As promised last week, this week is all about how to make your e-book formatting a tad easier. Now, first things first – this post is not about how to format your e-book because that varies depending on where you’re submitting it to, what program you use for your formatting and the type of file you need to make.

There are plenty of guides on formatting e-books, most of them in book form because of the many details and nuances involved. This post is simply to teach you that if you take a few simple steps, you can make it MUCH easier to format your e-book (or save the person who does format your e-book a butt load of work) when the time comes.

TIP 1 – Your computer is not a typewriter

Look at your computer. Do you see a ribbon of ink or metal keys whacking against a piece of paper? No, that’s because you have a computer, not a typewriter. It’s a hard habit to break especially if you’re like me and was taught to type on a typewriter. If you learned on a typewriter, you may have been taught to use TAB for your indents, the SPACEBAR to add space and RETURN to add lots of space. Don’t do this. Just stop it, stop it now.

Instead, set up your paragraphs based on the Normal paragraph setting in Word (this post will assume you are using Word). You can modify this style however you like. How? At the top of your Word screen, you’ll see a section of Styles, one of these is called Normal. Right click and select Modify and a box appears. Click on the button at the bottom that says Format and choose Paragraph. This is such a magical dialog box and once you learn to use it, your e-book formatting life will be SOOOOO much easier.

normalThe Style boxes in my version of Word after right-clicking Normal. Modify is the second option in the menu.

modifyboxThe Modify Box and the Format button where you’ll find the magic Paragraph box

See, e-books recognize formatting better than they recognize tabs, spaces and returns. In fact, e-books are so bad at recognizing tabs, spaces and returns they end up adding all sorts of weird spacing, uneven spacing, even odd little symbols when you use them to add in space. It’s okay to use the Return button a bit, but it’s better to format repeated space between paragraphs such as in non-fiction. For that, use the magic box, which we’ll cover a bit more in Tip 3.

TIP 2 – Your e-book is not a print book

If you’re writing a book you plan to release as both a print book and an e-book, type it up with the mindset that you’re only making an e-book. Why? Because when you set up your print book, you’ll want to add in extra spacing, drop caps, fancy fonts and graphics,  page breaks, maybe have chapters start one-third down the page or only on right hand pages and a bunch of other stuff that is irrelevant to e-books.

E-books do not have to look pretty on the page – in fact they’ll look rather dull, in this case dull is good. It’s much faster to type up your manuscript with the bare minimum of formatting, than to type it up to look print-worthy with fancy fonts, pretty graphics, etc and have to remove all those when it’s time to format the e-book.

Type up your manuscript with the least amount of formatting possible. Stuff like paragraph indents, paragraph spacing and alignment, images (inserted using the Insert command) and a simple font for text, headings & subheadings are the only things you should format at first. Once it’s all typed up, save one copy for your e-book and another copy for your print book. Then, format that print copy with as much spacing, special characters and all the bells and whistles you want.

TIP 3 – Learn to use the magic box

Oh the Paragraph box, how I love you. Seriously, if you’ve never used the Paragraph box before, you’ll find it makes life much easier, especially for a future e-book. You should already have the box up, if not, go back to Tip 1 and open it.

Now, before I show you the magic box, know that fiction (including memoir) and non-fiction (as in how-to, informative-type books) are not the same. Fiction has the first line of a paragraph indented and NO spaces between paragraphs (unless you are showing a time lapse). It’s a pet peeve when I see authors doing both because it looks very amateur. Non-fiction can be set up like fiction, but it’s more common to have no indent on the first line of a paragraph and a space between the paragraphs (like this post). Do NOT make this space with your return key, use the magic box.

FOR FICTION: In the Paragraph dialog box, you’ll see Special. For the first line to be indented as you see in novels, set the first line indent to 0.2″ or 0.3″. Line spacing for all e-books should be Single. Indentation is not for first line indents, but to indent an entire paragraph – you’ll rarely use it for fiction. Spacing Before/After should be set to 0. If you need to show a time lapse, this is the one time it’s okay to use the Return key to add space (it’s just easier), but only use ONE line of space, not two or three because too many returns can confuse e-books.

paraboxficSetup for Fiction: First Line = 0.3″, Line Spacing = Single, everything else is 0

FOR NON-FICTION: In the Paragraph dialog box, set the First Line Indent to 0. Line spacing is Single. Indentation should be used only if you need to add in long quotes where you indent the entire paragraph, not to indent the first line of a paragraph. Now, to get that nice space between paragraphs without using the Return key, set the Spacing Before to 6pt and After to 6pt (this won’t make 12pt spacing between paragraphs, it just keeps things consistent).

paraboxnonNon-Fiction set up: Spacing Before & After = 6pt, Line Spacing = Single, everything else is 0

Now, once you click OK and OK again, the Normal Style is all set up. You should do this BEFORE you type a single word of your manuscript, but if your manuscript is already underway, set up the Normal Style as described above, highlight everything and then select Normal – sometimes Word is smart enough just to change everything automatically, but most of the time you need to highlight all your work and select Normal (Word can be dumb).

TIP 4 – Use your head(ings)

Just as you used Normal style to set up your paragraphs, use the Headings Styles to make all your chapter headings (and sub-headings for non-fiction writers) consistent and perfectly formatted. If you don’t like the appearance of the default headings, right click the Heading (1,2,3, etc), choose Modify and then change the font in the dialog box (you can also use the Format/Paragraph function to adjust any spacing issues).

TIP 5 – Keep fonts simple

Most e-book readers allow users to change the size of font and even the font itself in some cases. When you format your manuscript for your e-book, just use a simple font like Times and a few basic sizes like 12pt for paragraphs, 14pt for sub-headings and 16 pt for chapter headings. Avoid using anything larger than 18pt because it may not fit onto the screen properly (and it looks kind of silly).

That’s really it. Type, keep it simple and make use of Word’s (or whichever word processing program you use) paragraph formatting functions. If you resist the urge to use the TAB, SPACEBAR or RETURN key to add extra space, and think of your manuscript as the plain Jane building block to your published books, you’ll save yourself many of the headaches of e-book formatting.

Any tips or questions for pre-formatting e-books? Feel free to send a comment.