Formatting an ebook is easy.
One of the common questions I am asked is about formatting an ebook for Smashwords. While many think it is difficult or even tiresome trying to get a manuscript passed by Smashwords, the truth is that it is very easy. So long as you understand that you are preparing your ebook for a number of formats.
For those used to publishing on Kindle, it often comes as a surprise that the file you uploaded to KDP is unsuitable for other formats. The reason is simple. Kindle converts your file to their one proprietary format and so long as it fits on the screen, you pass. The problem with this, though, is that bad formatting inherent in your document will be a part of your ebook. I have read many Kindle ebooks that have suffered from this and it is extremely annoying when fonts change, line spacing and paragraph formatting changes and page breaks create unwanted blank pages.
When publishing with Smashwords though, your ebook file needs to be suitable for nine different ebook formats, not just one. This is why you need to change your thinking from simply producing a Word document, to producing an ebook file. One that will appear exactly the same in any ebook format. I now have the habit of preparing a new book for Smashwords first and then publishing the file to KDP so I know the ebook will be perfect on Kindle as well.
So what do you need to do?
Firstly, read the free Smashwords Style Guide. It’s the best reference for producing an ebook. I usually discover that those authors who are having problems and are asking me questions, haven’t read it. You know the expression, ‘If all else fails, read the instructions.’
However, there are just a couple of points that are worth making that are common causes of problems with getting an ebook approved by Smashwords.
1. There are fonts larger than 18pt in the document. This is usually the title or line spaces after the title. Remember that a blank line still carries font properties, so just because you can’s see a line in 24pt doesn’t mean it’s not there.
2. Styles are what gives every line in your document its properties. Too many styles with too many attributes will cause problems and inconsistency in the text. If you don’t understand how styles work in Word, start reading and learning, as this is the area that causes errors in a document. This help page from Microsoft gives a good basic guide to styles. My advice is to use only a few styles. Stick to the basis ones such as, ‘Normal, Heading 1 and Heading 2’ and make sure all are using the same font.
3. Paragraphs are the cause of many problems because ebooks need absolute consistency. An ebook needs to be flexible with text, line length and paragraphs. Just think about what happens when you read in landscape or portrait mode and how the text will change. Also reading an ebook on different screen sizes from a smart phone to a tablet. The best method to achieve this is to eliminate line breaks. I know many authors who get a little upset about not having a line space between paragraphs, but this in an ebook and not a book. Books do not change size and shape, so leave the thought of beautiful typography out of your thinking. In the image, you can see that first line indent is used to create paragraphs with no line spacing before and after a line. This is an ideal setting for an ebook file.
The most important point about creating an ebook file in Word is maintaining consistency throughout the whole document. The fact that a book takes an awfully long time to write creates most of the problems, as little attention is taken with regard to formatting while in the process of writing.
So the best approach I have found is to take what Smashwords call the ‘Nuclear‘ approach. That means to convert your whole Word file to plain text and then copy it back into a new Word file and start the whole formatting process from scratch.
Then getting your ebook approved is easy. So happy ebook formatting.