Three ebook formatting tips, part VII

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.

Pasted text
Whenever copying and pasting text from another document – whether it be a website, an email, or another file even in the same word processing program – always first strip it of any formatting. Not doing so will introduce new formatting into your document, and some of those instructions can be read in odd ways in your ebook, even if you manually change the font and font size to how you want it to appear. Later locating these odd instructions (aka “corruption”) to correct them in a published ebook can be impossible. Fortunately, stripping the text of formatting is easy to do. Simply paste the copied text into a program such as Notepad (on computers using Windows) or TextEdit (in Mac). Then copy and paste that text to your word processing program. Be sure to read the passage at this step, as any italics, boldface lettering, and underlines will be stripped from it and so missing in your ebook.

Quotation marks
A common problem that can sneak into your manuscript when self-publishing is a mix of quotation 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.

Spacing after end marks
In ebooks, only one space is needed after an end mark (period, question mark, exclamation point). When typewriters dominated, each typed letter generally took up the same amount of space on a line (called monospace), so two spaces were needed after an end mark so that the paper did not look cluttered. Computers (including ereaders and tablets), however, usually use proportional fonts so that each letter takes up a different amount of space on a screen, so two spaces after an end mark appear too spaced out.


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.