Preparing your manuscript
I’ve mentioned this earlier but it is important as it will avoid costly revisions and make the formatting process much more straightforward.
Whichever type of book you aim to produce, an accurate manuscript is of the utmost importance. If you plan to produce a standard Kindle or ePub ebook, good formatting is even more vital. Why? Text reflows within the ebook depending on text size determined by the user. Incorrect formatting/punctuation and random spacing may not be discernible on your manuscript, but may wreak havoc once in ebook format.
Whether you submit your manuscript to one of the free converters or get a professional to do it, you’ll save yourself time and money by getting it right in the first place. Correcting errors in ebook formats can be a real pain.
Bear in mind that your ebook will be read on a wide range of devices including Kindles, mobiles, desktop computers, tablets etc. All of them will display your content quite differently. In most cases, the user can control fonts and font sizes and view landscape or portrait.
These guidelines are not only useful in making the transfer process simpler, they encourage good working practice and accuracy. If the reader comes across mistakes while reading, it is irritating for them, and makes you look unprofessional.
If the manuscript is for my attention, I am able to add other styles in the transfer process including decorative chapter starts, images, captions, quotes etc. in other fonts.
Styling a book for print is much more flexible and very complex styling can be incorporated if required. Nevertheless, it is still advisable to format for the ebook first, (mobi or epub). Get this 100% right, then duplicate and add extra formatting for the print version. Of course, this is if you want to publish an ebook AND a print version. But why wouldn’t you?
So keep it simple.
I’m basing this on Microsoft Word which appears to be the most widely used word processor, but it doesn’t really matter which software you create your manuscript in. They all have a similar structure and Dynamic Styling system.
Do NOT include any of the following:
- Page Numbers. The eReader will create its own page numbers. (eg. If the user increases font size, there will be more pages).
- Background images or colours. Borders.
- Coloured text. Can use to some extent but bear in mind that it will appear grey on lots of devices.
- Drop cap initials at the start of chapters. These won’t sit properly within the text in many cases.
- Headers and footers.
- Smileys or mathematical symbols. These can be included but aren’t straightforward.
- Text boxes.
- Advertising and promotion. You can include your own website, email or other books you’ve written.
The size of page doesn’t matter, A4 or US Letter.
Use standard setting. Margins are not important.
The best method is to use Word’s Quick Styles to set up a style to make sure everything is consistent throughout your manuscript. Use NORMAL for main text. The default alignment is ‘justified’ (not ragged on the right). Use 1.5 line feed.
The range of fonts on eReaders is limited, so stick to the basics like Times New Roman, Georgia and Arial. 11 or 12pt is fine. Black text. If you need emphasis, stick to Bold, Italic and ALL CAPS. Other fonts can be used, but you have to own a copy of the font and it has to be added to the finished file by a professional.
For chapter headings and sub-headings, use ‘Heading 1’, ‘Heading 2’ etc. These styles can be found in the Quick Style list.
You can add links to email addresses and websites but bear in mind that some eReaders don’t connect to the internet.
To link within the document, use Word’s bookmarks and hyperlink tools. Never use page numbers for linking as these are not fixed. Instead of ‘Go to Page 21, Caring for Pets’, replace with something like ‘Go to Caring for Pets’ section and hyperlink to heading.
Tables, Graphics and Photos
These can be tricky and you should get professional advice. Tables created in Word can look terrible on small eReaders as the columns break up.Sometimes a jpeg graphic can work better. Similarly, complex graphics won’t show up on phone screens and smaller devices. Colour can be a problem too as several eReaders such as the popular Kindle Paperwhite will only show them in greyscale.
- Divide chapters by using a page break (Ctrl + Enter/Return). Never use multiple paragraph returns or spaces to go to next page.
- Separate paragraphs with a single paragraph break only.
- Chapter starts and new sections generally have no indent. If you want this, set it up as a new style. New sections would have an extra line space before. Or use centred * * *.
- For paragraph indents, never use tabs or spaces. Use the Word Quick Style option.
- Similarly for bullet points, set up as a Style rather than adding manually. I see many manuscripts that have a mixture of the two.
Common Typographical Errors
- There should be one space at the end of a sentence, not two. This is a practice left over from typewriter days.
- This is a hyphen. (-) It is used for hyphenated words only. If you want a pause mid-sentence you need to use an en rule –. (Alt -)
- Dialogue. New line each time. Look at a few novels to see how it works.
- Extra spaces everywhere. If for instance you add a space before a full stop, there is a chance the full stop will appear at the start of a new line!
- Use smart quotes throughout, not inch marks.
- Stay consistent. If you use Quick Style and you want to change something, you can change dynamically. In other words, if you change the font size, it will change throughout the manuscript.
Get it checked. Use a spellcheck and grammar check first, but don’t rely on this, it can create mistakes. Then get a professional to copyedit and proofread. This might seem an expensive option, but if you are serious about your book, it’s worth it. A book with mistakes in is no fun to read. Editing after the book has been produced will be time-consuming and costly. If you really can’t afford a proofreader, get someone else to check it through for you. Don’t whatever you do, try to check it yourself.
If you follow these principles the process of formatting your ebook will be much easier.