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Shoestring Formatting (for eBooks)

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

Okay, so you have your final draft ready to go. You're ready to publish that puppy and start making some money and earning some fame, right?

Not quite. There are a few more things you need before hitting that submit button. One is a good cover, and the other is the formatting of your manuscript. Neither is a deal breaker. Or a bank account breaker either, if you follow my tips.

Chances are most of you have access to Word software. If you don't, you can always subscribe to the monthly access and then cancel it once your formatting is done. (Under $10.) The first thing to do once your manuscript is finished is to modify your Normal Style to what you want. In the later versions of Word, you can do this by clicking on the home tab and then on the small little arrow in the bottom right corner of the Styles box.

This will bring up your Styles box on the right side of your screen. If you hover your cursor over the Normal option, a drop-down arrow will appear. Clicking on that arrow will open up a list with the choice available to modify the settings.

Once you have selected that, it will pop up a little screen-in-screen that will allow you to make changes to your overall Normal Style. Personally, I use Times New Roman (TNR) font and size 12. Whatever you prefer, within reason, is fine. I recommend going with TNR or Arial.

When your font and size have been set, click the Format button at the bottom of the pop-up box and select the paragraph formatting option. On this screen, you should select left align, and your outline level should be body text. Then under special, chose First Line and 0.5 for the first line indentation. The four boxes to the left should all be set at zero. Set your line spacing to single, and select OK to save your changes.

Easy-peasy, right?

Next. hit your Control button and the A on your keyboard at the same time. This selects all of your text. Once all of the text has been highlighted, click on the Normal line in the styles box. Your entire manuscript should now be formatted with your settings in place.

One word of caution. Never use tabs or spaces to indent paragraphs. They are evil and can cause you a lot of problems when you start formatting. The good news is that you can do a simple find and replace for them. For tab, enter ^t in the find space and just leave the replace box blank. This will get rid of all those nasty little buggers that are fouling up your document. Amazing how they sneak in when (and where) we least expect it.

Your manuscript is almost ready. Take the time now to add a title page and a copyright page. (You can click on the look inside feature on some Amazon books to get a feel for what you might want them to look like.) You can also add an About the Author Page after the ending of your book, if you like.

Next, it's time for the Table of Contents. This one is the trickiest of the bunch, but still nothing hard. Just follow the same steps over and over until you are done. It's boring, more than anything.

Pull up your Styles box again. Go through your document and highlight each Chapter Heading. Not necessarily the chapter title, but the Chapter One, etc. (This is also a good time to be sure there is a page break between chapters. You want each chapter to start on a fresh page.)

Once you have that highlighted, click on Heading 1 in the Styles box. If you don't like the look of what it gives you, you can modify the settings for that line as we did earlier with the Normal style.

Once you have every chapter heading in the Heading 1 style, click on your Reference tab. (Make sure your cursor is where you want the Table to be inserted.) On the far left is the Table of Contents box. Bring up the pull-down menu and select to make a custom Table of Contents. Unselect the page numbering option, and set the number of levels to one. Save your changes, and you will find that you now have a clickable table of contents.

It just doesn't get much easier than that. And it didn't cost you a penny to do either.

So now you have properly formatted Word document. Technically, I know some people who simply upload that Word doc to Amazon and it seems to work for them. I like to take it one step further. How? By taking that Word document and turning it into .Mobi format (and other formats if you need them). Once again, this is totally free thanks to a website called Draft2Digital.

The really nice thing is that the Draft2Digital platform is very straight forward and will lead you through the process, holding your hand the entire way. Enter the fields as they come up (don't worry about making them perfect), upload your manuscript (and cover if you have it—if not upload a placeholder picture), and work your way until you come to the Preview Book Layout screen.

This is where you can see what your book will actually look like on an eReader. Pretty nifty, huh? Well, it gets even better.

To the right of that screen are some formatting options. You can choose not to use any of them, or you can apply them one by one and pick the one that you think gives your book the most polished look. They actually have different formatting options for different genres.

(Have I said yet just how much I love Draft2Digital?)

Once you have your book looking just the way you want it, you have the option to download it as .Mobi or another format. The .Mobi is what I recommend for uploading to Amazon.

WARNING: Do not check the box under your book that approves it for release to sales channels. That isn't needed to download your formatted book. Draft2Digital has stated explicitly that they are proud to offer this resource for authors, even if the authors don't distribute with them. Of course, if you decide to submit your book to other platforms besides Amazon, keep them in mind!

That's it in a nutshell, folks. You've got this. And you are one step closer to putting that polished and finished novel up for sale on the retailer of your choice.

All that's left is the book cover. But that's for another post.

As always, keep writing—and never give up the dream.


About the author: Belinda White is the author of the Benandanti Series, a trilogy of books featuring Tazlyn Hunt (Benandanti werewolf) and her most unorthodox pack mates. Currently she is working on a new paranormal cozy mystery novel.


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