Find the Hidden Formatting That Will Mess Up Your Ebook


Image by rahego (CC BY 2.0)

by Corina Koch MacLeod
Remember the days of the typewriter? Authors of a certain vintage are nodding their heads. If you began your writing career on a typewriter, (and even if you didn’t) you might be guilty of “typewriter” formatting. Now editors everywhere are nodding their heads.

“Illegal” typewriter formatting can create unpredictable results in the ebook conversion process. This two-minute video will show you how to use Pilcrow, or the Show/Hide feature in Microsoft Word, to find instances of typewriter formatting in a Word document.

And what do you do when you find typewriter formatting in your Microsoft Word manuscript? You blast it away using Microsoft Word’s Find & Replace codes.You can find a list of Microsoft Find & Replace codes in Jack Lyon’s excellent free document, Advanced Find and Replace for Microsoft Word.

Check Your Ebook with Kindle Previewer

by Corina Koch MacLeod


Tablets and phones
Image by tribehut (CC BY-SA 2.0)

An author I know hired a book service to convert and upload her book to Amazon. Learning to convert a Word document to various ebook formats without glitches is not for the fainthearted. Many authors decide to hire someone to do the ebook conversion for them.

After her book was uploaded to Amazon, I downloaded a copy, and opened it on my iPod using the Kindle for iOS app. I discovered that it contained several e-reading distractions: the “Go To” menuor the external table of contents (TOC) that readers can use to navigate the book in a manner equivalent to flipping pageswas missing. Complete lines of text had disappeared. Uh oh.

I picked up my Android tablet to see if the problems existed in the Kindle for Android app. Same story. What happened?

How readers read ebooks
When you create an ebook, you don’t know which device readers will use to read it. You likely upload your file and hope that everything will turn out alright on the reader end. And, if you’ve paid someone to do the conversion, you might just assume that they will address device-specific difficulties. No so. When you hire someone to convert your file for you, ask them how they check to see whether your book will read well on various devices. If that’s not included in the service you’re paying for, you’ll need to check your ebook yourself.

Yup. First it’s author as marketer, now it’s author as quality assurance inspector. You just got a new hat to wear!

When you upload your book to Amazon, readers can read your files in any one of these ways:

  • on an e-ink device (Kindle DX, Kindle Touch, Kindle Paperwhite)
  • on a designated tablet (Kindle Fire)
  • on an iOS device (iPad, iPod, iPhone)
  • on an Android device (tablets and phones)
  • on a computer (Kindle for PC, Kindle for Mac)

Amazon has done a very nice job of creating apps and devices that give readers choices for how they want to experience ebooks.

But wait minute. Does that mean you have to buy a slew of devices to see if your book is going to work on various e-reading devices? Not necessarily. As I mentioned in a previous post, some ebook developers invest in a slew of devices on which they can check your book, but developers also use this nifty tooland authors can too!

Kindle Previewer
Kindle Previewer is a free tool that allows you to see what your ebook will look like on Kindle e-ink devices, on a Kindle Fire, and on iOS devices. Here’s a screenshot from the Kindle Paperwhite view in Kindle’s Downloadable Previewer:

Amazon offers two options for viewing your ebook: the Online Previewer and the Downloadable Previewer. You can access both of them through your Kindle publishing account.

According to Aaron Shepard, author of From Word to Kindle, the Downloadable Previewer does a much better job of simulating your book on various e-reading devices than the Online Previewer. If the Online Previewer is your only option, then it’s certainly better than nothing. But if you can, he recommends that you use the Downloadable Previewer to preview your ebook.
Here’s the kicker, though: the Downloadable Previewer only accepts files in epub, mobi, HTML and OPF formats. Most authors work in Word. If you’ve hired someone to convert your ebook for you, they will likely have created an epub or mobi fileask them to send you the file so you can open it in Kindle Previewer to identify potential problems.
*Note: The Downloadable Previewer works in tandem with a free command line tool called Kindle Gen. Be sure to download this tool. Though you won’t actually need to open it, it needs to exist on your computer to allow the Downloadable Previewer to do its thing. 

But I Didn’t Hire a Designer
So, what if you’ve taken the DIY route and your ebook file is not in a format that the Downloadable Previewer can read? Not to worry. You have a few choices:

  • As I mentioned earlier, after you’ve uploaded your file, you can preview it online using the Online Previewer, keeping in mind that this choice is second best. The online previewer is not entirely accurate, but it will tell you if you have some glaring formatting issues.
  • You can upload a Word file to Amazon and Amazon automatically converts it to a mobi format using the Kindle converter (the Kindle conversion software that runs invisibly after you upload). You can download the mobi file that it produces to your computer and then preview it on the Downloadable Kindle Previewer. 
  • You can save your Word file as an HTMLa file format the Downloadable Previewer can read. If you’re using Word 2010 for Windows, Building Your Book for Kindle recommends that you save your file as “Web page, Filtered.” Other later versions of Word will allow you to save your file as an HTML as well.

You don’t need to own every e-reading device to preview your ebook. You can make use of Amazon’s free previewing tools to ensure a distraction-free reading experience for your readers.

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How to Format Your Ebook the Simple Way: A Word-to-Ebook Cheat Sheet

by Corina Koch MacLeod
Updated March 23, 2014

The easiest way to format an ebook is to begin with Microsoft Word. 

I know, I know. HTML & CSS enthusiasts and InDesign evangelists everywhere have just engaged in a collective shudder. 

But hear me out. Not all self-pubs have access to expensive design software or the time or interest for the required learning curve. Many of them do have access to Microsoft Word, though. Why not begin where they’re at? That’s what Joel Friedlander and Aaron Shepard have done. You’re welcome to take it up with them. <wink>

So, having gotten that out of the way, if your manuscript is in Microsoft Word, there are several things you can do to ensure a smoother transition from Word to ebook. Your first step is to clean up your book in Word. Here’s what you need to do:

    • Remove headers, footers and page numbers. Ebooks don’t have pages, so you don’t need to include these elements. In the past, headers, footers and page numbers could cause problems for the ebook conversion process. Aaron Shepard, author of From Word to Kindle states that if you forget to take out this these elements, it’s not the end of the world. Amazon’s Kindle conversion software will ignore them, and so will Lulu’s. Phew!
    • Remove underlining in headings. Instead, use Word Styles to make headings and subheadings stand out. If you don’t know where to start, consider using Joel Friedlander’s inexpensive Word templates to set up ebook-appropriate styles. As a bonus, your distributor’s ebook conversion tool will use your styled headings to create a searchable table of contents (TOC) for your readers.

    Use the Word Styles menu to apply formatting

    • Remove footnotes from the bottom of your “pages.” You can place them at the end of the chapter and hyperlink them using Word’s bookmark feature. Just be sure that the footnotes at the end of the chapter link back to the text. I won’t lie to you: linking footnotes is a time-consuming process, so think about whether it’s absolutely necessary to include them in your ebook. Do you really need them? Could you handle footnotes in another way? (Aaron Shepard thinks you can.). Don’t be afraid to get creative.
    • Remove two spaces after end punctuation. Use only one space after a sentence instead of two. Use Pilcrow to find extra spaces at the end of sentences, between words, and to find extra returns after paragraphs.
      Turn on Pilcrow in Word 

    • Remove manual tabs and spaces. Did you use the tab key for paragraph indents? The space bar? Add paragraph indents with paragraph styles instead. In fact, use Word Styles whenever possible, instead of applying any styles directly from the formatting toolbar in Word.
    • Remove text boxes. They don’t convert well to ebook formats. If you have a lot of instances of text that need to be set apart in some way from your running text, check out Joel Friedlander’s nonfiction templates. They handle offset text in rather creative ways!
    • Remove tables formatted in Word. Complex tables don’t work well in reflowable ebooks. Create your table in a separate Word document, take a screen capture and then insert the resulting image inline. If tables are a critical component of your book, and you’re up for a learning curve, Scrivener and Jutoh can handle simple tables.
    A table captured as an image

    • Avoid the list buttons on the ribbon. In his book From Word to Kindle, Aaron Shepard recommends creating bulleted and numbered lists by hand instead of using the list buttons on Word’s ribbon. You can use the bullet symbol for this purpose (Insert tab, Symbol). This trick works especially well with list items that are shorter than a line of text. If your list items spill over onto the next line, the Kindle converter causes the spacing in your list to go off kilter. If lists are important to your book and your book contains lots them, consider using Jutoh to convert your book —Jutoh plays nicely with Word, and can even create nested lists (bullets with sub-bullets).
    • Choose photos over clip art. Photos look more professional. Choose photos that add information to your text or clarify a concept. Resist using using photos for decoration. To prevent any copyright issues, use stock photos for any images you want to include in your book and remember to credit the photographer.
    • Decide if you need an index (gasp!). I don’t see a lot of indexes in ebooks because they can be time-consuming to create. If you’re up for a learning curve, programs like Jutoh and InDesign have features that can make the process a little less onerous. Decide if it’s worth your time.
    • Use italics to emphasize words—but sparingly. Trust your readers to decide what’s important. Save italics mostly for book titles and Latin terms.

    It is possible to format an ebook in Word. Your readers won’t care how you’ve created your ebook, as long it’s simply formatted and behaves as readers expect.

    Recommended Reading

    From Word to Kindle, by Aaron Shepard
    Book Construction Blueprint, by Joel Friedlander
    The Smashwords Style Guide , by Mark Coker
    Building Your Book for Kindle, by Kindle Direct Publishing

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    New Options for Designing Your Ebook

    by Corina Koch MacLeod

    Formatting an ebook and converting it to a mobi (Kindle format) or an epub (Kobo, Nook, Apple) and having it come out looking professional has been quite a complicated process — until now.

    What’s changed?
    Realizing that many authors begin with a Word document, distributors like Amazon and Barnes & Noble seem to have improved their conversion tools so that uploading a book in Word results in a better product on the other end. Could this be a game changer?

    Use the Tool You Have
    What software do you use to write books? Microsoft Word? According to one poll, this is the word processor that ebook authors tend to use most. What if I told you that you can now use the tool you have to create great print books and ebooks?

    That’s what Joel Friedlander, an experienced, professional book designer has just suggested. And while there have been rumblings on the Internet from self-pubs who have claimed that you can create a decent looking book using Microsoft Word — without InDesign, Sigil or any of the other designer tools or coding knowledge that others have been saying authors should use and have — no one of import agreed. In fact, coders, designers and publishers seemed to be indifferent or to have disdain for the idea. And yet, Joel Friedlander seems to have just validated the Word-to-ebook approach.

    InDesign or Word?
    Friedlander wasn’t always a supporter of laying out a book in Word. As a print book designer, he was (and is) understandably partial to Adobe InDesign — a desktop publishing tool used by most designers and publishers for book layout and ebook conversion (the latest version of InDesign supposedly has a fairly robust Kindle plug-in).

    In earlier posts on his blog, he wondered if it was even possible to create a professional looking print book in anything other than InDesign. Recently, two self-pubs responded by sending him two nicely formatted books created entirely in Word. Realizing that self-pubs would prefer to work with the tool they have, Joel Friedlander set to work on designing Word templates infused with a book designer’s flair.

    Inexpensive Templates
    The templates are only available for fiction, literary nonfiction and memoir at the moment, but they’re an inexpensive alternative to hiring someone to typeset or format your book for you and a small price to pay for sanity. By using the templates, all the design decisions are made for you, and that can be a huge time saver. Templates are available for print books and ebooks.

    Nonfiction templates will be released later, and this is where things will get really interesting, as nonfiction books are more difficult to design, typeset and format. I commend Joel for listening to self-pubs, and for designing some really nice templates at an affordable price.

    Do you have to buy templates?
    Not if you don’t want to. If you have the time and you’re willing to go on a bit of a learning curve, you can learn to create your own Word templates. But my sense is that a book designer might know some things about book design that you may not know. Don’t take my word for it, though. It might be worth checking out Joel’s website to see if you think he knows what he’s talking about.

    At the very least, I’ve found that it’s entirely possible to create a fairly decent looking ebook from Word if you know something about how Word (mis)behaves. This knowledge can save you time, frustration and money, whether you decide to DIY, use a template or hire a book designer. Stay tuned for a more on this topic in a future post.

    Screen capture by Corina Koch MacLeod

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    Ebook formatting: Are you getting your money’s worth?

    by Corina Koch MacLeod
    Updated February 2014

    Image by 401(K) 2012 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

    It’s no secret that getting your ebook from your word processing software into a format that reads well on a variety of e-reading devices is a bit tricky.

    Hiring out
    Many authors, overwhelmed by the tech knowledge required to create a flawless ebook, hire formatters or designers to do the job. Others take advantage of one-stop book services that will edit your book, convert your book to an ebook format and offer printing services. That’s entirely fair. Learning to create ebooks for reading ease is a steep learning curve.

    There is currently no agreement on how best to convert ebooks to e-reading formats. Further, some methods cost more than others, so cost can influence what method you use. As far as I can tell, self-publishing authors and publishers are using one of five methods. I’ve listed them from the simplest to the most complex:

    1. PDFs or doc/ docx files Kindle formats (AZW and KF8) using automatic conversion tools provided by distributors like Smashwords and Amazon
    2. doc/ docx to epub or mobi using Jutoh
    3. doc/ docx to mobi using Sigil
    4. PDFs or doc/ docx files to epub format using InDesign (software used in print publishing) >epub file >AZW and KF8 formats 
    5. Hand coding doc/ docx files using HTML and CSS, which may make sense for highly designed books with lots of  images and styling

    Because things can go wrong at any point in each of the (admittedly simplified) processes listed above, it’s important that you understand the process you’ve chosen, whether you hire a formatter or decide to DIY. If you’ve decided to hire out for formatting/ designing services, you want to be able to ask questions that will ensure that you’re getting your money’s worth. Here are a few questions you could ask:

    What is your formatting process?
    Consult the options above. Formatters will often charge you more if you want an epub and a AZW/KF8 format.

    Will you create a linked TOC? An NCX file?
    An internal linked table of contents (TOC) enables readers to navigate your book from your TOC page. The NCX serves the same purpose, as it allows readers to access your TOC from a pull-down menu, no matter where they are in your book. It’s the ebook equivalent to flipping pages in a print book. Formatters worth their salt will ensure that you have a linked TOC and an NCX.

    If you have cross-references in your book, and you’d like them linked, expect to pay more. Each cross-reference has to be linked or hand coded and this is a time-consuming process.

    What file format do you need from me? doc? docx? PDF? 
    Be aware that converting from a PDF will be more expensive because a PDF will have to be converted to a text file before any formatting can begin.

    What can I do to prepare my file for the conversion process?
    There’s a great deal you can do to reduce the time your formatter will spend on your ebook, possibly saving you money. See this post for cost-saving measures.

    How can I be sure that my converted file will read well on a variety of devices?
    Some formatters will check how your file reads on various devices. Others will not, leaving you to ensure that your file is clear of formatting distractions.

    Why there are conversion issues
    It helps to first understand that book services and even traditional publishers may not have the time or resources to ensure that your ebook file comes out right on the other end. If, for example, you’ve had your book formatted for Kindle, you may not know that it reads fine on a Kindle e-ink device, but there are problems reading it on the Kindle app for iOS or on the Kindle app for Android.

    Why you should care
    Ensuring that your book is working across devices matters because with sycing capabilities, many readers can now read the same book across devices—on an iPhone when they’re out and about, on a tablet when they’re at home, and on a computer when they’re on lunch break at the office, for example.

    And because readers have the option of returning ebooks for a refund due to conversion and formatting errors, formatting foibles could affect your book sales.

    What’s an author to do?
    Until publishers and book services begin to proofread ebooks after they are converted to an ebook format (Open Road Media was one of the first to do this), in much the same way that they proofread print proofs before printing, it’ll fall to the author to take up this responsibility.

    Don’t worry, you don’t have to purchase every kind of e-reading device to see how your book is working on each of them.* In another post, I show you how to view and proofread your book for various devices.

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    eBook Formatting Principles: Organizing the Reading Experience

    by Corina Koch MacLeod

    Sign of the times
    Image by dipfan (CC BY 2.0)

    In a previous post, I discussed how good ebook formatting is invisible and familiar. In today’s post, I will discuss three additional principles of formatting that can help you organize the reading experience.

    Note: Keep in mind that some of the ideas presented in this post may make more sense for PDF and fixed-layout books where the author has more control over layout.
    Good formatting has these features:
    It’s consistent.
    If you’re writing a nonfiction book that contains lots of sections and subsections, you’ll need to help your reader navigate your content in a logical way. Headings and subheadings can act like road signs, and they can help readers assimilate complex ideas.
    It often makes sense to set your headings in a different font to make them stand out from body text. It’s okay to use up to three or four heading styles for this purpose, but don’t use three or four different fonts. For example, consider these style choices:
    Body text: Times New Roman 12
    Chapter heading:  Arial 13, centred
    Section heading: Arial 11, left justified
    Subheading: Arial 11, italicized, tabbed in
    Author tip: Be sure to employ your heading styles consistently so that a subsection always has the same font and style, for example. The same applies to headings in tables. Choose one font for the headings and a contrasting font for the text in each cell. Be sure to employ your chosen style for all tables.

    Formatting Do’s and Don’ts
    – use white space
    – use bulleted lists
    – use visuals judiciously
    – have a reason for each style feature you use
    – keep usability in mind
    – overuse style features
    – use too many fonts in one document
    – use an obscure font
    – decorate with visuals and clip art
    It’s navigable.
    Formatting choices should always be made with the reader in mind. If you’re writing nonfiction, you want your formatting to help the reader navigate your text easily. Here a few ways to do that:
    Rather than writing a long list of items in paragraph form, bulleted or numbered lists introduce white space and give readers a chance to rest their eyes.

    Also, don’t underestimate the power of a hard return. An extra line of white space between sections can give readers’ eyes a well deserved break. Don’t apply more than one extra line, though. If you do, this can create a blank “page” for readers reading on small screens, causing unnecessary flicking and tapping to get from section to section.

    You’ll also need to make a decision about how you’ll separate paragraphs. Generally, there are two options: block style, with a line of white space between paragraphs or a first-line indent with no line of white space between paragraphs. If you go the latter route, Emma Wright recommends that your indented space be the width of 1 em, or the width of the letter “m” in your chosen font.
    Author tip: Non-fiction text can be dense with information. Use white space strategically, to give the reader some relief from a sea of words.
    It includes a judicious use of visuals.
    Have you ever tried to learn something hands-on, like knitting, from a Web tutorial that consisted entirely of paragraphs and paragraphs of words? Did you navigate away from that site after Step 2 (if the author had the wherewithal to break things into steps), to find a tutorial with visuals?
    Sometimes it makes sense to use a visual instead of words to communicate a concept to the reader. If you’re writing a how-to book, think about how you might use visuals, like photos, graphs and tables to ease your reader’s reading load. Many people have digital cameras nowadays, and with some basic instruction, you can create some fairly decent photos that will translate well to a digital medium.
    Having said that, don’t fall prey to decorating your document with images in an attempt to give readers a change from text. A photo should add to or interpret what you’ve discussed in the text. As with every formatting choice, make sure you have a good reason for inserting visuals, and be sure that your reasons are based on improving readers’ experience.
    Author tip: Ask yourself if a section of text would work better as a visual. Remember to provide a caption for photos and to format all photo captions consistently. For reflowable ebooks, authors should insert visuals inline and not next to each other, so when the reader adjusts the font size (causing the text to reflow) there won’t be any problems with the visual’s placement.

    Formatting Principles for Ebook Authors

    by Corina Koch MacLeod

    Kindle: interested in these little problems
    Image by future15pic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
    Last week I wrote about how formatting and proofreading errors can rob readers of a pleasurable reading experience. And while I haven’t been able to determine in any definitive way how much readers will put up with before they click away from your book (or ask for a refund/ e-fund), I can say with a great degree of certainty that good proofreading and formatting are well within the self-published author’s grasp.
    Panicked? Don’t worry. I’ll walk you through some practical formatting and proofreading tips over a series of posts, so you can consume information in digestible bites.

    Basic Principles of Formatting
    I’ll begin with formatting because it’s less subjective and more concrete than proofreading. Over the years, I’ve learned that applying a few basic formatting principles can help you create a book that enhances the reading experience.
    Some of the tips below will apply more to fixed layout or to PDF books, where the author has more control over the book’s final layout.These books present best on 10-inch tablets. Most ebooks are designed to be reflowable—the reader can adjust font size, and the text then adjusts to the device—to accommodate smaller screens. This fact leaves authors with less control over how items are placed on a page, but there are lots of things that authors can do to create a pleasant outcome for the reader.

    Good formatting has these features:
    It’s invisible. When readers are engaged in your book, you don’t want your formatting choices to shout at them or distract them from your message or story. Try not to assault your readers’ senses with lots of fonts, colours, italics, graphics and underlined and boldfaced words all at once. You want formatting to blend seamlessly into the background. Where formatting is concerned, less is always best.

    Author tip: Every formatting choice you make should mean something and should enhance the reader experiencedon’t use formatting indiscriminately. 
    For example, I generally don’t underline words in my writing, but I’ve used this feature in this post to make author tips stand out. This can help readers who are skimming this article to find tips quickly. I also boldface words to help readers skim strategically and help them remember the key points of the article. Some conventions, like italics and boldface, have specific rules for use. Grab a good styleguide and try to reserve formatting features for their specific uses.
    It’s familiar.
    If you make formatting choices that readers are familiar with, they won’t have to exert any additional effort interpreting them. For example, most readers are familiar with common fonts like Arial and Times New Roman, and I suspect their brains, through exposure, are more adept at decoding these fonts than less common ones (have you ever tried to read something entirely written in Comic Sans?). As tempting as it may be to reach for a cute or little-known font to make your book stand out from the pack, don’t do it. Unusual fonts can become bizarre symbols in the ebook conversion process. Trust your reader—and let your words and your message set you apart. 

    Author tip: Try to limit your font choices to twoone for your body text and one for section or chapter headings. Steve Knowles, graphic designer at The Right Type in Yarker, Ontario likes to use a serif font for the text and a contrasting sans serif font for headings.  

    Ebook tip: While there is some debate about which font types are easier to read on screen—serif fonts with curly tails, like Times New Roman, or sans serif fonts with no curly tails, like Arial—you will likely not go wrong by choosing one of the more popular font styles that readers are familiar with. Erika Enigk suggests that Verdana and Arial are excellent choices for readers with visual impairments and dyslexia because the fonts are evenly spaced with no overlapping letters.

    Keep in mind that many e-reading devices and apps will allow readers to change a font, or adjust the size according to their own preferences. What’s an author to do? Choose a more common font in a size that’s not too small (11 or 12 pt.) and apply it consistently to your source document (pre-ebook conversion document), so it translates consistently on the reader’s end.

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