Formatting a book for publication as an eBook can be easy, but it can also be frustrating. eBooks are much simpler than print books, simpler in that they allow fewer frills and so have more rigorous constraints. Here is a nuts-and-bolts review of the basics for eBook formatting.
If you’d previously prepared your book for print publication, you can pretty much undo all that. eBooks do not need headers or footers or page numbers, so get rid of all of those. If you had sized your print book to 6”x9” or 5.5”x8.5” with a ¼” gutter, toss out all of that. Format your book to 8-1/2”x11”, normal margins (as opposed to mirror margins) with a 0 gutter.
Again, if you’d formatted for print and had your text fully justified (lined up on both the left and right side of the paragraph), now make it all left justified with a ragged right edge. eReaders are a completely different animal than print pages, and because your text will flow from one screen to another based on the size of the text chosen by the reader, right justification will only cause you (and your reader) grief.
Choose a normal, commonly-used font like Times New Roman or Arial for your text; nothing fancy. If you want to use a fancy font for titles or chapter headers, see below. Size your text somewhere in the 9 pt to 14 pt range, generally about 11 or 12. Remember that readers can adjust the type size to suit them, so you don’t need to do that. Also remember that most eReader screens are small, so never go above a 16 pt type. Keep it in the normal range.
To make your title and chapter headers stand out, you can use bold type, make them slightly larger in size (like size 14), and center them. If you want to use a non-standard font, you will actually need to make images for those titles. Most eBook conversions will only have a handful of the most commonly used fonts; if you use Scriptina or Caeldera, the conversion process will likely change that font to a common one. Once you’ve made image files (jpg or png), use the Insert function in Word to add the title image—do not use copy and paste. After you’ve inserted your image file, leave the text wrapping to “In line with text.” If it’s not centered, center it, but otherwise leave it alone. [Note – since eReaders generally do not allow for enlarging images – if you use an image, there is a chance it could look disproportionate compared to the type.]
Save yourself a ton of trouble and never, ever use text boxes in eBooks. Again, if you want different text set apart as in a text box, you’ll need to create an image (above) and insert it.
There are two types of paragraph style: block and indent. Block paragraphs are like the style I am using in this post. There is no indent and the first sentence is left justified along with all the rest of the sentences in the paragraph. Normally this style is best used with non-fiction and there is generally an extra space left between paragraphs.
…..Indented style is like this, with the first sentence indented and the remaining sentences left justified. This style is most commonly used for fiction and there are no extra spaces between paragraphs unless you wish to convey a break in the action or a jump to a different time or location.
…..If you choose this style, your indent should be between 2 and 5 spaces. However, never use the space bar to move to your indent point; use a Word style sheet with the type of indent you like (or create your own–we show you how to do that here).
Choose one style of paragraph that best suits your work and use that one style only; do not mix the styles (as I’ve just done 😉 ).
Because eBooks flow through the eReader without actual pages, you do not need page breaks to delineate chapters. It’s generally advisable to have no more than 4 empty lines between chapters or anywhere else so the reader does not ever see an empty screen. Having to advance the screen twice instead of once is simply unnecessary and can be irritating. You really want your readers to have the most enjoyable experience with your book, so avoid building in extra spaces that are only going to cause them irritation.
Most readers want to dive right into your book and not have to wade through multiple screens of front matter. Beyond the title and the publication information, move all other front matter to the back of the book. This can include acknowledgments, tables of contents and lists of all your other books. However, just in case that rare reader does want to read this material first, put links up front so they can navigate there if they choose.
Bookmarks and Links
To create a bookmark to your acknowledgments, for example (which are now at the back of the book), set your cursor just in front of the title A and from the top menu choose Insert and Bookmark. A dialog box will come up asking you to give that bookmark a name. You can abbreviate as much as you like, but make sure it’s a name you will recognize. Bookmark each of the separate sections you have at the back of the book.
Now go back to the front of the book, typically directly after the publication page, and type in your section titles: Table of Contents, Acknowledgments, Books by the Author, About the Author, etc. One at a time, highlight one title and in the top menu click on Insert, then Hyperlink. Again, a dialog box will open up. It may show you a choice of files in the main window; if so, click on your book file that you’re currently working in. Then on the right, there is a button that says Bookmark. Click on that and the bookmarks you created will show up with the names you gave them. Choose the appropriate bookmark for that section. Now when the readers want to jump to the material in the back of the book, they have an easy way to do that. You can also include a “Return to the Front” hyperlink that takes them back to the front of the book once you create a bookmark there, as well. [We have a step-by-step tutorial for this, if you’d like one.]
Do not put an image of your book’s cover at the beginning of the eBook file. The cover will be uploaded separately, so if you include a cover image, it will show up twice. Again, try not to irritate your reader with these common mistakes.
Keep it Simple
This should be your motto: keep it simple. The fewer gyrations and complications you build into your eBook file, the better it will flow for your readers. The place to really get fancy and try out all your creative ideas is in the print book format, not here. Your readers will thank you for it.