Writing Help: Formatting your ebooks

This is a very hot topic among indie writers, and with good reason. Outside of a poorly written and developed story, there are two things that will turn a reader off faster than anything to a book: Poor grammer and poor formatting. Although, for writers like myself, grammar is an issue best handled by an editor. Formatting, however, can (and should) be handled by the indie writer so to ensure the look of the finished product is as good as possible.

In this quick article, I want to share a few of my best tips for formatting your book for publication on the ebook platform.

Tabs: a big no-no

Figure 1

You do want to have the first sentence in ever paragraph indented. You do not want to achieve this by using tabs. Instead of using tabs to indent the first line, there is a handy feature in most word processors that will take care of this for you.

Notice in Figure 1 the dotted vertical line. This line indicates the left-most location of either the first line or the entire paragraph. How this is done is by clicking and dragging one of the arrows on the ruler to the position you want.

Take a close look at the horizontal rule across the top of the document. Near the left side you will see a downward-pointing arrow and an upward-pointing arrow. The downward-pointing arrow adjusts the left-most position of the first line and the upward-pointing arrow manages the left-most position of the entire paragraph.

Use this tool for indentions and you won’t have any of the book conversion tools go crazy on you.


For those writers that think a neat-o font makes their book better – stop! The single most important factor in choose a font is read-ability. The best font for your ebook is Times New Roman at 12 pts. You can increase the font size of your chapter headings, but not by more than 2 point sizes. And do not use a different font for chapter headings. Keep it clean and simple.

As for font colors – keep it simple and keep it black. If you use a gray font your book will be a challenge to read. And since the majority of ereaders have black and white screens, using color will do nothing but cause your reader to have issues with clarity.


Single spaced please — even between paragraphs. Double spaces between lines or paragraphs looks less-than-professional and causes the size of the book to grow larger. You want your book to look as close to a print book as possible.


Figure 2

The best format for submitting to the Amazon converter is HTML. Naturally most writers don’t know HTML. Of course you an always save your document as an html document, but most word processors add all sorts of unnecessary formatting marks when converting from a standard word document to an html document. Figure 2 illustrates a document converted to html by LibreOffice. As you can see it’s much more complex than writing a standard document. But if you want more control over your conversion, you will create your document in HTML by hand. This means you are adding all of the markup on a fairly large document, which could take a lot of time. You won’t want to have to go through and add the line:

<p ALIGN=JUSTIFY STYLE="text-indent: 0.5in; margin-bottom: 0in">

At the beginning of every paragraph. It would cause for a lot more work, but formatting your document in HTML, by hand, will ensure your book will look exactly how you want it to look.

But for those who do not have the time to learn HTML, at least make sure you follow the guidelines for the converter you are using perfectly or your document will wind up causing you no end of frustration. And if you aren’t happy with the format of your book, imagine how dissatisfied your readers will be!

Converting on your own

There is a great tool out there, Calibre, that can convert your documents from a standard word document to .MOBI, .EPUB, .PDF, and more. This the best way if you want to test your formatting before you load your book onto Amazon. Convert the book, copy it over to your Kindle, and see how it looks. You can then adjust the document, re-convert the document, copy it back to the device, and check again. Once the look is perfected there should be less chance of Amazon’s converter having problems with the book.

Final thoughts

This really only scratches the surface of the formatting of ebooks, but it’s a good place to get started. We can dive even deeper into the formatting of ebooks in later articles. Good luck!