How to format an ebook

No matter how great your content, poor design can doom your ebook to obscurity. It’s important to make your ebook attractive and easy to navigate. Whether you’re uploading your book to Smashwords, Kindle, Nook, or Lulu (see how to publish an ebook), the key to good ebook formatting is simplicity. When it comes to ebooks, one design rule applies:

Keep it clean.

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Sorry folks, but this is not the place to try cool fonts and wacky graphics. Leave the drop caps elsewhere. A few tips to stand you in good stead, no matter your publishing platform:

Set your body font to 11 or 12 points. While 11 points may look small on paper, on an ereader it’s just right. Also, remember that ereaders allow users to select their own text size, so if the font you choose is a bit small, a user can always size up. If you want chapter titles a bit larger, increase the font size by a point or two, but no more than that. Gargantuan titles don’t look good on an ereader screen.

Trust Times New Roman. There’s a reason your college English professor insisted on it. It’s easy to read, with clean lines and a pleasing serif. A simple serif is the standard for eye-pleasing text on an ereader screen.

Create your document in a word processing program. I find that Microsoft Word is best. Some programs require that an ebook file be uploaded in PDF or HTML, but if the document is created in Word, it’s very simple to save it as a PDF or HTML file. Remember to “save as” in order to keep the original document for easy edits.

Spacing between the lines: set the spacing to single or 1 1/2. Double spacing may be required in your MFA workshop or your freshman comp, but it makes for too much distracting white space on an ereader.

Banish the tabs: Tabs will make your ebook wonky. If you have a habit of hitting “tab” each time you want a paragraph return, now is a good time to break it. Instead, go into your document settings, clear all tabs, and in paragraph settings, check “indent first line.” Your word processor may have an automatic indentation of .5–you’ll want to decrease this to .3.

Insert page breaks. Never use multiple returns to space between chapters, as there’s no predicting how this will look on the ereader screen. Instead, use the “insert” fuction to add a page break at the end of each chapter.

After you’ve formatted your book, you’re ready to upload it to your publishing platform. Most services, like Amazon for Kindle and BN PubIt for Nook, will convert your book from .doc to an epub file. Smashwords requires that the book be uploaded in html, which is as simple as opening your document and clicking “save as html.” I always give the file a new title when saving in html, so I can go back and edit the .doc file easily if necessary.

Some platforms, however, require you to upload a file in epub. It used to be quite difficult to make the transition, but now, thanks to calibre, converting your document to epub is free and very easy. When I wanted to make one of my ebooks available on goodreads, I turned to calibre. Within 10 minutes I had a free account and an epub document.

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