Format Docs for E-books

Article first published as Format Docs for Ebooks on Technorati.

Amazon Kindle format ebooksThere are two main ways writers sell ebooks: one is to have a pdf for download from their site and the other is via big retailers like Amazon. Selling from your own sites is predominantly with pdfs. (You can offer epub and mobi formats, but pdfs will be the huge majority of the downloads.) Most people know how to accomplish the first task, selling from their sites, but often get stymied when it comes to formatting for the big retailers. That’s a problem because that’s where the real potential for sales exist.

Fortunately, self-publishing this way is entirely free and it’s really not hard to format an e-book. In fact, it’s loads easier than formatting a printed book’s interior. A common misconception is that you must make the conversion to epub or mobi before uploading. Not true. If you work in MS Word, for example, the retailers will make the conversion as long as your document is properly prepared.

Remember that you’re dealing with small devices that come in different sizes, from large tablets like an iPad down to cell phone screens. The rule of thumb is to keep things simple so conversions to multiple devices should be as smooth as possible. Here’s a brief list to keep in mind:

  • Page numbers are obsolete for ebooks. If you have page numbers in the footer of your document, get rid of them. In general, both headers and footers should be removed.
  • Also not needed are tabs for indents. Use global indents consistently all the way through. MS Word has a useful show-hide feature that displays these things.
  • If you have a Table of Contents, use the bookmark feature to hyperlink to each chapter for reader ease of navigation.
  • Don’t use drop caps for the first letter in a chapter. A larger font size and/or bold works better.
  • Never use multiple paragraph returns to create breaks (e.g. for different chapters). Use page breaks instead.
  • Keep the font size at 12 or within a normal range like 11 to 14. In my experience, conversions work best at 12.
  • Use common fonts like Times New Roman, Arial, Garamond, Courier. Most devices have the option to choose font anyway so let the reader decide.
  • Keep images under 4 inches. Those tiny screens can’t handle big images.
  • Amazon Kindle (kdpamazon) and Barnes&Noble (Pubit) have Preview screens that show how your upload will look before publishing. Go through it and make alterations if needed.

For those who still need more details, there’s a free Style Guide written by Mark Coker of Smashwords that thoroughly explains all of these tips and more. If you decide in the end that you’re just not the do-it-yourself type for this project, there are plenty of professionals to help at reasonable rates. Then, of course, you’ll just need a front cover image to sell ebooks, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.

Click here for the home page of How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks All for Free.
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