DIY Publishing 101, Part 4 – Format Your Files for Ebook Publication

This is part four in an ongoing series about DIY Publishing. Previous installments can be found here: One, Two, and Three.

Format Your Files for Ebook Publication

There are two parts to formatting your files: digital and dead tree. I’m going to describe the digital portion first. My next post will deal with formatting for print.

When you are composing your great tome in your word processor, make sure you know how to use paragraph formatting. When I say “paragraph formatting,” I do not mean going through and manually fixing each and every paragraph. I mean that you should use the full powers of those paragraph styles in your word processing program, such as Microsoft Word.

Paragraph styles make it easy when composing. Paragraph styles also make it easy when formatting the text of your book according to the standards defined by Amazon and Smashwords. For an ebook you essentially need only a handful of paragraphs styles: Normal or Body (for text), a Heading style for Chapter headings, maybe even a separate style for the first paragraph of each chapter, one for the Title, and one for the sections (like the Dedication and Acknowledgments, etc.).

If you write with double-spacing between the lines, you’ll have to get rid of that spacing when you go to publish. It’s easier when you can simply redefine the paragraph styles, thus making the changes near instantaneous. Among other things, you’ll also have to decide how large a paragraph indent for each paragraph, define the space between each paragraph, define Chapter headings, and apply those universally.

When I’m writing, I use Mariner Write. It’s a no-frills word processor available for the Mac. I’ve used it for years because it’s fast-performing and has all of the basic tools that I need for writing.

When I needed to format CHICAGO TIME for Amazon and Smashwords, I converted the file to Word format and made two files: one for Amazon and one for Smashwords. Then I used Microsoft Word to modify the paragraph formatting according to the needs of both Amazon and Smashwords. Each site has different conversion software and therefore different requirements for formatting.

For Amazon, you need to convert your file to HTML before uploading it. Using Word, this is easy. Once you’ve made all the style changes in the text, you simply select Save As and then choose the HTML format when saving the file.

For Smashwords, you can use the Word file. The Smashwords converter has a reputation for being finicky. But I would follow their advice in their Style Guide and reformat all the paragraphs. This ensures a clean file with consistent, well-defined paragraph styles.

Once the files are uploaded and accepted by Amazon or Smashwords, you must download them and view them on an ereader, like your Nook, Sony Reader, Kindle, or whatever digital reader you use to read so you can proof the files.

I cannot stress this step enough. Too often the text looks just fine on your word processor but looks wrong in your reader. You might have to fix a stray paragraph or two, or a link in the table of contents doesn’t work. I had the latter problem because Word inserted its own hidden tag into the text of my Acknowledgments heading, thus breaking the link I had set up to the Acknowledgments.

Proofing the files in your ereader might take a few iterations. But, just like hiring a copy editor, it’s worth the extra effort to make sure that your readers have a smooth and enjoyable reading experience.


P.S. I’m not a fan of Microsoft Word as a desktop publishing tool. But I recommend using it for ebook publishing because it’s the default tool with the most universally-accepted format. I’ll save the reasons for my dislike for the next post.


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