Formatting Your Ebook Files Scaring You Off Self-publishing?

three different ebook readers
flickr photo credit: Alexanderpf

Considering self-publishing your next book? If so, you’re likely planning to publish an ebook (at least). This means, as a self-publishing author, you have to prepare your manuscript files for conversion to the formats read by ereaders.

Perhaps you’re almost ready to get that file prepped for publishing? Tried to format your file and gave up?

Or do you doubt you have the know-how needed to do the job right, and so you’re hanging out on the fence?

For many authors, one of the concerns that prevents them from committing to the self-publishing road is the need to format their manuscript for ereaders.

DIY or Hire?

Just the mention of formatting gives some writers the shivers. Some consider it too frustrating and their time too valuable, and recommend paying a service to format your file. There is some merit to this approach — you can be reasonably sure the file will be formatted correctly. And if there are problems, you can return to the service providers for corrections.

But many authors will go it on their own. Much of your decision will depend on your comfort with technology. Regardless of your skill level, you’ll most likely have a learning curve. Be ready to spend that time.

Whichever way you choose to format your files, the final product must look professional. There are few things, if any, readers hate more than a badly formatted ebook. Don’t turn off your reader.

Ebook Formatting Resources

When I’m ready, I’ll be one of those trying to do it myself. I actually look forward to learning something new. Since I’m still revising my WIP, I’ve bookmarked webpages, bought books, and downloaded guides that are meant to assist self-publishers in the process.


Let’s Get Digital has a guide for self-publishers you can purchase for $2.99 from Amazon or Smashwords, or download the free PDF. The formatting section is posted on their website. In the post, you’ll find a link to Guido Henkel’s free nine-part formatting guide for ebooks. His detailed guide not only recommends the best software for the job, he explains why. He goes through the formatting of your file step-by-step, and then shows how to convert the file using Calibre software.

Pigs, Gourds, and Wikis has a post on creating an ebook file quickly, easily, and cheaply. The author uses OpenOffice and a Writer2ePub extension, both free. She takes you through the steps she took to create her ebook, including inserting images. Her screenshots help to keep you on track.

If you’re going to use Smashwords, they have a free guide you can download in many formats or read through the site. BookBaby also has a free guide for writers ready to publish an ebook, which includes formatting tips.

Jo Harrison at Writer’s Block Admin Services has a series of YouTube videos on formatting your Word files for ebook publishing.  In the first video she creates a linked table of contents using MS Word’s hyperlink feature. My only concern is that others have noted the problems with using Word files for formatting an ebook. But Jo does note the extras Word inserts and explains how to delete them. So if you want to use Word, she does take those issues into account.


I’ve talked about The Indie Author Guide, by April L. Hamilton, on this blog. It’s a helpful guide to prepare anyone diving into indie publishing. Chapter Nine is devoted to formatting your files for ebook publishing. Hamilton gives some overall guidelines, discusses ISBNs, then explains how to prepare your manuscript. She also discusses paying to convert your files versus doing it yourself.

I also have The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, by Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier. Get this comprehensive guide for the large sections on marketing and selling your book, rather than for formatting your manuscript.


I never thought I would use software to write, but I enjoy using the writing software program Scrivener (for PC or Mac). One feature that is a plus for self-publishers is Compile. Scrivener will compile all the files you designate into one file. One of the choices you have is to compile the files as an ebook, either as an ePub or mobi (for Kindle) file. Then you can export the file out of Scrivener.

I have seen so many recommendations for the free software Calibre that I feel I should include it in this list. It supports all the major ebook formats and you can check the conversion using their ebook viewer. For more on their features, see their About page.

A better-looking ebook

Formatting your files for your ebook doesn’t have to be a daunting undertaking. Take some time to learn the process and you can produce a professional-looking product. At the very least, you won’t turn off readers. You may even draw in some new ones to your book.

Do you have any other resources you’ve used to learn or guide you in formatting your manuscript files for ebook publication? I’d love to hear about them!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge