Three ebook formatting tips, Part VIII

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 do differently.

Return key
Don’t overclick the return key (aka enter 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.

Tables and charts
When self-publishing a nonfiction book, you probably will want to include tables of some sort. If writing a book about rock climbing, for example, you might include a list of the National Climbing Classification System. The problem with tables created in Microsoft Word is that they don’t resize well. In Word parlance, a table is a “fixed format element.” So if you create a table that is six inches wide, the text likely will be unreadable if you shrink it to fit on an ereader screen that’s only three inches wide. You have a couple of solutions. One option is to create the table only after you know the paperback’s size and then limiting the table’s size to those measurements. So if the ebook size – discounting the gutters and margins – is 3 inches wide by 4 inches tall, the table must be no larger than that. Doing this ensures there is no shrinking of the table at all, as it’s designed for the page or screen. A second option is to make the table a picture. This is useful if there’s no way to make the table fit the page’s actual size, usually because there are too many rows or columns in the table to make that viable. You still can create the table in Word. When finished, take a screenshot of it and then save the screenshot as a jpeg. You may need to do some cropping to make the screenshot show only the table.

Text boxes
Keep your ebook formatting as simple as possible by not using any text boxes. Such boxes can appear in odd places in the ebook, such as at the end of the book or pasted over other text. If you wish to use graphic elements, such as breakout boxes, convert the file to a jpeg and insert the photo into the text where you wish it to appear.


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.