How to format an e-book for Smashwords


It might prove to be a big headache for a first time writer to get his/her e-book published at smashwords. Why, the smashwords’ meatgrinder rejects the manuscript straightway if not formatted appropriately. Smashwords has even made available a detailed Style guide for such writers to get their book formatted perfectly. Though they haven’t paid service to format the books, they have a list of paid services to format your e-book for a fee. Now, for those who aren’t well acquainted to the MS Word (or, any other editor they may use to write) even with the smashwords’ guide it may seem a gigantic task. If you don’t want to spend those extra buck on getting your book formatted you may read ahead to do it yourself.
It may seem to you that your e-book won’t ever make it through the meatgrinder. However, let me tell you a fact: formatting the e-book to pass the meatgrinder is a very easy task. A few steps and you’re good to go. In this article I am going to explain how I format my books in few simple steps.

Preparing MS Word for the formatting

Open a fresh Word file and keep the settings as follows

  1. Turn off word’s autocorrect and autoformat features completely. They might be helpful in some cases, but here they mean only trouble. Good news is that newer versions (2007 & 2010) of Word have it off by default. For the older versions (2000 & 2002), you may go to Tools menu > AutoCorrect > click on “AutoFormat As You Type” tab and then uncheck most of the boxes, and then click on the “AutoFormat” tab and uncheck the four boxes under “Apply”
  2. You may read the Smashwords style guide in details to set Font, Paragraph, and first line indents etc. In short I would tell you the final preferred settings.
    • Fonts: Normal – Select from the menu bar, and modify. Keep the font size 12, font face as times new roman (or, anything clear, readable and not too gaudy). Font color should be automatic (and not black) that would appear as black in your document, but may be colored for other devices’ default.
      Headings – Select from menu bar, preferably Heading 1 for the chapter names, heading 2 and further for any other heading required through the book. Keep a consistent font size. Font face and color as normal.
    • Paragraph: Keep alignment left and right and left indentation 0. To separate paragraph use either of the two methods—first line indents or block paragraph method.
    • First line indent: In the paragraph options > Indents and spacing > Indentation > Special > Choose first line indent and select 0.3” (optimum).
    • Trailing space (Only when you are using Block paragraph method): Instead of choosing first line indent in Indents and spacing, choose Spacing > After > select 6pt (optimum)
    • If you’re using First line indents, for centered text you may want to create a new custom style which shall remain exactly same as Normal, except it doesn’t have first line indent.
    • Paragraph Spacing: You may use first line indent method or block paragraph method, in both cases you should have Line Spacing set to single or 1.5 and the At: option should always be blank.

Preparing the content for formatting

Save an extra copy of the document as a backup (in case something goes awfully wrong). Place the original document somewhere safe.

  • Open the extra copy and hit ‘Ctrl+A’ to select entire text on the document. Hit ‘Ctrl + C’ to copy the entire text on clipboard.
  • Open a fresh Notepad and hit ‘Ctrl+V’ to paste the text. Notepad is the most basic text editor (thus making it most suitable editor for this purpose). It will clear all kinds of formatting, including both useful and useless formatting (especially Tabs that meatgrinder hates too much).
  • Hit ‘Ctrl+c’ to copy back the unformatted text. Open a new word file (the one that you formatted in the previous section). Hit ‘Ctrl+v’ to paste the unformatted text in the new file.
  • Now, you have an absolutely unformatted text. It’s time to format it appropriately.

Formatting the actual document

  1. All the content would now appear according to the Normal settings. You must select the Chapter names and change them into heading 1. And, if there are other headings in your content select them accordingly. Also, if any text in your content requires any other formatting (bold, italics or underline), do it now.
  2. As I already discussed before Meatgrinder hates tabs, so to remove the tabs there is a simple method. Hit ‘Ctrl+H,’ in the pop up “Find what” type – ^t –and keep the Replace with option blank. Click ‘Replace all’
  3. Similarly, you can remove additional spaces (for example, if you used space to create first line indents). In the “Find what” area hit space bar as many times as many spaces you have used in creating indents with spacebars.
  4. Also, remember to remove any extra paragraph returns as they create unnecessary blank pages in your e-book. Keep them limited to a maximum of 3-4 consecutively.
  5. Once, you’re satisfied with the formatting prepare other pages the required by Smashwords (front page, copyright page, about author page etc.)

Don’t forget to read:

  • How to convert Document to epub to ensure that your document is ready for Meatgrinder. You will be able to see how your document will appear as epub.
  • How to make the Table of contents.