Everything You Need to Know About Formatting Your eBook

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You’ve finally finished your manuscript (yay!) and had it edited by a professional (right?). You’re ready to put your baby out into the world, but as it turns out, formatting an eBook isn’t as straightforward as you thought. Unfortunately, an eBook file will not be the same as a print copy. Changes will definitely have to be made to your document to ensure that it complies with the requirements for an eBook. 

Whether you’re doing it yourself using specialized software or outsourcing the whole thing by hiring an eBook formatter, here are a few details you should know about this process. 

Stylistic choices

We all dream of what our finished work will look like, but eReaders don’t behave like paper books, which means you have to sacrifice some style elements.

Drop caps, indents, headers and footers, and certain fonts don’t usually work well in eBooks because of formatting restrictions, and they will look different on different devices. This can be disheartening, particularly if you love the way the file for your book’s print version looks. A fixed layout might offer more control over some of these style choices, but you generally can’t override an eReader’s settings without distorting your layout. For this reason, it’s better to simplify style and focus on content. 

Judging an eBook by its cover

Cover art is as important as ever, even for eBooks. Keep in mind that most platforms will require you to upload a separate file for your cover art in addition to the internal cover image in your main file. Be certain to check the cover art guidelines to prevent rejection and attract as many readers as possible. 

Also, you want to make sure the quality of your cover image is as high as possible, so again, check carefully the requirements and recommended size for your image. You don’t want readers to be dissuaded from picking up your book because the cover art is too blurry, distorted, or saturated. If it appears too amateurish, people may think that your book is also of poor quality.

Fixed vs. reflowable layouts

Most eBooks use a reflowable layout, meaning the font size can be adjusted on an eReader without disrupting the flow of the text, which will adjust to the screen size. This works great for most books, but if yours has lots of images, you might want to opt for a fixed layout, which means your content will have a static format regardless of the device it’s on. 

Using multimedia in your eBook

A professional layout designer can make the images in your eBook look great, but what about videos? This is one of the most popular media formats we have today, which is why some authors want to include videos in their eBooks. Although some formats, like EPUB, allow users to embed videos, it will increase the file size significantly and might cause problems when uploading it to an eReader platform. 

Before you think about including a video in your eBook, you should first ask yourself if it absolutely must be there. If the answer is no, then drop it. Note that you can’t link to an external file or website—for example, a YouTube video—so if you do want a video in your eBook, you’ll have to embed it in your original file.

Table of contents

Aside from serving the same purpose as in print books, the table of contents in an eBook also allows us to bookmark pages in our eReaders. Most platforms require a TOC to be included in your eBook, so check all the requirements before finalizing and uploading your file. 

Know your platform’s criteria

Each publishing platform—be it Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, or Kobo—has different criteria for processing eBook files, which is why it’s important to know what formats they’re compatible with. A platform can reject your book over a certain element (the size of your cover image, for instance), so make sure you meet all of their criteria. Keep in mind that you may need a different file for each e-publishing platform.

What file format to use to publish your eBook on Kindle

Amazon allows authors to upload Word, KPF (Kindle Package Format), EPUB, or MOBI files on its KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) platform, but its auto-conversion process can distort your book’s layout. If formatting is important to you, you will need to consider other options.

KDP files (used with Kindle Create) allow more personalization on the Amazon platform, but EPUB is the most popular format as it’s easy to edit and allows both fixed and reflowable layouts. It also accepts media files and is supported by multiple eReaders. 

Word files don’t always format correctly, and Amazon only accepts fixed format books in MOBI, making them the least flexible options. HTML, RTF, TXT, and PDF (with some language restrictions) can also be uploaded, but these offer little to no formatting control. 

Evolving EPUB file formats

Just as the publishing industry evolves with technology, so do the different file formats used to publish eBooks. The latest available version of EPUB is EPUB3, which allows more freedom in formatting and styling your book. Just double-check that the platform you’re using accepts it.

Testing your eBook 

It’s important to know what your eBook will look like on each platform in case the formatting gets distorted. Some platforms allow you to preview your book before you publish it, but you can also drop your EPUB file into your eReader to see what it will look like. It is always a good idea to view your file first before you commit to anything. You want to make sure that the spacing, font, and everything else all look professional and consistent.

Writing a book, from that first word on a blank page to the first time you see a published paper or electronic copy of your work, is a difficult, inspiring, and at times frustrating process. Formatting an eBook doesn’t make it any easier, but it does allow for a wider distribution of your book. So, to make the e-publishing process as seamless as possible, use the simplest formatting and styling you can. 

A different set of skills

Not everyone who can develop a website can develop an eBook since eReaders don’t behave the same way as browsers do. Yet, many authors hire web developers instead of someone who specializes in eBooks. So, if you’re hiring a professional for this process, make sure they’re familiar with formatting, fonts, and layouts so your book looks just like you imagined it.

If formatting your own eBook sounds exhausting, we can do it for you.  

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