert and look so much better.  The same goes for apostrophes.

It yourself?

I’ve given you the link above to the Smashwords Style Guide, and this is how I started out formatting eBooks. Along the way you pick up tips and tricks to improve on the formatting. It may take you quite a long time to do the formatting yourself the first time, do you have that time?  If not, then why not outsource the work to someone who can do it for you.  There are some great eBook formatters out there, some format in Word (like me) and some do it in html.

If you have any tips and tricks when it comes to eBook formatting, why not leave me a comment below.

Comments

  1. Great post Jo and very helpful. I recently used Createspace to convert a book for me which was great and so easy to use but when it uploaded to Kindle, it was not happy. Next time, I shall do what I normally do and come to you for your fantastic services but it was a good experience all the same :0)
    Lisa Cherry recently posted..Highlights Of 2012….and I couldn’t have done it without you!My Profile

    • Aww, thank you Lisa, sometimes the easiest way isn’t the best way. I am surprised it didn’t come out ok on CreateSpace though, I’m going to have to look into that. 🙂

  2. Good list! I do eBook formatting also, and would like to suggest adding two more things to your “Don’t” list: (1) Don’t use repeating page headers or footers (not even page numbers), and (2) don’t number your pages in any other way, either.

  3. I noticed on my suspense novel, TRAPPED, on my print book, my publisher inserted a blank page when a chapter ended on an odd-numbered page. Therefore, every chapter started on an odd-numbered (right side) page. Do you do that with an e-book, like Kindle, too?

    • Thanks for your question George, this isn’t necessary with eBooks because the pages shouldn’t be numbered, people tend to read eBooks in different font sizes, so it would be difficult to format so that it looks the same for everyone. As long as each chapter starts on a new page, there is no need for the extra blank pages. To do this, you just insert page breaks at the end of each chapter.

  4. I can see already that I am in trouble.
    Good information that I did not know. And yes, I still have type writer habits. I surmise that hiring some one to format and edit would be well worth the cost.
    Thanks for the information.
    Malika Bourne recently posted..Should Kids and Parents be Having THE TALK by 3rd Grade?My Profile

    • Glad to help Malika, it’s always worthwhile checking things out with a third party, even if you don’t want to hire them. 🙂

  5. Building Your Book for Kindle is a great free guide that helped me a lot when formatting Apprentice Swordceror. I’m actually having more problems formatting for the CreateSpace print on demand through Amazon. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Chris, thanks for the book tip. With regards to CreateSpace, have you downloaded the templates provided by CS? This is what I use when formatting for CS.

  6. “Don’t enter at the end of each line.” Really? What about sentence breaks?
    Lynell Bumpas recently posted..Fans of The Trinity CodeMy Profile

  7. Thank you for these great tips on formatting, Jo. Your article takes away part of the nightmare one can feel at the beginning of the process
    margieinitaly recently posted..Italy Magazine Blog Awards – The ShortlistMy Profile

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