Ebooks follow different formatting rules than books printed on paper. That’s because a book made of ink on paper is a different platform for presenting information than a book made of digital bits on an electronic screen. Even though the same content (your book) is being presented, the platforms will need to be handled differently, just as certainly different production methods are used for a play presented on stage and on a television screen.
Because of that, there are a number of things you might do when formatting a paperback but never would do when constructing an ebook. Following are three tips about what to differently.
A common problem that can sneak into your manuscript when self-publishing is a mix of apostrophe styles. That’s because some software programs use smart quotes, or those that are curved (e.g. ‘’), while others use dumb quotes, or those that are straight (e.g. ”). Typographically, smart quotes (also referred to as curly quotes) are preferred over dumb quotes (also known as keyboard quotes). When self-publishing an ebook, you can use either style, but you want to be consistent and exclusively use one. If you have a mix of styles, simply do a global search and find, and replace all of the quotation marks and apostrophes with one style. In Microsoft Word, to replace dumb quotes with smart quotes, first make highlight a copy a smart quote in the text (You may have to type one). Then highlight a dumb quote and in the command ribbon under the Home tab, hit “Replace”. A screen should pop up with the dumb quote in the “Find what” box. Paste the smart quote in the “Replace with” box and hit “Replace all”. This will replace both the opening and the ending quotation mark throughout the document. Finally, repeat this process for apostrophes.
One of the big problems with ereaders is that they lack the ability to translate fancy symbols used to make bulleted lists in Microsoft Word. The result is that a bullet point ends up being a letter or set of numbers, which looks unprofessional and can confuse readers. The first rule to follow is to never use Microsoft Word’s built-in bullet list function. Most print-on-demand software such as what Kindle DP uses won’t recognize Microsoft’s coding for the bullet list. Instead, you get an indentation mess on the ereader. Further, avoid the poor man’s approach to bullet points, which involves not indenting the line and using a dash or an asterisk in place of a bullet point. This looks fairly unsophisticated. The solution to creating translatable bullet points in Microsoft Word is quite simple. On a PC, hold down the ALT key and hit 7 on the keypad (Remember that you need to have NUM LOCK on to use a PC’s keypad.). On a Mac, hold down the OPTION key and hit 8 on the keypad.
Don’t overclick the enter key (aka return key). Two clicks at the end of a paragraph – one to mark the paragraph’s end and one to create a blank space before the next paragraph – are sufficient. Any more than that will result in long stretches of white space in your ebook, which can lead to blank white pages that confuse readers, who wonder if your book is done.
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.