Category Archives: writing craft

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

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

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

Animals in books: cute, endearing. Risky?

When its eyes met mine…

cover Crazy For You by Jennifer Crusie“On a gloomy March afternoon, sitting in the same high school classroom she’d been sitting in for thirteen years, gritting her teeth as she told her significant other for the seventy-second time since they’d met that she’d be home at six because it was Wednesday and she was always home on six on Wednesdays, Quinn McKenzie lifted her eyes from the watercolour assignments on the desk in front of her and met her destiny.”

Jennifer Crusie is famous for putting wonderful dogs in her books and this is no exception. Quinn’s destiny is a small black dog with desperate eyes and he isn’t a prop, a cute accessory for her heroine. He gets the opening line in Crazy For You, because he’s about to change her life.

Animals in books? Dogs, more dogs and a duckling or two

Georgette Heyer put animals in books, shown here with her dogGeorgette Heyer, seen here with her dog, was another author who used dogs, kittens, even ducklings to delight us. In a long scene in The Grand Sophy the ducklings escape, are recaptured and generally cause chaos. 


Image by Adina Voicu from Pixabay

Venetia‘s Flurry flew to her rescue when, shockingly, Damerel kissed her. Unfortunately Flurry desisted the moment he was commanded to “sit”, recognising a master when he heard one. But he was enough of a distraction for Venetia to extract herself. Once she’d done that, she was more than a match for the man!

And Ulysses, the disreputable mongrel Arabella foisted on Beaumaris, is a joy. 

But writers beware!

Continue reading

The questions people ask writers… Research in Paris

So, do you do a lot of research?

Apart from, “Where do you get your ideas from?” that has to be the question writers are most asked.

And the answer is, for me, yes, actually.

Quite a lot.

Pinterest, Google, Youtube

Even before I put finger to keyboard I scour Pinterest, seeking ideas for locations, looking for photographs of places and characters as I build my storyboard. This is the one I’ve created for A Harrington Christmas (it’s a working title!)

Mostly, after that, it will be diving into Google as questions crop up? What is the temperature in Nantucket in March? What is the time difference between Paris and Singapore? Is there already a restaurant in London called any of the half a dozen names I’ve come up with — and yes to every one. Continue reading

Explicit Sex in Romances : how often, how necessary?

woman in bed uncorks exploding champagne, metaphor for explicit sexExplicit Sex in Romances: none, lots, somewhere in between?

Explicit sex in romances is a complete turn-off for some readers. They like the bedroom door firmly closed and refuse to read any romances where it is not. That, of course, is absolutely their choice. And I have written some romances that, in my opinion, worked very well without sex scenes. Indeed, one of them — Rake’s Reward — has been called “fizzing with sex” even though it contains no explicit sex at all.

But, equally, I’ve written romances with a lot of explicit sex on the page, even though that is bound to have lost me some potential readers.

So, are there any guidelines for authors here? Continue reading

Pedantique-Ryter: Could Have or Could Of?

We could of had it all

exclamation mark in fireIf you do a web search for could of, you’ll find quite a few people searching for song lyrics. Examples of search terms include: exploding champagne as in "it could of been the champagne"It could of been the champagne

and “It could of been me.”

We could of had it all” was a search for a song by Adele, called Rolling in the Deep.

And the line in question was, of course,
We could HAVE had it all“.

What’s happening here?

Continue reading

Inspiration : writing ideas and the subconscious

Readers are fascinated by writers’ ideas. Where do you get them from? they ask.
Over and over again.gothic fantasy woman candle mist ideas

Sometimes we writers know. And sometimes — to be frank — we don’t.

How many of us have woken up in the morning with clear ideas about a new book and no inkling about how those ideas came to be? How many of us have more ideas jostling about in our brains than we can deal with?ideas light bulb

For most of us the difficulty isn’t finding the ideas, it’s turning them into a coherent story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Here’s a case in point.

Ideas? Silver shreds for starters…

It began quite a long time ago. And it was all the fault of my crit partner, Sophie Weston of this parish… Continue reading

Altering History : is it OK in Historical Fiction?

cranium silhouetted against question markAltering History. In other words, changing what actually happened into something that didn’t happen; or didn’t happen in quite that way; or happened at a different time…
Is it OK for an author of historical fiction to do that?

Always? Sometimes? Never?

Does it depend on what the alteration is? Some think it’s OK to alter small things, relating to minor characters, but not decisive things relating to really important characters.

Some might say an author can do whatever he or she likes, provided the reader knows what the author has done. In other words, the author has to come clean.
Others don’t care, as long as the end result is a good read.

Altering History : a Big Deal for Queens

Continue reading

In Praise of Dirty Drafts

This week I have been remembering the first draft of my first book. Well, the first book I actually completed.

First draft libraryI remember that it was written by hand, mostly while I was waiting for books to be retrieved from the stack in a very famous library.

The leather-bound tomes, the scholarly hush, the dust dancing in the sunbeams, the academics concentrating all  around me…. oh, I remember them as if I’ve only just walked in from that day with my book bag stuffed with notes and my head full of my characters.

First draft cafe napkinOr sometimes I wrote that first draft while I was waiting for an old friend in our favourite coffee shop.

When inspiration struck there, I sometimes scribbled the idea down on any old scrap of paper — including a cafe napkin once or twice.

By now, dear Reader, you will have realised two things: Continue reading