Professional Formatting of Ebooks, PDFs and Print Books

What exactly do I mean by formatting?

Formatting a print book or Ebook refers to the layout and structure of the pages – the use of fonts, pictures, colours, margins, table of contents etc. The formatting needs to be different for different applications.  Projects I work on include ebooks, books for print, manuals, guides, novels, catalogues, marketing material, brochures, articles and reports.

Formatting an Ebook

A novel might have very simple formatting with one column of text in one size and chapter heads in another size plus page numbers. Alternatively, a workbook or marketing material might be far more complex with charts, diagrams, pictures etc.

Common Ebook Formats

EPUB – Short for electronic publication; alternatively capitalized as ePub, ePUB, EPub, or epub. A free and open e-book standard by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). Files have the extension .epub.

MOBI – The Mobipocket e-book format is based on the Open eBook standard using XHTML. created the proprietary format, AZW (Amazon Whispernet), which is based on the Mobipocket standard.

AZW – or Amazon Whispernet is the e-book format used exclusively on Kindle devices. The non-DRM AZW format is the same as the Mobi format.

Note: Kindle is an ebook Reading Device… not a format.

PDF – Portable Document Format is an open standard for document exchange. Every PDF includes a complete description of a fixed-layer flat document including the text, fonts, graphics and other information needed to display it. Recently PDFs can be designed with sophisticated interactivity, page-turning and embedded movies if required.

Ebook Formatting considerations

You might think that you can format one ebook and it will be available on all devices. Wrong. They’re all in competition and even though all use ePub (except Amazon) their DRM (Digital Rights Management) systems prevents crross-platform usage. Therefore my advice is to publish to Amazon. If you use them as sole publisher you will get 70% royalties on your book. They are the biggest bookseller too.

A lot of people submit to Smashwords. Smashwords uses a Word version of your manuscript which you have to format according to their instructions which then goes through their ‘Meat Grinder’ to output to different formats for all the major booksellers. The downside is that the formatting is very primitive and doesn’t make your book look very professional. It can be surprising to see how different the book looks on different devices. If you want a wider reach this is a good option although your Kindle royalties will only be 30%.

It’s probably worth Googling for an hour or so to get some idea of the breadth of opinion out there of what you should and shouldn’t do.

Epub and Mobi Ebook Formatting (for Kindle for instance)

The most critical factor is preparation of your manuscript. KEEP IT SIMPLE. Envisage the final product. Unlike a printed book or PDF there are no page numbers, text reflows, font sizes and spacing varies depending on the device. Readers can change things as well to satisfy their own reading preferences. Your manuscript will be converted into xhtml format so needs to be as clean of extraneous formatting as possible. Make sure you’ve had your Word document edited and proofread thoroughly before submitting. Changing things once converted can be time-consuming and costly.

Guidelines for your Word document:

  • Format manually
  • Normal paragraph style for the bulk of the manuscript
  • Headings
  • Bold, italic or underline
  • Alignment
  • Paragraph – first line indent or block – NEVER use tabs or spaces as indents
  • Avoid extra fonts
  • Remove header, footer and end-notes
  • Remove text boxes and avoid tables (convert to image file is the best option)

If you follow these principles the process of formatting your ebook is much easier. Bear in mind that it is not as easy as a lot of sites suggest if you want a good result.

What do you want to do with your ebook? If it’s a novel, simple – format for Kindle. If anything else think about it carefully. Some Kindles only show in black and white and some don’t support tables. Diagrams etc. can look very messy as can only be added as jpegs. A PDF on the other hand can be extremely sophisticated with scalable text and pictures. Perfect for selling or giving away from a website.

PDF Ebook and Printed Book Formatting

I use Quark Xpress or InDesign for formatting PDF ebooks and printed books. It is the industry standard for desktop publishing and used by most of the major magazines, newspapers, ad agencies and design groups for brochures and catalogues etc.

The benefit to me is that there is a much greater control over the formatting. This attention to detail makes my design work stand out from the crowd. So with style, good use of white space and a high degree of readability you can be sure of a great result. Working this way is also a very convenient and economical system for creating a printed book and digital book at the same time.

Guidelines for your PDF or print book:

  • Create a consistent grid layout with the same column widths and margins. Is the ebook going to be printed on a home printer? If so, avoid items close to the edge. If a workbook, a wide lefthand margin might be advisable so that the pages can be hole-punched for a ring binder.
  • Use white space and short paragraphs to make the ebook pleasing to the eye and easy to read.
  • Think about fonts and font sizing as many people seem to think that sans serif fonts are the most readable on screen but bear in mind that serif fonts might suit your branding or product. Don’t go too small with text size, 12pt or 12 pixel is a good starting point and subheading should only be a couple of sizes bigger than the main font. Avoid lots of capital letters, they’re harder to read and look messy. Aim for a line length of 80-90 characters without line spacing (leading). If you want a longer line length add extra space between lines. Avoid italics on small text, it reads badly on-screen. Avoid underlining words unless they are hyperlinks.
  • Create a stylesheet for consistent style of text/subheadings/hyperlinks etc.
  • Page size and orientation. A4 or US letter? Portrait or landscape? There are many options. Let your content dictate your final size.
  • Ensure content flows intuitively to ensure easy readability and communicates your message effectively. Get a professional to give you an unbiased opinion.
  • Ensure the ebook design adds to your brand or improves on it. This is very important. Your ebook might stay around a long time and your business will be judged on not only its content, but the way it looks.
  • Why not add some graphics and pictures to bring the pages alive and also reduce eyestrain from text-heavy content.
  • A contents and copyright page are a must.
  • A header and footer with chapter titles and page numbers will aid easy navigation.
  • Take care with your colour scheme as this will set the mood of your ebook. Too much colour will annoy people with homeprinters when you eat up their ink cartridges.
  • Image optimisation. If there are a lot of pictures and graphics within the ebook, they will need to be effectively optimised to ensure the final ebook is not too big to be emailed.
  • Consider whether copyright security is necessary. A licence can be purchased from Adobe if required.
  • Is your pdf ebook too long? Could it be split into several books? Long books can be difficult to navigate online and can also be a pain to print and download. If you plan to sell them or give them away, more is better!
Formatting a PDF ebook example

Sample pages from The Fresh Air Fix paperback

Getting started with a PDF ebook

To begin the project I will need the content, ideally thoroughly edited and proofread. Changes incur extra costs and small changes can have adverse effects to the book as a whole. So for example, extra words can cause the book to reflow and create extra pages and drastically alter the planned structure and layout.

If you have an idea about how you want the book to look I can offer you my extensive design knowledge to appraise your ideas and discuss whether I think they will do what you want them to do. Looking through your bookcase might offer some clues as to direction you would like the book to go. The manuscript can be supplied in any word processing format. Initial formattiing will include searches for double spaces, inch marks replaced with proper quotation marks and hyphens ‘-‘ used as en rules ‘–’.

Once reformatted I’ll have some idea about how the book will flow and can give you sample PDFs of pages for your appraisal.

Phone 020 8462 0969 or mobile 07773 218 3489