Getting started with formatting your ebook

If you have a completed manuscript, you actually should to format two ebooks – one for Kindle and one for Smashwords. This actually is less work than it sounds as you can format an ebook that will work for both Kindle and Smashwords.

Why create an ebook for these two retailers?

You’ll want to go with Kindle because it dominates the market. As of the beginning of 2014, about two out of three ebooks are sold on Kindle. Not going with Kindle is like selling your paper book in only 16 of the 50 states (at best). You’ll also want to use Smashwords so you have a version of your book available in Nook, iPad, Kobo or Sony Reader. Smashwords is a one-stop shop for accomplishing this and much easier than developing a separate ebook for each ereader device and uploading it at its respective company site. By uploading your ebook to both Kindle and Smashwords, you’ll reach about 98 percent of the ereader market in North America.

As Kindle is much more flexible than Smashwords in how the file you upload can appear, follow the latter’s guidelines when creating an ebook. Having said that, you should still create an ebook for Kindle first, as you’ll be able to better review it online to ensure it looks good and as we’ll need to add wording to the title page to get it uploaded on Smashwords.

Since Kindle offers unique marketing opportunities for books that it exclusively sells, you may want to only upload to Kindle and not Smashwords. Still, by formatting your Kindle ebook manuscript for Smashwords means that once those promotional opportunities are used up, you’ll have an ebook that can be quickly uploaded to Smashwords to sell books at Barnes & Noble, Apple and so on.

Start by creating a Microsoft Word document. Call it whatever you like (I usually go with the book’s title) but include the word KINDLE in its name. Make sure it’s a .doc file rather than .docx or .rtf. While Kindle accepts all of these file types, Smashwords (at the time of this writing) only accepts .doc.

Changing the Word document so that it’s a .doc is simple. Go to “save as” and on the pop-up window that asks you where to save the file, change “save file as” to “Microsoft Word 97 – 2003 Document”.

Next, set up your .doc file for formatting so it:
• Uses regular typeface in one font size
• Uses single spacing with a line spacing of 1.0
• Does not use the “Add Space Before Paragraph” or the “Add Space After Paragraph” function
• Does not have any pre-set tabs
• Uses normal margins, as you would for typing a letter
• Uses Align Left so that the right margin is ragged

Next, open Notepad on your computer and copy and paste your manuscript to it. This deletes a lot of hidden coding that likely will be a problem for you as formatting your ebook. Finally, cut and paste the manuscript from Notepad to your new .doc. Be forewarned that if you have tables and charts in your Word manuscript, using Notepad almost certainly will mess up their appearance. You’re much better off to convert tables and charts into photos that you’ll later insert at the appropriate spots in your ebook.

Now you’re ready to get into the nitty-gritty of formatting – which we’ll cover in future blog entries.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.