How to Format Your Ebook (The Easy DIY Way)

When writing an ebook, there are so many costs: cover design, editing, advertising. Before we know it we have spent a chunk of change with the hope that the investment will pay off in the future.

But, there is one task that doesn’t have to be a cost: Formatting. Every author can ‘do it yourself.’ Below I present an easy step-by-step way to format your ebook. It is a modified version of the steps I found on Tori Minard’s website several years ago. Unfortunately, I can’t find Tori’s website today [it’s marked as private now] or else I’d link to it. In any case, it was much appreciated information at the time and I hope the following will help other writers.

Okay, below is a nine step process.

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If you want more details on formatting your ebook, click on this book.

Assumptions

First, I’m basing these instructions on a few assumptions: You wrote your book in Microsoft Word, you’re formatting it to convert to an ebook and not to send to a publisher as a submission, and that you’d be happy with a professional look that doesn’t need a lot of extra flourishes.

Don’t Do/Don’t Have These

One reason it’s difficult to directly convert our Word file into eformat is because there are so many different internet situations, like web browser type and screen size—from desktop to smartphone. Tabs, for example, cause problems, such as extra lines in the ebook. It is also best not to hit the return key many times and not to have many extra spaces after a period, or have headers and footers and pages numbers, since the format needs to be flexible.

1. Show/Hide Function

In the Microsoft Word document that holds your manuscript, turn on the show/hide function that looks like a backward “P” in the paragraph section of the toolbar by clicking on it. This symbol will appear throughout the document. But, don’t worry, it won’t show up in the ebook. We’ll get there.

This will show the returns, extra spaces, tabs, and such, which we’ll need to deal with to make the ebook look professional.

2. Going Nuclear

Mark Coker of Smashwords recommends going nuclear. Copy the whole manuscript by hitting Ctrl A, right clicking, and hitting Copy (or, just by hitting Ctrl C). Open Notepad by hitting the Windows symbol in the lower left corner of the screen and clicking Notepad from the list. It may take a bit to find it.

Once it’s open, paste your manuscript into Notepad by right clicking and hitting Paste (or, just by hitting Ctrl V).

That will take out the formatting problems. Unfortunately, it also does away with italics, such as those used to emphasize a word in dialogue. So, remember where you italicized words and sentences.

Now, open a new Word window—it’s completely blank—and save it with a new name (e.g., my awesome book converted).

Go back to Notepad, hit Ctrl A (which highlights the whole manuscript), Ctrl C (which copies it), and then move over to your new Word file and hit Ctrl V (which pastes it back into a clean Word file).

Make sure your show/hide function key is still on so that you can see the backward “P” in the new Word file.

3. Take Out the Tabs

In the new Word file, click Ctrl A to highlight the whole manuscript.

Hit the Ctrl F keys (or, from the Editing tab hit “Find”). Then, hit the upside down triangle next to the find bar and click “Replace.” In the find bar, type in ^t (the ^ symbol is above the 6) and leave the “replace” bar blank.

In this way, you’ll remove the tabs and replace them with nothing.

4. Replace the Indents

Now, it’s time to indent each new paragraph without using tabs.

Hit the Ctrl A keys, highlighting the document again if it is not still highlighted.

Click the lower right corner of the Paragraph tab, which shows a pointing arrow symbol, and a new window will pop up that has a tab for Indents and Spacing.

In the bar that says, “Special,” click the arrow so that “First line” is highlighted. In the “By” window, put in 0.3 for the amount to indent each paragraph. See it in the lower Preview window. Click “Ok” to activate it.

5. Line Spacing

Click Ctrl A if the document is not already highlighted. Click the Paragraph tab again to bring up the window with the Indents and Spacing information. For line spacing, highlight 1.5, which is preferable to double-spaced and single-spaced when reading documents on the internet. Click “Ok” to activate it.

6. Remove Extra Returns

Work through the entire manuscript from beginning to end to take out the extra returns by deleting them (can use your backspace button). You’ll be able to see them because of the backward “P” symbol.

Yet, leave three extra returns before a chapter title and leave three extra returns after the last line in a chapter. At the end of the chapter (i.e., after the three extra returns at the end of a chapter), make a page break by hitting Ctrl Enter (or, click the Insert tab and then “Page Break”). This will separate your chapters in the ebook. Sometimes they will look like they are in strange places in the Word file because we’re used to how a Word file looks with normal pages. But, these page breaks will reflect a new page in the ebook and they will look good.

7. Remove Extra Spaces

Work through the whole manuscript again to take out the extra spaces. Often, after we finish typing a sentence and hit the period symbol, we then hit the space bar once or twice or more. When the backward show/hide symbol is on we can see those extra spaces. So, delete them.

They’re often at the end of a last sentence because we write that sentence unsure if we will write another sentence, and so we unconsciously hit the space bar in preparation. But, then we’re satisfied with that last sentence and move on to a new paragraph or new dialogue. So, that extra space is still there.

Some people also have two spaces between a period and a new sentence. Take that extra space out so that there is only one space between a period and a new sentence.

8. Fix Chapter Headings

It is best if the chapter headings are written in a bigger font than the body text, which is often Times New Roman, font size 12. Center the chapter heading, which can be done by hitting Ctrl E, and make it font size 14. Then, a recommended font is Georgia, so it is different and bigger than the regular text. Finally, bold the chapter heading by hitting the B symbol in the font section of the tool bar.

9. Scene Changes

Within a chapter, there are changes in scenes that need more than just a new paragraph. Some people use hash-marks, while others use stars. The trend these days seems to be to just leave a blank space between the final paragraph of one scene and the first paragraph of a new scene. In that case, you can add an extra return. Sometimes some people also bold the first letter of the first sentence in the new scene. Other people don’t do that, though.

That’s It!

Click the show/hide button again so the backward “P” disappears, save your file, and you’re done. It took a little effort and some time, yet after you’ve done it a few times it goes more quickly and it always saves money. Now, you can upload your word file to Amazon and other places and their systems will convert it into a good looking ebook.

Nonetheless, once they converted the manuscript and offer for you to check it, check every single page! If you see something strange, go back to your file and make the small change (e.g., you forgot to bold a chapter heading or you forgot extra spaces above and below a chapter or there are too many extra spaces after a period) and re-upload and check it again.

What Methods of Formatting Do You Use?

There are other ways and preferences for formatting ebooks. What do you like and/or do? Please leave a comment below, especially if I missed something. We’d all appreciate it.

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Photo Credit: Bruce Emmerling from Pixabay.

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Clovis Whitman

Clovis Whitman is an independent author of coming of age and new adult fiction, because he has always been fascinated by the simple yet complex question of “Who are you?”

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