The Basics of Formatting an E-book by Terri J. Haynes
Great e-books are made up of three components: a good story, an eye-catching cover and proper formatting. Each of these components holds equal importance. The last thing you want after investing time into writing a book is to have formatting mistakes draw your readers away from your story.
Most writers find formatting daunting, but it’s not impossible. All you need to start is a familiarity with formatting a Microsoft Word document. There is no need to buy expensive software. Word will do everything you need (but you will have to find a way to convert your file to PDF for some publishing platforms. There are lots of free PDF converters online).
Every platform for publishing e-books have their own guidelines for formatting and for good reason. Each platform has formatting guidelines that work best for their devices (ie. Kindle, Nook, iPad). Most platforms have published guidelines on the best way to format your book, and it is best to follow those guidelines. But here are some basics that apply to all of them and will increase your e-book’s readability:
a. Resist the temptation to use every font on your computer. The best approach is to select a font family. A font family is simply all the properties you can apply to one font. This post is written in Times New Roman. The font family includes Times Regular, Times Italic, Times Bold. This way you can apply bold to your titles and italics to quotes but keep the text consistent.
b. Understand the difference between serif and sans serif fonts. Serif is the little points or “feet” on the letters in a font. Times New Roman is a serif font, but Ariel is a san serif font (sans means without). See the difference between the Ariel type and the Times type. Each type of fonts has its limitations. Serif fonts are great for print text but the serifs may look blurry with a computer screen’s resolution. San serifs are easier to read, but gives text a more casual feel. This is good to know, but remember, most devices allow readers to select which text works best for them.
c. Special symbols are special. If you plan to include special symbols in your text, be sure to double-check them once the document is formatted. Special symbols tend to lose their properties once they are formatted. If you can, avoid special symbols, but if you must use them, follow the platform’s guidelines on it.
2. Line spacing
a. Single space but not double space. The only pages in your e-book that should single-spaced are the acknowledgement pages. The rest of the book, however, shouldn’t be double-spaced. The ideal spacing is somewhere in between. Spacing lines at 1.5 lines is normally a good choice. Again, refer to the instructions given by each platform.
b. No hard returns, tabs or columns. Never use returns, tabs or columns to format your Word document to look like a book page. This is sure to end in disaster. Most platforms recommend you don’t use more than three hard returns together. Most writers use hard returns so the chapter headings are 1/3 from top of the page, but this will not convert well to e-books. Also, don’t use tab to indent the first line of test for each paragraph. The best way to indent is going to format>paragraph> and adjust the first line indent in the special option. Also, forget all that your typing tutors told you to indent five spaces. That’s too much for an e-book. Three spaces works better. Again, refer to your platforms instructions.
3. Color and images.
a. Many e-readers don’t support colored text so it’s best to avoid it all together. No since putting work into adding color when most of your readers aren’t going to see it.
b. Use the correct resolution for your images. Using the wrong resolution results in blurry or pixelated images. Check with your formatting guidelines to see what’s best. Also, there is no need for fancy photo editing software. You can easily change the resolution of an image right in Microsoft Word.
4. File Management
a. Create separate files for each platform. I cannot stress this enough. A Smashwords formatted file will not work for an Amazon formatted file. Remember, the files are formatted for each device so following those guidelines is very important.
b. Practice good file management. Start with a clean file, meaning all the formatting except italics and bold are remove. Use that file as the base for all the files. Once you get one formatted, use the Save As feature in Word and add the platforms name to the file name. For instance, Myebook_smashwords. This way, if you have to make corrections, you’ll know exactly which file is which. Also, you can add a version number to the end of the file name so you’ll always know which is the most recent file. So your file name would be Myebook_smashwords1. Try and avoid spaces or special characters in your file name. This will make it easier to upload.
5. Time Management
a. Give yourself plenty time for the process. Even though formatting an e-book isn’t impossible, it does take time. Set aside a good block of time, especially if you aren’t comfortable with formatting.
b. Converters are your friends. Each platform has a file converter that will check for formatting mistakes. Take your time and check each error message.
c. Corrections are not instant. In the event that you need to make corrections after you’ve already published your book, the updates can take 24-72 hours to take effect.
These tips only cover the basic formatting issues, but if followed, you should be able to tackle formatting your e-book. Feel free to post any questions you may have in the comment section of this blog and I’ll be posting answers throughout the day.
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