There are plenty of different markets for books in the modern world. Including those who want print books, those who want something they can read off their screen, like a web page or print document, and those who want something they can read off an e-reader. The e-reader market is the one that requires the most universal formatting, while others have to be specifically designed for a rigid final product. Here’s a few things to consider when you’re writing a document designed to be read on an e-reader (mainly from the perspective of a Word file prepped for conversion):
1. eBooks don’t need your fancy page layout
Wixon’s Day was originally designed for print (in InDesign) because most of the people I know are luddites who won’t go near an e-reader. I only later decided the market for eBooks was more dynamic, and reformatted the whole thing. Print books need to consider bleeds and borders (and much more), eBooks don’t. Anything you throw into an eBook format regarding spacing around the words is going to be lost.
2. eBooks respect paragraphs
Line spacing and indents can cause complications in eBooks, as the text becomes dynamic, based on the e-reader set up. The safest way to ensure your text looks good is to use paragraphs rather than Word’s line-spacing options and whatnot. This was true of my recently published short business guide, An Introduction to Business Blogs. I originally produced this as a PDF, considering Patt Flynn’s ideas about creating a universal, easy to share format (see his website for loads of useful tips on the area). When I decided to make it more flexible with other eBook formats, I realised the line-spacing and picture placements would not directly convert. I used paragraphs to tidy it all up.
3. eBooks don’t respect picture-wrapping
Included in using those paragraphs was setting my pictures aside from the text. In the original PDF, they’re placed within the text with design considerations. In the various other eBook formats, available on Amazon or Smashwords, I put the pictures on lines of their own, to avoid complications.
4. Front covers are dealt with separately
You need your front cover as a separate image file, which is easy to add on a site like Amazon or Smashwords when publishing your eBook. Again this differs from a PDF publication where you might format your cover in Word. Try to convert your eBook with a cover in the Word file and things will go dramatically awry. Unless it’s just text. But even then:
5. eBooks respect text styles, not formats
Converting a Word file into an eBook will strip your document of all the fancy formatting unless it’s done with a style. Adjusting headings after the fact was one of my biggest headaches with Wixon’s Day – I had to individually check every chapter to make sure it was formatted correctly. You should get into the habit of writing with Word’s styles as you go, such as using Headings for chapter titles, rather than trying to format your text manually. This means the final result will be easily and quickly convertible to eBook (and is also massively helpful with Tables of Contents).
6. eBooks don’t have borders, page breaks and all that jazz
Don’t waste time with headers and footers and trying to cram everything onto specific pages. eBooks don’t see pages based on sizes, so they won’t include headers and footers. They do, however, start new pages when you make a page break, so keep that in mind.
7. eBooks can include links and other electronic paraphernalia
One thing you should include is hyperlinks and cross-references. E-readers have the potential to jump around text and access the internet, so take advantage of it (my Introduction to Business Blogs is crammed full of links, for instance).
These are just a few of my general things to consider when formatting an eBook in Word. It’s a topic more suited to my business writing site, but I thought it would be useful here. Others have covered things in more detail, or for more specific cases, such as this useful blog article. If you have any specific questions or ideas for things I should cover in more detail myself, though, I would be happy to hear from you.