E-book Formatting Checklist

How to Format your e-book for independent publishing

In formatting ebooks for independent publishing, I’ve found that the detailed information offered in the Smashwords style guide, while top-notch and something that EVERY indie publisher needs to read, is a bit hard to parse when you’re going through the routine of formatting another book/story for publication, so I (with the help of my 9 year old son) documented the process in a simple(r) checklist, so I could be sure I was following the correct steps as I went. This is heavily based on that Smashwords style guide, so you really need to read that if you want to publish your own books, but look–this is simple. My 9 year old could do it, so can you!

The main reason? You don’t want the epublishing sites like Smashwords, Amazon Kindle Publishing, or Barnes and Noble’s PubIt! to puke on your file. You want things to go as smoothly as possible. You want your readers to read a nice copy of your book/story, right? One that adapts to their specific hardware, be it Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Sony Reader, or their teensy tiny smartphone screens.

The meticulous formatting you do to put your book up for sale makes it so that readers of all types on all kinds of hardware can see the book as you intended, rather than having line and page breaks appear randomly, being unable to adjust the font size on their reader, or having a book filled with so many formatting glitches that it’s unreadable. Trust me, I’ve bought a book or two like that and it’s infuriating, don’t do that to your readers! Your readers love you. Really, they do or they wouldn’t waste their time on YOUR book, they’d go read some other person’s book.

E-Book Formatting Checklist 

1.     Save back up copy
2.     Select all
3.     Change every thing to normal paragraph style
4.     Choose show formatting
5.     Turn off auto format
6.     Select all text
7.     Copy and paste into a blank text edit document
8.     Copy and paste into a blank word document
9.     Modify normal style
a.     Times new roman 12 pt
b.     Select format paragraph
c.      Choose indentation->special first line->.3″
d.     Make sure spacing is 0 for before after and line spacing is set to single
e.     Go to line and page breaks tab and turn off widow/orphan control
10. Check document to see if indentations look right, check copyright page and chapter headings
11. Remove extra lines between paragraphs
12. Save the document
13. Check formatting, re-insert bold and italics, make sure you are still in normal style. MS Word likes to mess with you and switch you off the style you selected, so check this often.
14. To insert hyperlinks, select the text, then right click, hyperlink, and enter the full web address (including the http:// portion.)
15. If you use page breaks, insert a carriage return on either side of it (or 2 or 3) because not all formats recognize page breaks. (RTF and PDF do, others don’t.)
16. To separate chapters, insert a consistent number of returns (smashwords suggests 3 or 4, but never more than 4 as it will cause your book to get rejected from the premium catalog) and then centered text like tildes or stars.
17. To insert pictures – use word’s “insert: picture: as file” option. Remember to uncheck “plain text” option when publishing if you do this (or leave plain text checked if the pictures are nice but not essential.) Use width of 500 pixels or less, 5M filesizes or less.
18. In case centering hasn’t worked properly – define a custom style to do centering. Choose New Style – give it a name (Mine is called “KTS Centered”) – base it off Normal style, style type is paragraph, check that the font and size are the same as the rest of your doc, then click the centered option, and “automatically update.”
19. Remove headers and footers, remove auto page-numbering.
20. For chapter names, use a heading style but only apply to one line, not multiple lines.
21. If you use the word “chapter” to name each chapter, smashwords’ meatgrinder will pick that up and use it in a useful way. If your chapters aren’t labeled beyond Chapter 1, Chapter 2, you may not need a ToC due to this feature.
22. Tables of Contents:
a.     If you already have one, make sure it doesn’t have page numbers.
b.     Don’t use Word 2007’s auto-ToC feature.
c.      Doing a linked ToC as below will make a ToC for EPUB, MOBI, and PDF, but might not work for HTML and Javascript views, FYI.
d.     So create your ToC, type it out in NORMAL paragraph style.
e.     Choose to bookmark a link – the bookmark location is the target, where you want the reader to go after clicking on that chapter name.
f.      Go through the document and highlight each chapter heading, choose Insert: Bookmark. Name it according to the Chapter/Indexed item. Bookmark names can’t have spaces or special characters. NOTE: If you used Heading styles for chapter headings, your chapters may be there for you to select from when you create the bookmarks.
g.     Go to the Table of Contents you wrote at the beginning of the document, highlight the words Table of Contents and Insert:Bookmark, TOC or some such. This way you can link everything back up to the TOC.
h.     Then add hyperlinks to your chapter listings. Highlight the item in the TOC, right click, hyperlink, choose “place in this document.” Bookmarks should be listed. Selec thte bookmark and lcick ok. Rinse, repeat for every chapter.
i.       You can link your chapters back up to the table of contents if you want. Choose to hyperlink back to the TOC (which you helpfully created a bookmark to just one step earlier.)
j.       TEST ALL OF YOUR LINKS. Ugh this is important. Don’t forget!
23. If you want to do blurbs, do them at the very top of the document and make them brief.
24. You are required to include a title and copyright page next. Center the text, but don’t use tabs or indents!
25. Depending on the epublishing location you’re using, you’ll need different boilerplate content. You basically need to establish that you own the copyright, that this is a Smashwords, Kindle, or Nook edition. Smashwords says “Although some Smashwords authors consider Smashwords their publisher, we consider you the publisher. Smashwords is your ebook publishing and distribution platform.”
26. Required info (from Smashwords, but Kindle and Nook are very similar):
a.     Book Title
b.     Authorname
c.      Published by [publishername] at Smashwords
d.     Copyright 2011
e.     Optional – link to your other stuff at Smashwords or Kindle or Nook
f.      Don’t write kindle edition or nook edition or printed in the U.S. or other garbage, it’ll get you bonked out of the smashwords process (note: You should format your ebook once, then modify that file for the other sites. Save each site-specific copy as its own file in case you need to make changes later.)
g.     Don’t be a doofus, only link back to your own website or smashwords if you’re publishing on smashwords, and likewise on other sites.
27. For smashwords edition: add a smashwords license statement to your copyright page.
a.     Smashwords Edition, License Notes
b.     This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchase for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respending the hard work of this author.
28. To end your book, use ### centered to signify the end, then consider adding a personal message. Some suggested areas
a.     About the Author
b.     Discover other titles by Authorname at ebook distribution site. (remember to make sure hyperlinks have full http:// address.)
c.      Connect with Me Online: Twitter, facebook, smashwords, blog
29. Cover image:
a.     Title, authorname. These must match the metadata you enter about your title in the ebook distribution site, as well as the title and authorname on the title page.
b.     RGB color only (not CMYK)
30. Make sure you’re eligible for premium distribution by not screwing up the cover (rectangle-portrait orientation, at least 500×800, legible title and author name), put your name in metadata exactly the same way as it appears on title page, e.g., Joe Schmoe, don’t USE ALL CAPS FOR ANYTHING BECAUSE IT’S JUST STUPID. Don’t use messy paragraph formatting or inconsistent formatting, etc.

Have fun! Post your completed projects in the comments section!

7 responses to “E-book Formatting Checklist”

  1. Great post, Karen. I take heart that your 9 year old can do this, although he’s probably more computer proficient than I am. 🙂 But thanks for taking the time to post this!

    Susan Kroupa

  2. I hope you read this. Tried to find an E-mail address but couldn’t. Now it’s my turn and this will be handy but do you have a cover checklist? Been spinning my wheels trying to figure out how to do one. I forget you may have used a pro or I may learn how by the time you respond–if you see this–but anything would be helpful.

  3. Hi Louis! All is well, thanks for asking. As for covers – I use a friend who is a fantastic cover designer, as I am just…all thumbs when it comes to graphics manipulation. A lot of cover design is detailed work with multiple images, knowing how to pick the right kinds of fonts and have them work well together, adjusting spacing, height, depth, color, outline, and all sorts of things I’m vaguely aware of when I look at covers but completely inept with when trying to do anything on my own. Her name is Renee and she’s reachable here: http://thecovercounts.blogspot.com

    And also on facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/thecovercounts?fref=ts

    You might check out her pre-done covers that she posts on facebook from time to time, as they are a really economical way to dip your toes into cover design (I think she only charges about $65 for her pre-done ones.) Good luck to you! Sorry I can’t be of more direct help but trust me, all thumbs. 😉 I hope you find these tips still useful. I’ll have to check them again next time I’m formatting something (though I’m also using Scrivenever these days which does a lot of my formatting for me…)

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