How to Write an Ebook: Formatting

The parts in this series so far are How to Write an Ebook: The GuideWhy It’s a Good IdeaChoose a Sellable TopicPreparing to Write, Writing Tips from a Non-Writer and Editing and Naming.

Once you’re satisfied with the content of your ebook (which, if you’re like me, you wrote in simple text) you’ll need to format it so it looks good on a page.

The following tips are for PDF formatting. If you want to format your ebook for Kindle and Nook, I highly recommend checking out the Kindle Direct Publishing Help and PubIt! FAQ & Support Resources Page (Nook).

Choose a good word processor.

You’ll need to be able to save your document as a PDF. You can do this in Micorsoft Word, but for some (like me), Word is a bit finicky when it comes to keeping links (like to your website) intact. In the end, I switched to Open Office (it’s free) and my problems vanished. (By the way, here are some good Open Office Tutorials.)

Choose a page size.

I recommend formatting it to fit a standard page size (8 1/2 by 11 inches here in the States). This will make it easier for you to set it up and for your readers to print (if they do). You can choose either a “portrait” or “landscape” setup, however, if you go with landscape, I suggest you break up your text into at least two or three columns across the page to make reading easier.

Set up a template.

You might also set up a page template in your word processor which allows you to use the same format on each page without having to reformat each one separately. Because my ebook was pretty straightforward, I didn’t use a template, but this step could potentially save you quite a bit of time. Here are tutorials for setting up page templates in Open Office and Word.

Use generous margins.

I think a 1-inch margin all the way around is a safe bet. Not only does this make reading easier, it also eliminates the problem some printers have which is to cut off a larger portion at the bottom (portrait) or on one side (landscape) when smaller margins are specified.

Importing your ebook text.

Whether you use a template or not, copy and paste your content from your text editor into Open Office or Word (or whatever you are using). Once it’s in there, move things around, add headings, make things bold, etc. until it works for you.

I vote for clean, simple and uniform. Don’t go crazy with a wide array of font sizes, colors, underlining, etc. If a reader turns a page and thinks, “Wow, that heading is large,” or “Bright font color!” you’ve gone to0 far. A reader’s attention should be on your content, not your formatting. Only format enough to make your ebook more easily readable.

Whitespace is your friend.

Whitespace refers to the parts of the page which are empty and not filled with text or other content. Large margins create whitespace, as does a wider-than-normal line height (like 1.5), a larger font (I used 14), bullets, lists etc. Again, you want reading to be effortless and whitespace is a key factor in making that happen.

Decide if you’re going to get fancy.

If you’re so inclined, you might consider inserting captions, pull-quotes (highlighting special portions of your text in a larger font or box somewhere on the page) call outs (like labels for illustrations; similar to captions for images), etc. (You can find examples of how these look here.) It’ll be more work, but done right, it could add a nice touch to your finished product. On the flip side, it might cause formatting issues, so I’d recommend checking on several digital devices to see how it renders before you make it a definite go.

Pay special attention to images.

If you’re using images, make sure they are well done and proportioned correctly so they aren’t skewed. If you’re not a photographer yourself, consider purchasing professional images from a site like iStockphoto. If your photos are only average and you don’t want to spend the money on professional ones, I think it’s better to leave them out altogether. Low-quality images can diminish the perceived value of an ebook.

Utilize your footer and/or header.

Even though I didn’t use a full-fledged template, I did use the footer option to insert page numbers (done automatically) as well as a link to my website. (Read your word processor’s Help section if you don’t know how to insert page numbers.)

Pages to Include:

  • Copyright Information. This is something I did not pay a whole lot of attention to and will certainly update (eventually). So, because I’m a bad example, I’ll send you over to Dave Taylor’s site where he discusses this issue and gives you some examples.
  • Table of Contents. This is just a plain good idea. Make it better by linking your Table of Contents to the actual sections in your ebook — something I didn’t do that I wish I had and will do next time.
  • About the Author. A bio at the end of your ebook gives you the chance to tell a little bit about yourself but more importantly, it gives you a natural opportunity to insert a call to action, such as inviting your reader to visit your website.
  • Acknowledgements, End Notes, Bibliography, etc. If your ebook calls for any of these pages — particularly credit to anyone quoted or referenced — by all means, include them. However, keep in mind that they are likely only going to be glanced over. So, be accurate, but don’t spend untold amounts of time getting them “just so”.
  • Printables. If you are providing printables, they could be included within the body of the ebook or at the end. My recommendation is to put them where they fit naturally and cause the least amount of reading disruption.

Get an ebook cover.

Make your cover a good one since it will set the tone for your whole ebook. You can make your own if you’re comfortable with designing or you can use an online resource like eBook Cover Creator ($3.95 per download). Alternatively, you can pay someone do it for you (Joy at Five J’s Design did mine). There are pros and cons for all, but basically it comes down to skill, cost and final quality. The nice thing about having someone do it for you (if you aren’t too keen on designing it yourself), is that they can also make matching banners and graphics that you’ll need later.

If you’d like to find a designer, you have a ton of options. A few resources I have not used myself but have read good things about are oDesk and 99designs — both allow you to find people you can outsource projects like this to (as well as things like Virtual Assistance, logo creation and all sorts of things). Please do your homework and be sure to read up on anyone you might work with, but an ebook cover might be a great and cheap way to test one of these services out.

Test it.

Once you’ve put everything together, be sure to print out your ebook to make sure it prints correctly and as you intended. Also, check it out on digital devices to make sure it renders properly.

And now, with ebook in hand, let’s get ready to sell it Next post: How to Write an Ebook: Setting Up Accounts!

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Comments

  1. says

    I am writing an ebook cookbook for Amazon Kindle in Open Office, and I’m having trouble with images. What size are they supposed to be? When I insert them as 800px by 600 px, they look quite small in the document, and I want them to be full-page, but I know that my usual 4000px by 3000px straight from the camera is too big and will probably cause formatting issues in the finished ebook. Any suggestions you may have would be greatly appreciated :)

  2. says

    Hi Amy,

    I somehow must have skipped over the part about NOT using Word for a Word Processor. My eBook is pretty much done…on Word. When I saved it as a PDF, ALL of my links aren’t linking to anything. Is there any way to import a Word Document into Open Office? Once I do that, what do I save it as…I don’t see PDF as an option on Open Office.

    Thanks Amy!

    • says

      You’ll see an “Export to PDF” option. I’m not looking at it at the moment, but I’m pretty sure it’s the File menu (a bit further down from the Save option).

  3. says

    Amy, thanks for all your great tips. I am so behind on the times. I created about 10 e-books about 15 years ago and they soooo need to be updated but I didn’t want to pay to get my Adobe Acrobat up to date (that is installed on my ancient desktop computer!). I have really fallen behind in my knowledge of computer software and had never heard of Open Office. Wow! I had no idea. I just created a .pdf file in seconds, for free! Time to start updating all those old files I created in Word Perfect, LOL. My goal for next year is to continue to diversify my income sources, and I think this really has a lot of potential. I need to take the plunge and see what all the Kindle hype is about. I think I am missing out on some good opportunities.

    • says

      With ebooks already written and only needing updating, you’re well on your way! Looking forward to hearing how it goes…

  4. Aden AC says

    HI Amy,
    Great post, just wondering what fonts are you using here for your website Headers and body?
    love the headers especially..

    Thanks

  5. Cari says

    Hi Amy,

    I’m so overwhelmed right now. I feel like there are rocks bouncing in my head! Goodness…my quandry lies in the actual stage of publishing a book. I have read your posts on ebook formatting, etc. and I don’t know where to go. I visited the links you’ve provided and find myself just being even more overwhelmed when it comes to ebook covers. I can download for as little as $3.95, BUT some recommendations are at $225! What a difference. I really don’t have a budget to spend on this. If I do come up with one, it will be because I’ve pulled it from our famiy’s gas and grocery budget first. Is there any advice or concrete steps (I know you’ve provided so much good information and for that I am grateful) you can give me? I would so appreciate it.

    Cari

    • Amy says

      Hi Cari, I’m so sorry you’re overwhelmed. Hang in there, you’ll get it! You might try this option called My eBook Cover Creator which allows you to make your own ebook cover online. It’s budget-friendly and you can choose from lots of templates. I haven’t used it myself, but heard about it in a forum. It looks like something that might work just right for you.

      • Cari says

        Thank you, Amy. You’re so courteous to respond and I am thankful. That particular link is one I’ve looked at. I will certainly keep it in mind. I am trying to educate myself as much as possible (I’ve got google on the brain…and in my pores…) all while trying to run a household. :) I am sure you can relate. Love your blog and thanks a bunch.

        God bless,
        Cari

  6. says

    Would you recommend hiring a professional editor before publishing an ebook? I’m completely finished with my manuscript. I want it to be the best it can be.

  7. says

    Hi Amy,

    with joy I am studying your e-book course. Yet I have a question: a client of mine wants to publish an e-book and it’s just totally new to me. I am familiar to creating PDF’s but if you want to prepare voor Adobe Digital Editions, where you can scale your text, what kind of program do I use then? Do you have any idea? Many thanks in advance and best regards, Andrew.

  8. says

    Hi – I am helping a friend write a series of recipe books and I am finding it very hard to set up a basic format where you have the recipe and directions down one side and a decent sized picture on the other … Columns seems very annoying – any other suggestions?? It will be in PDF eventually..

  9. says

    Hi Amy,

    I seem to remember you mentioning somewhere in this series that there was a website you could upload your ebook to and if you weren’t careful, it would turn it into a mess, but it would help with formatting it yourself if you wanted to do that. Do you remember that?

  10. says

    First off, thank you, thank you, thank you for all of the helpful info you post in your blog. It is one of my favorite resources! I have been working on an eBook and have a quick question:

    I am planning on offering my book in .PDF format through my blog and affiliate programs. However, I would also like to set it up on Amazon. Do I need to format it a different way to do this- or can I sucessfully sell it on Amazon in .PDF format?

    Thanks so much for your help!

  11. says

    Hey Amy…

    This is probably the best guide on the web on how to write an ebook! Fan-freaking-tastic! I’m going to link to this series within the eBook I’m currently writing.

    Anyhoo… I have 2 technical issues which I hope you can offer advice.

    1. How do you create a table of content with both the left and right ends in alignment? I hope you know what I mean.

    2. How do you link your Table of Contents to the actual sections in your ebook?

    Thank you very much!

    Cheers~

    Mark

    • Amy says

      1. You’ll want to select “justified” for your formatting (as opposed to left aligned, centered or right-aligned).
      2. Are you using Open Office? Try this tutorial.
      Thanks Mark.

  12. Misty says

    If I am creating an ebook or a blog how do I know which photos I find on the web are ok to use? I dont want to get into any copyright trouble.

  13. says

    Amy, my question is in regards to including photographs in my book. It’s going to be a type of a cookbook, and I want to illustrate the recipes I include with my own photographs. But should one avoid using too many photos as it may deter people from printing because of all that ink? I know most people prefer cookbooks with photos – but I wonder if there is a way they could choose to print without printing all the photos? A skin? Or putting the photos only on the opposite or odd numbered pages?
    I appreciate your advice!

    • Amy says

      Hmmm…well, I’d agree about the necessity of photos in a cookbook. Normally, I wouldn’t recommend a lot of images, but in the case of a cookbook I don’t think I’d do without. I would check out some other cookbook ebooks and see how they handled the photos.

      • Amy says

        Like, as you suggest, perhaps putting photos on all even or all odd pages. Another option might be to make sure each recipe is on its own page so if they wanted to print one recipe, they could print only that page.

  14. says

    Amy, thank you so much for all this great information. I am glad to see that you will be going over the tech details on how to publish and sell it! I am collaborating on a cook book and want to offer a free ebook on my site as well. You tutorials are great!
    Thanks
    Selena Moffitt

  15. says

    Hi Amy, I’m about to compile an ebook with a group of food bloggers, using the content from a D-tox January series that was just co-ordinated/hosted via my blog. We are going to donate all proceeds to charity and are hoping to complete it within a month, as the content already exists. Your tips are really useful. Thank you. The part where I come unstuck is how to publish once you’ve set up the book. We’ll promote it via our blogs – BUT, do you recommend selling a downloadable pdf, or are there any particular technical things that need to be considered for reading on devices such as a kindle? Thanks! Nicola

    • Amy says

      Tell Your Time is in PDF format and I use E-junkie to distribute it (in-depth details on that in an upcoming post). Kindle owners should be able to read a PDF (see here for info).

  16. says

    Hi Amy,

    I stumbled to your site today and read your blog post about creating eBooks. Thanks for sharing, I really liked how you put all the required information in easy to understand manner.
    I’ll bookmark your blog for later visiting :)

    Cheers,
    Togrul

  17. says

    Thank you for all you are sharing in this series!! I have already put together a free ebook, but will be doing more so this is really helpful. You are so authentic and genuine with your experience and I so appreciate that!

  18. says

    Amy,
    Wow.. this post is great content on writing an e-book, and I am encouraged! Now I’m curious to read more great posts on your blog… Thank you!

  19. says

    Thank you for this series. I’m sitting up, listening and taking notes!! I spent hours yesterday looking for an (admittedly free) resource to create a PDF and didn’t realize OpenOffice had that functionality. This is a great resource and I appreciate your hard work!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] How to Write an Ebook: Setting Up AccountsBy Amy on February 8, 2011 The parts in this series so far are How to Write an Ebook: The Guide, Why It’s a Good Idea, Choose a Sellable Topic, Preparing to Write, Writing Tips from a Non-Writer, Editing and Naming and Formatting. [...]