Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Getting Published: Formatting for Kindle

October is just around the corner, and with it comes all manner of monsters, villains, disturbing acts and horrors. Also, Halloween is in there too. So, like I'm sure many of my fellow writers of horror blogs, I'm going to spend the entire month talking about horror. That being said, I'm going to spend this week and next going through a few topics I've had on the back-burner for a bit that lean more toward the business of writing.

Today's topic is that of formatting your work. This is something I've seen a lot of newer writers freak out about and one of the things that requires some serious research. So, I've wanted to put together everything I've learned for the benefit of those still searching and pulling their hair out.

Now, currently, my work is only available through Kindle, and Amazon via Createspace, so those are the formats I'm prepared to discuss. Eventually, I do plan on using Smashwords, which I've heard is generally really simple, and I'll go over that additionally when I get to it.

I do all my own formatting through Microsoft Word, but a lot of the steps should be pretty much the same. So, let's go.


Let's start with Kindle, as a lot of newer, young, self-published authors are doing the e-book only route.

Now, you have your manuscript, editing and final proofreading is complete, formatting it properly is the only thing left before you upload and hit that big, green, publish button. To be honest, though, and to make things easiest, formatting should start before you even put down the first word. One of the biggest issues I've seen Kindle authors complain about, is having a massive indent at the beginning of paragraphs and dialogue. I had that issue myself before I learned the trick. It's actually very simple.

In the Paragraph section from the Home bar, click on Line spacing and then in that menu, click on Line spacing options. Where it says Indentation, under Special, choose First Line and then under By, choose how deep you want the indent to be. Mine is set at 0.5". Use this, and NOT hitting Tab at the beginning of a paragraph or dialogue, and you should have no indentation issues with Kindle. At least in the main manuscript.

If you do that from the start of writing your piece, that should alleviate a lot of headaches later on. Now, I want to introduce you to your new best friend. The show/hide button.

With this button turned on, you suddenly see your manuscript filled with thousands of odd symbols. Those are the formatting carriers that are normally hidden (hence, the show/hide button) which represent spaces, Enter strokes, and any other little details. To be blunt, you want as few of those symbols as humanly possible. Of course, you can't take out spaces or Enter pops from the end of a paragraph, so what I really mean is, don't use them extraneously. Don't hit the Enter key a bunch of times to create separations. Hit it once to clear the paragraph and then add a page break.

Page breaks are easy, you go to the Insert tab, and then under Pages, it should be right there. That ends the section you're on and automatically begins the next part on a new page.

Now, things may look a little odd depending on how you have the view of the work set-up. So I recommend going to the View tab and choosing Web Outline. That is effectively, how your book will look on the Kindle. Minus whatever you have when the show/hide button is on.

Now, you can make things more complicated if you wish, with a Table of Contents, which includes headers at the beginning of each chapter, but that really isn't quite a necessity in fiction works. Also, when you're talking about kindle, there's no need to worry about font size or type, as it generally lets the reader choose how they want to see the words.

A common suggestion is to turn off widow/orphan control. I must admit, I've never done this, and I've never had any problems with them. I actually think there is some confusion about what they are. So, from the Microsoft Word Help file...
"The last line of a paragraph by itself at the top of a page is known as a widow. The first line of a paragraph by itself at the bottom of a page is known as an orphan."
So, there's that if you wish to turn off the control of widows and orphans. I don't know that it really hurts or helps much one way or another.

Now, before I call that good for the day, I want to make a few notes for those who don't feel comfortable doing it themselves or need extra help. There are two main ways to do it otherwise. The first is simply to hire someone else to do it. There are several companies online that offer e-book formatting, one which I initially considered using before deciding to do it myself is the website 52novels.com. This would be the company used by one J.A. Konrath and they do layout and formatting for both print and e-books. I mainly shied away due to monetary concerns.

The other option people seem to like are formatting programs. Of those available, I've heard Scrivener listed as being among the best and most recommended. I must confess to not knowing much about it, but the program and instructions for how to use it are fairly easy to find, both across the internet and in book form. (It even has a version of "for dummies" available for it.)

So there you have it. Pretty quick, easy, and simple. You can check out my books to see how well it works and if you have any more tips or suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments below. Thanks.

~ Shaun


  1. This was very helpful. I struggled quite a bit with formatting, scouring the web for tips and tricks. This would have been nice to read while I was preparing my last MS for publication!

    1. I'm glad to have helped. I remember running all over the web looking for this kind of information when I was trying to format my first book. Now, the more places it's put up on, the easier it'll be for someone else to find.