Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Formatting Your Manuscript for Ebook and Print

I have reached the stage where my next history book, Medieval Gower Stories, is ready to publish. In the past I have had two contrasting conversations about formatting – one about ebook formatting and one about print book formatting.

The interesting thing was that the person who was struggling with creating an ebook was only used to print books and the one who was struggling with creating a print book was only used to ebooks. The formatting is very different, and you need to get your head around it or you will be very confused.

Before ebooks, there were only print books, and you either paid a printer (which was called vanity publishing and was a BAD THING) or you got yourself a contract with a publisher (which could be soul destroying getting accepted, but was then a GOOD THING). Either way, the internal layout of your book was done for you.

Now, with ebooks and print-on-demand, you can publish your own books (which is a GOOD THING) but you have to pay to have formatting done (which is a BAD THING), or format them yourself. So, unless you have money to spare or an expert friend, you must bite the formatting bullet.

There’s lots of guidance on the relevant websites, and there are books about it, but I thought it would be helpful to give you an overview of what’s involved.

Ebook Formatting

Format for Ebook

Ebooks don’t exist in a physical form, just the code for your ereader, so they don’t have page sizes, or page numbers, or headers and footers. You just need the text of your book with some front matter (title, author, copyright notice, and dedication if you have one) and some back matter (contact the author, sample of other books, plea for a review and table of contents).

Format paragraph

Ebooks also don’t have tabs or multiple returns, so you have to find another way to space out your text. You have to use paragraph styles. If you don’t know how to use them, learn soon, to save heartache later. If you want the first line of a paragraph indented, you can’t tab, you must define it in the paragraph style. If you want a space between each paragraph and the next, you can’t use a blank line, you must define it.

If you have a table of contents (not essential for fiction) it can’t have page numbers in because ebooks don’t have page numbers. You have to set up links using bookmarks and hyperlinks. The same applies to footnotes. I have a Slideshare which explains how to do it. If your book is fiction, put your table of contents at the end of the book so it doesn’t get in the way of the free sample Amazon offers of your book. You want readers to sample the story, not your table of contents.

Print Formatting

Format Page

Print books on the other hand do have page sizes, and page numbers, and headers and footers (but not on the front matter). You have to decide what size you want your book to be and work out how thick the spine will be. You will need page numbers in the footer and the book’s title or chapter name in the header. You need to learn how to format the page in your word processor.

Format for Print

You can now lay out your book as you please, using tabs, spaces and multiple returns, because when you finish formatting, you convert the document to PDF, which ‘sets’ it so it goes on the page exactly as you laid it out.


For your ebook you need a cover which represents just the front cover. For your print book, you need a cover that wraps around, with a front, spine and back cover. But you also need ‘bleed’. The cover has to be slightly bigger than the book size, because after it’s assembled, the book is trimmed to give it clean edges. So your designer not only has to take your ebook cover and extend it to the spine and back, but give that tiny extra bit.

Don’t let all this daunt you. Formatting is not hard, but it can be fiddly and time consuming. The thing to do is learn how to use the word processing tools ahead of time and think hard about what you want by looking at existing books. Read the Kindle and Smashwords guides for ebook and the Create Space guide for print-on-demand [other websites are available]. Don’t panic and take your time. You’ll be fine.

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at

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