Learn-the-rules-like-aAs I continue to wend my way through my final edits, the issue of formatting my novel correctly for publication has started to weigh on my mind. This is mainly because my editor has been less than happy with some of my formatting and it has made me realise that I don’t know what the rules are or if there even are any!

For example, I have indented every first line of a paragraph or section in the novel. I did this simply because that was the advice given in a blog article I was reading about how to format your book in Scrivener. I didn’t think twice about whether this is the normal thing to do when formatting your book. So when my editor pointed it out, I went and had a look at some of the books I have read, ebooks, paperbacks and hardbacks and guess what? There was a mixture of approaches. Some publishers indent, some don’t and for ebooks, especially self-published ones, it seems to simply be down to personal taste.

I scoured the internet then for some guidelines and of course, there’s no single definitive list but there are some generally accepted guidelines that I thought it would be useful to reproduce here. Please note that this list is for ebooks. I have tried to consider formatting in both Word and Scrivener.

1. Use a 1″ margin on all sides (Done for you in Scrivener).
2. You don’t need page numbers in an ebook because technically speaking, there are no pages (Done for you in Scrivener).
3. Left align the text (not headings) but don’t justify it.
4. Make sure the text is single line spaced.
5. Start each new chapter on its own page about a third of the way down the page (Done for you in Scrivener).
6. The body of the chapter should start about four to six lines below the chapter title (Done for you in Scrivener).
7. Indent each new paragraph of flowing text but don’t indent the first line at the start of the chapter or after a section break.
8. Don’t put in asterisks to show section breaks. Apparently, these date back to the days when people used typewriters.
9. Use a standard font like Times New Roman, Arial or Courier and use 12 point size.
10. Make sure your hyperlinks work! (This will usually be links to your details so it’s very important!)

You will have noticed that I labelled this post as #1 because I know for sure that you will all tell me of other tips that I can add to the list in the future and I’m sure I will come across other things when I finally come to format my book. So let me have it if you agree/disagree/have other ideas and yes, in case you were wondering, I know that rules are there to be broken!

Good luck with your formatting if you’re tacking it yourself. Thanks for reading as always and I welcome your comments 🙂

P.S. I hope you noticed the snow!


10 Comments on 10 Top Tips for Formatting your ebook before self-publishing #1

  1. It is very confusing. When I did my first book using the Amazon thing it wanted fully justified. It said separate paras with either indent or extra line space but not both. There are som many different opinions. Your post has made me think about reviewing methods and ideas so that is a good thing. I love the Picasso quote too. Very apt.

    • Of course, I haven’t tried uploading to Kindle yet so I don’t know how much freedom you have but from your comment, it sounds like you’re quite restricted. Look out for update #2 when I’ve done it! Thanks for reading and leaving that comment 🙂 Glad you liked the quote!

  2. These are all valid points which I covered in my article in Writing Magazine last month. It’s amazing how easily we can get caught out, isn’t it – especially with manual indenting. I’m sure formatting will be easier second time around (well, I hope so!)

    • I’m so glad to receive your feedback, Wendy because you obviously know what you’re doing, unlike me! I hope it will be easier than I’m expecting for the first time round, let alone the second 🙂 Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

    • Thanks for that tip, Helen. That’s definitely an important one for MS Word users, you’re right. Again, I think this is sorted for you in Scrivener but I will find out soon enough!

  3. Some good points (and I like the snow!) My three ebooks so far were all formatted using Word. The first was a nightmare, as my paragraphs were all manually indented, but since then I’ve simply used the template I subsequently created, where the indents are included in the style sheet. It all looks fine on various Kindle readers, but there are a few more automatic indents that seem to crop up on Ipads or the ‘Look Inside the Book’ feature on the Amazon sales page (don’t know why). Also page breaks between chapters is advisable, I agree with Helen on that. My only issue is with the use of asterisks to denote a section break. I always use one on its own, and when I took part in the Sunlounger anthology, my editor agreed with me. The reason being, because of the way ebooks can adapt to various devices, and readers can change fonts/sizing etc., there’s no way of knowing where a section break may fall. If it comes at the bottom of the page and the reader flips to the next, it’s not always obvious that there’s been a break (even with the first line missing the indent). It can be confusing and jarring, taking the reader momentarily out of the story. With an asterisk or similar, it’s immediately clear that we’ve switched viewpoint or scene or whatever. I’ve seen ebooks with beautiful little scroll effect breaks, too, between sections. I’d love to try that!

    • That’s a good point about the asterisk being used for making it very clear where the section breaks fall, Valerie-Anne My editor is adamant that I shouldn’t use them but I’ll keep an open mind until I see what it looks like on Kindle Preview because I’d hate for that to happen. As you say, you do need to check what your book looks like on as many devices as you can because of these little anomalies. It’s all quite intimidating. Thanks for reading and for your advice 🙂

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