At the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference and meetings, several folks asked me about how to format an eBook and make it look good. After all, eBook formatting services cost up to several hundred dollars. Mind you, the Smashwords Style Guide is the ultimate guru on preparing your Word document for eBook formatting. My first attempts at eBook formatting looked as if I’d been daydreaming about my balloons, and Smashwords Style Guide helped me improve. Lately, I haven’t needed to refer to them unless I’ve got to include pictures with the eBook. Formatting illustrations is something that still makes me uncomfortable.
Most people start by ditching their headings, page numbers, and space between chapters, but I use Smashwords Style Guide’s nuclear method. Before I’m ready to send my book through Kindle, Nook, or anywhere else, that text has gone through several computers—the author’s, mine, and if there’s an outside editor, their text, too. Maybe some passages in the text came from a reprint, too. This results in a conflict of styles that result in AutoVetter errors on Smashwords. You won’t get such messages from Kindle or Nook, but when you open your new eBook, the print looks uneven. The nuclear method will clear all the previous formatting from your file, including the headers and page numbers.
You can do the nuclear method by highlighting your entire manuscript and hitting “copy.” Open WordPad and paste the manuscript onto that. Then open a new file that will be your eBook file, copy the manuscript off WordPad, and paste it onto your new file. You’re now ready to work with a clean manuscript.
For starters, you don’t want your title larger than 16 point font. Stick with a font like Times New Roman, Garamond, Book Antiqua, or Bookman Old Style, and keep the same font throughout the book. All the letters should be black. No colorful letters, curlicues, or other designs. You shouldn’t have more than four returns between chapters. I only use one between each paragraph/chapter. I start out with my title in bold, using 24 point spacing below it via the Paragraph function. This way, I avoid the carriage returns. I move onto the author’s name, the name of the person or company publishing it, and basically the same items you’d see on the masthead of any novel. This would also include your ISBN. I prefer 12 point font for the masthead information. This is where I’d put my disclaimer information, too.
The dedication comes next, and I allow 30 point (arbitrary amount) spacing between the masthead and dedication. Another 30 points and I have my table of contents. You need a table of contents for the eBook even if you didn’t use one for the paperback version. Why? Because readers like to skim and skip through chapters sometimes, so each chapter should get hyperlinked to the respective section in your book. You can’t use page numbers in an eBook. People need different print sizes to read, so assigning page numbers won’t work. More on the hyperlinking as we go along.
I type each chapter header in bold, usually a 12 or 14 point font. The chapters start 30 points under the Table of Contents. The nuclear method should have made all the indents go bye-bye – nothing wrong with them; they just haven’t worked for me. Instead, I maintain six point spacing between each paragraph, and then 30 points before the next chapter. This may not look good on your file, but on a computer, the spacing always comes out nice and even.
Caveat: the nuclear method also wipes out any italics you’ve used, so you’ll need to go through each paragraph on your file and italicize the appropriate words. It doesn’t take that long, just something I wanted to point out. You should review each paragraph anyway because the lettering can resemble symbols, or words hyphenated where they shouldn’t be.
I find the bookmarking easiest to do as I go along. On Chapter One, I’ll highlight the whole phrase and on the ribbon, select “insert.” Underneath “view,” you’ll see “hyperlink,” and below that, “bookmark.” Click on “bookmark” and you’ll be asked to type in a name. If it’s more than one word, Word won’t accept it, so I’ll type something like “ChapterOne and the name of chapter as one word. I usually bookmark several chapters, then hyperlink them.
For hyperlinking, go to the Table of Contents. Highlight the respective chapter title, choose “insert” on the ribbon and go for the “hyperlink” option this time. A dialogue box will come up with four boxes from the top. Click on the second box from the top, “place in this document.” A big window will open, and you’ll see a list of the chapters you bookmarked. If you’re hyperlinking Chapter One, select the words “ChapterOne” on the list of bookmarks. Hit “okay,” and now you’ll see that chapter number in neon blue on the Table of Contents. If you place your mouse over the hyperlinked text, you’ll be told to hit “control” and click on the hyperlinked text. That takes you straight to the respective chapter.
Smashwords Style Guide doesn’t tell you what to do with HTML because it’s not required for Smashwords. But you’ll want to use it for Kindle and Nook, and it also works best for Calibre software, but saving in HTML is easy. Simply click on “save as,” and for file type, select “web page filtered.”
What I have here is just the basics, but Smashwords Style Guide will give you what you need to know so you can format the eBook yourself. After your project’s done, treat yourself to something nice. After all, you’ve saved a bundle of cash. My balloons would agree.