How to format an ebook in eight easy steps


In the first of two guest posts highlighting the skills she developed while on placement, MA Publishing student Eryl Norris shares her top tips for the ebook file conversion process.

Books begin in all sorts of formats, from Word documents to PDFs to web pages. As it’s been over a decade since the first ebook readers were invented, you could be forgiven for presuming that there would, by now, be a single straightforward way of converting all these files into an ebook. Not so: in reality it can be a technical nightmare. Different reading devices require differently formatted text and the whole ordeal is a time-consuming, often confusing, task, that even major publishers struggle with.

During a work experience placement as part of my MA Publishing course, I was asked to convert three of the company’s new fiction titles to ebook format for the first time. The fact that the request was made nonchalantly amongst a list of simple office tasks – photocopying, filling out forms, a little bit of market research here and there – made me wonder: will our future employers automatically mark us new entrants into the publishing industry as a generation who should be innately accustomed to this sort of technological feat, despite its obvious challenges?

Formatting text files for ebooks can be a minefield. Image courtesy: Flickr/World of Good

After miraculously managing to accomplish the task, through a combination of panicked research, online tutorials, mental breakdowns and headaches from repeatedly hitting brick walls, I decided to share some of the tips I came up with – tips that would have made those few days much less of an ordeal . The list is not exhaustive and is mostly aimed at novices; further reading would be needed for more specific needs. Hopefully, it still provides some form of preparation for surviving the digital minefield that we may well face in the workplace.

1. Start from Word

Formatting is best done from the original MS Word manuscript, as opposed to converting a PDF file back to Word (which guarantees errors from the outset).

2. Strip out page furniture

Remove page numbers and footers. These will appear mid text if they are left where they are.

3. Use styles

Use document styles as opposed to manual (keyboard-applied) indents and spacing. E-readers won’t recognise any use of ‘tabs’ or extra spaces at the start of an indent/new paragraph. This includes inter-line spacing (or ‘leading’), which should be single-spaced. If you need to remove all the styles you’ve manually put in, select all of your text and choose the ‘Normal’ style from the Styles tab in Word. You can then set up your document styles from scratch using these guidelines from Lulu.

4. Be consistent

Make sure font sizes (use even numbers) and types are consistent. You should use styles such as ‘Heading 1’ for your chapter headings, which will also allow you to easily locate each chapter for use in point 5 below.

5. Add a TOC

Add a Table of Contents (TOC) to your document to help your readers navigate through a book without page numbers. Microsoft have a useful step-by-step guide to creating a table of contents in Word.

6. Resize images

Save any images in JPEG format and resize them before inserting them into a Word document. Preferably, they should be close to 300 DPI in quality. They should be set ‘in-line’ with the text, as opposed to ‘wrapped’.

7. Update the copyright page

You’ll need to make sure you have the correct copyright page for your ebook (this may be the same as your print book but you’ll need to check). Remember that you’ll also need new ISBNs for your digital book.

8. Convert to PDF

Depending on how you will be distributing your ebook, you’re likely to need to convert your document to PDF. Use File-Save as-PDF, or download the MS Office Save as PDF add-in.

Simply using your PDF as an ebook itself isn’t usually sufficient, as PDFs cannot adjust to the size of an ereader screen and are often difficult to read. You need to make your files dynamic, which I’ll be covering in the next post!

Eryl Norris is a student on Kingston University’s MA Publishing course. She worked on placement at DCD Media.

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One response to “How to format an ebook in eight easy steps

  1. Pingback: A simple guide to ePub file conversion and sales | Kingston Publishing: inspiring future publishers·

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