Format A Nice-Looking Novel For Smashwords

Everybody knows, or at least regular readers know, I don’t like using Word to make ebooks. Just about all distributors allow you to submit a doc or docx file to be converted into an ebook. You shouldn’t. You really, really shouldn’t. An ebook converted from Word will not work properly on many ereaders.

But. One major distributor does require Word files–Smashwords. They have their reasons and until they change those reasons, Word it is.

Rather than bitch again about the sheer silliness of using Word for ebooks, I’ll be constructive. Here is a quick primer on how to make a Word document that will make its way through the Meatgrinder without too much damage. (This is for fiction only. Trying to shove complicated formatting through Smashword’s Meatgrinder will give you hives and bald spots, so if you want to give it a shot, you’re on your own.)

I recommend before you do anything that you go in to TOOLS on Word and turn off all the auto-correct and auto-format features. This will cut down on Word’s “helpfulness” and make a better ebook. I also recommend that you turn on the SHOW feature so you can see the paragraph returns and extra spaces (in the menu bar it looks like a pilcrow).

STEP ONE: START WITH A CLEAN FILE

This is imperative. You will prevent 95% of ebook glitches by making sure your document file is clean. By clean I mean free of the excess or extraneous coding that Word inserts at every opportunity. You must use a text editor for this. I use Notepad++, which is a free downloadable program. Easy to use once you get used to the way it looks.

After your text is edited in Word, go through this checklist:

  1. Make sure your curly quotes are turned the right way.
  2. Get rid of tabs and extra spaces, including those before and after paragraph returns. Including those between sentences. You do not want double spaces between sentences in an ebook.
  3. Get rid of extra paragraph returns.
  4. Tag your special formatting such as italics, bolding and underlines. (VERY IMPORTANT: Your special formatting will disappear in the text editor)***
  5. Make sure you have proper em dashes and ellipses.

Now COPY/PASTE your text into the text editor. This makes a txt file (text). Go through your file and make sure you have gotten rid of all your extra spaces and hard returns. It will look a little odd, but don’t worry about the lack of formatting–you DO NOT WANT any formatting at this stage. If you are using Notepad++, open the Character Panel (it’s in the Edit drop down menu). That will give you ASCII characters. If you need to change your double or single quotes, em dashes, special characters, etc. use the characters and symbols from the Character Panel.

STEP 2: MAKE YOUR STYLE SHEETS

Smashword’s Meatgrinder is set up to work best with certain stylesheets already built in to Word. If you are not familiar with using stylesheets in Word, now is the time to learn. You’ll find them under FORMAT in the main menu. For most fiction, all you need are four stylesheets.

  1. NORMAL
  2. HEADING 1
  3. HEADING 2
  4. center

NORMAL: This is what you’ll use for the body of your text–the main style. You will find listed in style sheets. You can modify it. My recommendation is to stick as close to ereader defaults as possible. So don’t modify too much. Safe settings are:

  • Font: 12 point Times New Roman
  • Align: Left
  • Level: body text
  • Indent: 0 for right and left
  • Special: First Line by 0.3″ or 0.4″ (this is the paragraph indent)
  • Spacing: Before 0; After 0
  • Line Spacing: single

HEADING 1: This is what the Meatgrinder will look for to title your book. For most projects, you only need to use it once. Here you can increase the font size (don’t go higher than 16 points and use the same font as for the rest of your book) and bold or italicize it. You can also center your text, drop it down on the “page” and add some space between your title and the author name. A set up might look like this:

  • Font: 16 point Times New Roman, bold
  • Align: Center
  • Level: body text
  • Indent: 0 for right and left
  • Special: (none)
  • Spacing: Before 12; After 6pt
  • Line Spacing: single

HEADING 2: This is what the Meatgrinder will look for to find your chapters so it can build the toc.ncx (very important).

  • Font: 16 point Times New Roman, bold
  • Align: Center
  • Level: body text
  • Indent: 0 for right and left
  • Special: (none)
  • Spacing: Before 12; After 3pt
  • Line Spacing: single
  • Page Break Before (check this box under Format > Paragraph > Line and Page Breaks)

CENTER: You don’t have to have a style sheet for centering text, but it makes life easier since you don’t have to remember to get rid of the indent. Set it up exactly like NORMAL, except:

  • Align: Center
  • Special: (none)

STEP THREE: Open a new Word file and apply the NORMAL style sheet. COPY your text from the text editor and PASTE it into Word. Your text should be formatted in NORMAL style with indented paragraphs. (Just in case a hiccup occurred, scan through the text and make sure there aren’t any extra paragraph returns–look for blank lines and delete the extra paragraph return)

STEP FOUR: Use FIND/REPLACE to restore italics, bolding and underlining. Then use FIND/REPLACE to delete your special formatting tags.

STEP FIVE: Make your title page. Highlight your book title and apply the HEADING 1 stylesheet. A nice title page for Smashwords will look something like this:

SW Title PageOnly the title uses HEADING 1. With everything else I used the CENTER stylesheet.

STEP SIX: Do your chapter heads. Select (highlight) your chapter and apply the HEADING 2 stylesheet. If you set up stylesheet the way I recommended, it will give you a page break.

STEP SEVEN: If you used scene breaks, go through and select whatever you used to indicate scene breaks and center them. I also like to add a paragraph return before and after a scene break just to make them stand out a bit more.

SW scene breakCHAPTER EIGHT: Add links and/or make a table of contents. Both are optional. Links and hyperlinks are something Word handles very well and generally cause no problems with Smashwords. Use the INSERT HYPERLINK command from the menu. If you make a table of contents, use the BOOKMARK option, and bookmark the chapter heads then link within the document.

And there you go. A simple format, rather generic, but it will go through the Meatgrinder, have minimal formatting errors and be readable on the platforms Smashwords distributes to.

Have fun!

***A word about tagging special formatting. The text editor will strip out your special formatting, so you must tag it. All you need are unique strings of text that you can search for. I use hyphens and all caps to make sure the tags don’t get mixed up with my story text.

  • Italics: -STARTI- and -ENDI-
  • Bolding: -STARTB- and -ENDB-
  • Underlining: -STARTU- and -ENDU-

To tag quickly–for italics–in the FIND box, ask it to look for italics but leave the box empty. In the REPLACE box type -STARTI-^&-ENDI- and do a REPLACE ALL. That will wrap all your italics in tags. To reverse the process, toggle on “wild cards”, type -STARTI-*-ENDI- in the FIND box and toggle on “italics” in the REPLACE box, but leave it empty. Do a REPLACE ALL and your italics are restored. Then do a FIND/REPLACE to delete your tags.

QUICK UPDATE: NOW Smashwords is kicking back files if there is leading (extra space) after a paragraph (indented paragraphs only, not block style). So let us cross our fingers that Apple has fixed whatever it was that caused them to squish paragraphs. grumble grumble grumble…