If I Must Suffer Another Badly Formatted eBook I Will Gouge My Eyeballs Out With A Spoon! Here Is How You Do It.

I may be cross eyed before I'm 24 if I keep having to read badly formatted eBooks. My mind can rework a single typo in milliseconds. Editing is difficult and takes weeks to months. Words are tricky things. Formatting, on the other hand, is not difficult, and takes days if not hours, but when eBook formating is completely atrocious nobody says anything. Why? Typos are genuine mistakes. A badly formatted eBook is just pure laziness. Even large publishers are managing to royally cock this up. So I'm going to show how I do mine, again, with the hope it helps at least one Indie get it right the first time around.

These instructions are written using Microsoft Word user language. I myself use Mac, but understand PC users find it difficult to convert Mac shortcuts into PC ones. So Mac users, apologies, I have catered for our PC companions. You know the drill, substitute for equivalent programmes and keyboard short cuts where needed.
There is only one way I know to assure myself we are dealing with a clean document devoid of headers, footers and any other cleaver thing you've dropped into your manuscript. The nuclear method. Before you gleefully do this allow me to explain fully. You will lose all your formatting. All of it. Bold, italics, fonts, tabs, indents. Everything. We are stripping it down to chicken wire. We’re going for raw bone baby. 

Preparation: Name all your chapters, Chapter One, Chapter Two, etc. If you have named chapters fine, just place them below the chapter number.

1.  Open a new Notepad file (we love Notepad. It is awesome).
2.  CRTL+A in your word document, CTRL+C then CRTL+P into your Notepad. You now have plain text. Before your heart gives out know that if you hit hard returns for your new paragraphs you’re okay, and you have much less work ahead of you. If you did something ridiculous like Spaces or Tabs until you found a new line, that crap is gone, and you’ll probably be left with one sold block of text. Sorry, but this will take you longer.
3.   Close down your old word document (do not delete it), and open up a brand spanking new one.
4.   CRTL+A in your Notepad file, CTRL+C then CRTL+P into your new word document. Voila. You now have some nice clean words to work from.
5.   Rename your old and new Word documents by versions with logical naming conventions. Example: “MyBrilliantNovelV1” for the old manuscript and “MyBrilliantNovelV2” for the new document.
6.  Take the Version Two document and hit CRTL+A to highlight all text. Now you may touch your mouse (isn't he cute!) and Right Click. Select Paragraph.
7.  The fields you need to change are: ‘Special’ to ‘First Line’ - ‘Spacing>After’ to ‘0pt’ - ‘Line Spacing’ to ‘Single’. Then click OK

8.  Your body of text should now be properly formatted. New paragraphs will have a 1.27 cm indent (or whatever you define, 1 cm works well too.) As I mentioned before if you had used Tabs and the Space Bar to create new lines you will have to go through your entire manuscript and hit Enter (Hard Return) to create the paragraphs. 
9.  CTRL+F and search for your book chapters. If you followed my instructions and named them Chapter One, Chapter Two so on and so forth, this next part is easy.
10. When you find ‘Chapter One’, place the curser in front of the word ‘Chapter’ and hit Ctrl+Enter. Your text will be pushed to the next page in what is called a Page Break. eBook converters register Page Breaks as a new page in your eBook file. This is why it is important to add properly, and not hit the Tab or Enter keys.
11. Repeat this Search and Page Break process to all your chapters. Do not add any other hard returns or tab spaces anywhere.
12. You can reintroduce the Embolden (CTRL+B), Centering (CTRL+E) and Italic (CTRL+I) functions on your chapter headings.
13. Now it's time to reapply your italics and other non page structural formatting!

If you had no italics or other formatting within the body of your manuscript you have nothing to worry about. Move onto the final stage. If you did, it’s time to reintroduce your formatting into your document. The instructions are for PC users but my screenshots are Word for Mac, so don't get confused.
1.   Navigate in Microsoft Word to Review>Compare (or Tools>Track Changes>Compare Documents
2.   Select Version Two document (the new clean manuscript) as the ‘Original Document’ and select Version One (the old manuscript) as the ‘Revised Document’. You will see a clusterfuck of red all over the place. Do not panic. The panel on the left is a summary of all the changes. The middle panel is the Version One document. The panel to the right is the Version Two document. All Microsoft Word is showing you is what formatting has changed from one document to the other. On my screenshot example the panel shows up at the bottom and you have to select which document version you wish to view, rather than both appearing side by side.

3.   Go through the Version Two document and accept changes to match the formatting which you used. DO NOT accept any changes to structural formatting. That totally undermines the whole point of this exercise.
4.   If going through these two documents in this fashion is simply too scary to deal with, simply reopen your Version Two document on another screen and use the summary of notes from the compared documents and re introduce your formatting that way.

Once you have reintroduced your text formatting use the Pilcrow function (we eBook fans are in love with the Pilcrow) by hitting CTRL+*


This checks to see if any tabs or formatting errors have snuck their way in. What you should see is a clean document:

  • No arrows pointing right
  • One dot between each word
  • No sequential dots in-between words
  • The Pilcrow symbol (¶) at the end of every hard return
  • No more than two Pilcrows in vertical succession
  • Hugging the last line of text on each chapter a single line saying Page Break
All the above good? Congratulations you brilliant thing you! You have a clean document ready for step two in the transformation into an eBook. I use Smashwords to distribute to iBooks and Nook. It's just a case of making sure I upload a .doc file.

And for Kindle? Take the clean document and click File>Save As>Format and select Web Page (html). Click Save. You're done. Simple. Upload to KDP.

Or if you upload to Smashwords first you can download the .mobi file they create for Kindle. However, the Copyright Page will say Smashwords Edition not Kindle Edition (obviously), and that does not look as professional.  


Q: Um, Penelope, what if there are arrows pointing right and lots of odd little sequential dots all over the page?
A: You used the bloody tab key and single space key to format again didn’t you? Go back to the beginning and start again. Honestly....

The reason I made a point to include all the keyboard short cuts was to impress their importance. Not right clicking your mouse to death will save you time. My fingers remain on my keyboard. I hate taking them off. Keyboard short cuts save me time, and anytime I am spent doing this stuff is less time I have to write. Hopefully, if you teach yourself to use shortcuts instead of right clicking your mouse every five seconds, it will save you time too. Eventually, you will be able to do this process for a 80,000 word novel in less than one hour.

See why I get frustrated when I get a badly formatted eBook? Typos I forgive, bad formatting I do not. The process above can be learned easily if you care, crafting words is more organic. 

A key thing here is your mastery of your word processing software.


  1. Copying, printing and tacking to the wall. Thanks for doing this!

  2. Anonymous6.8.11

    Brilliant, practical advice - thank you!

    I was getting really nervous about formatting for eBooks - then I got Scrivener :) I'll still have to preview and check everything but I'm feeling much more confident about it now.

    Out of curiosity, I'm using a Mac, too - are you using Word on a Mac?

    Stu :)