Formatting ebook text: hints for independent publishers

Beach Hut Surprise, text formatting by Joanna Maitland

Apart from Beach Hut Surprise, I’ve recently been republishing some of my vintage books on Amazon. In revised (and, I hope, better) editions. I do all my own formatting and I thought I would share some of the approach I use. I’ll add in tips and tricks, too.

For those who’d like to do their own e-publishing, but haven’t yet dared, I hope this will encourage you to have a go. It really isn’t all that difficult. Honest.

Though—shameless self-promo here—if you absolutely can’t face doing your own formatting, I’d be happy to do it for you.

For a fee, of course 😉

Formatting: what it isn’t

This blog is not about editing or proofreading a manuscript. Formatting an ebook starts from the point where the manuscript has already been edited and proofread. A formatter does not normally read the detailed text she’s working on. If she had to do that, the charges would be much, much higher.

exclamation mark in fireThe formatter’s job is to take your perfect manuscript and turn it into a file that can be uploaded to the internet. If the manuscript isn’t perfect, your imperfections will be translated into the e-pubbed version. And you don’t want that, do you?

As an aside, I do normally run a spellcheck on manuscripts before I start formatting. And the spellcheck does sometimes point out errors. Does that mean that the author did not run the spellcheck on her manuscript? I hope not. Maybe it’s just that my spellcheck works differently. In the end, if the published ebook contains spelling errors—or any other editing errors that should have been corrected—it is down to the author, not the formatter.

Formatting: four simple constituents

In this blog, I’ll be looking only at the central text: the story. And I’ll be concentrating on publishing ebooks for Amazon Kindle. If there’s enough interest in this blog, I’ll do a follow-up blog about formatting front and back matter—tedious, I know, but necessary. You do want to establish your copyright without doubt. And you do want to use back matter to promote your other books, don’t you?

For formatting the story itself, I recommend 4 different styles:

A:  a normal indented paragraph style
B:  an unindented paragraph style
C:  a text break style (if you use text breaks within chapters)
D:  a chapter heading style (essential for a clickable Table of Contents)

I’m assuming you’re using MS Word for the file you’re going to upload. Amazon KDP recommends the DOC/DOCX format or EPUB. (It also recommends Kindle Create’s KPF format but I don’t use that because you can’t download a MOBI file from Kindle Create.)

gold ringsNote that items A-D above are styles in MS Word. If you don’t know how to use styles, you need to get up to speed if you want to self-publish. There are loads of tutorials available but you could start with Microsoft’s basic instructions here.

The nails on the right have style. But Word Styles are different. Not nearly so glamorous, sadly. Possibly more useful?

A: Normal Indented Paragraph

This is what Amazon KDP says in its Guide to eBook Manuscript Formatting:

I would add two things so that my instructions are (with my additions in green):

  1. On the Home tab, right-click the Normal style and choose Modify.
  2. Click the Format list (the drop-down at the bottom of the dialog box) and choose Paragraph. This opens another dialog box.
  3. Under Indentation > Special, set First line indent to 0.2″ (5 mm).
  4. Under Spacing, set Before and After to 0 pt, and Line spacing to Single.
  5. Then, under Alignment, choose Left.
  6. Click OK.
  7. Choose Font in the Format dropdown menu and, in the new dialogue box, specify Font as Times New Roman and size as 12.
  8. Click OK.

word "clarity" with spectaclesSetting these variables gives the reader the most options for reformatting your text in Kindle. I have found that if I upload justified text, it’s not always possible to change it to left-justified on Kindle. But if I upload left-justified text, I can make it justified on Kindle, if I want to. Obviously, I can change the line spacing and the font, too. The point here is to keep it simple and clear with your normal paragraph format, because fancy can lead to problems for the reader. Fancy can also lead to problems when you try to upload your file.

B: Unindented Paragraph

This is where KDP and I part company. KDP thinks that all paragraphs should be indented. I think that the first paragraph of a chapter—and the first paragraph after a text break, too—should not be indented. I reckon it looks much more professional that way.

Now you’d think, wouldn’t you, that the answer is simply to specify a new paragraph style with no indent? So, at instruction 3, under Indentation > Special, you’d choose (none).

You can try it. I have. It doesn’t work.
Because Amazon is determined that all paragraphs should be indented and so KDP assumes you have made a mistake. KDP will kindly correct it for you and will indent all your unindented paragraphs. Grr.

There is a solution for which I am indebted to Mark Coker’s FREE SmashWords Style Guide which I thoroughly recommend. It hasn’t been updated since 2014 so it doesn’t include the latest versions of Word, but the detailed instructions about formatting still work pretty well. And the Guide is over 100 pages long, so there’s a lot more information than I can include here.

When you are defining your new No Indent paragraph style, you set the First Line Indent to 1/100th of an inch or 1/10th of a millimetre. That is so small that the reading eye almost certainly won’t detect it. The paragraph will seem to have no indent. But KDP, being a computer, will detect it as an indent and will not insert a larger indent that the reader will spot. At instruction 3, your screen should have something like this:

It works. Can you spot that there is a teeny-tiny indent at the beginning of the paragraph after the chapter title below (in a screenshot of Beach Hut Surprise from Amazon’s Look Inside)?
I promise you there is one.

C: Text Break

pancakes for break

Not that kind of break, though they look scrummy

If you use text breaks, you want your reader to be able to see them. In print books, it’s easy: you include an extra line space between paragraphs. In ebooks, with reflowable text, the extra line space may occur at the bottom of a screen, so the reader may not be aware of it. It’s better, in my view, to include a more obvious marker.

When I’m writing, I use 3 tildes as a text break, separated by spaces and centred: ~ ~ ~  And because the tilde is not a character I normally use, the text breaks are easy to find. Some people use asterisks in the same way. Some don’t centre.

For my text breaks, I use yet another style: text break centred. I base it on my No Indent paragraph style because, if I based it on the Normal style, it wouldn’t be properly centred on the page. The only change from the No Indent style is that instruction 5 becomes:

5. Then, under Alignment, choose Centered.

Easy, no?

Optional: Using Glyphs as Text Breaks

When it comes to formatting for publication, I like to replace my ~ ~ ~ with a glyph, chosen to match the subject or setting of the book. So, in Beach Hut Surprise, text breaks were signalled by a set of waves that looked like this (and which you can see in larger format in the screenshot above, too):

But using glyphs is purely optional. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t signal a text break with just a few asterisks. It’s a lot less work, because it uses standard text characters and doesn’t involve importing and inserting glyphs. Your choice.

How To Tip: Glyphs are pictures so they’ll only work properly if they are inserted using Insert/Photo/Picture from File to replace ~ ~ ~. But you only have to do that once. You can then copy the inserted glyph—using Ctrl+C—highlight your next text break and paste the glyph in to replace your tildes or asterisks—using Ctrl+V.

Glyphs come in all sorts, including Santa reading his mail which could be kinda fun

D: Chapter Headings

The Beach Hut Surprise clickable TOC from Look Inside

How often, while reading an ebook, have you wanted to go to Chapter/Story X in the book but couldn’t, because the Go To screen didn’t include a clickable list of chapters or stories? I know that some writers don’t think a clickable chapter list is necessary for fiction. I recommend that you do include one. If readers want to use it, they will, and they might get cross if there isn’t one; if they don’t want to use it, what harm have you done?

In order to create a clickable Table of Contents (TOC), you need to format your chapter titles using Heading styles. Then creating a TOC in Word for Windows is a doddle. (Sadly, I have not found a way of creating a clickable TOC in Word for Mac, but I’m using the 2011 version. Newer versions may have solved the problem.)

This is what Amazon KDP says about Chapter Titles in its Guide to eBook Manuscript Formatting:

I normally format my Heading 1 style for chapter titles as follows:

  • Based on No Indent so that it is properly centred on the page
  • Paragraph/Alignment set to Centered
  • Paragraph/SpacingBefore set to 48 ptAfter set to 36 pt
  • Format/Font: set to Times New RomanBold14 pt (ie 2 pts bigger than my normal text)

That produces a chapter title that looks pleasing at the top of a new page and is neither too cramped nor too spaced out. Don’t forget to ensure there’s a page break at the end of the previous chapter—using Insert/Break/Page Break.

And don’t include more than one or two spare lines before the page break. If you include lots of spare lines, your uploaded file may be rejected. Worse, your reader may think there’s no more text and may discard your book. Not good.

This is what Amazon KDP says about creating a TOC in Word for Windows in its Guide:

It may sound daunting, but it’s actually pretty straightforward. Try it and see.

Is this helpful? Do you want more of it?

I’m sorry this blog was so much longer than usual. Hope you weren’t bored to tears.

The important question is whether it is helpful to you. It is intended to be. Honest 😉

If Libertà visitors want it, I can do a future blog about what to include in front matter and back matter and how to format it. If no one finds it useful, I’ll drop the idea, with apologies for having done this much. Your choice, folks. Thanks for reading this far…

Joanna the frenzied formatter

Writing in Lockdown: challenges met, challenges missed

To begin with, I thought writing in lockdown was going to be a doddle. My normal working life was sitting alone for hours alone staring at a computer screen. Then there were those bursts of high energy word-cookery. What would change?

Actually, I was even crazier than that. Staying home and not seeing people, I thought, would give me oodles of time to complete the umpty-um projects on my 2020 schedule. Maybe this was the year I completed three books, cleared out the study, got to grips with social media and started exercising regularly.

Um – no.

The Big Freeze

snow in March 2016What actually happened was that I froze. Pretty much immediately. And completely. Could hardly do a thing.

It was a nasty shock. I was ashamed and a bit scared. At the time, I didn’t tell anyone.

The house got more and more of a tip. I started things I didn’t finish. But for a while I was self-isolating. So nobody knew.

That stage didn’t last. But struggling out of it took me time. And, from things I have been hearing, I’m not alone. Writing in lockdown can be harder than you’d think. Continue reading

Designer Stubble: the Bane of Regency Book Covers

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the hurdles I’d jumped over (and, on occasion, fallen at). while republishing vintage books. Some of you may have noticed that the covers for my four Aikenhead Honours books did not feature any heroes.
Why?
The dreaded designer stubble.

Aikenhead Honours covers without designer stubble

No designer stubble in sight?

Portrait of Duke of Wellington, painted by Goya, 1812-1814

Duke of Wellington, by Goya. No stubble.

Designer stubble, I contend, is the bane of a cover designer’s life, if she’s trying to create something that’s reasonably faithful to the Regency period.

Regency men often had side-whiskers, but their chins were clean shaven.
Today’s cover models? Not so much.

In fact, hardly at all.

Try typing “Regency gentleman” into any site that offers stock images — places like Shutterstock, Adobe, and so on. I bet that at least half of the images that come up will show a male model with designer stubble. Or a beard. On some sites, almost every single so-called “Regency gentleman” has chin hair of some kind. Continue reading

Before The Crown there was a love story

COMING 17th September: Before the Crown

One of my favourite authors has written Before the Crown, the wartime love story between a very young Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, RN.
I asked Flora Harding to tell me about it.

Young Royals

Sophie        I say a very young Princess Elizabeth. But actually she and Prince Philip must have known each other all their lives. Weren’t they related?

Princess Elizabeth with Dookie

FLORA   Yes, they’re both directly descended from Queen Victoria and part of an extended network of royal relatives. They would have come across each other at odd family occasions like weddings or George VI’s Coronation.

But there was a five-year age gap. They don’t seem to have had much to do with each other until the famous encounter in 1939. Continue reading

Celebrating The Aikenhead Honours with a Giveaway

This Bank Holiday, I am celebrating the publication for Kindle of four new (well, sort of new) stories—the four books of The Aikenhead Honours series. In revised editions. With four brand new covers that I love. See for yourself, in the image below:

The original Harlequin covers focused purely on the lovers. Fair enough, but I wanted my new covers to show how far afield my heroes had to travel to find their brides. Book 1 shows the Hermitage in St Petersburg, Book 2 shows Schönbrunn palace outside Vienna, Book 3 shows Notre Dame, in Paris, Book 4 shows the old city in Lyons. My heroes went to all those places on business, of course—spying business.

Editing the Aikenhead Honours Series

Continue reading

Finding Your Voice

When two writer friends meet their first talk is of editorial revisions. You don’t risk a word on that unfinished book in case it stays that way. And you don’t talk about horrible reviews until you’re on at least your second glass.

But revisions are common to all writers and moaning about them – or sometimes sharing the joy – is a truly bonding experience.

This is the season when reports from the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers Scheme  start to come back. Many of them will contain suggested revisions. Welcome to the club, guys!

But sometimes the report (or a book doctor or even an experienced reader friend) may say: “I don’t think you’ve found your voice yet.” “Inauthentic” may even be murmured.

What does it MEAN? And what can you do about it? Continue reading

Anachronisms and pesky unknown unknowns to puzzle us

key on keyboard labelled Oops! for mistakeWriters of historicals are always on the lookout for anachronisms. They still trip us up, time and again. But the real elephant traps are the unknown unknowns [© D Rumsfeld?], the things we don’t know we don’t know—and, as a result, we don’t know we’re getting wrong.

I was prompted to write this blog by some of the reactions to my post about habit words, a couple of weeks ago. woman with clock, pointing finger at headSo this week’s post is about anachronisms of various kinds.

Anachronisms? The standard definition is something out of its time—an object, an expression, an attitude—something that does not belong in the period of the story.

We wouldn’t put electric light in a Regency setting, for example. That one is easy to spot. But how am I, as a historical writer, supposed to spot the ones that lurk in the undergrowth of my ignorance? Continue reading

Sentimental Romantic

Dirty draft readerThis week I have been considering the nature of a sentimental romantic – and wondering whether I qualify.

Let me put this in context. On Thursday a friend phoned me to say that he had just read a story which he had much enjoyed and thought very romantic. He had told the writer – whom he knew – of this response.

The writer said he was “intrigued”. My friend – let us call him Robert – explained his reasons. Eventually the writer decided that he was OK with the  romantic label “as long as he didn’t mean sentimental.” Continue reading

Habit Words : Use, Abuse, Remedies

snoopy at pink typewriterDo you use habit words in your writing?

I bet you do. Perhaps all authors do? A few weeks ago, in her excellent presentation on snappy dialogue at the RNA Virtual Conference 2020, Virginia Heath confessed to overusing the phrase “he huffed out” as a speech tag for her heroes. Virginia, being a professional, knows how to catch and reduce her use of habit words. Do you?

To start at the beginning: what are Habit Words?

yellow bollards, repetition concept

Repetition can be boring. And people do notice…

Habit words and phrases are part of an author’s voice, the words and phrases that come naturally and automatically, that trip off the tongue, that make the writing sound like you. Continue reading

Reader work

reading with catReader work is a new concept for me. Reading, especially with Companion Cat purring beside me, has always been my purest pleasure.

Fact, fiction,  annual financial statements, cornflake packets, I read them all. And I revelled in the otherwhere of the printed word, quite apart from whatever I learned from the text in question.

During lockdown, I have been reading even more than I usually do. Some old friends, for the dark times. Right Ho, Jeeves never lets me down. Nor does Sylvester. Or Wyrd Sisters, Fire and Hemlock, Persuasion…

But also new voices. Recommendations, serendipitous discoveries, long postponed titles from TBR pile, curiosities. All were interesting, many fitted my mood or preoccupations of the time. A few were utterly fabulous and I binge read everything else the author had written.

But what surprised me was that reading a new book tired me. Especially the ones that I really loved. Nearly as much as writing the damn stuff.

Reader Work – Co-Creation?

Think about it. Reading a new book is nearly as tiring as writing a new book? Continue reading