eBook Formatting Tips for Print Book Authors

by Joel Friedlander on April 10, 2013 · 18 comments

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Many authors who are publishing print books these days are also including an eBook in their plans.

This makes a lot of sense. As more and more people become users of E-readers, the market for eBooks will continue to grow. And for some kinds of books, the demand for eBooks will grow explosively.

eBooks right now are a great way to get your work out into the world, especially for certain kinds of authors. See if you fit in one of these categories:

  • Fiction author—The biggest impact of eBooks has been in the fiction market, and specifically for genre fiction authors. If you write thrillers, romances, paranormal tales, or any other kind of genre fiction, you should consider an eBook edition essential to your publishing plans.
  • Memoir writer—Because most memoirs are structurally similar to fiction, the same applies to these books and authors. Converting your memoir to an eBook will be relatively easy and will open a whole new world of potential readers.
  • Literary nonfiction—Writers of criticism, humor, or any other type of nonfiction that—like memoir—is largely narrative text, can also make use of eBooks to expand their reach.

To be clear, these types of books are both popular on eBook platforms and also are easy to convert to eBooks. What makes them easy to convert is their lack of formats. In other words, you might have chapter numbers, chapter titles, running text, and not much else.

As soon as you introduce the types of formats found in many kinds of nonfiction—like subheads, bulleted and numbered lists, extracts, quotes, tables, charts, graphics, figures, captions, and so on—your book will get increasingly difficult to convert successfully to eBook formats.

So how can you organize your book while you’re preparing your print edition so it moves smoothly to an eBook when it comes time to convert it?

Here are some basic tips and guidelines to get you started.

Tips for Going from Print to E

  • Use styles to control paragraph indents; don’t use a few spaces or a [tab] to indent the first line of your paragraphs. This can be set in the style definition in Microsoft Word under “first line indent.”
  • Use styles to control space between paragraphs instead of just hitting [Return]. You can stipulate this spacing in the paragraph formatting dialog in Word under “Spacing after.”
  • Create a bookmark for your Table of Contents so readers will be able to navigate to it from anywhere in your book. Name this bookmark “toc” (without the quote marks).
  • Don’t “paste” in photos or graphics; use “Insert” instead. This will ensure your photos and graphics get into your eBook with the best resolution. In Word, use the “Insert” menu.
  • Insert a page break between chapters. You can do this easily by using the “Insert/Break/Page Break” command in Word.
  • Use heading styles, not local formatting, for emphasis. Word comes with heading styles, named Heading 1, Heading 2, and so on. Modify them to your liking, then make sure every similar heading is assigned the same style so your book is consistent throughout.
  • Use Heading Style 1 for your chapter titles. This will allow you to create a hot-linked Contents page for your Kindle eBook.
  • Remember that you’ll need to remove any running heads or page numbers you’ve inserted for the print edition before you convert your file to an eBook.
  • Always work on a backup copy of your print book file. You want to end up with 2 copies of your book: one for print books, whether print on demand or offset, and the other to be converted to eBook formats using tools like Scrivener, Calibre, or services provided by ebook distributors or retailers like like Kindle Direct Publishing.

Using these tips will help you create a print book that can easily convert to a Kindle eBook. In the busy life of an indie author, that’s a good thing.

You can find a lot more information on creating, formatting, and revising eBooks for our largest retail market directly from Amazon. Check out their helpful and free resources on the “Building Your Book for Kindle” page. It’s a great place to start.

More eBook Formatting Resources

To dive into this subject in more depth, take a look at these additional resources on ebook formatting.

Top 10 Best Resource Guides for e-Book Authors
10 Things You Should Know About e-Book Formatting
Digital Book World E-book Production Resources

Book Design Templates Can Help

Of course, another kind of help is with a Word template specifically designed for books. When we designed these templates we realized we would need two versions of each book design: one for print, the other for ebooks.

Using this approach, all the nit-picky little parts are taken care of for you, and all the styles and pages you need are already formatted. You just pour in your text and use the styles to create a great-looking book.

Have a look at the templates here: Book Design Templates and check out the Formatting Guide and Book Construction Blueprint while you’re there. They are terrific free resources you can get while you’re visiting the site.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com. Originally published in a slightly different form under the title “Easing the Move From Print Books to eBooks” at CreateSpace.

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    { 14 comments… read them below or add one }

    Mobi-ePub June 30, 2014 at 10:05 am

    Thank you Joel for these tips and guidelines for going from print to eBook


    Bill Cunningham April 12, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    Joel –

    What about graphic novels? Has Kindle resolved their issues with images (images resizing themselves to miniscule frames)?

    I publish graphic novels and while I am going to end up going to a service like Comixology or Graphicly — I would like an option or two to consider in the long run.

    What’s your advice for taking a graphic novel file from InDesign CS5 / 6 to Kindle / epub?

    Thanks for weighing in!


    Athena Chan April 10, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    sorry about the comment I just posted above! I thought I had copied my question, not some youtube link, lol. Okay, here’s my real comment, not the link:

    If I decide to publish my novel as an ebook with createspace for kindles, can I still publish them for iBooks and Nooks and for Kobos?


    Athena Chan April 10, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    Hi everyone,
    Since we’re talking about ebooks, I have a related question I am hoping someone can answer :-)

    If I decide to publish a ebook for the Kindle via createspace, will I also be able to publish my novel for iBooks and Nooks?


    Joel Friedlander April 10, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Athena, CreateSpace will do the conversion for you, but (as far as I know) you’ll need to upload the files yourself to Kindle Direct Publishing. You are free to publish also on the iBook and Nook platforms, but you’ll need a different file, since they use the ePub format while Kindle uses their own proprietary format. You might want to consider a distributor like Smashwords or BookBaby who can convert your book into all the formats you’ll need, and then do the distribution for you.


    Athena Chan April 10, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    thanks for your reply
    I will definitely check out smashmouth as I have heard it mentioned several times but have not actually looked into it


    J. Thorn April 10, 2013 at 7:33 am

    Great post, Joel. I was recently on the Self Publishing Podcast talking about this. Here’s the link to the show (free) if anyone is interested.



    –J. Thorn


    Joel Friedlander April 10, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    J. thanks. If you have links to any children’s books you’ve done for the Kindle, I’d be interested in seeing them.


    J. Thorn April 10, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    @ Joel – I don’t have a children’s book published yet, although I’m close to finishing one for a friend. I do have template files for a fixed format picture book on my website. Click on “SP Podcast #049″ from the top tab of http://jthorn.net and you can download it.


    Michael N. Marcus April 10, 2013 at 4:44 am

    Word’s styles are very useful, but people may not realize that they can modify the names of styles, not just the actual styles.

    Instead of having to remember what “Heading 2″ and “Heading 3″ are used for, I have style names including “normal text,” “no indent,” “numbered list,” “bulleted list” and “subhead.”

    Michael N. Marcus
    http: http://www.BookMakingBlog.com
    http: http://www.CreateBetterBooks.com


    Will Overby April 10, 2013 at 7:49 am

    Thanks for the tip, Michael!


    Joel Friedlander April 10, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    I do the same thing in InDesign and it’s quite useful, particularly on heavily-formatted books where you can end up with dozens of styles.


    Colin April 10, 2013 at 1:55 am

    Hello Joel

    Neat article, and very applicable. Since it’ll still be a long while before the “old fashioned” paper book is completely gone. I always suggest that propsective authors go with hard copy, Kindle & Smashwords.



    Joel Friedlander April 10, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    Hi Colin, thanks for your comment. While I completely agree with you that print books are going to be here for quite a while, every author and every book is different, and over the years I’ve found that there is no solution that’s right for every author. Sometimes it’s paperbacks, sometimes is print plus digital, sometimes it’s straight to ebooks. Sometimes it’s a big, glossy hardcover. Just depends.


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