Ebook Formatting: Two Common Errors

A reader is enjoying your ebook, all the sudden there is a line jump. Is that a scene break? A change in point of view? It doesn’t read like that, but there’s a space in the text. It must mean something, right?

Reader reaches the end of a chapter or the end of a short story, turns the page and there’s nothing. A blank screen. Hoping she didn’t get a defective copy or that the author hasn’t pulled a dirty trick, she turns the page again. Whew. The text continues.

In both cases, a simple formatting error occurred. It’s no big deal. The text is fine, the story continues. The real problem is that, in both cases, the reader is momentarily jerked out of the story. Maybe they were booted for only a second or two. Do that often enough and mild annoyance can turn into major annoyance. Instead of the four or five star review your story merited, the reader instead leaves a two or three star review, or none at all. Instead of remembering how wonderful your prose was, the reader thinks, Amateur, and puts you from mind. Maybe the reader feels he’s done enough by getting through the strange jumps and blank pages and doesn’t bother looking for more of your work.

Here is what causes line jumps and blank pages:

You don’t even notice them in a word processing document, but extra spaces and extra hard returns can wreck your formatting in an ebook.

If you use MS Word, you can use Find and Replace to get rid of all the extra spaces.

  • Turn on the Show/Hide feature. It looks like ¶ in the tool bar. Hard returns will be shown as ¶ and spaces will show as dots.
  • To eliminate extra spaces between sentences: In the Find box hit the space bar twice and in the Replace box hit the space bar once. Do a Replace All and the double spaces will be turned into single spaces. Run the exact process again. If the message box says no items were found, you’ve eliminated the extra spaces.
  • To eliminate extra spaces at the ends of paragraphs: In the Find box type space bar^p and the Replace box ^p. Do a Replace All. Run the process again until the message box says no items were found.
  • To eliminate extra hard returns: In the Find box type ^p^p and then do a manual search (You might have necessary extra hard returns and don’t want to eliminate them). Make sure there are no extra paragraph returns before any page break.
  • To make sure your document is extra pretty, eliminate extra spaces at the beginnings of paragraphs: In the Find box type ^p space bar and in the Replace box type ^p. Do a Replace All.

Take these simple steps, and you’ll minimize the chances of jumped lines and blank pages in your ebooks.

24 thoughts on “Ebook Formatting: Two Common Errors

  1. Thanks for the specific instructions. I’ve read an ebook or two where I had just the reactions to spaces or extra pages which you described (one was even put out by a traditional publisher.) It does jerk the reader out of the story, and that is the last thing we want!

    • You’re welcome, Tam. I’ve grown rather obsessed (I am the OBSESSANATOR) with figuring out formatting errors. Every time I figure out one, a couple more pop up. You can expect to see quite a few of these posts in the coming weeks (months? years?).

  2. I LOVE your posts about e-book formatting! 🙂 I remember one of your recent posts about using Scrivener. Does it clean things like this up when you compile for Kindle, et al., or are these types of steps still necessary?

      • That’s all right, Char. Heh. I’m still learning all the ins and outs of Scrivener. I haven’t figured out a way yet to show spaces and hard returns. If and when I do, I’ll let everyone know.

        The way I do things is kind of quirky, but it works for me. One thing Word does really well is make it easy to find and replace all the little formatting and spacing issues. I can make a full length novel squeaky clean in under thirty minutes. So it’s a step I don’t mind taking. In Scrivener, though, their Character Map is far superior to Word’s Symbols (under Insert). So I wait until I get over to Scrivener before I start inserting special characters.

  3. well, heck, I read somewhere in a formatting guide to have two returns before a page break. I wish I knew where though ….

  4. Thanks, this was helpful…more hopeful for me, actually. I spent my morning trying to learn how to clean up my e-book making act but it still isn’t good. Especially with the front matter, the title, copyright, foreward, etc. I couldn’t just replace double lines with singles and get the title page to look right. I am sure I’m still missing something. Please help further?

  5. Hi, thanks, this was helpful…more hopeful for me, actually. I spent time trying to clean up my e-book making act but it’s still no good. Especially, the front matter, I couldn’t just simply replace double spaces with single spaces in the title page and get it right? It has a whole different format. What do I do next?

    • Have to shift focus. What you see on your computer screen is NOT what will show up on an ereader. You have no control over the size of the reader’s screen. Never double-space an ebook file. What I’ve found works best is a TITLE PAGE, with the title and author’s name in the same font (unless I use a graphic image) but 2 pts larger and bolded. Use three or four hard returns to drop the text, then center it. Use a page break (not hard returns) to make a new page. Set up the copyright page the same way you would set up the body text. Include the title, author’s name, copyright notice, attributions to the cover artist, editor, whomever, the disclaimer and statement of rights. Page break and begin your body text.

  6. I have blank spaces between words in my file. I compiled it with Scrivener and I can’t figure out what’s wrong. Would this also cause excess blank spaces between words? Or is that a different issue somewhere in the file?

    • Are you talking about on the Kindle version? The Kindle does justify text–clumsily (no kerning)–and that can cause the appearance of extra spaces. If you mean big jumps or extra lines, then you’ve got extra spaces in the source file and those need to go. My cure would be to compile a .doc file with Scrivener, open it in Word and use Find and Replace to remove all the extra spaces and paragraph returns. If you need help with that, email me at jayewmanus at gmail dot com.

      • Thanks! I’ll definitely try that out and see if it helps. Much appreciated, and if I run into any trouble I’ll definitely email you. Your posts have really helped me by the way. Thanks for posting them.

  7. Thank you so much for this. I’m close to self-publishing my first e-book and have found a lot of valuable information here.

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