MS Word, A Primer for Indie Writers: Part III: Punctuation and Special Characters

The best evidence that MS Word is not the best tool for fiction writers is in the way it handles punctuation and special characters. The program was created for office writing, and the documents it creates are meant to be printed on site in order to find homes in filing cabinets. Many features that make it terrific for an office can cause major problems for indie writer/publishers.

My Number One Recommendation: Turn It Off

Auto Correct is a boon for office drones, but it’s an annoyance (at best) and dangerous (at worse) for fiction writers. Find it under File>Options>Proofing.

Word_Styles_12Enable or Disable features as you see fit.

Click on the Auto Correct Options button and this comes up:

Word_Styles_13When I’m composing, the only auto-formatting I allow in Word is curly/smart quotes instead of straight quotes. Anything else means I’m going to end up fighting with Word and that pisses off the muse and sends her sulking into the corner. Every once in a while I need to format a Word doc for Smashwords. Then some of those auto features come in handy. See that box in the right hand image that says “Replace text as you type”? You can enable that and make it so Word inserts special characters for you. The copyright symbol, for instance, or the Euro symbol rather than a dollar sign. Be careful with this option and make sure you are using an ebook friendly font (Times New Roman, Garamond), otherwise Word could insert special characters from a subset that is not supported in ereading devices.


When I’m prepping a document for production one of the things I do is make sure the punctuation is print standard. If you want your ebook or print on demand edition to look professional, you will do the same.

Curly/Smart Quotes versus Straight Quotes

Straight quotes/apostrophes look bad and amateurish. Period. Use curly/smart quotes. If you have straight quotes in your document, you can change them to curly quotes with Find/Replace. Enable auto correct for smart quotes, then type a double quote mark in the Find field and a double quote mark in the Replace field, click Replace All and Word will change straight to curly. Do the same for apostrophes/single quotes.

Now you will run into a major headache caused by Word: Curly quotes turned in the wrong direction. To find and correct the most common offenders, here are two searches I suggest you run using the Find feature:

  • Dash/hyphen or em dash with a double quote. In the Find field search for -” or ^+”
  • Space apostrophe (insert a blank space before the apostrophe). This will find open contractions with wrong way apostrophes.


If you take only one thing away from this post, it is to NEVER use Word’s auto-hyphenation feature.

Word_Styles_14When producing an ebook, do NOT hyphenate your text. Ereading devices will render the hyphens as characters placed randomly throughout. It looks awful.

When producing a print on demand book, use Manual hyphenation. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it is tedious. Yes, it seems ridiculous to manually do something the program can do in seconds. But, Word is a slob when it comes to hyphenation and it uses weird rules. Don’t trust it.

Em and En Dashes

This isn’t a grammar guide, so you’ll have to open a style manual and study up. Em and en dashes have specific uses and are NOT interchangeable. If you want your book to look professional, use these punctuation marks correctly.

Hot keys for quick insertion:
Em dash: CTRL+ALT+ Minus (the dash/minus on the Number pad)
En dash: CTRL + Minus (the dash/minus on the Number pad)

Auto-format as you type:
Enable auto format so that a double dash — becomes an em dash
Enable auto format so a space – space becomes an en dash

Compose using a double dash (for em dash) and space – space (for en dash). When you are done and ready to format your book, do a Find/Replace All to take care of them in one shot.
Em dash: double dash in the Find field, and replace with ^+ (caret plus sign)
En dash: space – space in the Find field, and replace with ^- (caret single dash)


Ah, the ellipsis, much beloved by writers everywhere and so widely, horrendously misused. Get a style manual and bone up on proper usage. An ellipsis is a special character consisting of three dots. Not two, not four, not twelve–three. While you are composing in Word, three periods in a row will suffice. When it comes to production, three periods in a row will screw up your book (digital and print) by orphaning periods.

Now is the time..
. (oops, little orphan)

For a professional looking ebook or print on demand book you want to use either the ellipsis character or a spaced ellipsis.

Word_Styles_15I showed the characters with the Show feature both off and on so you can see the (invisible) non-breaking space characters.

To make an ellipsis character:

Hot key: CTRL+ALT+. (period)
Auto format: Refer to the above image showing auto format options. Enable the “Replace text as you type” option to replace three periods in a row with an ellipsis.

To make a spaced ellipsis:

Hot key: .(period) CTRL+Shift+space .(period) CTRL+Shift+space .(period)
Find/Replace: (During composition use three periods) In the Find field type three periods … and in the Replace field type .(period)^s.(period)^s.(period)


If you are creating a document for your personal use, to print on your printer, this isn’t a concern. Just about everything you see on the screen will show up on the printed page. When you’re producing a book, either in print or digital, however, special characters can create big problems.

What is a special character?
Anything you can’t type directly on your computer keyboard.

In the Insert tool bar, click on Symbols.

Word_Styles_16For those of you who hire out your formatting, using obscure symbols or characters can cause big problems.It’s also a big problem when restoring text from scanned pages converted into a Word doc with OCR (Word can be very creative with interpretation). Ereading devices are selective about the characters they will render. The older the device, the fewer characters it will accept. My suggestion to you is, if you want/need obscure characters or symbols in your ebook, send a note to your formatter.

Dear Formatter: In chapter 7 I have several emoticons (smiley face and frowny face) I would like turned into symbols if possible.

Sometimes it is possible, sometimes substitutes must be made. Doing it this way is better than inserting a character that will not render and the formatter missing it and the ebook ends up displaying an “I do not know what this means” symbol (an X’d rectangle with a question mark in it).

For those of you creating ebooks with Word, stick to only those characters and symbols you find in “normal text”, Latin-A extended and Latin-B extended. Most of those are safe. To test if they will render, use the Kindle Previewer and look at the text in the DX device. If it shows up there, it’s good.

For those of you creating print on demand books with Word, you have a slightly different problem. You must ensure that your fonts (or at least, the font characters) are embedded. Go to File>Options>Save.

Word_Styles_17Word comes loaded with dozens or hundreds of fonts. Not all of them are embeddable. When you save the file as a pdf, the receiving program will try to find substitutes for any characters it cannot reproduce in your desired font. This can be a disaster. It can also make getting your book through the Createspace review process a major pain in the patoot.

For more information from Createspace:

For more information about embeddable fonts:

MS Word, A Primer for Indie Writers
Part I: Styles
Part II: Scene Breaks, Page Breaks, and Sections
Upcoming: Part IV: Find/Replace and SpellCheck

MS Word, A Primer for Indie Writers: Part II: Scene Breaks, Page Breaks and Sections

From a production point of view, white space in a Word doc can be a problem. It can confuse you or your hired formatter. It can cause goofs in your ebooks, not to mention making extra work for yourself.

I have some simple solutions for you.


Did you mean to hit Enter twice, or is that a scene break? How much time do you spend centering or using the space bar to align asterisks? How often do you forget to add the asterisks, or sometimes use one and other times five? How hard do you make it on yourself (or others) to find scene breaks when your book is in production?

Make it easy. I use a double pound sign (hashtags, for you young’uns).

Word_Styles_4Type them in and drive on. The double pound signs are unique (be very rare to find them within the text) and thus, searchable. When it comes time to produce the ebook or layout a print on demand edition, all I have to do is search for the double pound signs, do a Replace All and scene breaks are taken care of. (By the way, I turned on the Show feature in the sample so you can see the hard returns.)

If using Word to format your ebook or pod book, you can replace the ## with your scene break indicator of choice and style them all in one operation. Here is how:

Create a new style and call it Break or Scene Break. Here is a simple set up.

Word_Styles_5Open the Find/Replace box and do this:

Word_Styles_6Do a Replace All.

Word_Styles_7If you are sending your book to someone else for formatting, tell the formatter that you used ## for your scene breaks and let them know how you’d like them handled.

NOTE: The ## is arbitrary, which I use because it’s easy and unique. You can use any tag that makes sense to you, even typing in SCENE BREAK. As long as it is an easily searchable string, you’re golden.


I don’t use page breaks when I’m composing in Word. It’s unnecessary and just makes extra space I have to scroll through. I use a tag:


That’s two equal signs. I use it because it forms a unique search string. So the text ends up looking something like this:

Copyright Information
Table of Contents
Chapter One
Chapter Two
And so on
Chapter One

My little tag comes in handy while I’m formatting, too, since it allows me to use it as a search term to plug in page breaks and styles. If you want to print your document or you’re formatting an ebook or pod edition, there are two easy ways to insert page breaks.

Number 1: Find and Replace

Word_Styles_8If you want to retain the tag, use ^m== in the Replace field.(You can delete the tags later) Do a Replace All and you have page breaks.

NOTE: ^m is Word’s code for Manual Page Break. You can find other codes in the Special menu you see in the Find/Replace box. Those codes can be used in either the Find or the Replace fields.

Number 2 is to use your Heading 1 style. Modify Heading 1 the way I showed you in Part I. In the modify paragraph box, Line and Page Breaks, check the Page Break Before box. Now Word will insert a page break before every instance of the Heading 1 style.

Word_Styles_9To insert a manual page break in Word. You can use the hot key: CTRL+Enter. Or go to the Insert tool bar. Click on the icon for Page Break.


Sections are a nice feature in Word. They allow you to treat different parts of a large document with different styles, page numbering and first page treatments (no headers or footers on the first page, for instance). For composition, most print documents, or ebooks, you don’t need sections. If you are laying out a print on demand book, sections will save you many headaches and much frustration. The Section Breaks command (with its options for Odd and Even breaks and Next page or Continuous) is found in the Page Layout tool bar.


As noted before, white space can be a problem in Word. Sometimes you want a blank line–to set off a poem or letter, for instance–but it’s not a scene break. What I do is tag the blank line with a single pound sign/hashtag. It looks like this:

Here is my story moving along.
The only problem with
Kittens is that
Kittens grow up to be cats!
And the story continues on (with apologies to Mr. Nash)…

My little tag (which is entirely arbitrary, by the way, you can use anything you like, even type in BLANK LINE if it suits you) is a search term and I also use it to indicate that a section requires special formatting. If you use my single pound sign, remember it is NOT necessarily a unique search string. I make it unique with this string in the Find field ^p#^p. That tells Word to only consider a pound sign if there is a paragraph return before and after it.

There you go, learn a few Word features and use my tips, and white space will never trip you up again.

Part I: Styles
Next Post: Part III: Punctuation and Special Characters

Indie Writers: Make MS Word Work for You Instead of Against You

A Quick Primer for Fiction Writers in using Microsoft Word in the Digital Age

It always saddens me a little when a writer sends me an overly formatted Word doc to turn into an ebook or print-on-demand. It’s not that I have to clean it up–I can strip and flip the messiest files in less than an hour. What bugs me is how much thought and effort the writer wasted on utterly useless manuscript styling.

Example of a Word doc that has been overstyled.

Example of a Word doc that has been overstyled.

The majority of writers I work with use Word. The vast majority have no idea how to use Word for their own benefit. I understand. I was a fiction writer for over two decades and even though I have been using computers and a variety of word processing programs since the late ’80s, it wasn’t until I started learning book production that I figured out how those programs worked. Why would I? All I needed was a printed manuscript in standard format to mail to my editor. Word processors made that easy.

Now I produce books for digital and print, and those old ways of “thinking print” make the writer’s job harder. Especially indie writer/publishers who might be doing it all alone or working with contractor editors and proofreaders and formatters.

Since it would take a full book–or volumes–to explain how word processors work, I’m going to urge you all to take what I tell you in this post and play around in your word processor. I will be talking about MS Word, but much of what I show you will apply to almost any word processor.


  • Tabs
  • Page breaks
  • Headers
  • Footers
  • Page Numbers
  • More than one space for any reason
  • More than two hard returns for any reason
  • Multiple fonts
  • Text boxes
  • Justification
Example of a manuscript that uses NONE of the above.

Example of a manuscript that uses NONE of the above.


  • Style sheets (fiction writers can get away with using only two or three, four at the most)
  • Find/Replace
  • Save As
  • Web View
  • “Show” feature
  • Formatting tags
(Left) Basic manuscript formatting; (Right) Overly formatted manuscript.

(Left) Basic manuscript formatting; (Right) Overly formatted manuscript.

See that backward P-looking icon I’ve circled? That’s the “show” feature. Toggle it on and you can see paragraph returns, spaces, tabs and a few other formatting features. With the basic formatting on the left, all I had to do was apply one style (Normal) to the entire manuscript, then apply heading styles to the chapters and sections, and done. To style an entire manuscript takes minutes this way. The manuscript on the right is an entirely different matter. To get it looking the way I want would take hours, if not days, manually lining everything up, trying to get it to look the way I want it. Worse, I have to remember what I’ve done so I can remain consistent throughout. When I’m done, I still have to scroll endlessly through the entire document to find whatever I might need to find.

And what about what is happening behind the scenes? MS Word uses html to control all those features. If you’re printing a document, the only true concern you have is making sure your fonts print properly. If you’re turning your work into an ebook, all that hard work (and useless effort) works against you.

The html in the basic Word doc and how it displays in Firefox.

The html in the basic Word doc and how it displays in Firefox.

The overly formatted file in html and how it displays in Firefox.

The overly formatted file in html and how it displays in Firefox.

So let’s make Word work for you. The NUMBER ONE thing (print it out and blow it up to poster size and post it where you can see it while you work) is:


(Seriously, if your Happy Place while composing fiction involves Comic Sans font, 22pts, with 2 inch margins, triple spaced, then go for it. The only time it matters what your document looks like is when you intend to print.)


Set them and forget them; the best tool in the MS Word

Set ’em and forget ’em; the best tool in MS Word

Every version of Word has a style sheets feature. If you’re using 2010, you’ll find them in the “Home” toolbar. Word comes with a huge variety of pre-built style sheets. You can use them as-is or modify them. You can create your own style sheets. The most useful styles for the fiction writer are: Normal, Heading 1, Heading 2.

  • Normal: apply to the body of your text. Set your paragraph indents, line spacing, and font. Never worry about spacing, margins and indents again.
  • Heading 1 & 2: apply to titles, chapter heads or sections. Bonus: Word will automatically list your headings in the navigation window. No more scrolling through a long document to find a specific chapter or section. Another Bonus: Ebook conversion programs recognize heading styles. Some, like Calibre, will automatically build a table of contents for you based on headings 1 & 2.

Additional styles fiction writers might find useful:

  • Emphasis: Remember, styles apply to paragraphs. “Emphasis” is italics. If your entire paragraph is italicized, use “emphasis”.
  • Strong: “Strong” is bold.
  • Custom style–“Center”: Instead of clicking on the icon for centering, create a style sheet. Makes life easy.
  • Poetry: For poetry, quotes, lyrics, anything you want with different margins and font style.


This is the most useful and the most underused tool in MS Word. You can use it to not only find words, you can find special characters, styles, highlighting, and special formatting (such as italics or bold).

Click on the dropdown menus and you can look for anything that appears.

Click on the dropdown menus and you can look for anything that appears.

A few useful search terms:

  • ^& (caret ampersand): Stands for a string of text. Say I want to tag my italics. I would leave the Find box blank, but ask it to search for italics. In the Replace box I’d type -STARTI-^&-ENDI-, do a Replace All and Word will wrap all my italicized text in tags.
  • ^p : Hard return. You can search for them or insert them
  • ^l  (caret lower case L): Soft return (shift enter)
  • ^t : Tab. Working on a document in which you or someone else used tabs and want to kill them all? Type ^t in the Find box, leave the Replace box blank, and do a Replace all. Done.
  • * (asterisk): A string of text. Use as a ‘wild card’ when you’re restoring your special formatting. Say I want to restore my italics. In the Find box type -STARTI-*-ENDI-, click the ‘wild card’ box, and leave the Replace box blank but ask it to replace text with italics. Do a Replace All and all your tagged text is italicized. Then use Find/Replace to get rid of the tags.


When I’m working on a project, I might have four, five, ten versions of a file. If I’m making major formatting changes, I NEVER EVER mess with my source file. Let’s say I want a printed version. I do a Save As to make a new version that is named Print_Docname_date. Then I apply headers/footers, page numbers, page breaks and modify my styles to make it suitable for printing. My original source file remains unchanged and ready to use. Using Save As is the best habit you can get into while you’re working. (And it’s not like you’re having to save your work to floppy disks–your computer has lots of space. Use it!)


Basicformat4Forsake print view and get used to web view while you work. This view is flexible (flow text) and enables you to easily display multiple screens and compare text while you work. You can adjust the width of your screen, too, and not lose chunks of text or reduce the image size in order to see everything.


Because I use a variety of programs, and I dislike intensely losing formatting such as italics or trying to remember where I want a block of offset text, I tag my formatting. Now, because Word is html-based, you do NOT want to use html tags in your text. It’s okay if you’re outputting a file to a text editor, but if you’re going to a program that is html-based such as Scrivener or InDesign, or if you intend to bring the text back (you’re ‘nuking’ it, according to Smashword’s style guide), then those html tags are going to seriously mess things up.

My tags are arbitrary. I’ve come up with them because they are unique and easy to search for; they don’t show up in text (normally). Feel free to use mine if you want or come up with something that makes sense to you to use. IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER: Special formatting such as italics or bolding require OPEN and CLOSE tags.

  • Italics: -STARTI- (open) -ENDI- (close)
  • Bold: -STARTB- -ENDB-
  • Underline: -STARTU- -ENDU-
  • For any special formatting such as headlines, poetry, etc: -SPECIAL- (this tag is a note to myself)
  • Placing Images: -IMAGE-
  • Scenebreaks or deliberate blank lines: ##

That’s it. Simple, no? This is MS Word in the digital age, a writing tool you can make work for you instead of against you.


Managing File Sizes for Ebooks

The majority of fiction writer/publishers will not run into overall file size problems. Text doesn’t create monster files. Using graphics or illustrations can add significantly to the overall file size, but I’ve yet to create an ebook that exceeds –or even comes close to–Amazon’s 50MB limit (which may be changing due to the introduction of the new Fire HD tablets). Even with illustrations and graphics, I do my best to keep the overall file size under 5MB because of Amazon’s delivery fees ($.15 per MB). Those fees are charged against the publisher and can eat up royalties quickly.

As I said, most fiction writer/publishers will not run into problems with overall file size.

Where fiction writer/publishers do run into problems are with the size of individual chapter files within the ebook. When you use <h1> or <h2> tags in html, or the Heading 1 or Heading 2 style in a word processor, you are alerting the conversion programs (such as Calibre or KindleGen) that this is a new chapter and should be split into a new file.* If you don’t use the headings or tags, the conversion programs look for certain words–Chapter, Part, Section, etc.–to determine where the file should be split. What is NOT reliable at all is using page breaks (in a word processor) or the “page-break-before” command in html/CSS. (I have absolutely no idea why those work sometimes, but sometimes they don’t–my best guess is the whims or moods of the Digital God.)

I always split html (text) files into chapters or parts, which manages the overall ebook very nicely. Even though this example is from a novel (Prophet of Paradise by J. Harris Anderson) that is almost 200,000 words long, notice the size of the individual chapters:

File Size

What happens if you don’t use tags or headings and your chapters have titles the conversion programs don’t recognize? What happens if you don’t have chapters at all and your ebook is deliberately one long tract? If it runs up against the 300KB file size limit (approximately 45,000 words), several things could happen:

  • Your file fails to convert
  • The conversion program inserts page breaks whether they are appropriate or not
  • The file converts, but some devices tell the user the ebook can’t be loaded

If your files are less than 300KB, but still largish (over 150KB) your readers could experience serious screen lag as they page through your story. This is an important consideration for genre fiction writers since the chances are your readers are Super-Readers and might have hundreds or even thousands of ebooks loaded on their devices. They will not be happy if your file sizes and their addiction cause several seconds of lag every time they “turn” the page.

What to do?

  • If you are using a word processor to style your ebooks, use the Heading 1 and Heading 2 styles for your chapters, parts and sections. (Do NOT depend on the conversion programs to recognize your inserted page breaks!)
  • If you are styling in html, use the <h1> and <h2> tags.
  • If your project does not have natural breaks such as chapters or parts (it’s long short story or novella) consider a minor restructure. Use the page count as your guide and try to find natural breaks around the 15,000 word mark–a scene break or time or pov shift or even an illustration that sits on its own “page”.

* If you are using Calibre to convert your ebooks, you can check the file splits in Calibre’s EPUB editor. You’ll see the list of individual text/html files and can open each one on the viewer/edit screen. If you are experiencing inappropriate page breaks, you can manage the fixes in the editor.



Why You Shouldn’t Format Your Word Docs

Dungeon babyThere’s a reason my ebooks are superior–two reasons, actually–and neither has anything to do with my technical prowess (I don’t have much) or talent (anyone can do what I’m about to tell you).

Reason Number One: Pre-production, I clean the text. As soon as a document comes up in the queue, I open it and start stripping it of everything that can mess up an ebook: extraneous paragraph returns, extra spaces, and tabs. I tidy up punctuation, tag areas that require special coding, neaten italics and check for special characters that won’t translate. As a writer and editor myself, I know most of the writer tricks and have a rather lengthy list of things to look for. By the time I’m ready to start coding, the text is so clean it squeaks.

Reason Number Two: Post-production, the ebook is proofread. I don’t care who proofreads the ebook. I can do it, the writer can do it, the writer can hire the job out to someone else. I give the writer a proof copy of the ebook and a mark-up document and encourage them to be as picky as they can stand. Even if they hire me to proofread, they still get the proof copy to load on a device or their computer so they can check the formatting and layout. The point is to find mistakes before the readers do. The point is to make sure the ebook works properly.

I am shocked and appalled that every single person who produces ebooks doesn’t do the exact same thing. They don’t and I know they don’t because I read ebooks that are filled with the types of errors and hiccups that text cleaning and proofreading would have rooted out.

The trad pubs are actually worse offenders than are indies, especially when it comes to back list. I can see it with my own eyes, but it’s amusing to see a publisher admit it publicly on The Passive Voice blog:

J.A. Our experience with Kindle is that as soon as a customer complains they take down the file and send the publisher a takedown notice. It’s actually a real pain in the neck. It could be one person complained and something very minor. We get them occasionally and we fix them right away. They give the reader a credit for the download. I should add that when files are converted they generally aren’t checked page for page like a print book might normally be. We rely on the conversion house to do a good job. If we keep catching errors or getting complaints we would change vendors. We pay pretty good money for these conversions. Our books are almost all straight text so conversions aren’t generally a major issue, but books with columns or charts, or unusual layouts do cause problems and need to be checked carefully. –Steven Zacharius, CEO, Kensington Books

Emphasis mine.

Having personally cleaned up well over a million words of scanned and OCR’d text, that statement offends the shit out of me. Writers deserve better. Readers deserve better.

So what’s that got to do with formatting Word docs? Everything.

If you’re a Do-It-Yourselfer, and are formatting your own ebooks, you cannot skip these steps. (On a sidenote, my biggest gripe with Smashwords is how difficult they make it to proofread an ebook. An upload has to go through the whole publishing process before you can look at it live on a device. Depending on how fast you are at proofreading, the ebook can be live–all goofs intact–for weeks before you can fix them and go through the process again.) My suggestion for the indie formatting Word docs for Smashwords (or any other distributor who accepts Word docs) is to convert them first with a program like Calibre and proofread the results. Find and fix problems before uploading the Word doc to Smashwords.

If you’re hiring a formatter, find out first if they clean up your file pre-production. Many do not. If that’s the case, you need to do the cleaning. Some pros charge by the hour to clean up the Word doc. The more elaborately you’ve formatted your document, the longer it will take to clean it up and the more expensive it will be. (Not to mention wasting your own time on needless work.) My suggestion, if you have special requirements, arrange for a system of tags to let the formatter know what you want. I ask writers to put instructions inside square brackets, i.e. [HEADLINE, PUT IN SMALL CAPS, CENTERED, EXTRA SPACE ABOVE AND BELOW].

Find out, too, the professional’s policy on proofreading. Do you get a proof copy? Does the formatter charge extra to input changes and corrections? (I charge for actual proofreading, but I don’t charge to input changes and corrections from somebody else’s proofread.) If you are not allowed to make post-production changes to your ebook, find another service. Trust me, no matter how well edited, cleaned and formatted the file is going in, you will find something to fix while proofreading. (Gremlins!)

So, for you writers working in Word, one final suggestion: Post the following where you can see it while you work and keep repeating it until it sinks in:

What I see on the computer screen is NOT how how my text will look, or act, in an ebook.

Word to Calibre to MOBI: Part 2: The html File

You finished Part 1 of this tutorial. Now on to Part 2. If you’re not familiar with html, what happens next is going to be freaky. But trust me, if you can copy/paste, you can do this.

NOTE: If your ebook is as simple as the one I’m using as an example, with no images and limited styles, you can stop right now and directly upload your Word file to Amazon. It will convert just fine and work well.

STEP 1: Do a Save As of your styled .doc file as an html file. It will look something like this:

CAL5Now you are done with Word.

STEP 2: Open your html file in Notepad++

Holy Moley! This is what it looks like?!?

CAL6CAL7STEP 3: Turn your special formatting tags into proper html tags

  • Italics <i> </i>
  • Bold <b> </b>
  • Underline <u> </u>

Easy to do with Find/Replace in Notepad++.


Very important. ALL tags that are open must be closed. So if you have <i> for italics, then you must have </i> to close the tag. So use Find/Replace and make sure your numbers match up (Notepad++ will tell you how many items it replaced)

STEP 4 (Optional): Get rid of soft returns. Word has a nasty habit of inserting soft returns at the end of lines in paragraphs. In theory, they are meaningless. If you leave them in, they won’t affect your ebook very much. I have noticed, however, that they cause a wobbly quality to the justified text and some unusual behavior in line spacing. Not enough to affect reading quality, but enough to bug hyper-sensitive readers (like me). I prefer to remove them. If they bug you, too, let me know and I’ll show you how to use Find/Replace in Notepad++  to quickly remove them.

CAL9STEP 5: Get rid of the Section junk. If you styled your document the same way I did, you will have two lines of code–one at the beginning that says something like <div class=Section1> and a closing tag at the end of the document, </div>. They are extraneous. Delete them.

CAL11CAL10(by the way, if your Notepad++ file doesn’t look the same as mine, it’s because I have turned off word wrap and eliminated the extra soft returns)

STEP 6: Extract your styles. In my example there are three: MsoNormal, Center, and h1. Select them, copy them and paste them into a new text file.

This is what they look like. Comments in italics are mine.

{mso-style-next:Normal; (Word junk, delete)
margin-top:48.0pt; (We are going to change this)
mso-pagination:none; (Word junk, delete)
mso-outline-level:1; (Word junk, Delete)
font-size:14.0pt; (We are going to change this)
mso-bidi-font-size:16.0pt; (Word junk, delete)
font-family:”Times New Roman”; (Delete)
mso-bidi-font-family:Arial; (Delete)
mso-font-kerning:0pt;} (Delete)

p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal
{mso-style-parent:””; (Junk, Delete)
margin:0in; (Delete)
margin-bottom:.0001pt; (Delete)
text-indent:.3in; (Change)
mso-pagination:none; (Delete)
font-size:12.0pt; (Delete)
font-family:”Times New Roman”; (Delete)
mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;} (Delete)

p.Center, li.Center, div.Center
{mso-style-name:Center; (Delete)
margin-top:6.0pt; (Change)
mso-pagination:none; (Delete)
font-size:12.0pt; (Delete)
font-family:”Times New Roman”; (Delete)
mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;} (Delete)

STEP 7: Modify the styles. The coding in an ebook is actually quite simple. The major bits for your css stylesheet are as follows and most are self-explanatory:

  • margin /This is the margin for each paragraph block. This controls the top, bottom, right and left
  • text-indent /This is for paragraph indents
  • font-size /Kindle books render in either “ems” or percentages. Converters do their best to recognize points (pts) and inches, but results are iffy. That is why we’re going to change them.
  • font-style /For italics
  • font-weight /For bold

We are going to keep this very, very simple. Because there will be some coding for the body text, you don’t need much in these paragraph styles. Basically, we will whittle and adjust so they look like this (feel free to copy/paste these):

{text-indent: 1.4em;}

{margin: 2em 0;
text-indent: 0;
font-size: 1.4em;
font-weight: bold;}

{margin: 0.5em 0;
text-indent: 0;

If you want to play with the styling, go to the w3schools website. To know what works in a Kindle book, you can look at their “approved” list (which often seems to change on a whim).

STEP 8: Replace the header. Copy the text that follows:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″ ?>
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC “-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.1//EN” “; >
<html xmlns=”; xml:lang=”en” >
<meta http-equiv=”Content-Type” content=”application/xhtml+xml; charset=utf-8″ />
<title>BOOK TITLE</title>
html, body, div, applet, object, iframe, h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6, p, blockquote, pre, acronym, address, code, del, dfn, img, ins, kbd, s, samp, small, strike, strong, sub, sup, tt, var, center, fieldset, form, label, legend, table, caption, tbody, tfoot, thead, article, aside, canvas, details, embed, figure, figcaption, footer, header, hgroup, menu, nav, output, ruby, section, summary, time, mark, audio, video
{margin: 0; padding: 0; border: 0; font-size: 100%; vertical-align: baseline;}
body {text-align: justify; line-height: 120%;}

<!– Insert your paragraph styles here –>

Paste it in your file as follows:

CAL12New header and styles pasted in:

CAL14Step 9: In the menu bar in Notepad++ find Encoding and click it. In the drop down menu it will say: Convert to UTF-8 without BOM. Click that.

To see your styling live, in the menu bar you will see “Run.” Click it and in the drop down menu choose “Launch in (whatever browser you use)” Here is mine in Firefox:

CAL15See, that wasn’t so hard was it? Now you have a serviceable html file you can convert into an ebook. BUT, your job isn’t done quite yet. In Part 3 I’ll show you how to convert your file into a MOBI file that works.


Styling ebooks isn’t difficult. Armed with only a few lines of code, you can create beautiful ebooks and some very interesting text effects. If anyone is having trouble getting their styles just right, feel free to email me–jayewmanus at gmail dot com–and I can probably come up with just the paragraph style you need.



Word to Calibre to MOBI: Part 1: Styling in Word

So, I’ve been obsessanating–again. In my last post I promised that there was a way to convert Word files in Calibre into ebooks that work perfectly on Kindles. That is true. It can be done. I was looking for a quick and dirty hack that worked every time. That is not possible.

Here’s the real problem. You got your indie writer who has put her heart and soul into writing her story. She’s not technical. She’s not a computer geek. She just wants readers to find and love her stories. Problem: How to get the story from Word onto a reader’s Kindle? Enter Calibre. Just save your Word file as an html file, load it into Calibre, convert it into a mobi file and upload it to Amazon. Done!

The problem with that? Calibre mobi files don’t quite work right when uploaded to Amazon. Period. They can work, at best, almost right. For the writer who’s eager to get back to writing her next story, that’s good enough.

As a reader, that attitude pisses me off. I buy and read a lot of ebooks. It pisses me off when the user preference controls don’t work. It pisses me off when I can’t navigate an ebook. (It’s not just indie publishers, folks. I get pissed off by the Big Pubs who can’t bother proofreading the ebooks and by the nastiness that turns up in ebooks built with InDesign, and don’t even get me started on the crap that happens when they turn scanned backlist books into ebooks.) A poorly produced ebook is equivalent to a writer using a mimeograph and newsprint, stapling the pages together and saying, “Here you go. That’ll be five bucks.” I’m insulted.

As an ebook producer, I get it. Amazon doesn’t make it easy. It’s next to impossible to break open a mobi file to tinker around in the code and fine tune it. Plus, as I explained before, Amazon has… quirks. They build their devices, then create the platforms, then play catch up with updates to older models, and it’s not easy keeping up.

NOTE: The last time I bitched about Calibre being the wrong tool, Calibre’s creator informed me that the “line-squish” problem could be solved by converting the ebooks into azw3. That works. Except… I didn’t explore far enough. Amazon rejects azw3 files, so they are useless for distribution through Amazon.

The easiest thing a writer can do to ensure having a perfect ebook to sell on Amazon is to hire someone who knows what they are doing. For any number of reasons, that isn’t always realistic. I’m a realist. Hence, this series of posts that will take you step-by-step through the process of turning a Word file into a commercial-quality ebook to sell on Amazon. The beauty of this is, you don’t really need to understand html or how ebooks work or anything technical at all. All you have to know is how to Copy/Paste.

Before you begin, you will need four–FOUR!–programs on your computer.

Microsoft Word
Kindle Previewer

I assume since you are using Word, you have Word. The other three are freeware. A note about Word. You do not want to do this with .docx files. You want .doc files. Older versions of Word actually work a lot better for making ebooks than do later versions of Word.

Ready? Let’s begin.


Step 1: Do a Save As so your original stays intact.

Step 2: Tag your special formatting (italics, bolding, underlining). A word about “special formatting.” This only applies to words or passages that are italicized, bolded and underlined in the body text. Such things as headers and sub-heads will be dealt with later.

Calibre1I use a simple tagging system for special formatting.

  • Italics: -STARTI- -ENDI-
  • Bold: -STARTB- -ENDB-
  • Underline: -STARTU- -ENDU-

STEP 3: Turn “manuscript” punctuation into “printer” punctuation.

  • “Curly” or “Smart” quotes, not straight quotes (and apostrophes). Do make sure your quote marks and apostrophes are turned in the proper direction–Word has a bad habit of reversing them.
  • Proper em dashes, not two hyphens or en dashes or spaced hyphens
  • Proper ellipses

STEP 4: Kill “soft” returns and tabs, and eliminate extra spaces

  • To turn “soft” returns into hard returns: In Find/Replace search for ^l (that’s a caret mark and lower case L) and replace with ^p (caret mark and lower case P)
  • To get rid of tabs: In Find/Replace, search for ^t (caret and lower case T) and replace with nothing
  • Don’t forget to get rid of extra spaces before and after paragraphs

STEP 5: Select all, copy and paste entire file into Notepad++

Calibre2Yes, that is what it looks like. That’s what it is supposed to look like. This is a straight text file.

STEP 6: Finish cleaning up the file

  • Delete blank lines
  • Tag scene breaks (I use ## because it is easy to find)
  • Search for and clean up special formatting tags. Word is very sloppy and you’ll find tags around empty spaces and jumping paragraphs and other untidiness.

STEP 7: Back in Word, open a New Document and set your Styles (I am going by the assumption that you know how to use style sheets in Word.) For the purposes of this tutorial, I used three styles for my ebook:

  • Normal (built in style in Word, modify as you wish)
  • Heading 1 (built in, also modified)
  • Center (user-defined style)

CAL1It doesn’t matter much what font you choose. Times New Roman is fine.

CAL2This will be used for your chapter heads. Again, font doesn’t matter much.

CAL3STEP 8: Apply the “Normal” style to the new document. Select all and copy the text file in Notepad++ and paste the entire document into Word

Calibre3STEP 9: Style the document.

  • Apply the Heading 1 style to all chapter/story headings
  • Apply the Center style to any text you want centered (in this case, I applied it to the scene break indicators, THE END and table of contents entries)

CAL4Calibre4STEP 10: Bookmark all your Heading 1 entries (Word automatically bookmarks Heading entries, but those will not transfer over so you need to insert bookmarks manually)

STEP 11: Link your bookmarks in the table of contents

That’s it for Part 1. Your document is now clean and styled and ready for Part 2: turning your .doc file into a proper html file.


A word about styles. Like I said, for this tutorial I am using only three styles. You can use all sorts of styles to create visually pleasing ebooks–just remember one very important thing: Word is a program whose main purpose is to create print documents. What you see on the screen is pretty much what you will get on a sheet of paper, but it is not at all what you would get in an ebook. I suspect after you finish this full tutorial you will have a better understanding of how ebooks work and how Word works, and you will understand why it is so important to use style sheets religiously.

A word about questions. I know you have them. Let’s make them useful for everybody. If you have a question about this tutorial, especially if it is a “How do I do this…?” type of question, email it to me at

jayewmanus at gmail dot com

I’ll put together a post with questions and answers.